At the very time when a wave of terrorism may be looming out of the darkness, our counter-terrorism assets are swamped and their hands are off the tiller…
Canada is going to be hurt by terrorists soon although the ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ remain unknowable. ‘Who’ is a simple question, probably some variety of Jihadist will kill large numbers of us.
‘Why’ as a question of terrorist motive is irrelevant as ‘Because’ or ‘Why not’ are sufficient answers insofar as any terrorist is concerned: Terrorism is as terrorism does. ‘Why’ as a question of explanation for our failed defences is wholly appropriate and can be answered before ammonium-nitrate truck bombs or TATP -impregnated suicide vests detonate.
Our counter-terrorism measures are about to undergo a catastrophic failure. Herewith is the explanation; first the practical and then the abstract.
Canada’s defences against terrorism depend upon timely and accurate intelligence gathering by our various police services. Immediately after 9/11, these police services were hastily reformed into a network of task force organizations to develop and share intelligence which would be used to prevent attacks from occurring. Other agencies such as the newly reformed Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) were combined with CSIS and provincial and metropolitan police intelligence services into task forces at the Federal, Provincial, Municipal and even site-specific levels such as ports and airports. These task forces soon formed liaisons with Transport Canada, National Defence, American police agencies, and a variety of other actors.
There was a quantum improvement in efficiency that almost managed to compensate for two major weaknesses. First, Canada as a whole spends less proportionately on policing than other developed nations do (no surprise to those who follow defence issues), and the budgetary freezes for Federal agencies in the 1990s severely weakened CSIS and the RCMP. Second, to compensate quality for missing quantity, Canadian police tend to be better paid than their counterparts in other countries. However, long periods of under-funding inhibited recruiting and the training of replacements for highly experienced officers.
The rush to catch-up after 9-11 meant that a lot of inexperienced people were shoved into intelligence and security functions and had to learn on the job – with some predictable results. Senior and retiring officers were induced to stay on the job longer, but their higher rates of pay cut into the ability of police agencies to find their replacements.
Some of the new intelligence functions – such as the five INSETs (Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, Ottawa’s ITAC (Integrated Threat Assessment Centre), Ontario’s PATS (Provincial Anti-Terrorism Section) and other such bodies had their growing problems. New intelligence agencies thrive when first created as they attract ‘creative thinkers’ (eccentrics and non-conformists) to an environment where unorthodox thinking can yield results. However, success and efficiency attract the more bureaucratically minded who often inhibit creativity and tend to fill up the working day with busy work and administrative detail.
There is also the terrible dilemma in counter-terror work: Success = Complacency = Vulnerability. In eight years, Canada has not had a major incident of terrorism and has done much to assist international investigations and inhibit action by our ‘home-grown’ Jihadis. Impressive blows were struck against the Tamil Tigers and security was tightened up across the board. As 9/11 faded into the background, the public’s perception of danger likewise faded and police found themselves urged to spend more time on other tasks. Inevitably and unfortunately, funding for counter-terrorism has diminished.
As Richard Fadden of CSIS pointed out in a brilliant presentation on October 29th, 2009, there is an accidental cabal of special interest groups, activist lawyers, unsympathetic judges and media who also work to inhibit the effectiveness of our counter-terror functions. Some may be consciously undermining our defences to advance radical agendas. More do unconsciously, saving their conscious thought for issues of human rights and justice and some genuinely believe that they are doing’ good.’ Regardless, affairs like the Arar Inquiry (which never asked the questions it should have) or the debate over our national security certificate detainees have severely inhibited the ability of police to react proactively to prevent terrorism, or to cooperate internationally.
Worse still, as Canada moves beyond complacency into vulnerability, such counter-terror assets that we still have are being reassigned to other functions. At the end of 2009 and through to the middle of 2010, a major proportion of the personnel in the INSET teams and other bodies will have their main focus transferred away from their proper functions. They are being assigned to enhance security for the Olympic Torch Run, and then for the Winter Olympic Games. Once these events conclude, they will have to prepare for the G-8 and G-20 Summits. In the meantime, their routine work on foreign terrorists in Canada, home-grown Jihadists and much else will be largely untended until they can return back to ‘normal’ functioning in the late summer of 2010.
Thus the practical, now the intangible…
There are cycles in history that are not really predictable in detail and are sometimes unreadable as they begin. Yet it is easy to know that a crest follows a trough and that big waves can endanger the unready.
Waves can damage ships that are light on ballast, un-trimmed, pointed in the wrong direction, have an inattentive crew or are just unlucky. When it comes to Canada and our counter-terrorism efforts, we are light on ballast, out of trim, not careful in our directions, and have an inattentive bridge crew. Bad luck can be expected in such circumstances and so far Canada has used up more good luck than we have a right to expect.
