By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 0 Comments
A week into his summer tour, Michael Ignatieff is more or less on the record about the Cornwall border crossing, flooding in Manitoba, farm insurance, Louis Riel, firefighters, the census, the proposed Pickering airport, Afghanistan, Richard Fadden, foreign investment, affordable housing, contraband cigarettes, fighter jets, a Peterborough rail link, election timing, overseas travel, our politics and prison farms.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 5:25 PM - 0 Comments
After an announcement in Waterloo this afternoon, the Prime Minister managed to get through a brief session with reporters without a single question about the director of our national spy agency. Nonetheless, I had previously filed a couple questions, via e-mail, with the Prime Minister’s Office:
1. “Does the Prime Minister feel that Richard Fadden has violated the CSIS Act?”
2. “Does the Prime Minister still have confidence in Richard Fadden as the director of CSIS?”
And now, some responses. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 1:02 PM - 0 Comments
It escaped me in the moment, but it is perhaps worth noting that the Conservative MP who most aggressively pursued Richard Fadden yesterday was Dave MacKenzie, who holds the title and responsibility of parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety.
Secondly, the portion of the CSIS Act in question yesterday was Section 19. Mr. Fadden’s defence seemed to be that the information he disclosed was not specific enough to constitute a violation.
19. (1) Information obtained in the performance of the duties and functions of the Service under this Act shall not be disclosed by the Service except in accordance with this section.
(2) The Service may disclose information referred to in subsection (1) for the purposes of the performance of its duties and functions under this Act or the administration or enforcement of this Act or as required by any other law and may also disclose such information,
(a) where the information may be used in the investigation or prosecution of an alleged contravention of any law of Canada or a province, to a peace officer having jurisdiction to investigate the alleged contravention and to the Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of the province in which proceedings in respect of the alleged contravention may be taken;
(b) where the information relates to the conduct of the international affairs of Canada, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs or a person designated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the purpose;
(c) where the information is relevant to the defence of Canada, to the Minister of National Defence or a person designated by the Minister of National Defence for the purpose; or
(d) where, in the opinion of the Minister, disclosure of the information to any minister of the Crown or person in the public service of Canada is essential in the public interest and that interest clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure, to that minister or person.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 5, 2010 at 5:47 PM - 0 Comments
Perhaps the best one can say for Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and as such the man responsible for protecting our most sensitive secrets, is that when his two hours before committee today were complete, he rose from his seat, turned toward the door and walked past reporters without taking a question.
This is progress. Quiet progress.
Mr. Fadden, today in a dark blue suit, sporting dark-rimmed glasses and a tan, had spent the previous two hours attempting to wiggle free from a fiendish trap of his own design. In March, before an audience of police, security and military experts, he spoke of “foreign interference” in Canadian politics, going so far—without naming names, mind you—as to suggest that two provincial cabinet ministers might be under the influence of such suasion. And so here he sat before 10 MPs, each trying to understand precisely what he had been talking about, or at least why he had felt the need to say as much.
Behind Mr. Fadden, sat a couple dozen or so reporters, each finding refuge from the heat wave outside, or at least something to do on a quiet July morning in Ottawa. Months before his comments about the political class, Mr. Fadden had, coincidentally, told another audience—without naming names, mind you—that the “media” was rife with terrorist sympathizers. And so here Mr. Fadden must have surely felt surrounded. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Monday, July 5, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Burton Cummings finishes high school, Lady Gaga tries to liven her show with a few corpses, and a big week for—poets?
The never-ending story
It took John Isner of the U.S. from Tuesday until Thursday—a record 11 hours, five minutes—to post a first-round victory at Wimbledon over France’s Nicolas Mahut. An exhausted Isner lost in the second round Friday to Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands. “I was just low on fuel out there,” Isner said.
