( In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major to enquire into the crash of an aircraft of Air India named Kanishka on June 23,1985. The crash was caused by an explosive device suspected to have been planted in a piece of unaccompanied baggage by Sikh extremists belonging to the Babbar Khalsa headed by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar of Vancouver, Canada. The report of the Commission was released on June 17, 2010. The Commission has found that a "cascading series of errors" by the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service allowed the terrorist attack to take place.This is the fourth instalment of relevant extracts from the report.)
Even the most important achievement of the surveillance, hearing the explosion
in the woods, was marred by the misinterpretation by the surveillants of what
they actually heard. The surveillants thought they heard a shotgun blast, when
in fact they heard an explosion intended to test the detonation system for the
bombs Parmar was building. Instead of leading to a realization that Parmar was
planning to blow something up, the surveillants’ belief that they heard a gunshot
supported the mistaken conclusion by the CSIS BC Region that the primary
danger from Parmar and the Babbar Khalsa was a possible assassination attempt
or armed assault.
But even this misinterpreted information, which at the very
least appears to demonstrate that Parmar and his group posed a serious threat
to commit a terrorist act, never made it into the formal CSIS threat assessment
process. Likewise, a number of other signifi cant pieces of threat information in
various hands were also never reported, further compromising the ability of the
CSIS HQ threat assessment process to put together the pieces of the puzzle in
time to raise an eff ective response to the threat that was to crystallize into the
terrorist attack on Flight 182.
The fate of the electronic surveillance on Parmar, fi nally approved in March 1985,
was no less problematic, and arguably constituted an even more serious failure
because of its consequences for the subsequent investigation of the bombing.
In this case too, resource issues were important. While listening devices can
record conversations, it takes human resources to transcribe, to translate if
necessary, and, ultimately, to analyze and interpret them. Each of these steps
In order to safeguard security, CSIS, like the RCMP Security
Service before it, adopted stringent security qualifi cations for its translators,
including lengthy periods of Canadian residency as well as Citizenship.
As prudent as this may have seemed in the abstract, in practice it meant that
there was only a very small pool of potential translators available for recruitment.
In BC Region it meant that there were no Punjabi translators available at all.
To cope with this problem, the tapes of the Parmar intercepts were shipped to
Ottawa, where they were added to the workload of the already overburdened
Punjabi translator at CSIS Headquarters. Delays were inevitable and a serious
Shipping the tapes across the country meant that there was no meaningful
possibility for the BC investigators to interact with the translator, who was
essentially left to her own devices to extract, translate and summarize what
was related on the tapes. Although a Punjabi translator for the BC Region was
eventually recruited and began work on June 8, 1985, a signifi cant backlog of
translation work in BC remained throughout the pre-bombing period. There still
seems to have been little interaction with the investigators on the ground and
there remains some doubt as to how many, if any, of the “transcripts” that were
produced were in fact reviewed by the investigators.
The transcripts were prepared by a transcriber who reviewed and summarized
what she thought relevant in the English language content, adding material
from the Punjabi content based on the translators’ notes. The eff ectiveness of
this disjointed process became further impaired by the vacation schedules of
the transcriber and one of the investigators. One of the investigators was off
duty in the two weeks leading up to the bombing and the transcriber was away
just prior to, and for a week after, the bombing. Because the intercept tapes
were erased shortly after they were processed, there was no opportunity to go
back to the actual tapes for further analysis or to remedy any defi ciencies in the
transcription and translation process. Whatever information was not recorded
in the transcription notes was lost permanently.
As discussed elsewhere , disputes remain as to the actual content
of the tapes that were reviewed and of those that were caught in the backlog, as
well as about the adequacy and comprehensiveness of the review and analysis.
What is beyond doubt is that no material from the Parmar intercepts made its
way into the CSIS, or any other, threat assessment process in April – May or June
of 1985. ( To be continued)