Without straying too far into rarefied discussions of Jungian psychology or trying to invent some theory of political metaphysics, there are times when our collective subconscious can move human societies in unconscious directions. To put it more bluntly, sometimes stuff happens because at one level enough people wanted it to happen.
While long periods of peace and prosperity are very attractive to most human beings, they have two negative consequences. First, there are always some people whose ambitions outstrip their abilities and who will quietly work when and where they can to overturn the system. For every historic Hitler or Robespierre, there are a thousand who aspire to the same roles. Second, there will always be a number of people who feel that their lives have lacked purpose, meaning, or even just real adventure and they will quietly yearn for some big dramatic event.
A case in point might be the European reaction to a minor political episode in Sarajevo in 1914. Europe had been peaceful for over 40 years and its people were enjoying an unparalleled prosperity when the crisis came. One result was that Europeans were bored. Read the poetry and diaries of those who survived the next four years. When the First World War came they marched off to the great transforming drama with songs in their hearts and cheers echoing in the streets. Everyone was going to be home by Christmas after a big adventure.
Despite the ghastly ordeals of Verdun and the Somme, that same yearning for an exciting transformation continued after the war. Part of this can be blamed on the war itself; wars can radicalize populations, especially those who lose them.
This also tells us that the appetite for some manner of dramatic change, once generated, will continue if things become unstable and that it is not a yearning that is exclusive to times of prosperity. The ideals that were shattered by the First World War gave way to two decades of Communist and Fascist demagogues and ‘shirt’ movements (the Brown shirts of Germany, Black Shirts of Italy, Blue Shirts of Spain, and a plethora of similarly dyed-in-the-cotton troublemakers elsewhere).
After decades of tumult and death between the World Wars and the ascension of Stalin and Mao, the world had a decade of relative peace and prosperity in the 1950s. Naturally, however, this gave rise to another generation that craved some sort of exciting transformation that would fill the world with new meaning and a different reality. For every flower child out on the streets resonating to the message in “The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, there was someone else who thought harmony and understanding could be furthered with a well-crafted pipe bomb.
This rejection of peace and prosperity, and a yearning for something new or a simple desire to find the reboot button for the whole of society and press it, has been a constant for the last 150 years of growth around the world. It explains the anarchists of the late 19th Century and the fascists and the communists. It explains the Left-Wing terrorists and sundry ‘National Liberation’ movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. It also explains the Islamic terrorists of today.
Islamic terrorism does not arise out of poverty. The shrill radicals of Sunni and Shiia extremism are funded by fabulous oil wealth that exceeds anything the Islamic World has ever known. Moreover, their societies are stable, albeit moribund and as resistant to reform as they ever were. This stability and prosperity has kindled a new generation of dreamers who have adopted romanticized visions of what could be and seek dramatic change. However, while their own societies are stagnant, the radicals have been mostly persuaded that the societies they should target lie elsewhere.
Those who seek dramatic and exciting transformations can sense weakness in a society in much the same way that a latent virus knows that its host is weakening and the time to infect it has arrived. To mix metaphors, those who normally gnaw at the foundations of a society can sometimes sense when a good shove will yield even better results.
The swelling at the base of a great wave is about us now. The certainties that shaped the world since 1945 have all been eroded and a shift is coming. Those who dream of great transformations sense this as well and are growing emboldened.
Since 2003, the most obvious and active font of terrorism inside the Western World has been the ‘home grown’ Islamic terrorists. They have rarely succeeded in launching organized attacks (the Madrid Bombing and the London 7/7 bombings) but there have been over 200 separate plots to deliver other attacks. There have also been a growing number of solitary attacks by lone Muslims – such as that recently delivered by Major Hasan in Fort Hood.
Many of the people that are normally attracted to terrorism, those who seek to submerge themselves in same mass movement and to change the world, used to be attracted to the radical right and radical left. However, radical Islam is now the new power ideology. About ten percent of the ‘Homegrowns’ arrested thus far have been converts. Elsewhere, the rent-a-mob of the Left have allied themselves to the Jihadis to fulminate against Israel and our Jewish communities. This attraction is enhanced because of radical Islam’s pledge to destroy the West.
Even the Radical Right is starting to stir again, tempted both by the times and the resurgent conservatism of voters who see that existing political elites refuse to recognize some realities about today’s threats or to muster our collective defences against those threats.
Older radicals of the non-democratic Left sense that they must join the oily political fronts of the Jihad movement and do everything they can to inhibit our ability to defend ourselves. We cannot be allowed to interfere with our coming destruction. Those who yearn for violent transformation, for the death of what-is for some undefined what-could-be, have been working towards this end. As Jung would point out, their interference is not a conscious thought but an unconscious one. In History, we just know that that there are times when those who would commit terrorism grow excited and redouble their efforts to prepare for an exciting new era, and that sometimes the bloodshed can go on for years. Such a time is cresting ahead of us.