John Major – On the Air India bombing, Sikh extremism in B.C., and why airport security is still so lax
By Philip Slayton - Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:20 AM - 1 Comment
John Major in conversation
Four years ago, retired Supreme Court judge John Major was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to lead an inquiry into the bungled investigation of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 that killed 329 people. His 4,000-page report was issued last week. In it, he calls for an urgent rethinking of Canada’s security system, and offers a scathing review of the roles of the RCMP and CSIS. He spoke to Maclean’s from his home in Calgary.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 10:37 AM - 127 Comments
The parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs has rebuked the CSIS chief over those allegations of foreign interference in Canadian politics and Mr. Fadden is now due to appear before the public safety committee next Monday. Wesley Wark, meanwhile, demands a mea culpa
This is explosive stuff, and it has now blown up in Fadden’s face. The CSIS director should never have gone public with this story in the first place.
To do so endangers the reputation of CSIS, and risks the politicization of the service. No intelligence agency in a democracy can be allowed to be used to make accusations about politicians in office. If such accusations have to be made, they have to be based on credible evidence, exhaustively reviewed, and they have to be made by government ministers or the prime minister.
By Andrew Potter - Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 3:25 PM - 13 Comments
In light of the furore over Fadden’s remarks, it is worth reading Brian Stewart’s…
In light of the furore over Fadden’s remarks, it is worth reading Brian Stewart’s behind-the-scenes look at how CSIS struggles to be a spy agency in a society that demands more accountability and transparency. Part of Brian’s goal with his documentaries was not to break explosive news, but simply to open CSIS up to the Canadians, give us a sense of how the organization works and what it does. As Brian writes, the fear is that the Fadden brouhaha will only drive CSIS back into its shell.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 4:07 PM - 74 Comments
Richard Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has made himself look ridiculous on precisely the sort of national security issue about which he has, in the recent past, lectured the media and “opinion leaders” for failing to take seriously enough.
Fadden is backpedaling awkwardly today from the startling remarks he made in a CBC interview about provincial cabinet ministers, and other public servants, being “under at least the general influence of a foreign government.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 3:15 PM - 12 Comments
Earlier today, the Prime Minister’s Office had been punting questions on the matter—”We have no knowledge of these matters. CSIS directs its own operations. Questions should be directed to CSIS.”—and just now, Mr. Fadden has attempted to punt his own allegations of foreign interference in Canadian politics.
“I have not apprised the Privy Council Office of the cases I mentioned in the interview on CBC. At this point, CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities. There will be no further comments on these operational matters.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 8, 2010 at 5:18 PM - 101 Comments
The Conservatives across the way groaned and moaned their agreement.
“Recently we have seen reports about the role of CSIS in interrogation and detainee transfers. These are disturbing reports but the government keeps holding back the truth,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “It has now appointed Justice Iacobucci, for whom we have great respect—”
The Conservatives cheered, perhaps prematurely.
“We share those sentiments entirely,” Mr. Ignatieff continued pointing his left index finger slightly, “but if he does not have the power, if he does not have the authority, if he only sees what the government wants him to see, how can he get at the truth? Why will the Prime Minister not do the right thing and appoint a full public inquiry?”
This question would go unacknowledged as the Prime Minister stood, adjusted his left cuff, and ventured his own version of events. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 8, 2010 at 1:27 AM - 25 Comments
Defence Minister Peter MacKay comments on the involvement of CSIS in Afghanistan.
“Officials from the Department of Public Safety (which includes CSIS) clearly do play an important role depending on what particular Taliban prisoners may have to say, what information is being sought, and clearly it’s in all our interests to have accurate information as we attempt to protect people – which is what we’re there to do,” he said in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 1:33 PM - 65 Comments
Canadian Press details the involvement of CSIS in the interrogation and transfer of detainees.
The spies began working side-by-side with a unit of military police intelligence officers as the Afghan war spiralled out of control in 2006, according to heavily censored witness transcripts filed with the Military Police Complaints Commission.
The spy agency’s previously unknown role in questioning detainees adds a new dimension to the controversy about the handling and possible torture of prisoners by Afghan security forces. It also raises more questions about the critical early years in Kandahar when the Canadian military found itself mired in a guerrilla war it had not expected to fight.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 5 Comments
The ‘Toronto 18’ informant sets the record straight
When his testimony wraps up in the coming days, the man once known as Shaher Elsohemy will step off the stand and disappear back into the arms of the witness protection program. For obvious reasons, nothing about his new life can be revealed. Not his fake name. Not his whereabouts. Nothing. But one thing is absolutely certain: when he does leave the witness box and return to location unknown, he can walk away a happy man—vindicated, finally, after all these years.
