( 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.This is the seventh instalment of relevant extracts from the report.)
The November 1984 Plot is a similar instance of a pre-bombing failure to
integrate important information into the mosaic of threats. In September 1984,
the RCMP learned, through “Person 1,” that Sikh extremists were organizing to
bomb an Air India plane but failed to share this information with its own HQ,
with CSIS or with other agencies. CSIS did not learn of the existence of this
plot until late October 1984, when the Vancouver Police Department received
essentially the same information from “Person 2”, which it then shared with
CSIS and with the RCMP. The RCMP, however, failed to inform CSIS that this
information constituted corroboration of earlier information from another
independent source, Person 1.
CSIS was aware of several threats against Air India during the month of October
1984 and, prior to learning of Person 2’s information, issued a threat assessment
noting that an attack in Canada was remote but could not be ruled out.
After receiving Person 2’s information, CSIS updated its assessment to a “real
possibility” that Sikhs would damage an Air India plane.
It was not until March 1986, when the RCMP performed a post-bombing fi le
review, that Person 1’s statement to police in September 1984 about a man in
Duncan who could manufacture “nitro” for blowing up an Air India fl ight come
to light. If CSIS had received this information in the pre-bombing period, the
signifi cance of the excursion by Parmar and Duncan resident Inderjit Singh
Reyat into the woods near Duncan would have undoubtedly been assessed in
a more sinister light.
This chain of events dramatically illustrates the role that corroborating
information can have on the threat assessment process. It also highlights how
a lack of all relevant information can result in a serious potential threat being
Quite aside from the information provided by Bartleman and intelligence about
the June 1st Telex and the November Plot, there were other key pieces of the
mosaic in the possession of government agencies that CSIS never received and
therefore couldn’t use in its threat assessment.
After the close of the hearings, the Commission became aware of relevant
information in the possession of the Communications Security Establishment.
CSE information is subject to rigorous National Security Confi dentiality
requirements, and little detail can be revealed about this information except
that the information indicated that specifi c security measures, substantially
similar to those listed in the June 1st Telex, were to be undertaken inside and
outside of India for Air India fl ights due to threats of sabotage and hijacking by
Sikh extremists. Furthermore, Indian airports were undertaking security audits
in response to the threats and the Government of India had shown an increased
interest in the security of airports against the Sikh terrorist threat in the month
of June 1985. This latter fact would have clearly called into question RCMP and
Transport Canada offi cials’ view that threats, such as the June 1st Telex, were
provided by Air India solely as a means to obtain additional security for free.
This additional information might, in itself, seem unremarkable, but in the
context of the June 1st Telex, as well as other information known to agencies of
the Canadian government in June 1985, it should have suggested a signifi cant
risk of a bomb attack on an Air India fl ight in June 1985. There is no record of
the CSE information being provided to CSIS.
The June 1st Telex and the CSE information were more than enough, had they
been assembled in one place and assessed by a skilled analyst, to have mandated
an upgrading of security and the implementation of responsive measures at
Pearson and Mirabel airports and, arguably, at airports with connecting fl ights
to Air India, so as to respond to a high threat of sabotage by bombs concealed
in checked baggage. The Commission accepts the expert evidence given at the
Inquiry that, even on its own, the June 1st Telex clearly should have led to this
upgrade in security. ( To be continued)