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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Terror in Toronto or Tempest in a Teapot? - by John Chuckman

The arrest in Toronto of seventeen men, mostly quite young, for conspiracy to bomb places in Southern Ontario has raised a storm of comment. Unfortunately, much of it has been either premature or wrong.
 
A Congressman from Northern New York, uninformed but still generous with his opinions, declared that Canada was thick with al Qaeda cells owing to its liberal (a truly filthy word in the United States) immigration and refugee laws. Sadly, the Congressman’s big red-nose talents are appreciated only in Canada, his ignorance being taken for insight in many parts of the United States.
 
Pat Buchanan parodies are also taken seriously by some in Canada, particularly in Alberta, and there are people here eager for any opportunity to prove their anti-terror bone fides to America’s unsmiling leaders. This strain in our society should alert us to the possibility, however remote, of skewed investigations where terror is concerned.
 
The New York Times, that tea-sipping, wealthy widow of American newspapers, went out of her way to recognize The Toronto Star for substantial coverage of events. That is not praise clear-headed people welcome, The Times often having been on the wrong side of human rights issues as well as having served as the official Wal-Mart Greeter on the path to war.
 
Condoleezza Rice, too, took approving note of events in Toronto, but that surely is the moral equivalent of a twinkle from the eyes of Joachim von Ribbentrop.
 
Members of any security and intelligence apparatus are not immune to such blandishments. Results or seeming results bring praise, promotion, and budget increases to establishments that normally enjoy little public recognition. I have no reason to believe there has been inappropriate behavior by officials here, but I emphasize the importance of healthy skepticism until a clear picture emerges. The lack of healthy skepticism in America is precisely what has reduced that society to a spineless acceptance of whatever authority says, no matter how uninformed or unreasonable.
 
The known facts of the Toronto case are simple. CSIS, Canada's intelligence agency, identified one or more of these fellows on an Internet chat room about two years ago. This prompted additional investigation, and a group of young men sharing angry dreams was discovered. Finally, when a 3-ton load of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used as a component for an explosive, was offered by the watchers and accepted by someone in the group, a wave of arrests quickly followed.
 
My first observation is that any group of young men thoughtless enough to reveal violent intentions on an Internet chat site represent a pretty low-level threat. After all, these chat sites are monitored constantly by police and intelligence services of many countries for child predators, traders in child porn, threats to governments, and for extreme political statements of every kind. Doing what these young men supposedly did is comparable to trying to build a bomb in a department-store display window on a busy avenue.
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