Until last week, when he showed his face for the first time since 2006, Elsohemy was famous for two things: helping the RCMP topple the so-called “Toronto 18,” and being paid millions of dollars in the process. For more than three years, the Mounties’ star informant had to stay hidden in the shadows while countless fellow Muslims attacked his credibility. They called him a traitor. A rat. A money-hungry liar who deserves to “suffer in this life and the next.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 11:46 AM - 16 Comments
Finally, Shaher Elsohemy has a chance to tell the truth
When his testimony wraps up sometime in the coming days, the man once known as Shaher Elsohemy will step off the stand and disappear back into the arms of the witness protection program. For obvious reasons, nothing about his new life can be revealed. Not his fake name. Not his whereabouts. Nothing. But one thing is absolutely certain: when he does leave the witness box and return to location unknown, he can walk away a happy man—vindicated, finally, after all these years.
Until last week, when he showed his face for the first time since 2006, Elsohemy was famous for two things: helping the RCMP topple the worst of the so-called “Toronto 18,” and being paid millions of dollars in the process. For more than three years, the Mounties’ star informant had to stay hidden in the shadows and keep his mouth shut while countless fellow Muslims attacked his credibility. They called him a traitor. A rat. A money-hungry snitch who deserves to “suffer in this life and the next.” More than one defence lawyer accused him of concocting lies in order to line his pockets.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 9:57 PM - 4 Comments
Terror suspect allegedly boasted about future “Battle of Toronto”
For a man who insists he is innocent, Shareef Abdelhaleem sure spent a lot of time worrying about police surveillance teams. The accused Canadian terrorist was so afraid of being photographed by CSIS and the RCMP that he grew increasingly paranoid about meeting in certain places or being seen with certain people, especially outdoors. Three weeks before being rounded up as part of the “Toronto 18”, he asked Zakaria Amara—the group’s confessed ringleader—whether he thought the authorities were watching him. “No,” he assured him. “Not anymore.”
The irony, of course, is that Abdelhaleem’s every word—including that chat with Amara—was being secretly recorded by the very investigators he was desperate to dodge. As he now painfully realizes, anti-terror cops used at least two tiny microphones to capture his conversations: one inside the Canadian Tire gas station where Amara worked, and another hidden somewhere on the body of a police informant named Shaher Elsohemy. In other words, whenever Abdelhaleem mused about whether police were watching him, he was speaking directly to them.
Abdelhaleem’s stress level about being caught fluctuated depending on the day, says Elsohemy, who is now testifying at the criminal trial of his old “friend.” On May 15, 2006, for example, Abdelhaleem told the RCMP’s undercover asset that “he does not believe authorities know anything about this plot.” Three days later, though, he said a CSIS spy followed he and Amara as they drove around Mississauga. “He told me they went after [the CSIS agent] and tried to check him out,” Elsohemy testified on Wednesday. “They videotaped him, too. Mr. Abdelhaleem believed his picture was taken, too.”
Now 34, Abdelhaleem is charged with participating in a now-infamous terrorist plot to detonate truck bombs at three locations in southern Ontario, including the Toronto Stock Exchange. Although 18 suspects were rounded up in the sensational raids of June 2, 2006, only four were accused of actually participating in the bomb conspiracy. Three of those men, including the mastermind Amara, have since pleaded guilty, but Abdelhaleem has chosen to fight the charges in court. He denies any involvement, and claims that the RCMP’s prized informant cannot be believed because he was paid $4 million for his covert services.
Despite the other confessions, Abdelhaleem is considered innocent until proven guilty. However, in order to walk away a free man, he must convince a judge that he was oblivious to a murderous plot that clearly unfolded right under his nose—and, as the wiretaps reveal, he spent hours talking about.
“He described it as ‘the perfect crime,’ ” said Elsohemy, answering questions from the prosecution. “He said this plot will screw Stephen Harper, the government and the military, and might lead to Canada puling its troops out of Afghanistan because they are not tough like the British and the Americans.”
