I co-authored a comment to the editors of the Globe and Mail, “More Surveillance Powers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures,” in response to Christian Leuprecht’s article “Pointing fingers won’t prevent intelligence failures“. Leuprecht asserts that further intelligence sharing is critical to prevent and avoid attacks such as those in Paris, that more trust between intelligence agencies to facilitate international intelligence sharing is needed, and that more resources are needed if particular individuals subject to state suspicion are to be monitored. He also asserted that governments need the powers to act against targeted individuals, and that unnamed ‘critics’ are responsible for the weakening of intelligence agencies and, by extension, for the senseless deaths of innocents that result from agencies’ inabilities to share, monitor, and engage suspicious persons.
The co-authored comment rebuts Leuprecht’s assertions. We point that there is more intelligence collected, now, than ever before. We note that some of the attackers were already known to intelligence and security services. And we note that it was intelligence sharing, itself, that led to the targeting and torture of Maher Arar. In effect, the intelligence community is failing in spite of having the capabilities and powers that Leuprecht calls for; what is missing, if anything, is the ability to transform the intelligence collected today into something that is actionable.
The full comment, first published at the Globe and Mail, is reproduced below:
More Surveillance Powers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures
Re: “Pointing Fingers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures” (Nov 25):
The horrific attacks in Paris have led to a wave of finger-pointing – often powerfully disassociated from the realities of the failures (Pointing Fingers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures – Nov 25). The answer from security agencies is inevitably to request more surveillance and more capacity to intrude into citizens’ lives.
These requests are made despite the historically unprecedented access to digital information that security agencies already enjoy and repeated expansions of security powers. Clearly “more security” is not the answer to preventing all future attacks.
The intelligence failure in Paris painted a familiar picture. Many of the attackers were known to French officials, and Turkish intelligence agencies sent repeated warnings of another. Yet in their rush to blame communications technologies such as iPhone encryption and the PlayStation (claims since discredited), security agencies neglect the lack of adequate human intelligence resources and capacities needed to translate this digital knowledge into threat prevention. Also absent is attention to agency accountability – the unaddressed information-sharing problems that caused the mistaken targeting and torture of Maher Arar.
The targets of terror are not only physical, but also ideological. Introducing a laundry list of new powers in response to every incident without regard to the underlying causes will not prevent all attacks, but will leave our democracy in tatters.
Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BCFIPA)
Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), University of Ottawa
Monia Mazigh, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG)
Christopher Parsons, Postdoctoral Fellow, Citizen Lab at Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Sukanya Pillay, Executive Director & General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Laura Tribe, Digital Rights Specialist, OpenMedia
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
Photo credit: Newspapers B&W (5) by Jon S (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/ayGkBN