May 25, 2007

CANADA: Spying cast in negative light: CSIS head

http://www.thestar.com/News/article/217600
May 25, 2007 04:30 AM
Richard Brennan
OTTAWA BUREAU

OTTAWA–CSIS director Jim Judd says all too often secretive intelligence agencies like his are better known for what they did wrong rather than what they did right.

"The success of significant terrorist actions in the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere around the world ... are also cast as intelligence failures," Judd said in a luncheon speech yesterday. While Judd did not mention the 1985 Air India bombing specifically, his remarks come as the apparent failures of the then-newly formed Canadian Security Intelligence Service are under a microscope at an inquiry into Canada's worst act of terrorism.

"It has been argued that intelligence services generally have a spotty track record on credibility and predictability. Their crystal balls have too often seemed to be more cloudy than clear. They are sometimes better known for what they allegedly got wrong rather than for what they got right," Judd said.

He said examples of major events the intelligence community failed to predict included the end of the Cold War and the fall of the shah of Iran.

The inquiry into the June 23, 1985 terrorist bombing of Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland, killing 329 people, has heard evidence about the apparent inability of senior CSIS officials to fully understand the implications of Sikh extremism in Canada, which is believed to have led to the tragedy.


Yesterday, the inquiry heard it wasn't until after Flight 182 was destroyed by a terrorist bomb that CSIS agents realized the lead suspect had likely tested an explosive in a wooded area near Duncan, B.C., just days before.

"The significance of the Duncan blast came home to me at that moment," said former Vancouver-based Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent Ray Kobzey. CSIS is not a police agency and has no power to arrest, but it seeks and obtains warrants to collect information and permission to set up surveillance of suspects who might be a threat to national security.

CSIS agents who tailed Sikh extremist Talwinder Singh Parmar on June 4, 1985, to a wooded area near Duncan reported they heard an "explosion" that sounded like it came from a large handgun, probably a Smith & Wesson 357 magnum.

Since it was believed to be a gun, CSIS agents did not search for bomb debris, but a search of the area by RCMP investigators after Flight 182 was downed found wire and other materials associated with a bomb.

Kobzey testified he returned from a sailing vacation just hours before the flight was blown up.

When he learned what happened, "my reply to that was that expletive Parmar he did it, they did it. That was my gut feeling."

Parmar, once described as the most radical and dangerous Sikh in the country, became the prime suspect in the Air India bombing.

He was later killed in a shootout with police in India.

Kobzey said he recognized the growing Sikh threat in B.C. and so found it "unacceptable" and "unreasonable" that it took five months to get a warrant to monitor Parmar, including wiretaps.

"It definitely hampered us gaining knowledge of the target," Kobzey said.

He testified he also ran into a bureaucratic roadblock getting surveillance for Parmar approved.

It took two months because, as with the warrant application, it was considered a low priority, even though Parmar or his associates were threatening to kill Hindus.

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