A former Air Canada flight attendant with a university degree in agricultural engineering, Elsohemy infiltrated the group by “dangling” his ability to acquire large quantities of explosive fertilizer from his “uncle’s” company. Amara, who had already built and perfected a cell phone-controlled detonator, trusted Elsohemy enough to place a $5,500 order for three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, the missing component of his would-be bombs.
According to Elsohemy, Abdelhaleem was Amara’s loyal deputy—the buffer between the ringleader and his newfound chemical supplier. It was Abdelhaleem, Elsohemy said, who placed Amara’s order, delivered envelopes full of cash, and boasted that their attack would “shut down” the entire country.
Testifying for the third consecutive day, Elsohemy said Abdelhaleem was obsessed with every aspect of the plot, from how to store the fertilizer to how to profit from the explosion. “Shareef went to a library and checked the stock market situation after Sept. 11th,” he testified. “He said our money could be increased seven times.”
In one breath, Abdelhaleem talked about fleeing the country 15 days before the attack (perhaps to his sister’s house in Cleveland) in order to avoid suspicion. In the next, he talked about being sentenced to ten years at Kingston Penitentiary, “where he will be considered a leader” by other Muslim inmates. “He also explained to me that when he thinks about being arrested, it is only after the fact, after the bombings,” said Elsohemy, a stocky, well-spoken man with a bald head and a pair of glasses. “He never imagined that the arrests would happen before the bombs were detonated.”
As for those bombs, Elsohemy said Abdelhaleem relished in the carnage they would cause. One of the three selected targets, the CSIS headquarters in downtown Toronto, “will be affected from the main floor to the top floor,” Abdelhaleem said. “There will be blood, glass and debris everywhere.” In his words, the attack will be dubbed “The Battle of Toronto.”
But of all the tough talking he did in the weeks leading up to the arrests, surveillance was a recurring theme. According to Elsohemy, Abdelhaleem believed that because he was in charge of purchasing the ammonium nitrate—and not driving one of the three truck bombs—he could be not convicted of a serious offence. “He said he will probably be charged with assisting, but not performing,” said Elsohemy, who has yet to be cross-examined. “In his opinion, as he described it to me, he thought there was a difference between assisting and performing. If he didn’t drive the truck, that was not performing.”
In some ways, it’s hard to blame Abdelhaleem for his flawed logic. Determined to keep his plot a secret, Amara didn’t share every aspect with every accomplice. Two of his underlings—Saad Khalid and Saad Gaya—were tasked with renting a storage facility and unloading the delivery of ammonium nitrate. Two others—Abdelhaleem (allegedly) and Elsohemy—were in charge of securing the chemicals. The parallel groups never crossed paths. In fact, Abdelhaleem did not even meet his two Saads until they were arrested and thrown in the same prison wing.
Which is exactly the way Abdelhaleem preferred it, Elsohemy said. In the days before the bust, Elsohemy began to press Amara for more details. He wanted to know how the detonators worked, how many people were involved in the plot, and when the event would occur. When Amara suggested that the three of them meet at a Toronto park to discuss specifics, Abdelhaleem refused. He didn’t want to draw any further attention to himself, Elsohemy said, and he questioned his friend for wanting to know so much. “It’s better not to know,” he said, according to Elsohemy. “If you are arrested and you go under a lie detector test, if you don’t know something, you don’t know it.” Translation: Abdelhaleem was more than happy to be a naïve accomplice, because the consequences were far less severe.
Instead of a meeting, Amara suggested that Elsohemy record his questions on a USB memory stick and hand it to Abdelhaleem. Again, Abdelhaleem was furious. “You shouldn’t ask questions about things that don’t involve you.” But Abdelhaleem did as he was told, Elsohemy said. He delivered the USB stick to Amara.
On March 26, one week before Elsohemy and his entire family vanished into the witness protection program, he met the ringleader at the Café de Khan restaurant in Mississauga, in the same strip mall as the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre, the mosque where they attended Friday prayers. Amara handed him a USB stick. It included an audio message with answers to all of Elsohemy’s questions, and a short video depicting his homemade detonator in action (on the carpet of Amara’s living room, surrounded by his daughter’s toys).
