Is there a link between vampires and terrorists? Not that I know of

I do not suffer fools gladly.  Maybe that is a personality fault and maybe I should be a nicer person in the face of sheer stupidity.  But there are times where someone says something that is so utterly inane that it requires a response.

The Munk Centre in Toronto held a very interesting debate in May 2017 that was carried on the CBC’s Ideas programme called ‘Policing: old cops, new expectations. ‘  The panel members were an ex-RCMP Assistant Commissioner (Cal Corley), Inspector Shawna Coxon of the Toronto Police, and the Policy Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Michael Vonn.  The discussion ranged from cyber crime to accountability to ‘bulk data collection’ to whether today’s officers are trained to do 21st century policing. Of course there was also a wide exchange on terrorism and a diversity of opinion among the three panelists.   Ms. Vonn tended to see the problem as vastly over-exaggerated and spoke of a worrying growth in what she called the ‘security-industrial complex’.  In light of where she works, none of this should come as a surprise to anyone.  In my experience, well-regarded and very valuable civil rights organisations uniformly dismiss the terrorist threat and overly blame the police (and intelligence for that matter) agencies for their disproportionate response.  But that is perhaps a topic for another day.

I want to pick up on one of Ms. Vonn’s remarks that had me yelling at my laptop as I streamed the podcast.  In referring to the $1 billion Canada spent on security at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics to thwart a ‘non-existent terrorist threat’ (her words, not mine) she used an interesting analogy about how we do counter terrorism.  She called it the ‘garlic argument’ (I am NOT making this up).  Here is a synopsis of what she said.  You hang garlic around your neck to keep vampires away and if no vampires show up the garlic obviously worked. If a few vampires do appear you need to apply more garlic.  In either case garlic is a real good strategy.

Without hyperbole this is the single stupidest comment ever made on terrorism, and I have heard some real doozies over the decades.  I think that Ms. Vonn needs to be told that, unlike vampires, terrorists do exist. No, they are not everywhere and no, they do not pose an existential threat to Canada, but yes, they are real and our ‘protectors’ – CSIS, the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies – have both a duty and a publicly-demanded need to put measures in place to prevent terrorist acts from occurring.  Those measures run the gamut from community liaison to investigation to human source/agent recruitment to arrest to trial to incarceration. Anyone who fails to see that there is a concrete threat from terrorists lives in a parallel universe (and I would love the address as that alternative reality seems a lot safer than this one).

Ms. Vonn’s sheer ignorance and dismissal of terrorism is worrying.  She is an otherwise well-regarded lawyer and advocate for civil liberties. For the record I am in full favour of the work that organisations such as the BCCLA and others do.  And, yes they must hold CSIS and RCMP feet to the fire when things go awry, as they do on occasion.  But to boldly say that there was ‘no threat’ to the Vancouver Games would be laughable if it were not worryingly representative of a growing opinion in Canada that the security apparatuses boost the fear level to get more resources.  I have no idea how she ‘knew’ that the terrorism threat was non-existent: I didn’t see her at the  regular CSIS-RCMP-ITAC briefings I attended at the time in the run-up to the Olympics.  She also went on to bring up the 2013 Nuttall-Korody Victoria Legislature terrorist plot as an example of threat inflation.  As I have written extensively, this was indeed a travesty though not of the police but rather of the appeals judge who failed to see the RCMP investigation as a necessary and well-run operation that saved lives.

As a former intelligence analyst who now lives in entirely in the world of open source information I support the need for debate and mature exchange on the terrorist threat and our response to it.  This debate has to be open to all who have an interest or a stake in the matter.  At the same time, institutions like the BCCLA risk being sidelined if they continue to make unbased and dismissive claims that fly in the face of reality. Not having them as a partner serves no purpose but they have to come to the table with a little more knowledge, an openness to listen to the other side and a willingness to collaborate.  I did not hear a lot of any of that during the Munk Debate and that is indeed a shame.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

2 replies on “Is there a link between vampires and terrorists? Not that I know of”


Thanks for another engaging comment. I can’t disagree with your assessment that Ms Vonn’s comments were ill informed (I think that’s the polite interpretation!). However, she is not alone and deserves at least some acknowledgement for using the garlic and vampire analogy – my laughter greatly mitigated the depression that would have existed in its absence.

In some ways the vampire analogy is revealing. Whenever ignorance exists, superstition and myths abound. The point is that many people in the Western democracies do not know enough about the threat to believe it, especially if serious attacks have not occurred for a while. On the other hand, when there is a spate of attacks, as we have recently had in Europe, the public and media tend to exaggerate the threat.

Our intelligence agencies are still driven by the culture of the Cold War where they try to pretend they don’t exist, let alone talk to the public. I can’t speak for Canada but in the UK, the agencies now have web sites and the Director Generals occasionally make speeches. They think that is public relations, and it is. But that sort of occasional one-way communication doesn’t inform the public in any detail about the threat. It certainly doesn’t persuade them of how real it is.

Matters are made worse when some of our ‘partner nations’ do actually exaggerate the terror threat to promote policies and global strategic agendas. As the social media debate over the reporting of the apparent murder in Charlotesville indicates, the very label of terrorism is highly controversial and reflective of political agendas in most countries.

So, I wonder if we should see Ms Vonn’s comments as an amusing symptom of a deeper problem of insufficient trust between publics and the agencies responsible for monitoring, analyzing and assessing the terror threat, as well as the irresponsible abuse of genuine security issues by politicians?

Best wishes,


Thanks for taking the time old friend! I do not disagree with your points. That is why I continue to call for dialogue and a better job by intel to if not put some cards on the table at least engage in some ‘table talk’ to btter inform the public

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