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.329 civilians---270 of them Canadian nationals, 27 British nationals, 22 Indian nationals and 10 other foreign nationals---- were killed. The majority of the Canadian and British nationals killed were of Indian origin. The 22 Indians killed included 20 members of the crew. The flight was operating on the Montréal-London-Delhi-Bombay route. It was blown up in midair by a bomb in Irish airspace.

2.The report of the John Major 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 (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which was set up only in 1984, allowed the terrorist attack to take place.We have been carrying relevant extracts from the report on the web site of the South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) at

3.The terms of reference of the Commission were restricted to finding out whether intelligence relating to the plans of the Sikh extremists based in Canada to blow up a flight of the Air India originating from a Canadian airport existed, if so, whether the disaster could have been prevented and why it was not prevented. The Commission's enquiry did not cover the role of Pakistan in assisting the Babbar Khalsa in organising acts of terrorism against Indian targets. This was not in its terms of reference. After the explosion, Parmar fled to Pakistan, where he was given sanctuary by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He operated from Pakistan against India till 1992 ----- for seven years --- and crossed over into India from Pakistan in 1992 following Western pressure on Pakistan to have him arrested and handed over to India for investigation and trial. He was killed in an encounter by the Punjab Police in 1992. The role of Pakistan in giving shelter to the main conspirator in the plot which blew up the Kanishka and continuing to help him and sponsor his acts of terrorism was also not gone into by the Major Commission. It was not in its terms of reference either.

4. When the Kanishka aircraft was blown up, Gen.Zia-ul-Haq was in power in Pakistan and was playing an active role in assisting the Central Intelligence Agency of the US in its operations against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In gratitude for this assistance, many transgressions of Pakistan were overlooked by the Western Governments. One of these transgressions was its assistance to the Babbar Khalsa which blew up the Kanishka and not extending mutual legal assistance to India in the investigation of the case. The second transgression was its clandestine acquisition of a military nuclear capability with the collusion of China.

5. Mrs.Benazir Bhutto came to power with the reluctant approval of the Pakistani Army and the ISI, then headed by Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, following the elections held after the death of Zia in a plane crash in August,1988. After assuming office, she started exercising pressure on the ISI to stop playing what she used to call the Sikh card against India. There was pressure on the ISI from the Western Governments too.

6. The ISI asked the Government of Mr.Nawaz Sharif, which was then in power in Punjab as the Chief Minister, to take over the responsibility for assisting the Khalistani terrorists, including Parmar, and for funding and training them. The Nawaz Government readily agreed to this and asked the Special Branch of the Punjab Police to take over from the ISI the responsibility for assisting the Khalistani terrorists. It appointed Brig.Imtiaz, who headed the political division of the ISI under Zia, as adviser to the SB to supervise this project. He had been removed from the ISI by Benazir, who intensely disliked him.

7. What happened in Pakistan after the Kanishka disaster is now being repeated after the terrorist strikes of 26/11 in Mumbai carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) with the prior knowledge and possibly tacit if not open approval of the ISI. One hundred and sixty-six persons, including 25 foreigners of different nationalities, were killed. Till the Kanishka disaster of June 1985, the repeated warnings of the Indian intelligence and security agencies about the emergence of the Babbar Khalsa as an international terrorist organisation were not treated seriously by their Western counterparts.

8. The Major Commission report clearly brings out that there was a considerable flow of intelligence and warnings from the Government of India about the plans of the Babbar Khalsa branch in Canada to blow up an Air India plane originating from Canada. There were also similar warnings and requests for physical security enhancements from Air India to Candian security offcials responsible for aviation security. The Major Commission report indicates that these warnings and intelligence, which had emanated from the Government of India and Air India, were not seriously acted upon by the Canadian authorities. The reports from the Government of India were attributed by them to the Indian tendency to "cry wolf". Air India's warnings were attributed to its alleged desire to obtain security enhancements without paying for it. The result: 329 innocent civilians perished. The disaster could have been easily prevented and their lives saved, if the warnings from the Govt. of India and Air India had been acted upon.

9. This could not be done because of the tendency of the Canadian authorities to view any intelligence warning emanating from India with a prejudiced mind through the prism of Inda's disputes with Pakistan. This prejudiced mindset is not unique to the Canadian authorities. It is shared by the authorities of other Western Governments too. Have they learnt any lessons from the Kanishka disaster?