Later that day, Elsohemy drove to an RCMP safe house and handed the memory stick to investigators. Played in court on Wednesday, Amara’s message assures Elsohemy that “nobody even knows you exist”—except two people. Amara. And Shareef Abdelhaleem.
The informant is back on the stand Friday morning.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:26 AM - 4 Comments
“If civilians were to be there, that was their destiny”
An accused Canadian terrorist on trial for his role in an attempted bomb plot had the full support of his father, a prominent Muslim scholar who assured his son that an attack on Canadian soil was “Islamically correct,” and if innocent civilians are killed, it is “their destiny.”
The damning allegation—which the father vehemently denies—was leveled Tuesday during another round of testimony by Shaher Elsohemy, a civilian informant who was paid more than $4 million to infiltrate the so-called “Toronto 18.” Elsohemy, whose entire family is now in the witness protection program, said Shareef Abdelhaleem sought the advice of his dad, Tariq, before committing himself to mass murder. “Abdelhaleem said he obtained a religious fatwa from his father,” he testified on Tuesday. “He told me his father told him there was nothing wrong with it. In other words, it was acceptable. And if civilians were to be there, that was their destiny.”
With his dad’s approval, Elsohemy said, Abdelhaleem stopped wavering and started acting. He urged the RCMP’s undercover mole to purchase three tonnes of explosive fertilizer, brainstormed ways to profit from an attack, and suggested to the other suspects that, for maximum effect, they trigger the explosions on three consecutive days. “He informed me that by obtaining this fatwa from his father, things are clear for him,” Elsohemy said. “He has no doubts about the Islamic correctness. Had there been before, there is no doubt anymore.”
Tariq Abdelhaleem, Shareef’s father, is a civil engineer by training and a lecturer at the Dar Al-Arqam Islamic Centre in Mississauga, Ont. Until recently, the 67-year-old worked on a contract basis for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that oversees the country’s nuclear reactors. Because he’s scheduled to testify as a witness for the defence, Tariq is not allowed attend any other part of the hearing. However, when contacted by Maclean’s via e-mail, he called Elsohemy a liar. “I have never said such a thing…what do you expect him to say!” he wrote. “I have been consistent throughout my life, in my writings and speeches, that it is completely un-Islamic to kill any person in Canada or anywhere else.” He added later: “This is [Elsohemy’s] day in court. We will have ours.”
Of the 18 suspects rounded up in the summer of 2006, only four were accused of actually participating in the bomb plot that dominated media coverage of the case. The other suspects, though charged with terrorism crimes, had no idea that a core group was armed with remote-controlled detonators and a list of three targets: the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto headquarters of Canada’s spy agency, and an unnamed military base. All they needed to complete their plan was a deadly batch of explosive fertilizer. Unfortunately for them, the Muslim businessman they trusted to orchestrate that delivery turned out to be on the RCMP’s payroll.
Three of the four bombing suspects, including the ringleader, have since confessed and pleaded guilty, but Abdelhaleem is fighting the charges in court, claiming he had no knowledge of what the others were planning, and that Shaher Elsohemy was motivated by dollar signs, not the truth. When his trial finally began on Monday, he laid eyes on his old “friend” for the first time in almost four years.
Although much has been made of the mole’s hefty compensation (many in the Muslim community have branded Elsohemy a traitor) his payday garnered barely a mention during his first two days on the witness stand. Instead, Elsohemy provided a blow-by-blow account of how he went from an Air Canada flight attendant with a slew of side businesses to the Mounties’ primary asset inside the country’s biggest anti-terror bust. Among the many revelations, one thing is now clear: there is a long history of bad blood between the Elsohemys and the Abdelhaleems.
Their paths first crossed in 2004, when Elsohemy, looking to pursue a “proper Islamic education,” enrolled in weekend classes at Dar Al-Arqam. His teacher was Tariq Abdelhaleem; Shareef was one of his classmates. “Our relationship started to go from there,” he testified. They went to the gym together, ate Chinese food, and later booked a weeklong vacation to Morocco with Elsohemy’s younger brother. That’s when the trouble began.
