From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Ottawa — Both Canadian
and foreign intelligence services had heard vague warnings
before Sept. 11 that some kind of attack was coming, but
nothing detailed enough to guard against, the head of Canada's
counterterrorist agency said Monday.
"I think that everybody had warnings that something was
coming. Nobody had any specific warnings and certainly we
didn't," Ward Elcock, director of the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service, told reporters after an appearance
before a House of Commons committee on security.
The question of who knew what before the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks has gripped the United States recently after White
House revelations that President George W. Bush received an
analysis in August that mentioned al-Qaeda might be inclined
to hijack planes.
Mr. Elcock did not elaborate on what Canadian officials
knew before Sept. 11 but told a parliamentary committee on
national security that CSIS's primary counterterrorism focus
before the tragedy was already "Sunni Islamic extremism" such
"The events of Sept. 11 ... only intensified existing
investigations against Sunni extremists in Canada," Mr. Elcock
told the committee.
He said most terrorists groups around the globe have
"Most of the world's terrorist groups, including Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaeda, have adherents in Canada. Islamic terrorists
from Algerian, Egyptian, Libyan and Somali groups also have
sympathizers in Canada and it obliges us to deal with that
reality," he said.
The CSIS director said that his agency's "more committed
Sunni targets" have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya
and been schooled in Mr. bin Laden's terrorist camps. "Many of
the people trained in those camps have since dispersed to 60
countries around the world, including Canada."
He said that while the risk of terrorist attack for Canada
"has increased with our involvement in Afghanistan, the risk
to Canada or Canadians abroad is not at the same level [as
that of the United States]."
Mr. Elcock, whose agency is hiring about 300 new officers,
declined to elaborate on the current threat from terrorism in
Canada. "The words in [my] statement convey exactly what I
think — I don't have a colour for you or a number." The United
States has a colour-coded threat scheme for citizens.
He also said that CSIS hasn't uncovered any evidence to
date of terrorist "sleeper cells" in Canada — despite the fact
that an Ontario government minister last week said provincial
police had monitored such a cell.
Ontario Public Security Minister Bob Runciman told
reporters last Wednesday that the Ontario Provincial Police
had tracked a "sleeper cell" connected to Osama bin Laden's
al-Qaeda, one which later left the province.
Mr. Elcock declined to comment on Mr. Runciman's comments
but said that sleeper cells are a very specific type of
terrorist cell that he hasn't come across yet in Canada.
"Sleeper cell is normally used to denote a group of people
who have a specific purpose and are there to carry out that
purpose at some point in the future, acting in a clandestine
way until they are called upon to do so," he said. "I have not
seen any such example in Canada to date, although one has to
remain vigilant in respect of the possibility."
He told the committee that "Sunni extremists" in Canada are
"They take advantage of encrypted e-mails, cellphones and
satellite communications. Those skills pose a real challenge
for CSIS, and, indeed, intelligence services around the world