10. No. The same prejudiced mind was seen between 9/11 and the London explosions of July,2005, in their tendency to dismiss Indian warnings of the emergence of the LET as an international terrorist organisation on par with Al Qaeda. They started paying serious attention to the LET only after the London explosions of 2005 and then after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.Just as they were looking at the Indian warnings regarding the Babbar Khalsa through the India-Pakistan prism, they continue to view even today the Indian warnings regarding the LET through the India-Pakistan prism.

11. In the actions taken by them after the Kanishka disaster, they made a distinction between the role of the Babbar Khalsa in indulging in terrorism and the role of the ISI in assisting it. Post-1985, they acted against the Babbar Khalsa as a terrorist organisation and co-operated with India in monitoring its activities, but they refrained from acting against the ISI. After the Kanishka explosion, it took about 10 years for the Babbar Khalsa to be brought under control. During this period, many more innocent civilians perished at its hands .

12.History has been repeating itself since 26/11. The Western Governments are now taking seriously the threat posed by the LET to them, but, at the same time, they are refraining from acting against the ISI without whose support the LET cannot survive for long. Unless there is simultaneous action against the LET and the ISI, the threat from the LET will continue for a long time.

13.After 26/11, the ISI is behaving exactly as it behaved after the Kanishka disaster. Because of the Western pressure and the close monitoring of the activities of the LET, it has asked the Special Branch of the Punjab Police to take over the responsibility for keeping the LET and its political wing the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) alive and active and for funding their activities. The Punjab Government of Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, the brother of Mr. Nawaz, is going along with this.

14. The "Dawn" of Karachi reported on June 16,2010, that according to the supplementary budget for 2009-10 recently submitted to the Punjab Provincial Assembly for post-facto approval, the Government of Mr.Shabaz Sharif gave a grant of Rs79 million to the Markaz-i-Taiba, the headquarters of the JED and the LET at Muridke in Punjab. In addition,another sum of Rs3 million was given as grants to the schools run by the JUD in different districts of Punjab.Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who has been accused by his critics of having contacts with the Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is playing a leading role in the Punjabi Taliban, has admitted to having given the money to the JUD.

15. One does not see any sign that the West is moving to act against the continued nursing of the LET by the ISI, either directly, if possible, or through the Punjab Police. Unless this is stopped, disasters of the Kanishka and Mumbai kind will be repeated.The prejudiced view of Indian intelligence warnings and assesssments brought out in the Major Commission report continues even today 25 years after the Kanishka disaster---not only in Canada, but also in other Western countries. So long as they are not able to rid themselves of this prejudiced mindset, threats of mass casualty terrorism planned and carried out from Pakistani territory or with the assistance of its ISI will continue to confront not only India, but also the West. (20-6-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:



( 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)



( 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
proved problematic.

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
backlog ensued.

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)



( 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 second instalment of relevant extracts from the report)

Despite its awareness of the threat and of the identity of the potential
protagonists who might carry it out, CSIS appears to have obtained little
important new information of its own about the Sikh extremist threat or about
the Babbar Khalsa or about Parmar from the fall of 1984 through to March of
1985. The major reason for this gap lay in the state of the warrant approvals
process that had been put in place by the CSIS Act in June 1984.

On the ground, CSIS BC investigators were aware of the urgent nature of the
threat from Sikh extremism and of the inadequacy of their information resources
to deal with it. They simply had no information sources of their own and had
been totally unsuccessful in recruiting sources within a Sikh community that
was somewhat insular and vulnerable to intimidation by the extremists. They
soon concluded that they needed surveillance and electronic intercepts in order
to be able to understand and respond to the increasing threat.

The institutional response to the request to approve a warrant to intercept
Parmar’s communications demonstrates a fi xation with form over substance
and, despite protestations to the contrary at the time – and subsequently,
suggests a lack of appreciation of the reality of the threat.