Near the end of the trip, Abdelhaleem accused the younger brother of stealing his money; Elsohemy sided with his friend, forcing his sibling to hand over the cash. Back in Canada, things only got worse. When someone smashed the front windshield of Abdelhaleem’s convertible BMW, he again pointed the finger at Elsohemy’s little brother. And this time, Tariq—his teacher—joined in on the accusations. “I had respect for both Shareef and Tariq Abdelhaleem, but things became a little bit shaky,” Elsohemy testified. “The threats were just increasing.” By the end of 2005, Shaher and Shareef were no longer speaking to one another.
In yet another twist, Elsohemy was dealing with a separate headache at the same time: U.S. Customs. For reasons that remain unclear, the Americans wouldn’t let him board a Miami-bound jet, jeopardizing his job as a flight attendant. Air Canada, he says, told him to stay home until the matter was resolved. Then, in December 2005, he received a surprise phone call from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The spy agency wanted a meeting, and he happily obliged, anxious to clear up any misunderstanding about his border problems.
He was so anxious, in fact, that he offered the CSIS agent a juicy hypothesis: Maybe the Americans are suspicious of me because Tariq Abdelhaleem is my teacher?
Indeed, the elder Abdelhaleem is no stranger to CSIS. Long before the son was accused of plotting death and destruction, Canada’s spies were keeping a close eye on the father. Abdelhaleem himself admits that his phones are tapped and his e-mails are monitored. Why? “Because I talk,” he told Maclean’s two years ago. “But I don’t condone violence. I never condone violence. I swear to God—to Allah in heaven—if I know somebody is going to do this, the first thing to do is to go and report it. I’m not going to hesitate for one second. It’s totally wrong to kill innocent people. How can you kill innocent people? It’s not in my book.”
After his son was taken into custody, Tariq launched captiveincanada.com, a website that “appeals to the Canadian intellect and conscience” to learn the truth about his son and the rest of the “Toronto 18.” In a post published five months ago, Abdelhaleem revealed that CSIS “denied me a permit to enter my job site as a Nuclear Planner; a job I held for the last 20 years in Canada.” He continued: “It is obvious that the agency has determined that I am a dangerous person, all of a sudden, in spite of the fact that I have no role [in] the so called ‘terror’ plot, or, otherwise, I would be in a cell room wearing an orange jumper!” (Whether CSIS has truly banned him from nuclear plants has not been independently confirmed).
In February 2006, Shareef Abdelhaleem rekindled his relationship with Elsohemy, right around the time he started working with CSIS, and later, the RCMP. Elsohemy testified that his friend was a changed man. A talented computer programmer who earned a six-figure income was suddenly obsessed with jihad videos and joining the fight in Afghanistan. By April 2006, he was obsessed with something else: planting truck bombs in downtown Toronto. A heavy man with a dark black beard and a shaved head, Abdelhaleem is now facing two charges under the Criminal Code: participation in a terrorist organization, and intent to cause an explosion. Despite the other confessions, he is considered innocent unless proven guilty.
Maclean’s requested an interview with him last week, but through his father, he declined. During a series of jailhouse discussions in 2008, however, Abdelhaleem professed his innocence and vowed to sue the federal government after his acquittal. “I was not involved,” he said. “I am just listening to people talking. I didn’t do anything, I didn’t build no damn detonator, I didn’t pay for anything, I didn’t rent anything. It wasn’t my idea.”
When asked about Elsohemy, he answered this way: “I always knew what a low-life he was. I don’t care to see him in my life again, but I need him to go on the stand so I can get the answers I want so I can walk. Let’s put it this way: He has reason to lie. He has very strong motivations, which will come up in court.”
The informant is back on the stand Wednesday morning.
By Martain Patriquin and Michael Friscolanti - Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 3:16 PM - 26 Comments
A Montreal Muslim stuck on the no-fly list is fighting to get off
The Canadian “no-fly” list is such a sensitive document that the federal government won’t even disclose how many names it contains. Instead, Transport Canada has simply assured the public that the top-secret list, in effect since 2007, is based on “reliable and vetted” intelligence collected from trusted sources. Translation: if you’re on it, authorities have good reason to believe you are an aspiring hijacker. Or worse—another Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up a U.S. jet on Christmas Day.
