Why wasn’t Alexandre Bissonnette being monitored? Another “intelligence failure”?

Here we go again. The fact that Alexandre Bissonnette was able to get a gun, walk into a mosque, slaughter innocent people and not be detected is a failure. On whom? On everyone – CSIS, the RCMP, la police de la ville de Quebec, the Surete, the government of Canada, average Canadians for not standing up to xenophobia and more particularly Islamophobia, the list goes on and on.

I cannot speak for average Canadians, let alone every else on that long list of culpables, but I can shed some light on why Mr. Bissonnette may not have crossed the radar of CSIS or the RCMP (or any other force for that matter).  For some, regardless of what I write this is an INTELLIGENCE FAILURE (sorry for the all caps but a few trolls on my various social media have already yelled at me about this and called me an apologist for a loser security service – whatever).  I hope to show that it was not.

I am constantly amazed at what the average citizen expects and demands from its security intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  It seems to come in two flavours:

a) you are collecting too much information and following too many people unnecessarily

b) you have to stop EVERY SINGLE act of violence and if you don’t you are incompetent.

Reality is, of course, a tad different.  Here is how it works.  Agencies like CSIS and the RCMP have X number of resources and 100X number of priorities.  Every day investigations are prioritised as new intelligence/information comes in.  Some are dropped, some are launched, others are ramped up.  It is a constant struggle to have the right people in the right places.

Furthermore, you put the greatest number of resources where the threat is greatest.  As of today, that threat emanates from Islamist extremism – groups as well as those inspired by them. Prior to Sunday evening (if it is terrorism and I am not saying that yet), every single terrorist plot in Canada since 9/11, with one or two exceptions,  involved Islamist extremists.  Every. Single. One.

So why should CSIS and the RCMP  have redeployed limited resources from the #1 investigation to one which had produced no attacks in 15 years? Does that make sense?  Should right wing extremism be looked at?  Absolutely, but it cannot be a priority, at least not at this time.

Even if we were to treat RW extremism as a priority and devote umpteen resources to it, why would anyone expect Mr. Bissonnette to have been on the radar of CSIS or the RCMP?  Did he advocate violence?  Did he associate with known violent individuals?  Did he show signs he was getting violently radical?  I have not seen his social media postings but from what I have read in news reports his online writings were pretty innocuous and may in fact be construed as free speech.  Do Canadians want CSIS and the RCMP to monitor the Web just in case one individual posts something remotely violent?  Whatever happened to “you’re collecting too much!”?

We will learn more about this man and his motive in the coming days – I hope.  In the meantime, let’s stay calm. This was not an “intelligence failure” based on what we know so far. Mr. Bissonnette was not “known to police” which means, very simply stated, that he had done nothing of a criminal nature to warrant police attention. And that is s it should be.

In addition, can we please stop talking about the coming “wave of RW extremism?  One attack a wave does not make.  Yes, there is a lot of hateful speech out there and some truly despicable trolls online, but we have absolutely NOTHING to demonstrate that this one act was a result of this descent into intolerance.  I am not a fan of President Trump, but I cannot categorically say – and nor can anyone else for that matter – that the massacre last Sunday occurred because of this atmosphere of hate.  No one.  So let’s stop this wild and baseless speculation.

When all is said and done, this may turn out to be an act of terrorism, a hate crime, or a mass murder.  Does it really matter which one it is?  I am not sure it does.  What I do know is that we have widows and fatherless children and a community in deep shock.  They need our help and it is imperative we give it to them since we are all Canadians and that is what Canadians do.


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.

One reply on “Why wasn’t Alexandre Bissonnette being monitored? Another “intelligence failure”?”

As an advocate for legal firearm ownership, I’ll be interested to find out what he used as a long gun and whether it was in fact an AK47 as reported (prohibited in Canada) or a non-restricted lookalike (SKS). Was he a legal owner? What will (if anything) will the Liberal Gov’t do to try and stop ‘guns’ being used in more hate crimes. How would the old Long Gun Registry have prevented this (if at all). Lots of questions…

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