Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Here we go again. I have lost track of how many articles I have read over the last few days, all written in an accusatory tone that when you distill comes down to a very simple claim: British intelligence should have known that Salman Abedi was a terrorist and should have stopped him before he acted. Here is one such article.
The premise goes like this. MI5 was aware of Mr. Abedi’s extremist ideology. Concerned Muslims called authorities on several occasions to register their fears. The government did not act and hence 22 people, including many teen and tween girls, are dead. Hence the government blew it and we have yet another example of ‘intelligence failure’.
What is surprising, at least to me (even if I am biased) is that few if any of those casting the stone of blame have any background in intelligence or terrorism. Think about that for a moment. By analogy, political scientists should blame doctors for losing patients and soccer moms decry generals for losing wars. Make sense? I didn’t think so.
I have long complained that much of the commentary on what to do about terrorism is written or spoken by people with little firsthand or frontline experience on the subject, so I won’t repeat that here. What I will do, however, is attempt to provide an accurate picture of what really happens on the ground and put that into the context of the U.K.
At any given time, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are engaged in a number of investigations (for our purposes we will limit the discussion to terrorism cases). These investigations are driven by what they know and a need to learn quickly what they don’t in order to assess risk. Not all cases are equally important and not every subject poses a serious threat, but you don’t know the answer to either problem until you carry out the investigation.
There is no model or paradigm to tell you where to focus your efforts because of the high degree of variability and idiosyncrasy.
On top of this, these organisations have finite resources and are unlikely to get substantially more soon (the heyday of the post 9/11 period where money and staff were limitless are long gone). In this light, you have to make decisions on the fly. Most of your decisions are good ones as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of terrorist plots are thwarted (well above 95% I would guess). Some are not; attacks are carried out and people die or are injured.
So here is a simple way to explain Manchester. Mr. Abedi was ‘known’to MI5 (the U.K. equivalent of CSIS). That puts him among anywhere between 3,000 and 23,000 similar people (I have seen a wide range of estimates in open source).
'Known’ does not necessarily mean ‘investigated’. MI5 has approximately 4,000 staff. That figure is a total number: not all 4,000 are investigators/intelligence officers (I would be surprised if the percentage of those running cases topped 1,000). It takes anywhere from 20 - 40 people to investigate/follow one subject of interest. Do the math.
Even at the low end of radicalised people, you need between 60 and 120,000 officers to investigate them all. MI5, one of the best, if not the best, domestic security services in the world, is hard pressed to carry out 40 investigations at a given time. Remember that terrorists do not always advertise their intent and that risk assessment models are tools, some better than others, not predictors.
That, dear New Canadian Media readers. is the reality. Intelligence services like MI5 are going flat out 24/7, 365 days a year to keep U.K. citizens safe in a very challenging environment. And as for those tips from the community – a great thing by the way – in 2016, the U.K. Channel program, a government counter-terrorism strategy, received almost 4,000 referrals. Do the math there too please. These numbers speak to a serious problem in U.K. society, one that goes way beyond MI5.
So, no, Manchester was not an ‘intelligence failure’. It was a tragedy and a horrible act of terrorism. It was not MI5’s fault. It was not the U.K. government’s fault or the fault of British foreign policy. It was not the community’s fault. It was not Islam’s fault. It was Mr.Abedi’s fault (plus those who aided, radicalised or inspired him).
We need to stop pointing fingers in the aftermath of attacks. And the peanut gallery really needs to do one of two things: a) become more knowledgeable about terrorism and the challenge of preventing it, or b) shut the hell up. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
New York, Aug 3 (IANS) The US authorities have designated a Pakistan-based Islamist organisation, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, as a “global terrorist” organisation, the State Department announced on Wednesday. The organization is a splinter group of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and is responsible for the Easter Sunday attack on a Lahore park targeting Christians in which 70 people […]
PRIME Justin Trudeau on Tuesday issued the following statement after learning of a number of terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium: “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the news that so many have been killed and injured in terrorist attacks targeting the people of Brussels, Belgium. “Sophie and I join all Canadians in extending our deepest […]
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Commentary by Mohamad Ozeir
My name is Mohamad Ali Ozeir. My father’s name is Ali. My mother’s name is Khadija. My children’s names are Zena, Hassan, Jenan, Nadine and Sahar. I look like a typical Arab man: dark, Middle Eastern.
However, I don’t feel I owe anyone an apology for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Most of all, I don’t feel the need to condemn this carnage as an Arab American of Islamic heritage.
As a matter of fact, as a journalist and an activist, I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publicly denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration.
Because I felt as outraged by the San Bernardino attack, as I did by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut in 2012, by the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last June, and by the attack on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just a few days ago.
And I felt equally related to these assaults as to what happened in San Bernardino.
I wonder why we do have a debate about naming the terrorist attacks committed by people of Islamic background. While I can understand the sensitivity shown by the Obama administration toward this point, it is difficult to comprehend the right wing Republican insistence on calling it Islamic Terrorism.
What purpose does it serve, other than to slap a wide label on more than a billion people, most of whom don’t even subscribe to the religion, let alone to the politics of its fanatics?
Not the majority
I have some news for those eager to issue the label.
Yes, some Muslims are planning and striving to target Americans. Even more would be happy to see such an attack take place on American soil. And many more not only wish to see it happen, but are ready to justify it – in this category, being Muslim is not a requirement.