Though classified, the Canadian list contains one name for sure: Hani Ahmed Al Telbani. As first reported in Maclean’s, the 28-year-old Muslim—an engineering grad who allegedly surfed extremist websites using the online alias “Mujahid Taqni” (Technical Jihad)—is the only person to ever be denied boarding as a result of the so-called Passenger Protect Program, which springs into action when a blacklisted individual arrives at the check-in counter. A Palestinian immigrant, Telbani tried to catch a flight from Montreal’s Trudeau Airport to Saudi Arabia on June 4, 2008, but instead of a seat number, the airline agent handed him an “Emergency Direction” from Transport Canada. “You,” it proclaimed, “pose an immediate threat to aviation security.”
But 18 months later, with airport safety once again at the top of the agenda, the evidence against Hani Al Telbani has been called into question—and with it, the credibility of the entire no-fly list. As the American government scrambles to figure out how its own maze of anti-terror watch lists failed to thwart a potential catastrophe, Canadian officials have been forced to consider a very different question: does our no-fly list include some names that don’t belong there?
According to an internal government report obtained by Maclean’s, a team of independent investigators has concluded that Telbani is not too dangerous to fly. Commissioned by Ottawa, the report is especially critical of the country’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It was CSIS that convinced Transport Canada to ground Telbani, relying on evidence that was “decidedly vague and incomplete.”
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 2 Comments
Canada was used as a gateway to the U.S. by Soviet bloc agents
During the later stages of the Cold War, East German and other Soviet bloc spies developed a “fragmented and selective, but also very accurate” knowledge of Canadian intelligence services, according to two researchers who have mined the voluminous archives of the East German secret service, the Stasi. In an unpublished paper, Thomas Wegener Friis of the University of Southern Denmark and Helmut Müller-Enbergs, who works in the Stasi archives, say that East German spies also viewed Canada as an “operational spearhead”—meaning that while Canada was a valuable espionage target on its own, it was especially useful to Soviet bloc spies as a gateway to funnel agents into the United States.
Placing such an agent was a massive operation, for which the Stasi would budget 15 years or longer. The first step would involve settling an agent in Canada. In the early days of the Cold War, it might have been possible to construct an entirely new Canadian identity for such a spy, but as Canada’s ability to trace and spot false documents improved, it was more likely that a Soviet bloc agent would adopt the identity of a real Canadian who was living in Europe, often because he had fallen in love and moved in with a European woman. If the real Canadian was in East Germany, known as the German Democratic Republic, his travel rights, phone and mail could be cut off so he could not blow the agent’s cover by resurfacing in Canada. “The agent’s goal would then be to move to the United States and marry an American. Now he has real papers,” Müller-Enbergs said in an interview with Maclean’s. “His job would then be to infiltrate the military and political sphere.”
Before an agent could be given his new identity and smuggled into Canada, however, the Stasi needed to be sure he could pass himself off as a Canadian. One option was for the agent to play the role of a West German immigrant, who could not have been expected to know the ins and outs of Canadian society. But this was a well-known ruse and often raised suspicions in Canada. Instead, the East German Ministry for State Security sent agents to Canada to act as scouts by gathering what was dubbed “regime materials,” or information about everyday life in Canada.
Agent “Siegfried,” for example, filed 69 reports between 1981 and 1989 about everything from renting a house to collecting unemployment insurance. These details would form part of a potential agent’s training before he was dispatched to Canada. “The person would have to act exactly like a Canadian,” says Müller-Enbergs. “He would have to know the language and even the dialect. He would need to know what was taught in Canadian schools. That’s why an agent’s education was so complex.”
Much of the Stasi’s information on Canada didn’t come from its agents or informers in the country. In fact, the espionage unit within the East German Embassy in Ottawa was still in its start-up phase when the Soviet empire began to disintegrate. But the espionage unit within the German Democratic Republic’s Ministry for State Security received hundreds of reports on Canada from partner intelligence agencies, such as those of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland.
