Secrecy is key to security

I refer to Mr. George Jason’s letter in your Oct. 2 edition wherein he raises the subject of national security.

Dear Editor:

I refer to Mr. George Jason’s letter in your Oct. 2 edition wherein he raises the subject of national security.

The first issue raised is 9/11 and the subsequent actions taken by the United States. And I agree they are onerous. Like the passport requirements and if you take flights to that fair land you know that everything is checked with the possible exception of your breath, and for that sometimes dubious emanation may I suggest mouthwash. (Just in case).

I should not be flippant because security is serious and requires serious discussions. First of all let’s put 9/11 into perspective. The attack showed both the vulnerability of advanced societies and the hatred of the terrorists. It also demonstrated how successful the latter can be. As we know, the attacks were aimed at the very heart of the US system; political, military and financial. It is, however, ironic how the twin towers (financial) attack, though stunningly effective did not chasten the banks who went on to cause the worldwide recession which has bedeviled us since 2008. A cynic may well ask who the real terrorists are. But I digress.

The attacks changed everything and reaction, at least in the US, was neither measured nor pragmatic. George Bush did his Buffalo Bill impression and the colossus Homeland Security was born. They tend to overreact, hence the term Excited States.

Anyway back to matters at hand. There are quite a few issues brought up in the above letter, but in the interest of brevity, I would like to get to the nub of Mr. Jason’s concern; the conduct of security services. I think we can all agree that such services are necessary and that they must keep their governments apprised of any threats. It is equally important that services share information with approved services of their countries because no country is “an island” in this ever-shrinking world. Information is therefore shared within strict agreed upon guidelines. It is not perfect, but it works.

How the information is actually handled inside and outside a service is always on a need-to-know basis. That is the Holy Grail of the business and is why we citizens are excluded from access. Security information by definition must be secure, and if it were made available, our enemies would have it too. If someone must know state secrets, he/she must become a government minister, join a security service or read spy novels. In the latter case they should keep in mind the authors have no more access to state secrets than we do and rely on their literary skills and vivid imaginations.

Mr. Jason also wished to see an organizational chart. I’m afraid no such chart exists. Services simply report to the minister, who, in turn, advises the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is quite straightforward.

And Mr. Jason suggests we ought to be given “raw numbers” of “how many people are in fact currently under surveillance in Canada because of potential threats.” This rather nebulous request would again draw a blank. CSIS and the RCMP investigate identified threats, but in most cases, it is a matter of monitoring that which may pose a threat in the future. It is open ended and results not easily quantified. A bit like a farmer who doesn’t know his yield when he seeds the field and while this looks like a good year for farmers there is no equivalent harvest time for spooks.

Gord Gramlick

Note: We apologize for the misspelling of several words in this letter published in last week’s paper.

Taking this opportunity, we would like to invite submitters to present their letters to the editor in typed format.