This piece first appeared in the Epoch Times Canada on September 26, 2023
Those of us who worked in intelligence in Canada—I spent more than three decades between CSIS and CSE in a variety of positions—had really only one thing to do. That was to collect, process, analyze, confirm, and distribute secret information (i.e., intelligence) to senior government decision-makers, up to and including the prime minister if needed.
The way we do this is up to us. We are the ones trained in the various intelligence methods—signals, human source, imagery, surveillance, etc.—and we know how to collect the best material that meets government requirements.
We never thought that what we offered was the “be-all and end-all” for the government of the day. After all, government officials, elected or not, are inundated with scads of information every day from a vast range of sources and have to figure out a way to process it all, let alone which ones to use more than others. On top of that, there are political, international, domestic, and other interests to consider.
Still, intelligence on occasion may be the best and most significant piece of a complex puzzle and we on the “inside” hoped that what we provided was given due attention.
With this government under Justin Trudeau, however, it is hard to know what to think.
Canadians and just about everyone around the planet have been riveted by statements from our prime minister accusing “Indian agents” of responsibility for the killing of a Sikh activist in B.C. a few months back. The finger-pointing has led to a precipitous drop in bilateral relations, tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, and much more coverage on websites from Toronto to Timbuktu. I cannot recall the last time Canada got so much attention on the world stage!
Mr. Trudeau cites “intelligence sources,” which I can only assume mean either of my former employers, for his bombshell words. He does couch his statements with phrases like, “Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.” To some, these are weasel words: to me they are part and parcel of how to frame intelligence as we rarely have the entire picture and sources need to be described in terms of their reliability.
This story is big and, if the allegations are true, very serious. No nation, Canada included, can allow a separate country to execute murder on its soil. If India is indeed guilty there must be some price to pay.
The underlying problem, one which takes some of the credibility away from Trudeau’s stunning finger-pointing, is that he chose to cite “intelligence” as his source. This is rare in Canada. Don’t get me wrong: as a former “spy” I think our material needs to be used and promulgated more often, albeit with full protection of sources and methods. Keeping everything secret is rarely effective.
But this same PM ignored, did not read, did not believe, undermined, etc., similar sources of information (i.e., intelligence) when it came to very different but equally important allegations of foreign interference on our soil. I am referring, of course, to the news that the People’s Republic of China has tried to sway at least the last two federal elections by influencing Canadian voters. When married with its harassment of Chinese “dissidents” (Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, etc.) in Canada, a picture grows of a foreign power, and certainly not an ally, attempting to exert influence over our politics.
Some would say that murder is a much more serious crime than “influence peddling.” On the other hand, as terrible as murder is, trying to direct voters has a much longer shelf life.
Look, I am no fan of the Modi government and its embrace of Hindu nationalism/extremism. I have written about it extensively in books and blogs. Furthermore, I would not dismiss the possibility that there is something to Mr. Trudeau’s accusations. If a link is there and shown beyond a reasonable doubt, India must admit it and justice must be seen to be done.
But when the PM avails of intelligence sometimes (and his allegation sure helps make Canadians forget his recent disastrous trip to India for the G20) and ignores it on others, it is easy for cynicism, already rampant, to creep in. “So sir, you like intel when it serves your purposes but dismiss it—and even accuse the purveyors of it as ‘anti-Asian racists’—when it doesn’t?”
At the end of the day intelligence can help governments make better decisions and policies. If it is used consistently, that is.