So last week I was walking past a Toronto Star newspaper box, which I literally can’t do without checking the headline. This particular day the Star was whinging about the RCMP and its supposedly inadequate anti-terrorism funding, which at the time I thought was just a straightforwardly transparent attempt by the Mounties to get more money out of a government which is flogging the terror issue to death. (Hopefully that’s not a too-insensitive metaphor.)
But since then some of my reading has gotten me to digging further, and I’ve had to revise my initial impression. The Star was indeed pushing for more cash for the Mounties’ anti-terror programs, but they were also quite slickly drawing attention away from the actual content of those programs.
Let’s start with a rundown of the Star’s article: “RCMP FORCED TO SHUFFLE CASH, STAFF TO MEET TERRORISM DUTIES, DOCUMENTS SHOW”
The gist of it is that the RCMP whined to Parliament earlier this year that they were bearing the main brunt of funding an inter-agency anti-domestic terrorism program known as INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team). Their contributions towards this program have increased by more than 3200% in the last twelve years while the federal government’s input has remained constant, not even adjusting for inflation. The result of this funding shortfall is that the Mounties have had to transfer resources and staff – over 600 staff! – from other areas of focus into domestic counter-terrorism operations. The article specifically references resources being transferred away from investigating economic crime, i.e. banks and hedge funds screwing over us common folk, as well as organized crime. The Star, being the loyal Liberal rag it is, doesn’t delve into this angle, but instead tries to make this a strictly partisan issue:
The Star also requested an interview with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney’s office. In reply, a spokeperson for Blaney said the government has increased security agencies budgets since coming to power — and took a shot at the opposition for voting against Conservative budgets.
“Despite the Liberal and NDP’s votes against these increases, our government will continue to ensure that our national security agencies have the resources they need to keep Canadians safe,” wrote Jean-Christophe de la Rue, in a three sentence statement.
(Note the Star’s icily dismissive tone in the quote attribution – to me that says, “He wouldn’t even talk to us on the phone! He passed us off to a spokesperson who wrote us a half-assed paragraph-long statement and expected us to be satisfied with that! The nerve!” That’s a big fat clue they’re giving you as to who they want you to think the bad guys are here.)
But Liberal finance critic Ralph Goodale said the RCMP’s numbers contradicts the Conservatives’ “rhetoric” around public safety and national security issues.
“Despite what the government has been saying about the increasing risks to national security and the increasing importance of our security agencies, the official budget has flatlined at $10 million for more than a decade,” Goodale, whose office obtained the documents, said in an interview.
Well, thank God for the Liberal Party! (The party that, by the way, is going along wholesale with the government’s so-called anti-terror agenda and voting en bloc for the noxious Bill C-51.) Thank God somebody has the integrity to call out the government for inadequately funding this much-needed response to domestic terror!
Is this INSET program really all that necessary? What does INSET even do, anyway?
The Star’s brief paragraph on the purpose of this huge resource-sucking program left me with some questions, so I went to the RCMP’s website to find out more. It looks like this was the single stop on the Star’s research tour as well, as the meagre amount of information the Mounties give out is duplicated in the article.
To give a bit more detail on INSET: it’s actually five programs, not one. It operates in six major Canadian cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and a joint Calgary-Edmonton unit, each of which is known as an INSET. And the purpose of these INSETs?
The purpose for [INSETs] is to increase the capacity for the collection, sharing and analysis of intelligence among partners with respect to individuals and entities that are a threat to national security and; create an enhanced investigative capacity to bring such individuals and entities to justice; and enhance partner agencies collective ability to combat national security threats and meet all specific mandate responsibilities, consistent with the laws of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
INSETs are made up of representatives of the RCMP, federal partners and agencies such as Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and provincial and municipal police services. [sic throughout] [Evidently one of the 600+ officers transferred out of their normal duties into INSET was the one responsible for copy-editing and keeping track of all the semicolons]
That’s some pretty suggestively murky language right there. If “enhanced interrogation techniques” turned out to mean “torture”, what do you supposed “enhanced investigative capacity” means when translated into plain English? It’s hard to say exactly, but after squinting really hard at these paragraphs, I came to the conclusion that INSET is largely about undercover and intelligence work, infiltrating suspected national security threats and disrupting them from within. This all sounds a little reminiscent of the much-loathed Bill C-51, as even the Star is forced to concede:
One question that has been largely ignored in the heated debate around C-51 is how CSIS’s new powers will work in areas of the RCMP’s current jurisdiction.
