CAMPUS AND CULTURE
Terrorism: it's finally hit home
Timeline of terror
Beyond the hard numbers
Terrorism: it's finally hit home
By Chris Lackner and Lindsay Satterthwaite
Terrorism is not a new phenomenon but it has placed an inexplicable mark on the collective consciousness of our continent over the last nine days.
The question now: can we ever possibly be ready if it happens again?
Jim Hansen, associate executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, an organization which specializes in Canadian foreign and defence policy, said the Canadian collective memory has been very short in terms of terrorist attacks.
For example, 1988's Air India disaster involved a large number of Canadian passengers, yet seemed to quickly fade from Canadian concern, he said.
"The government says 'gee that's too bad' and then nobody does anything," he said. "There's a real tendency in the West to have no stomach for long-term directions."
Michelle Lapalme, a media spokesperson for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said Canadian intelligence is currently investigating 50 terrorist organizations, as well as 350 individual suspected terrorists.
She said CSIS, created in 1984 out of the now defunct RCMP security division, functions as a defensive agency with no law enforcement power. "Our mandate is internal," she explained.
CSIS shares information and pools resources with 233 other security agencies in 133 countries around the globe. "We are here to advise the Canadian government and [both national and provincial] law enforcement agencies."
She said CSIS changed a number of priorities in terms of counter-intelligence since 1984, adding that two-thirds of the CSIS budget and resources are currently applied to counter-terrorism measures.
America, which has a national security budget of close to $20 billion, had their own vast preventive operations tragically fail them last Tuesday. Hansen said Canada, whose comparative anti-terrorism preparations are a mere fraction of America's, has reason to be concerned.
"[Security forces] should be very worried right now. It takes time to develop counter-terrorism ability. [Here] you'd have to start from relative scratch."
Hansen said Canada's immense geographical mass, as well as its fractured federal and provincial jurisdictions, are hindrances to any Canadian response to a security threat. "We tend not to do anything until it's right in our face.
"What we have to do here is make sure our security services are co-operating with the Americans," he said, noting CSIS' internal, defensive mandate can work as a hindrance when dealing with international terrorist organizations.
According to CSIS intelligence, the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being obtained or constructed by terrorist groups, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons is an emerging concern, Lapalme confirmed.
Terrorist training centres continue to exist and thrive in Asia, the Middle East and North America, while terrorist methods are also becoming more sophisticated technologically, Lapalme noted.
The destructive techniques employed by terrorists are improving, said John Thompson, director of the McKenzie Institute, a think-tank which studies organized violence. "They increased from a pipe bomb to a time bomb to a car bomb to an air bomb," he said.
"Terrorism is progressing on a logarithmic scale," he said. In the 70s and 80s terrorists were killing tens of people, then in the 90s it was hundreds, and today, it is in the thousands, he said, adding nuclear attacks are a distinct possibility for the near future.
A major problem with terrorism is that it cannot be explained through any one working definition, which makes it almost impossible to keep accurate statistics on, explained Thompson.
"Terrorists claim to be freedom fighters, but ultimately that has never been the case," Thompson said. Terrorists may be religious or political fanatics who terrorize other groups in an attempt to gain publicity, but essentially, they are frustrated people who want to vent their feelings, he added.
The average terrorist is often young, with above-average intelligence and education, he explained. "They do it for self-fulfillment and as a crime of evil," Thompson explained.
A lot of terrorist groups are residing in Canada right now, but they are not here to engage in terrorism, Thompson explained. "They come here to prepare for their attacks by raising money and getting equipment, then they move to another country to implement their plan," he said.
Thompson said it is difficult to make an arrest of a suspected terrorist residing in Canada when they have not violated a law. "There is always some concern in Canada, but we're not paranoid about it," he said.
Jonathan Vance, a Western history professor, said terrorism is as old as society itself. In the past it was targeted at authority figures, but in contemporary times has turned towards civilian attacks in order to make more of an impact, he explained.
"Terrorist groups now harbor their resources to hold a big attack instead of having a number of smaller attacks," Vance said.
Vance said terrorist attacks usually do not take place upon a significant date because of increased security and the fact such an act would be easier to pin on a particular group. "It is the advantage of the terrorist to be entirely random," he said.
Practical variables also need to be considered, including what day of the week it is or what time of day it is to ensure, from the terrorist's perspective, the maximum number of civilians are present, he added.
When you don't know what the intention of the perpetrator was, it is difficult to understand and respond to the attack, Vance said. "It is harder to find ways to counteract when you're not sure whether the goal is to provoke a response or kill as many people as possible," he added.
Hansen said terrorism often develops when strong fault-lines exist between civilizations, such as a clashing divide between cultural groups or religious and political ideology.
"Both Canada and the U.S. have to realize there is no short-term solution to the problem. A lot of the reaction has to be non-military," he said, noting covert operations and diplomacy.
Hansen said the recent attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are frightening because they are not a rationally predictable terrorist act. "I have no idea how to counter it and I'm not sure anyone else has [one either]."