Saturday, June 19, 2010



( 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 fifth instalment of relevant extracts from the report.)

The central unanswered question that Canadians, and especially the
families of the victims of the bombing of Flight 182, have hoped a Public Inquiry
might reveal is whether the Government and its institutions had information
prior to the bombing that could have allowed the authorities to prevent it.

The answer is complex. There is no evidence that the Government was aware in
advance of the details of the events of June 22, 1985. That is the basis for the oftrepeated statement that there was no knowledge of any “specifi c threat” against
Flight 182.

To pose the issue in this form is, however, to miss the point. In 1985, “specifi c
threat” was a technical term tied to emergency protocols put into place when
the authorities received a call-in threat that identifi ed a target, in circumstances
where there was not enough time to conduct a proper investigation or
assessment of the threat. This sort of “specifi c threat” justifi ed emergency
measures because of the magnitude of potential consequences even if it wasn’t
possible to assess the likelihood of their occurrence.

It is one thing to say that, had there been such a “specifi c threat,” detailing a time,place and method of a planned attack on Flight 182, emergency measures would
have been implemented to hunt down the bomb. It is entirely something else
to suggest that, in the absence of such a detailed, precise and “specifi c” threat,
nothing further could or should have been done to prevent the bombing.

The claim that there was no “specifi c threat” to the June 22, 1985 departure of
Flight 182 is accurate only in a limited and literal sense. No one source provided
detailed information to any one agency in one place and at one time about
the plan to blow up Flight 182 on June 23, 1985. On the other hand, various
agencies of government had extremely important pieces of information that,
taken together, would have led a competent analyst to conclude that Flight 182
was in danger of being bombed by known Sikh extremists.

Prior to the bombing, CSIS, the RCMP, the Department of External Aff airs, local
police forces and Transport Canada were collectively in possession of the
following information about Sikh extremism and threats to Indian interests:

• A plot to bomb one and possibly two Air India planes was allegedly
being hatched by Sikh extremists in British Columbia in the fall
of 1984;

• In the fall of 1984, Ajaib Singh Bagri was allegedly nominated to a
committee planning the hijacking of an Air India plane;

• Talwinder Singh Parmar’s group, the Babbar Khalsa, was reportedly
working on a “highly secret project” in the spring of 1985, and
Parmar had been assessed as the greatest threat in Canada to
Indian diplomatic missions and personnel;

• In early June, Parmar and associates conducted experiments in the
woods involving a loud explosion;

• During a June 12, 1985 meeting, a prominent Sikh extremist stated
– in response to questions about the lack of attacks on Indian
offi cials - that something big would happen in two weeks; and

• In late May and early June, Air India warned that sabotage attempts
against Air India planes were likely to be made by Sikh extremists
using time-delayed devices in registered baggage, that special
vigilance was warranted on items like transistor radios, and
that police should oversee the loading of registered luggage
onto airplanes.

James Bartleman, who at the time he gave his evidence was Lieutenant Governor
of Ontario, and in 1985 was Director General (DG) of the Intelligence Analysis and
Security Bureau at External Aff airs, testifi ed that shortly prior to the bombing, he saw, as part of the material he received electronically from CSE on a daily basis,
information that indicated that Flight 182 would be targeted. He was not able to
assess the reliability of the information but thought it important to ensure that
the authorities were aware of the information and were dealing with it. When he
brought the information to the attention of an RCMP offi cial who was attending
a security meeting in the building, he was met with a hostile reception and an
indication that the RCMP was aware of the matter and had it in hand. On June
23, 1985, when he was informed of the bombing, he thought immediately that
this was the materialization of the threat, and that the authorities had been
unable to prevent it.

Counsel from the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Government and all
its agencies, approached Bartleman’s evidence as though it was the only prebombing
indication of the danger to Air India Flight 182. In an entirely misguided
approach, Bartleman was aggressively cross-examined and witnesses were
called to attempt to call into question the details of his evidence.

Intelligence specialists often observe that an item of information, although
apparently insignifi cant in itself, may in fact be the missing piece to a puzzle
that helps a foreign or hostile group or agency see a pattern or draw conclusions
that have profound intelligence value. This “mosaic eff ect” metaphor is typically
used by intelligence agencies, sometimes excessively, to describe the potentially
dangerous consequences that can result from the disclosure of their own
information and to justify the need for secrecy. It is an equally apt description of
how gathering and sharing information can help an agency’s own intelligence
eff ort.

The essence of good intelligence analysis is that it pulls together disparate
facts and information from diverse sources to assemble a pattern in which one
can have confi dence. Once enough information has been assembled, even
seemingly insignifi cant new additions can lead to new insights and deeper

However startling and important Bartleman’s testimony may be, it is not, as
the blistering assault on his credibility by some Government witnesses and the
Attorney General of Canada’s submissions would imply, the only evidence that
suggests that the Government had enough knowledge of the threat to Flight
182 to warrant a diff erent security response.

Even without the document that Bartleman described, there was more than
enough disparate pieces of information that, had they been assembled in one
place, would have not only pointed to the nature of the threat, but would have
provided corroboration for the seriousness of that threat, thereby highlighting
the need to implement measures aimed specifi cally at responding to the
possibility of sabotage by means of explosive devices concealed in checked
baggage. Bartleman’s evidence is best understood as simply one more piece in the

In 1985, the institutional arrangements in place and the prevailing practices
of Canadian information-gathering agencies were wholly defi cient in terms of
allowing the mosaic of the threat of Sikh extremism to be pieced together so as
to make visible the pattern that clearly pointed to the high risk of a bombing of
The consequence of these defi cient arrangements was that CSIS, the government
agency that was given the primary responsibility for threat assessment, did
not have suffi cient access to facts about the threat of Sikh extremism. Lacking
good access to sources of its own within the Sikh community, CSIS was heavily
dependant on other agencies, both foreign and domestic, for the information it
needed to understand the threat.

CSIS had an abundance of threat information from the Indian government about the situation in India and about what was going on in the Sikh community in Canada, but it was unable to corroborate it.Without corroborating information, however, the large volume of information from the Government of India gave the impression that it was “crying wolf.” ( To be continued)

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