The German Democratic Republic also penetrated Canadian political and military circles through its agents in West Germany. As a member of NATO, Canada shared a lot of sensitive material with its West German ally, whose government was infiltrated by East German spies. An agent known by the codenames “Katja” and “Gerald” worked in West Germany’s foreign office and filed some 37 reports on Canada during the 1970s and ’80s, including what positions Canada took at NATO summit meetings, what the Chinese foreign minister spoke about during a visit to Canada, and how the Canadian government viewed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Canadian intelligence agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, were a predictable focus of East German espionage efforts. While there is no evidence that its agents were able to penetrate CSIS, which was created in 1984, the German Democratic Republic learned much about Canada’s intelligence agencies through an agent in West Germany and from allied Soviet and Polish spies. This information included the names of suspected Canadian agents as well as reports on the “internal workings” of CSIS.
The Stasi archives stretch some 180 km, and there is much more within them waiting to be exposed for the first time. Knowing where to look is a challenge. Friis and Müller-Enbergs are particularly anxious to get their hands on index cards with numerical codes that reveal the identities of East German agents and informers in Canada. These ended up in the hands of the CIA and, Friis and Müller-Enbergs presume, CSIS. With these codes, the researchers would know where to dig in the Stasi archives to discover the full extent of East German espionage in Canada. There could be a much bigger picture to be revealed. Müller-Enbergs says that his entire world, “in the morning, in the day, and in the evening,” is consumed by spies. And he’s only uncovered a fraction of the story.
Odds that he'll demand a full public inquiry 3/2 and rising – NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar responds to Abdelrazik's story
By kadyomalley - Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 8 Comments
Not that ITQ would quibble with him if he did, mind you — not after what we heard this morning, at least. Check back at 2:30 pm for full liveblogging coverage.
(In the meantime, check out Paul Koring’s latest here.)
And we’re back — and that was a royal we, not an indication that a throng of reporters is filling the room in anticipation of Paul Dewar’s reaction; ITQ is, thus far, the only non-technician in the room. That’s what happens when you don’t give us sufficient warning of a non-urgent press conference, I guess — unless it’s likely to blow up the current news cycle real good, we’re just not going to drop everything and head to 130-S on little more than an hour’s notice.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 10:52 AM - 4 Comments
The Security Intelligence Review Committee released its report into CSIS’s handling of Omar Khadr last week, the full text is here. Strangely, despite the PMO’s assurances that the United States did not participate in torture and the Prime Minister’s findings that Khadr did not qualify as a child soldier, the SIRC seems rather preoccupied with issues of human rights, mistreatment and age. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 1:24 PM - 4 Comments
Irwin Cotler and David Grossman call for Abousfian Abdelrazik’s return.
The question, then, is why: Why is the Canadian government so committed to refusing passage home to its citizen — a position that appears to have no basis in law and indeed violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why is the government risking a third straight adverse decision in which the courts admonish it for failing to come to the protection of its citizens? Why is the government invoking dubious security considerations in its defence, ignoring the fact that its own security services — both CSIS and the RCMP — have openly stated they have no information connecting Mr. Abdelrazik to terrorism?
We have a government that is trying to use the Abdelrazik case to narrow down the constitutional right to re-enter Canada for all Canadians, and the only motivation it seems to have is trying to protect us from a threat our security agencies don’t even recognize.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 4:07 PM - 6 Comments
Adam Radwanski considers the curious case of Abousfian Abdelrazik.
Either we support civil liberties, or we don’t. It would be nice if we only had to defend people we already knew to be perfectly upstanding, law-abiding citizens, but those aren’t the people whose civil liberties need to be defended. It’s in the treatment of people about whom there are lingering doubts that a nation’s real respect for rights is tested.
I’d say that actively blocking a Canadian citizen from re-entering the country, when there are no charges against him and he’s been publicly cleared by both CSIS and the RCMP, would suggest we’re failing that test mightily. Fear of backing up a “bad guy,” the words security officials used to whisper about Arar, shouldn’t lead the rest of us to stand meekly by.