Saturday, June 19, 2010



( In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major to enquire into the crash of an aircraft of Air India named Kanishka on June 23,1985. The crash was caused by an explosive device suspected to have been planted in a piece of unaccompanied baggage by Sikh extremists belonging to the Babbar Khalsa headed by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar of Vancouver, Canada. The report of the Commission was released on June 17, 2010. The Commission has found that a "cascading series of errors" by the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service allowed the terrorist attack to take place.We will be carrying from today relevant extracts from the report)

The Air India Flight 182 tragedy was the result of a cascading series of
failures. The failures were widely distributed across the agencies and institutions
whose mandate it was to protect the safety and security of Canadians. There
were structural failures and operational failures; policy failures, communications
failures and human errors. Each contributed to, but none was the sole cause
for, Sikh terrorists being able to place a bomb in the checked baggage loaded
aboard Flight 182 without being detected. Some failures came to light almost
immediately, but a number have lain undetected, or at least unacknowledged,
for decades and have only come to light during the currency of this Commission
of Inquiry.

The first question posed by the Terms of Reference of this Inquiry is whether
Canadian institutions adequately understood and assessed the threat posed by
Sikh extremism.

All of the institutions and agencies were theoretically aware of the potential
threat to safety and security posed by terrorism in general. A few had some
knowledge of the dangers of its Sikh extremism version in particular. Several
were nominally aware of the threat of sabotage to passenger aircraft by means
of timed explosive devices in checked baggage, and one agency was even
aware of information indicating that Air India might be targeted by this method
in June 1985. As a practical matter however, none of the institutions or agencies
was adequately prepared for the events of June 22/23, 1985.

Indeed it is impossible to draw any conclusion other than that, almost without
exception, the agencies and institutions did not take the threat seriously, and
that the few individuals within these institutions who did, were faced with
insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to deal with the threat.

There are a number of plausible ways to break down the failures that allowed
the bombing of Flight 182 to occur. Each of the agencies and institutions that
should have had a role in preventing terrorist attacks displayed structural flaws
that impaired their performance.

CSIS only came into being as an independent civilian agency in 1984. Before
that, the national security intelligence was under the purview of the Security
Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The circumstances surrounding
the birth of CSIS had a deep and detrimental impact on its ability to detect the
particular security threat posed by Sikh extremism and on its ability to provide
useful advice to the agencies and institutions charged with protecting Canadian
lives and property.

Although the notion that intelligence should be handled by a civilian agency
rather than the police had been widely discussed and debated in Canada for
over a decade, the CSIS Act, which brought about this transformation, was
passed hurriedly as the last legislative act of the outgoing Liberal government
in June of 1984. It was then left to be implemented in a very short time frame
by a new Progressive Conservative administration with limited accumulated
experience in the area of national security. The result was an uneven transition,
marred by scarce resources and by bruised feelings: both at the RCMP, which
felt wronged by the removal of its intelligence mandate, and at CSIS, which felt
poorly supported in its new role.

While intelligence officers were aware of the existence of the phenomenon of
Sikh extremism, the rise in the intensity, fervour and potential danger of this
phenomenon was the result of events in the Indian sub-continent that took
place in the same time frame as the transition from the Security Service to CSIS.
These events included the occupation and fortification of the Golden Temple
in Amritsar, Sikhism’s central shrine, by armed Sikh separatists, the subsequent
bloody storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian army, and the resulting
massacres and intercommunal violence in the State of Punjab, all of which
culminated in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her
own Sikh bodyguards. This chain of events led to a rise in anti-Indian sentiment
within the Sikh diaspora, including the Sikh community in Canada.

Even in a relatively stable institutional environment, keeping up with the rapidly
changing landscape of Sikh extremism in Canada would no doubt have proved
challenging. The impact of the transition from the RCMP Security Service to CSIS
made a difficult situation that much worse.

Although CSIS personnel were dedicated and hardworking, the institutional
context was poorly geared toward dealing with terrorism in general – and with
a terrorist threat arising from Sikh extremism in particular. Canadian intelligence
gathering was stuck in a Cold War paradigm in which the primary threat to
national security was assessed as emanating from espionage by hostile foreign
governments. Most resources were allocated to counter-espionage, with
comparatively few resources devoted to counter-terrorism.

Of the resources devoted to counter-terrorism, most were concentrated on the
risks posed by Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish interests in Canada.
Even at the so-called “Sikh Desk” at CSIS headquarters, (which was a sub-unit
of the “Western Europe and Pacific Rim” unit of the Counterterrorism unit) the
arguably inadequate official complement, consisting of a unit head and four
analyst positions, was in fact only partially staffed. Only the unit head and
two analyst positions were actually filled, and that even smaller number was
further reduced by the fact that, for the better part of the year leading up to the
bombing of Flight 182, one of the incumbents was away on French language
training. In the Regions, staffing was equally thin. In BC Region, where the most
militant and most obviously dangerous elements of Sikh extremism in Canada
were to be found, two investigators were responsible for the entire investigation
of Sikh terrorism.

CSIS personnel assigned to this investigation received no additional training;
investigators and analysts were expected to learn on the job. CSIS appears
to have uncovered little, if any, information on its own, with most of
its information coming from the Government of India through the Indian High
Commission. The full extent of CSIS’s knowledge in the summer of 1984 was that
Talwinder Singh Parmar had been released from prison in Germany following a
failed extradition attempt on murder charges by the Government of India, and
had returned to Canada, where he was launching a public campaign of fiery
rhetoric and communal intimidation to radicalize gurdwaras (Sikh temples)
and to take over their direction and their revenues. CSIS was unable to provide
confirmation of its existence in Canada, let alone the actual size of the extremist
Babbar Khalsa movement that Parmar claimed to lead, and even referred to it as
the “Barbara Khalsa group.” By the fall of 1984, CSIS had pieced together enough
information to be able to identify Parmar as the most dangerous Sikh in Canada
and to opine that his associate Ajaib Singh Bagri could be manipulated to carry
out a terrorist attack. ( To be continued)