When is a terrorist threat no longer a terrorist threat?

There appears to be a segment of the population that is convinced that counter terrorism is a science.  All our spies and cops have to do is gather oodles of information from multiple sources, apply some algorithm made up by smart guy (or run the data through a “threat assessment model”) and voila!  threat identified and ranked.

If only it were so.

The truth is – unfortunately? – that risk assessment is an art and not a science.  I say so for a few simple yet fundamental reasons:

  1. No one ever has enough information on which to make a sure judgment.  And yes this includes CSIS and the RCMP
  2. No model can predict future behaviour or decision making
  3. Humans, either bad guys or those trying to stop them, make mistakes.

What our protective services actually do is come to the best conclusion possible given what they know and what they have seen before.  Even so, past trends are tricky since everything is constantly changing.  Once the decision is made, our guardians either continue to watch someone or decide to down tools and move on to the (all too numerous) next case.  There is no “fat” in the system for keeping low priority tabs on someone.  Contrary to public myth, resources are tight and cases that perhaps should warrant more attention fall to the wayside.

Which brings me to the case of Abdul Aziz Aldabous.  According to a recently released agreed statement of facts between the Crown and the defendant’s  legal team, Mr. Aldabous came to the attention of the RCMP in the spring of 2015 when he was found to be in contact with several “radical jihadists” including members of Islamic State and arrested and placed on a peace bond in September of that year.  According to the statement, he has taken “several positive steps” since that time, meeting with a psychologist and an imam, refraining from going on social media associated with extremism, and met with the police regularly.  In light of all this, the court has decided he no longer poses a threat and is hence no longer subject to a peace bond (see also Stewart Bell’s report in the National Post)

Let’s hope – for both Mr.Aldabous’ sake as well as that of his family and all our sakes – that this is all true (I am not trying to undermine the court here).  It’s just that there is no guarantee on any of this.  Mr. Aldabous may very well have realised the error of his ways or he may relapse eventually into his previous convictions.  There is no way of telling which way he will go.  If he does indeed re-embrace extremism, let’s hope the RCMP gets advanced warning, otherwise we could be faced with another Aaron Driver.  And that one may not end as well.

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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