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POSTED AT 2:35 AM EDT    Tuesday, May 28
Canada had hint of trouble pre-Sept. 11
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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 as al-Qaeda.

"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 followers here.

"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 very tech-savvy.

"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 ..."

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