But these are not ALL Muslims, and they’re NOT the majority. They’re not even in the mainstream, and some would argue that they have more to do with American and Western support, training, and alliance throughout the years, than with Arabic or Islamic political influence or agendas.
And it is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.
Having said that, what does it matter? For the hate speech peddlers, especially on radio talk shows, and for the participants in the “Silly Season” called the Republican Primary, it is a ploy. It is a tool for energizing the base and motivating the supporters.
It is an old political tradition, going back as far as 1798 when the Federalist Congress passed the Naturalization Act. Back then the subject of hate was the French, and since then this country has gone down the same road more than a few times. Arabs and Muslims are the latest arrivals to the labeling circle. So what?
History repeating itself
The U.S. has proven itself capable of taking care of its own history.
Maybe David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, who cited President F. D. Roosevelt in touting the idea of internment camps, didn’t learn his history well enough to know that this country considers the decision to confine Japanese Americans during World War II to be one of America's most shameful acts.
I know this, I am not afraid for my well-being, and I refuse to be boxed in fear or artificial guilt.
The one thing that I do fear is becoming a victim of a shooting, either in a mass incident or single attack.
Because with all that’s going on, the stares in public places, the never-missed “random” checks in airports, the “smart” comments and camouflaged jokes, the endless profiling - with all this heavy, discriminatory scrutiny, I find it profoundly disturbing that one right of mine remains untouched, with ironclad protection.
As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?
Re-published with permission from New America Media.
For more than a year, Canadian CF-18s have been striking ISIS targets with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles.
Airstrikes began in Iraq in November 2014, but the Conservatives voted to expand the fight into Syria last March. In total, Operation Impact has conducted 1,750 sorties so far. The Liberals made an election promise to end Canada’s bombing campaign early, arguing that we should send personnel to train local troops instead.
But then terrorists attacked Paris last month, killing 132 people and injuring hundreds more. There has since been discussion in Europe and the U.S. about invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — the article that enshrines “collective defense,” where an attack against one ally is considered an attack on them all.
But does a terrorist incident qualify as an “attack,” and could Canada be forced into escalating a war against its will?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded on April 4, 1949 to combat the expanding Soviet Union.
At the time, countries throughout Europe saw the Soviet Union as a threat to their sovereignty — the previous year had seen a coup in Czechoslovakia, civil war in Greece, and an attempt to starve West Berlin into submission.
Article 5 was meant to give the agreement teeth. Especially for smaller, weaker countries, a military alliance with the United States promised protection from marauding communists within and without.
But the Cold War eventually thawed out. The first and only country to ever invoke Article 5 is none other than the United States, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In response, NATO scrambled the jets and began Operation Eagle Assist. Crew from 13 countries flew 360 surveillance missions over U.S. airspace, patrolling the skies for eight months. Some of NATO’s naval forces were also sent to the Mediterranean to fight terrorism — an operation that has lasted almost 15 years and is still going on to this day.
Article 5 deliberately vague
Canada sent soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, but Article 5 did not compel them to do so.
That’s because Article 5, despite its impressive rhetoric, can’t really compel anyone to do anything. The wording is deliberately vague. Though many today associate the U.S. with bloated battles in exotic locales, it once shunned all conflicts beyond its borders; the stars and stripes arrived late to both the First and Second World Wars.
According to their constitution, only Congress can actually declare war, and politicians in 1949 were justifiably concerned that a mutual-defence treaty could draw them into a fight they didn’t pick — over the previous 50 years, Europe had developed a habit of spontaneously exploding into armed conflict.
So when it came time to negotiate, the U.S. insisted that collective defence did not mean an automatic declaration of war. Instead, each country would assist with “such action as it deem[ed] necessary, including the use of armed force.” The countries that needed the most protection were not in a position to dictate terms, and the terms have not changed since then.
So, what will Canada do if France or another NATO country invokes Article 5? Basically, whatever it wants.
Although France is well within its rights to invoke the article — the only precedent for using it is, after all, a terrorist attack — it does not specify any action that must be taken beyond aiding the country in question.
Trudeau’s commitment to train local forces, while probably less effective than airstrikes, fulfills Canada’s treaty obligations. Whether it fulfills public opinion remains to be seen.
Alexander Tesar is a Krembil Fellow at The Walrus.
Re-published in partnership with The Walrus.
PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau issued the following statement on Wednesday from Manila advocating against acts of hatred and racism directed at specific Canadians in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris: “FOLLOWING the terrorist attacks in Paris, I have noted with deep regret a number of highly disturbing acts aimed at certain Canadians, including […]
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PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday issued the following statement after learning of a number of terrorist attacks in Paris, France, as well as the taking of hostages: “I am shocked and saddened that so many people have been killed and injured today in a number of terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and that many […]
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PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday (June 23) issued the following statement to mark the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism: THIRTY years ago today, in June 1985, a terrorist attack took place that killed all 329 passengers and crew members aboard Air India Flight 182. On this sombre anniversary, we stand […]
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PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday held a meeting with the Aga Khan, who was visiting Ottawa in his capacity as Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili community. During the meeting, Harper once again expressed his deepest condolences to the Aga Khan for the cowardly terrorist attack that took place earlier this month in Pakistan […]
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit