Opinion » Editorial


PSST! There are still terrorists is Canada.


In fact there are still terrorists all over the world.

It is easy to forget that walking with your family along the Valley Trail, or pushing your toddler on the swing as the first lazy days of summer displace the hectic pace of winter in Whistler.

But according to over 300 experts in counter terrorism, attending a first-of-its-kind security conference in Whistler, to be complacent condemns us to doom.

Our own chief spy master Ward Elcock, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, confirmed at the conference that a small but committed group of Islamic terrorists, capable of executing attacks on the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, are under surveillance.

The conference, titled Strategies for Public Safety Transformation, and organized by Reboot North America and the federal solicitor general’s office focused on how nations can use technology to fight terrorism.

In the post 9-11 environment security technology is big business. High-tech companies rush to assuage our fear of attack, and our guilt that we were so unprepared for the horror of hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Towers in New York, by providing gadgets sure to keep us safe.

But who could have been prepared? Law enforcement officials from the Big Apple quietly whispered in the hallways of the conference about how phone systems failed, emergency dispatch crashed, and first-responders were reduced to using walkie-talkies to communicate in the aftermath of the devastation.

Most hope that the billions of dollars which have been spent on new technology, training, and personnel since the attacks have prepared us for the worst.

Although, one has to wonder considering that the FBI only recently got technology to allow them to e-mail each other securely.

Janet Reno, U.S. Attorney General at the time of the attacks, pleaded with conference attendees to set in motion plans to deal with disasters before we learn too late that we are unprepared.

She described cyber-terrorism as perhaps the greatest menace we face.

"The perils of cyber-terrorism are so significant they stagger the imagination and convert vanity to prayer," said Reno.

Cyber thugs could shut down water supplies, sewer systems, hospitals, power grids, banks — the list goes on and on.

The scope is incomprehensible. What can possibly be done considering a single computer a million miles away can wreak havoc in our daily lives?

Former FBI director Louis Freeh gave a litany of examples to conference goers.

There was the guy in St.Petersburg, Russia, who hacked into the emergency response systems in Florida and began to shut them down one by one causing chaos; there were the endless computer virus of the 1990’s; there were the computers found during the investigation of al-Qaeda agents which revealed their plan to originally use a chemical agent to kill hundreds of thousands of people during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

But the techies at the conference want us to believe all is well. One told me that Canada has technology one step ahead of any terrorist. In fact most of the technology is so secret we don’t even know what it is and presumably terrorists don’t either.

However, US news reports tell us many terrorists are highly educated, well connected and well funded. It’s hard to believe they can’t buy anything they want.

You could go crazy imagining horrific scenarios about what might happen in the world as we stalk this latest enemy.

When I heard of the attacks in New York last September we were away on a family vacation.

As the news trickled in over the radio my first instinct was to get my children and hug them and tell them we were safe. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.

But the instinct of any parent is to work to keep the world safe.

Politicians are parents, spies are parents, police are parents, techies are parents, even terrorists are parents.

Maybe it is the optimist in me, but I want to believe that instinct to keep each of our worlds safe for our children must have a role to play.

An old IRA friend of mine — journalism introduces you to all kinds — told me that as the fanatical guard of his group grew up in the 1980s and had kids of their own, the desire for peace grew stronger.

It seemed that while carrying weapons and planting bombs was OK for them it wasn’t OK for their kids.

Maybe somewhere in there is a solution if we just dig deep enough.