While Canadians mourn their two soldiers killed by radicalized, homegrown terrorists, the Canadian government is passing a bill to bolster intelligence-agency budgets by improving transparency and communications between Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) and the American National Security Agency (NSA).
The recent lone wolf attacks in Canada were a critical reminder of the need for law-enforcement organizations to work together to complete the task of combating homegrown terrorism. Neither the Canadian population nor the authorities were ready for such attacks despite their likelihood—considering the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan and Libya, and their special operations forces (SOF) operations in Africa.
The deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo couldn’t have been predicted, but Canadian intelligence services have been working tirelessly to counter terrorist plots in both national and international arenas. Sadly, in this case, the effectiveness of even a poorly planned attack by lone wolves prevailed.
The CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are doing everything they can, as are all the counter terrorism (CT) officers who are working tirelessly to uncover terrorist activities. Unfortunately, Canadian authorities need more comprehensive tools for a successful Canadian counter-terrorism campaign.
ISIS Counterintelligence Strategy
While the entire planet’s attention was fixed on the tragic events in Ottawa, ISIS was also watching. The actions of the two radicalized Canadians undoubtedly provided valuable intelligence feedback to ISIS. Twitter feeds started going crazy only minutes after Corporal Cirillo (may he rest in peace) was shot, filled with people’s speculation that there were three to five active shooters on the scene. Later, we learned there was only one.
That confusion imparted a sense of ill preparedness—one that ISIS no doubt took note of. The police had to request that people not tweet or report live information about their whereabouts in order to protect their ability to safely counter the attack. Confusion was at its highest, and sadly, some members of the media and spectators continued to tweet live photos of where and how the police were operating, putting them at great risk and, again, giving ISIS valuable insight.
The fact that it was so easy to enter the Parliament building is troubling. Although security will be boosted from now on, the media was quick to tweet exactly where the prime minister and the opposition leader were, and in what rooms. The fact that the Parliament is accessible to everyone is also concerning. People might say it is the public’s house, but should we reconsider safety measures for Canadian leadership located in that building?
Canadians need to be more cautious when conveying information via social media. The media have done a dutiful job of covering events in Ottawa, and for that I am thankful, but the same argument applies to journalists and the media in general. They don’t realize they are offering themselves up as open-source intelligence (OSINT) resources for ISIS.
During the next few months, various Canadian law enforcement groups will be present in at-risk communities to bolster the population’s confidence in them. They will need to establish strong counterterrorism networks by working with each other to foil future attempts at breaching or probing security around targeted governmental buildings—mostly RCMP, CSIS, and national-defense buildings.
As for the media and the Canadian population in general, awareness is key to survival. Social media is a very effective tool for terrorist organizations, and most of what’s been published about them has been made public. Pictures of government buildings should be kept off social-media sites, and police operations should not be filmed or published on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Pinterest, or Instagram.
Social Media Propaganda
Quickly after Martin Ahmad Rouleau was killed by police after running over two Canadian soldiers in a parking lot, a Canadian man who had joined jihadis in Syria under the name of Abu Khalid Al-Kanadi tweeted: “Canadian brother Martin Rouleau rams two Canadian soldiers with his vehicle, then achieves martyrdom after police shoot him! ALLAHU AKBAR!(sic).”
Abu Khalid Al-Kanadi added in another tweet a few minutes later: “Muslims in Canada, follow the footsteps of our brave brother Martin Rouleau who took revenge for Canadian military aggression in our lands.”
The vast majority of Muslims aren’t radical Islamists. These tweets are aimed to incite violence and racism toward local peaceful Muslim communities in Canada. The propaganda created an unstable environment, encouraging violence against law-abiding Muslims. We’ve seen mosques in Canada vandalized after the tragic events in Ottawa. Radical Islamists are then using those events to falsify public perception and imagery about how ‘Canadians hate Muslims’, which is entirely false, of course.
It’s unfortunate that destructive terrorism against Canada could possibly incite younger generations of Muslims around the globe to seek violence and hatred as a means of self-expression. These young Muslims are taught to read the Qur’an (using a jihadi interpretation) and are also frequently exposed to jihadi promotion videos widely available on the Internet. As a matter of fact, the 42-minute radio statement issued by the Islamic State last September called for the killing of individual Americans, French, Australians, Canadians, or any other non-believer.
Martin Ahmad Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau had some jihadi propaganda on their social-media profiles. Zhef-Bibeau also made a video shortly before killing Cpl. Nathan Cirrilo, but the police have yet to release it. Social media is merely a tool ISIS uses to incite radicalized Canadians to take lone-wolf actions. ISIS has been inspiring sympathizers to conduct lone-wolf attacks against military and government targets, all through social media. The strategy is simple, but makes it difficult for Canadian authorities to keep track of. Nonetheless, they are working tirelessly to counter those attacks.
The social-media trend works both ways. The authorities can use social media to warn the population against any threats, but the terrorists can also use them to incite lone wolves—who aren’t directly connected to the Islamic State—to attack targets that were condemned in earlier propaganda videos or speeches.
