Friday, June 02, 2006

They’re Like Us, But They’re Not

In recent comments before the Senate defence committee, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s Director of Operations, Jack Hooper, warned that “home-grown terrorists” who are “virtually indistinguishable from other youth” and who “blend in very well to our society, […] speak our language and […] appear to be – to all intents and purposes – well-assimilated” are increasingly looking inside Canada for terrorist activity.

There are many things at play in this statement – all of which are quite revealing of how the spy agency sees the world. Firstly, it reeks of xenophobia and goes counter to the spirit of what Canada is built upon. It sends a message that while second-generation immigrants (to say nothing of the first-generations who weren’t born in Canada) speak “our” language and look very much like “us,” there remains an implicit degree of separation, as if they were less Canadian than “true” Canadians.

Secondly, Mr. Hooper uses the London bombings to buttress his arguments by stating that “all of the circumstances that led to the London transit bombings […] are resident here now in Canada.” But, one wonders, what are those circumstances – and, more importantly, are they so exceptional as to warrant an appeal to the defence committee and, by rebound, to the general population? The individuals Mr. Hooper speaks of lived in an open society. They had access to various technologies, such as the Internet, and came from different parts of the world. Such circumstances apply to many open and multiethnic societies all over the world. They apply to Great Britain, as they certainly apply to Canada. But why is it that, all of a sudden, these circumstances give rise to fears that somehow these are the core ingredients for home-grown terrorism? Mr. Hooper conveniently avoids mentioning these special circumstances because he has nothing substantial to draw from. Reading the British government’s recently-released assessment of the London bombings, it is starkly obvious that its people don’t have a clue what happened. These documents do not address the motivations of the individuals who committed the bombings; rather, in the absence of cause, they provide a minute-by-minute account of the “what” and the “where,” without ever attempting to penetrate the minds of the perpetrators. It is flash over substance, like a good Hollywood summer blockbuster. I wonder what it is Canada’s spy agency knows that the British, who have much more experience with those issues, failed to notice.

Thirdly, Mr. Hooper’s comments continue a long tradition of mixing fear and the unknown for political and financial ends. While the former CSIS Director, Ward Elcock, waxed incessantly about a terrorist attack occurring within Canada being not a question of “if,” but “when,” Mr. Hooper stirs the fear-mongering pool by making the enemy invisible and virtually unknowable. They look and behave just like us, speak our language, have seemingly assimilated, but deep inside, they’re like diseased cells that over time will turn into a cancerous mass. They’re the Communists of old, and they’re growing from within our own system. You can’t see them, but trust us, they’re there. By adding the home-grown element to the external threat (that is, individuals coming from outside Canada), Mr. Hooper has successfully completed the circle, thereby covering the full spectrum of possible terrorists.

The main problem with this is that it’s a proposition that cannot be proved or disproved. In fact, it’s an unassailable truism, as the likelihood of such an individual existing is, indeed, in the realm of possibility. Statements like these, while adopting the mantle of “we know best because we’re in the spying business,” are in reality pointing out the obvious and certainly do not warrant the millions of dollars Canadian taxpayers disburse every year to sustain the security intelligence apparatus. This is cheap prediction, akin to saying that sometime in the future Indonesia will be struck by another deadly earthquake. When that earthquake strikes, the shaman is able to say “ah-ha, see, I told you!”

It doesn’t help his case that Mr. Hooper then complains about budget cuts and how these allegedly have affected the Service’s ability to screen immigrants. The truth of the matter is, the Service’s inability to do proper screening has nothing to do with how much funding it receives. No amount of money will ever fix the institutional shortcomings in that department. Not a million, not ten, not a hundred.

And oh, there’s a new government in power, too, so it probably doesn’t hurt to instill enough fear in the recently-arrived leadership to secure future funding. Just do the age-old magic trick – scare them with something invisible, something that cannot be disproved. They’re around us, Mr. Prime Minister, serving your coffee, going to school with your kids, or doing your wife’s hair. Trust us, and please give us more money.

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