The civilianization of CSIS was in part a reaction to RCMP Security Service
excesses in its investigation of the Front de Libération du Québec (the “FLQ”)
and extremist Quebec Separatists. Under the RCMP Security Service, while
electronic intercepts had required approval, the process was informal, simply
requiring a request to the Solicitor General, the Minister responsible for the
RCMP (and later also for CSIS). With the creation of CSIS, as one of the means to
protect civil liberties from unjustifi able intrusion by or on behalf of government,
a new system of judicial supervision of certain intelligence operations was
instituted, including a requirement for judicial approval for intercepting private
communications. This new protocol was to apply prospectively but also was
intended to cover existing intercepts that had been approved by the Minister.
There was an explicit requirement that existing intercepts had to be reviewed
internally and approved by the Solicitor General and then by a judge of the
Federal Court, all within 6 months of the coming into force of the CSIS Act, i.e. by
January 1985.

When added to the considerable stresses and strains that accompanied
the rushed transition to CSIS from the RCMP Security Service, it was entirely
foreseeable that this warrant conversion process would be the source of added
pressure and potential misadventure. The foreseeability of the problems that
might be caused by the requirement to devote considerable resources to the
conversion process should have called for added care and attention to ensure
that the process would be capable of meeting new needs that would arise and
not just of preserving existing arrangements. Instead, the response of CSIS was
to prioritize existing warrants and to defer new applications, with the exception
of only those deemed most urgent. As CSIS understandably would want to avoid
disrupting existing investigations, in theory, this process could be considered a
sensible policy; in practice, its eff ectiveness depended on the Service’s ability to
respect the new needs that were more urgent.

The evidence before the Commission indicates that, despite the priority
afforded to the warrant conversion process, it was possible to secure a warrant
in an extremely short timeline to respond to a perceived urgent priority, as
occurred in an area other than the threat of Sikh extremism. The protracted wait
for the processing of the Parmar warrant application either demonstrates an
unthinking application of the concept of priority of existing warrants or, more
likely, refl ects the lack of appreciation of the true urgency of the threat of Sikh

Despite certifi cation by the existing chain of command in BC as well as by the
Headquarters counterterrorism hierarchy, and despite increasingly pointed
memoranda from the front lines in BC, the application for the Parmar warrant
lay dormant for months while the conversion process went forward. Then, after
proceeding through multiple steps in the complicated, and still in fl ux, approval
process, it was further delayed for an additional month by what turned out to
be an irrelevant issue raised by the Minister’s Offi ce. Although the fi nal steps
leading up to the submission of the warrant to, and approval by, the Federal
Court proceeded relatively quickly, the total time from the request for a warrant
to the date of approval was over fi ve months. This lengthy delay was entirely
disproportionate to the heightened threat and the demonstrated lack of
intelligence sources available to respond to it.

The subsequent course of the BC investigation confi rms the theme of inadequate
resourcing and indicates that execution on the ground was not suffi cient for the
seriousness of the threat being dealt with. Eventually the BC investigators did get
approval both for electronic intercepts and for physical surveillance coverage on
Parmar. As will be seen, the story of neither eff ort is particularly edifying. ( To be continued)



( 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.We will be carrying from today relevant extracts from the report)

The Air India Flight 182 tragedy was the result of a cascading series of
failures. The failures were widely distributed across the agencies and institutions
whose mandate it was to protect the safety and security of Canadians. There
were structural failures and operational failures; policy failures, communications
failures and human errors. Each contributed to, but none was the sole cause
for, Sikh terrorists being able to place a bomb in the checked baggage loaded
aboard Flight 182 without being detected. Some failures came to light almost
immediately, but a number have lain undetected, or at least unacknowledged,
for decades and have only come to light during the currency of this Commission
of Inquiry.

The first question posed by the Terms of Reference of this Inquiry is whether
Canadian institutions adequately understood and assessed the threat posed by
Sikh extremism.

All of the institutions and agencies were theoretically aware of the potential
threat to safety and security posed by terrorism in general. A few had some
knowledge of the dangers of its Sikh extremism version in particular. Several
were nominally aware of the threat of sabotage to passenger aircraft by means
of timed explosive devices in checked baggage, and one agency was even
aware of information indicating that Air India might be targeted by this method
in June 1985. As a practical matter however, none of the institutions or agencies
was adequately prepared for the events of June 22/23, 1985.

Indeed it is impossible to draw any conclusion other than that, almost without
exception, the agencies and institutions did not take the threat seriously, and
that the few individuals within these institutions who did, were faced with
insurmountable obstacles in their efforts to deal with the threat.

