No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountabilty

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on July 16, 2018

There are times when you read something that makes your blood boil and demands a response.  One such time occurred to me last week within the pages of this very Hill Times in an op-ed by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).  Entitled “Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security”, this op-ed piece is full of language like “over-reaching and draconian”, “smearing Muslims”, “Islamophobia”, “systemic bias and discrimination”, “little or no accountability”, etc., all directed at CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.  And it is full of half truths and full inaccuracies.

Mr. Gardee paints a picture of CSIS that seems to ‘have it in’ for Canada’s Muslims and which has undermined attempts by those communities to “establish robust partnerships”.  He appears convinced that CSIS is an organisation run rogue that has “protracted problems” which leads to the “stigmatization” of those among us who are Muslim.  Damning words  indeed.

Allow me the time to rebut this.  As a former analyst at CSIS who not only worked on Islamist extremism for 15 years but who has written four books on the topic – and met with Muslims all across the country to discuss the issues of radicalisation and terrorism – I think I am in a better position than him to draw a better picture.  And no, for the record, I am not a ‘shill’ for CSIS and more than happy to point to the bad as well as the good within the agency (as you will see).

So to the first accusation leveled by Mr. Gardee: does Islamophobia exist within CSIS?  Absolutely – I saw it firsthand and challenged it when I saw it, although it is not as pervasive as he thinks it is (question: did he actually talk to anyone at CSIS about his concerns?).  And yes the lawsuit  containing allegations about Islamophobia among other shortcomings that was settled by five former employees was based on facts, as I outlined quite clearly in a previous Hill Times article.  Aside from that, however, everything else Mr. Gardee alleges as endemic within CSIS – I cannot speak for an other agency such as CBSA as I never worked there and would never purport (unlike others) to know what goes on within their walls – is false. Patently false.  As CSIS won’t publicly address these fabrications I will, if for no other reason than I toiled tirelessly for a decade and a half to do my small part in keeping Canadians safe from terrorism and don’t want my time construed as wasted in a racist environment.

Let’s start with facts, shall we?  If you look at the terrorist/violent extremist environment in Canada since 9/11, which seems to be the timeframe Mr. Gardee sees  when everything went to hell for Muslim Canadians, every single major act of terrorist violence  – planned or carried out – with one or two exceptions (the Quebec City mosque massacre being the most serious) has been the brainchild of Canadian Islamist extremists.  Every.  Single. One.  And that does not even take into account the Islamic State ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon that led to the deaths of countless thousands in Iraq and Syria (hint: all the foreign fighters are also Muslim).  Does this perhaps explain why CSIS and its partners have focused on the Muslim community in that time, given that these perpetrators come from that community.  Hmm?  Here’s an analogy: if you found that your garbage was continually torn apart every week by raccoons would you key on the squirrel community to put a stop to it?  I didn’t think so.

What Mr. Gardee appears to fail to understand is that CSIS is an intelligence agency that is driven by intelligence.  Intelligence tells it where to put its resources; that and government requirements. If the threat is emanating primarily from a small number of Canadians who happen to be Muslim then that is exactly where you would want our protectors to look, not elsewhere.

I am not saying that CSIS or its employees are perfect.  No, they are not as they are human. In addition, there is always room for improvement, and that includes its relations with communities across Canada, Muslims among them.  Since 9/11, however, CSIS has done its part with its partners to prevent deaths.  I would think that Mr. Gardee would at least acknowledge that much.

I thus reject Mr. Gardee’s accusations of ‘systemic’ bias and Islamophobia as fiction.  He owes CSIS an apology for his ill-considered words.  Curiously, he says that CSIS over-generalises Muslims as security threats (which of course they are not: the vast majority are every bit as proud of this country as I am) and yet has no issue with making the same over-generalisation of CSIS employees.  I don’t know if Islam has an adage similar to that found in Christianity (from Matthew): “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”  If it does not perhaps I can lend Mr. Gardee a mirror to do some needed self-examination.

Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst with CSIS, an author and the Director of Intelligence and Security at the SecDev Group.

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.

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