And it seems that the RCMP isn’t happy to have its toes stepped on in this field, especially when they’re paying the brunt of the costs for what’s supposed to be an inter-agency program. So this document release (to the Liberal party, the Star implies) is perhaps part of a behind-the-scenes CSIS v. RCMP turf war which may be the subject of a future post but which is too murky to dive into today.
What I do want to look at today is INSET in action. This is the program that the Conservatives and Liberals are playing political football with in the Star’s article, the program that the Star presents as an obviously needed good thing without delving into the specifics, a program the RCMP describes in obscuring language . What does it actually do?
Let’s flash back to Canada Day weekend, 2013. Do you remember this?
John Stewart Nuttall, 38, and Amanda Marie Korody, 30, allegedly tried to leave pressure cooker bombs at British Columbia’s provincial legislature on Monday, when thousands of revellers were expected to be there to celebrate the national holiday.
The couple, who are both recovering addicts, were inspired by al-Qaeda ideology but were self-radicalized, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.
Police said the pair targeted the celebrations, but the bombs were found outside the legislature before the crowds gathered.
‘This self-radicalized behavior was intended to create maximum impact and harm to Canadian citizens at the British Columbia legislature on a national holiday,’ [RCMP superintendent Wayne] Rideout said. ‘They took steps to educate themselves and produce explosive devices designed to cause injury and death.’
I encourage you to click through to the link – there’s a reason I chose the UK’s Daily Mail, as it’s known both for its extreme sensationalism and its high ratio of pictures to text. The RCMP triumphalism and gushing gratitude of politicians is a little nausea inducing, so fair warning. The pictures are what tell the story here, I’d say; the absolute squalor and mess that these ex-junkies lived in speaks to their capacity to organize such a plot. And indeed, as more details about the case came out, it became clear that the whole thing wasn’t their idea to begin with. The clues were there from the beginning – this Russia Today article from the day after the arrest notes that:
The arrests stem from a five-month-long investigation spearheaded by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service under the name Project Souvenir that culminated with both suspects being arrested Monday, Canada Day. That probe would go on to include participation from the likes of both the RCMP and the Canada Border Service Agency.
Note the conjunction of agencies there? Now refer back to the RCMP’s description of the INSET program and…do we have a match? Vancouver-based wannabe jihadis foiled by a cooperative effort between three major Canadian security agencies?
So OK, INSET foiled a plot to blow up thousands of patriotic Canadians on Canada Day! Good for them!
Or did they?
From last week: “Undercover Mounties pushed pressure-cooker bomb plan on accused terror couple, court hears”
The Surrey couple accused of plotting to bomb the B.C. Legislature was taken on a three-day holiday in the Okanagan by the RCMP so they could relax while working on their terrorist plan.
But surveillance recordings of the impoverished addicts relishing the police-provided corner hotel suite and personal bathrobes don’t buttress the prosecution case against the pair. They broadsided it.
Organized after RCMP undercover officers had spent more than four months in a futile attempt to have John Nuttall articulate a real plan, the police used the Kelowna getaway to persuade him to abandon a harebrained scheme involving rockets armed with explosives made from cow manure and use pressure-cooker bombs filled with C-4.
“The reason I like the pressure-cooker idea is because we know it works, and it’s doable,” said an undercover officer acting as an Islamic extremist in the sophisticated police sting.
Later during the meeting, the officer, who like his colleagues cannot be named or identified by court order, enthusiastically reiterated the message: “I like that idea (using pressure-cooker bombs) … if you had a bunch of those and you decided you actually wanted to use that … if you wanted to put C-4 in that, like holy shit, how much damage would that (cause)…”
If Nuttall didn’t get the message, it was repeated a third time by the cop: “I like the pressure cooker thing a lot. I think it is feasible. It’s exciting. You know you can do it.”
But their B.C. Supreme Court trial has heard that by mid-June Nuttall, who was on methadone, didn’t know what day of the week it was and often confused the federal and provincial governments, Parliament and the Legislature, Ottawa and Victoria.
