Simply dotty

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the terrorist attack against Air India flight 182 which fell into the sea off the coast of Ireland, taking with it 329 lives, the vast majority of them Canadians.  Many fail to recognise that the bombing was the largest single terrorist attack prior to 9/11.

So as we remember the victims, two less than inspiring items caught my attention in a CBC report today (see the article here).

The first one is downright scary.  The mastermind of the plot, Talwinder Singh Parmar, is worshiped as a martyr by some in Surrey, BC.  The perpetrator of a heinous crime is seen as someone to emulate.  Seriously.

With the hoopla over the Islamic State – morons from the group destroyed some priceless structures in Palmyra today (see story here) –  we cannot forget that the thinking underlying the Air India massacre never went away.  Just because it disappeared from our consciousness due to competing priorities doesn’t mean that the desire for an independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan) and hatred for India no longer resonates with some people.  A recent op-ed piece in an Indian daily (ok, not necessarily objective) reminds us that the threat remains (see it here).

As a former intelligence analyst, I was constantly aware that the intel community only has finite resources that it must allot in proportion to the threats.  Bigger threats get more resources – it’s as simple as that.   I always wondered how we could best keep monitoring the smaller ones, making sure they didn’t explode (pun intended).  The threat from Sikh extremism will likely never go away completely – we’ll just have to deal with it and make sure we have eyes on it.

The second thing got my blood boiling.  Terry Milewski, a pretty good CBC reporter, brings out the old “joining the dots” canard.  He writes: “In the woods near Duncan, on Vancouver Island, CSIS spies tailed Parmar and his chosen bomb maker, Inderjit Singh Reyat, to a test explosion using dynamite bought from a logging company. That was three weeks before the real thing. Neither CSIS nor the RCMP connected the dots in time to stop the plot.”

How many times must it be said that intelligence is not “connecting the dots” (see previous blog “Rusty Spring” for my comments on this).  I am tired of having to dispel this.

Were mistakes made back in 1985?  Clearly.  Could things have been done differently?  Uh-huh.  Would that have made a difference?  Dunno.  I don’t like in engage in alternative scenarios beyond what we can learn from them to do things better.

In some ways the world has changed greatly since 1985, and that includes how our security and intelligence agencies operate.  They have gotten much better at what they do. I am not trying to make excuses over what was or was not done 30 years ago, but bear in mind that CSIS hadn’t even celebrated its first birthday by then.  Today’s CSIS is not 1985’s CSIS.  I happen to be in a position to say that since my career started before the Service was created and ended 2 months ago when I retired from that organisation.

But some things don’t appear to change.  Terrorism was a threat back then and it is now.  That unfortunately shows no signs of disappearing – it’ll morph and shift and ebb and flow, but it won’t go away.

That’s how I connect the dots.

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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