There are a number of plausible ways to break down the failures that allowed
the bombing of Flight 182 to occur. Each of the agencies and institutions that
should have had a role in preventing terrorist attacks displayed structural flaws
that impaired their performance.

CSIS only came into being as an independent civilian agency in 1984. Before
that, the national security intelligence was under the purview of the Security
Service of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The circumstances surrounding
the birth of CSIS had a deep and detrimental impact on its ability to detect the
particular security threat posed by Sikh extremism and on its ability to provide
useful advice to the agencies and institutions charged with protecting Canadian
lives and property.

Although the notion that intelligence should be handled by a civilian agency
rather than the police had been widely discussed and debated in Canada for
over a decade, the CSIS Act, which brought about this transformation, was
passed hurriedly as the last legislative act of the outgoing Liberal government
in June of 1984. It was then left to be implemented in a very short time frame
by a new Progressive Conservative administration with limited accumulated
experience in the area of national security. The result was an uneven transition,
marred by scarce resources and by bruised feelings: both at the RCMP, which
felt wronged by the removal of its intelligence mandate, and at CSIS, which felt
poorly supported in its new role.

While intelligence officers were aware of the existence of the phenomenon of
Sikh extremism, the rise in the intensity, fervour and potential danger of this
phenomenon was the result of events in the Indian sub-continent that took
place in the same time frame as the transition from the Security Service to CSIS.
These events included the occupation and fortification of the Golden Temple
in Amritsar, Sikhism’s central shrine, by armed Sikh separatists, the subsequent
bloody storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian army, and the resulting
massacres and intercommunal violence in the State of Punjab, all of which
culminated in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her
own Sikh bodyguards. This chain of events led to a rise in anti-Indian sentiment
within the Sikh diaspora, including the Sikh community in Canada.

Even in a relatively stable institutional environment, keeping up with the rapidly
changing landscape of Sikh extremism in Canada would no doubt have proved
challenging. The impact of the transition from the RCMP Security Service to CSIS
made a difficult situation that much worse.

Although CSIS personnel were dedicated and hardworking, the institutional
context was poorly geared toward dealing with terrorism in general – and with
a terrorist threat arising from Sikh extremism in particular. Canadian intelligence
gathering was stuck in a Cold War paradigm in which the primary threat to
national security was assessed as emanating from espionage by hostile foreign
governments. Most resources were allocated to counter-espionage, with
comparatively few resources devoted to counter-terrorism.

Of the resources devoted to counter-terrorism, most were concentrated on the
risks posed by Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish interests in Canada.
Even at the so-called “Sikh Desk” at CSIS headquarters, (which was a sub-unit
of the “Western Europe and Pacific Rim” unit of the Counterterrorism unit) the
arguably inadequate official complement, consisting of a unit head and four
analyst positions, was in fact only partially staffed. Only the unit head and
two analyst positions were actually filled, and that even smaller number was
further reduced by the fact that, for the better part of the year leading up to the
bombing of Flight 182, one of the incumbents was away on French language
training. In the Regions, staffing was equally thin. In BC Region, where the most
militant and most obviously dangerous elements of Sikh extremism in Canada
were to be found, two investigators were responsible for the entire investigation
of Sikh terrorism.

CSIS personnel assigned to this investigation received no additional training;
investigators and analysts were expected to learn on the job. CSIS appears
to have uncovered little, if any, information on its own, with most of
its information coming from the Government of India through the Indian High
Commission. The full extent of CSIS’s knowledge in the summer of 1984 was that
Talwinder Singh Parmar had been released from prison in Germany following a
failed extradition attempt on murder charges by the Government of India, and
had returned to Canada, where he was launching a public campaign of fiery
rhetoric and communal intimidation to radicalize gurdwaras (Sikh temples)
and to take over their direction and their revenues. CSIS was unable to provide
confirmation of its existence in Canada, let alone the actual size of the extremist
Babbar Khalsa movement that Parmar claimed to lead, and even referred to it as
the “Barbara Khalsa group.” By the fall of 1984, CSIS had pieced together enough
information to be able to identify Parmar as the most dangerous Sikh in Canada
and to opine that his associate Ajaib Singh Bagri could be manipulated to carry
out a terrorist attack. ( To be continued)