Thursday, June 11, 2009

‘International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence’ reviews my book: A response

Stephane Lefebvre, section head of strategic analysis at Defence R&D Canada’s Centre for Operational Research and Analysis in Ottawa, reviewed my book, Smokescreen: Canadian security intelligence after September 11, 2001, in the June 2009 issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. My aim here is to respond to the criticism in Mr. Lefebvre’s article.

Lefebvre spends four pages summarizing my book, and does so rather adroitly, covering the main themes in my work, from institutional mediocrity to pressure from allies such as the United States and Israel. In the last two pages, he raises a number of questions about my book, which given its polemical nature, was bound to prompt very different reactions. As a result, the reviewer’s contention that Smokescreen “has simply too many problems for it to be taken very seriously” has been balanced by rights activists and defense lawyers who told me they found my book “really valuable” and that it could “literally serve as an affidavit” in court. The ideological divide is wide, hence the divergent reactions.

Lefebvre writes that my “short length of service did not allow [me] to complete [my] five-year probationary period, or to work in the field” adding that my “perspective is therefore shaped from [my] short period of time at the CSIS’s headquarters in Ottawa.” In all fairness, Lefebvre acknowledges that I mention my less than three years at the Canadian Intelligence Service, but in so doing he nevertheless takes a shot at my credibility, while bemoaning that I do not provide material from the junior and senior intelligence officers I interviewed for my book. For obvious reasons, I could not reveal the identity of those individuals or go into details as to what they told me. Still, in the acknowledgments section of my book, I clearly state that their views meshed into my narrative, and as such, I believe my limited experience was substantially augmented by all those individuals, not only at CSIS but elsewhere in the intelligence community. Smokescreen was the best that I could deliver based on my experience and research. At no point did I claim to be speaking “for the community.”

The reviewer then contends that I “largely unexploited” the specialized literature on Canadian intelligence, and that my only key source in my discussion on religion and terrorism is former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer. While it is true that my book draws primarily from my own experiences, I nevertheless did tap into the rather limited “specialized literature” on the subject in Canada, including many chapters in The Security of Freedom: Essays on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Bill (Daniels, Macklem and Roach); The Canadian Military Journal; September 11: Consequences for Canada (Roach); Canada’s Inadequate Response to Terrorism: The Need for Policy Reform (Frasier Institute); Covert Entry: Spies, Lies and Crimes Inside Canada’s Secret Service (Mitrovica); and Cold Terror (Bell). Furthermore, 13 footnotes refer to primary sources or news articles in Canadian media. The thousands of field reports, analyses, assessments, electronic intercepts and affidavits from CSIS, the Canadian intelligence community and foreign agencies that I read while I worked at CSIS — which for obvious reasons cannot be included as footnotes, given that they were all classified — also informed the conclusions that I reach in my book. To claim, therefore, that I did not use primary sources is somewhat dishonest.

To be honest — not that this excuses any of the shortcomings in my book — the warnings by my former employer against publishing a book on the subject also made it difficult for me to explore some gray areas, or quote certain sources, as it was never my intention to end up in jail for accidentally leaking classified material.

As to my alleged over-reliance on Mr. Scheuer on the subject of religion and terrorism, it should be noted that I have made no secret of my differences of opinion with the former analyst in my review of his latest work, Marching Toward Hell, which shows that I did not approach his material uncritically. Moreover, my book also draws from Edward Said (Covering Islam), Michael Ignatieff (arguments in favor of using the term Islamofascism to describe al-Qaeda, his books Empire Lite and The Lesser Evil), Graham Fuller (“A world without Islam”article) and the Foreign Policy Terrorism Index. I quoted Scheuer (whom Lefebvre refers to as “controversial,” which indicates his own bias on al-Qaeda and Israel, as this is where Scheuer has allegedly been “controversial”) on three or four occasions because I believe the manner in which he argued the US’ misreading of the al-Qaeda threat and its raison d’etre was, and remains, the best in the literature.

Lefebvre continues by arguing that my criticisms of the US, Israel and Canada are “couched in such simplistic and unanalytical terms that they must be dismissed out-of-hand,” which again is debatable, as it is evident, given his position in the Canadian defense industry, that we disagree on the strategic outlook that I address in my book. The reviewer accuses me of making “gratuitous anti-American and anti-Israeli comments” (thankfully sparing me the usual anti-Semitic), failing to distinguish between opposing a country’s self-defeating policies and being “anti” everything about it. I am not anti-American, or anti-Israeli (or anti-China, now that I write about Taiwan); I am against some of their policies. I wish nothing less for Israel than for its people to prosper and live in peace. However, I oppose its government’s myopic and racist policy of colonizing a people and treating Palestinians no better than black Africans were treated during Apartheid. And, as does Scheuer, I oppose my government bending over backwards to please those countries or support them even when they embark on murderous adventurism and break international law.

Lefebvre rightly points out that the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS, now known as the Open Source Center), was never an organ of the FBI, as I state in my book. He also rightly takes me to task on CSE, which by accident I refer to as the Canadian Security Establishment, when in reality it is the Communications Security Establishment. I stand by my comment that the Research and Analysis branch at CSIS had among its analysts former diplomats. Unless my memory fails me, I was at a meeting in a RAP conference room where the specialist on a certain part of Africa had served there for Foreign Affairs Canada. Lefebvre is right when he states that, when I was at the Service, there was no Director of Operations (DO), only a Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) and an Assistant Director of Operations (ADO). He also correctly points out that I was mistaken in referring to the Minister of Transport as the Minister of Transportation. I do not disagree with Mr. Lefebvre that the Department of Transport should provide the Canadian government with intelligence and threat assessments on other countries; my main argument was that the Department of Transport should not simply lift CSIS threat assessments and distribute them as its own, as it often did — and then affix a map of said country.

Lefebvre ostensibly catches me in oxymoron delicto by quoting me as saying that post-9/11 recruits are far from being best-suited to become intelligence officers and later arguing that the Service lacks respect “for the ideas, experiences and worth of new employees.” This takes my argument out of context, however, as nowhere do I argue that all post-9/11 recruits are unsuited to become intelligence officers (though many are). To be fair, I should have written that the ideas, experiences and worth of new employees who are actually qualified for the job should be respected by the management at CSIS.

I never pretended that my book would be an authoritative assessment, but I believe it has value, despite its flaws, in that it is the first to discuss CSIS’ working environment and culture head-on — which is where Lefebvre seems to attribute value. It was meant to be polemical and from the onset was intended as a criticism of CSIS as seen from my perspective as an intelligence officer who has read far more on the subject than most intelligence officers working there today.

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