Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Essence Lies in the Timing

I find it particularly interesting that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will usually openly discuss its foreign operations soon after a terrorism "incident" has occurred on Canadian soil. About two years ago, on March 30, 2004, Momin Khawaja, a resident of Orleans, outside Ottawa, became the first individual charged under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act. Two months later, CSIS was approaching the media and explaining that given the change in the nature of the threat, the Service had in recent years increased its activities abroad, which included dispatching Service assets (sources) to countries from which the threats emanated or developing more relationships with foreign agencies.

Fast-forward to early June this year, where seventeen individuals are nabbed in a massive anti-terror operation. For a solid 14 days, Southern Ontario's alleged brush with extremism was the news around town, and the agencies involved in the arrests basked in the spotlight of international media attention. No sooner had the terror been replaced by Edmonton's 7th-game loss to Carolina in the Stanley Cup Final than CSIS was once again making its case with the public. And the song sounds strangely familiar: given the changing nature of the threat, we need to (and we have) engage in more operations abroad, for which more money is required, et cetera et cetera et cetera. The one difference this time, however, is the admission, by Director Jim Judd himself, that CSIS is not only sending sources abroad, but that its very own home-grown operatives are doing the round trips, too—something that a few years ago no one at CSIS would ever have admitted to (in fact, during my time there, we were often instructed to deny that this was taking place).

There is no big surprise here. Like any other such agency around the world, CSIS is seizing the day and cashing in on the recent coup, just as the FBI, the CIA and MI6 (or BSIS) did after September 11, 2001. The opportunity is there, and the dread generated by the events that were not provides the momentum that the organization needs to make the final push towards becoming a foreign intelligence gathering agency. It's always been in the pipeline, and the moment is almost upon us.

Readers will note that this has happened gradually, with the nature of the foreign-based activities being revealed little by little. First, two years ago, we struck agreements with foreign agencies, or sent sources traveling. Now we're sending our own people. It reminds me of the frog that the scientist drops in a bucket of water. If the water's boiling, the frog will jump out to save its skin; increase the temperature gradually, however, and it will allow itself to boil to death.

In a way, the Canadian public is not unlike the unfortunate frog. Rather than being boiled to death, however, the instrument of fear is being used on them. Every two years or so, the sense of imminent danger is elevated a little. Nothing happens, mind you, but the doom and gloom is lurking just around the corner. It's a little more subtle than the color-based system that Canada's southern neighbor went for, but it operates in a similar fashion. Do this long enough, and the hitherto extremely contentious issue of Canada engaging in spying abroad has become an acceptable—in fact necessary—notion.

Is it just the summer heat, or are Canadians all sitting in one big soup pot, with the tribal people (for if nothing else, the game of spying is one big, expensive exercise in tribalism) dancing round it?

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