His lawyer Marilyn Sandford suggested the holiday was organized because the Mounties were concerned their 240-officer investigation was off the rails because Nuttall was unbalanced and unfocused.
Much of what he said was culled from Rambo movies, conspiracy plots and extremist Islamic literature.
He was wearing mirrored-rock-star sunglasses and eye-makeup, known as kohl, as the RCMP officer pretending to be an extremist Arab businessman drove them to Kelowna on June 16.
Nuttall intended to launch rockets at the “Parliament Buildings” and if he had any left over he would launch them at Seattle — which he believed was 32 km from Vancouver rather its true distance, 230 km. [emphasis added]
What’s more, per the CBC:
In surveillance tape from June 30, Nuttall becomes agitated as he complains that an Arab businessman and his accomplices are pressuring them to rush the plan.
The businessman and his collaborators are undercover police officers.
At one point in the video, Nuttall wonders out loud whether he and Korody have been caught in a police sting.
What that sounds like to me is that the Mounties had put a ton of funding into these INSETs without seeing strong results and the higher-ups were getting antsy for a big arrest. So they devote huge amounts of time and money and two hundred forty officers to this case which just keeps not panning out, and all the way up the chain of command there’s pressure to get results, get an arrest, get some headlines, to the point that they pretty much concocted the whole damn plot. They took Nuttall’s initial half-baked unachievable plan of making rocket explosives out of cow manure, a plan that he projected would take over a year of concentrated effort to achieve (effort of which he was incapable, left to his own devices), and pressed the couple hard to consider a more realistic and achievable attack plan. They provided them with the means, the cash, the knowledge, and the capability to achieve a plot that they themselves had concocted. And then, at the last minute, they “caught the bad guys”, to international acclaim – and on such a conveniently symbolic day, too. Perfect for maximum media impact, really.
This is what the RCMP has been diverting resources away from investigating organized crime and economic crime for: the entrapment of useful idiots who wouldn’t in their wildest dreams be able to pull off the kinds of crimes that they’re being charged with – at least, not without help from the 240 cops assigned to the case. This is why they went whining to Parliament with their none-too-subtle grab for more of the anti-terror dough – so they can save us from more fearsome domestic terrorists like Nuttall and Korody, who, in their deluded entrapped fever, asked their undercover cop handler to arrange care for their cat (preferably by a fellow Muslim) and requested AK-47s because the public would associate them with Islamic terrorists they had seen in movies.
“We might not even have to start killing anyone because they will see that [they have AK-47s] and they will know, ‘Oh wow, they’re not messing around because they’re Muslims,’ ” says Nuttall.
Like, seriously? The RCMP (and CSIS and CBSA) made these folks into terrorists. They found two strung-out methadone-dependent ex-junkie recently-converted Muslims who had poor comprehension of Islam and they made them into terrorists. Nuttall and Korody weren’t “self-radicalized”, as the triumphant press releases from 2013 claim – they were radicalized by the cops, pushed into a plot which was far beyond their capacity to comprehend. This is what $20 million of extra annual funding has bought us – show trials to convince us that we need to spend more money on more counter-terror operations like this one.
So back to the Star article that prompted this whole tirade. To read it out of context, one would come to the straightforward and obvious conclusion that the Conservative government, though it’s talking tough on terror, isn’t adequately funding the agencies who are putting themselves on the front lines of this vital and necessary struggle, and that is making us all Less Safe. They use statistics to make the case seem drastic, and partisan pot-shot quotes to make it seem like a political in-fight. They present INSET as an important, if abstract, program, something that is indisputably and unquestionably Good, although the details are somewhat murky.
But here is Golden Rule #1 of Spin – the devil really is in the details, and the more murky they are, the easier it is to make an issue seem black and white, which is to say, partisan. But the real story here isn’t the struggle for advantage between the almost indistinguishable Liberal and Conservative parties. It’s the incredible chutzpah the RCMP has in crying to Parliament about how much it’s spending on their terrorism “obligations” and begging for more when the best it can come up with is a pair of strung-out nitwits who couldn’t tie their shoes without 240 Mounties helping them out.