Gathering Intelligence Against Lone Wolves In Canada
The intelligence services—CSIS and the RCMP, for the most part—in Canada are aware of the possible lone-wolf attacks, and are taking them seriously. Because they are unpredictable, it is hard for CSIS to gather enough information to meticulously monitor them. CSIS heavily relies on the Canadian population to report possible threats and start investigations based on their statements. Monitoring suspicious social media profiles and working closely with the different communities are the two keys to defend ourselves against lone-wolf attacks.
I was in Ottawa a week before the tragic events. I took a taxi there and started talking to the driver, who was Iraqi. I was telling him how unfortunate the situation in Iraq was, and how the people there were suffering due to the Islamic State. This taxi driver was a Canadian and had a family there, making him a citizen of a country that is openly battling ISIS. He told me as I was about to leave the taxi that the Islamic State was the best thing for Iraq, and they would kill Americans and their allies.
Of course I reported this to the authorities, but the fact that he was talking about it so openly made me aware of the possible threats we have around us every day. This situation is a pure example why the Canadian population needs to keep their eyes and ears open, and report any suspicious activities to the authorities. If it happened to me, I am positive it has happened to others.
Following a lone wolf is not as easy as gathering intelligence on organized groups such as the Toronto 18, for example. Those groups can be infiltrated, or their members could get cold feet, informing the police about their plan to commit attacks.
Due to the fact that they work alone, lone wolves have to plan, organize, conduct reconnaissance, acquire the weapons, and deploy everything to be successful. However, all these steps can be done hastily, and the attacker can carry out his attacks in a matter of a few minutes—making it impossible for the intelligence services to prevent them.
How Can We Protect Ourselves Against Another Attack?
We Canadians are fortunate to live in a very safe country. However, it’s everyone’s job to be on the lookout. Sadly, terrorist attacks are becoming a bigger threat every day, and Canada is not immune. We’re facing a growing number of homegrown terrorists, so “be aware of your surroundings!”
The intelligence services are also getting more money and more authority from the government. CBC News has reported that Bill C-44 amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to:
- Give CSIS more powers of surveillance “to more effectively investigate threats to the security of Canada.”
- Give Canada’s Spy Agency explicit authority to operate “within or outside Canada.” This would allow the agency to share information on suspected Canadian terrorists abroad with members of the so-called “Five Eyes” group of countries — namely the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
- Give “greater protection” to confidential sources without having to identify them in court proceedings, even to the judge.
- Allow for some exceptions, including disclosure of informants’ identities “if the human source and the [CSIS] director consent to the disclosure of that information.” The bill lays out the process by which a judge could order that an exception be made.
- Make it an offence to divulge any information that would lead to the disclosure of the identity of a CSIS employee “who was, is or is likely to become engaged in covert operational activities.”
Those five points will give the intelligence agencies greater autonomy, and will better protect their informants. In addition to that, Public Security Minister Blaney announced further anti-terrorism measures: “Further reforms to protect Canadians from terrorism will be presented in a second forthcoming piece of legislation,” Blaney said. As a matter of fact, federal authorities—ministers, RCMP and CSIS officials—are currently considering new laws and are lobbying for them.
According to thestar.com, the wish list included:
- Lower legal thresholds to be able to preemptively arrest a suspect or to get intercept warrants.
- Possible lower thresholds for court orders to restrict an individual’s movements under peace bonds.
- Stronger powers to monitor online communications, remove online posts and charge those who glorify terrorist acts online.
- Dropping the requirement for police to seek the federal attorney general’s consent before charging or exercising certain powers, including preventive arrest.
- A new system to track Canadians who leave the country, called an “exit information system” that CSIS has twice in the past week said would be “extremely helpful.”
While the government is working on passing bills and giving more tools to the federal authorities, the Canadian population still has to be aware of their environment. If everyone is on the lookout, it will facilitate the authorities’ jobs.
There are distinct signs of terrorism that could possibly help you detect potential terrorist acts. The Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center made a list of eight signs and explains them. I strongly suggest visiting the website and reading about them. Here are the eight signs:
- Tests of Security
- Acquiring Supplies
- Suspicious/Out-Of-Place Behavior
- Dry Runs
- Deploying Assets/Getting Into Position
The Future of ISIS-related Attacks In Canada
It is still too early to foresee what ISIS is planning to do against Canada and the civilian population. They are openly calling for jihad against the Canadian authorities, but this is not new. My main concern is the augmentation of attacks by sympathizers to the ISIS cause. Whether they are conducted by lone wolves or organized cells, the Canadians should be very cautious.
Having said that, I firmly believe in working with the Muslim communities through de-radicalization programs and exposing the “good sides” of the different ethnic communities. As a Catholic, I know how churches are always trying to help people in need. The mosques are doing the same, and for the most part, they will never ask anything in return.
As a multi-ethnic country, it is time for both the population and the government to work with the different religious groups and stand by them when tragedies such as the Ottawa shooting happen. It is also time to give our intelligence services the tools necessary to enable them to do a better job.