By Kenneth Tiven
In an age of terrorism and war, these English-speaking nations share gathering and analyzing intelligence data, much of it from mobile voice and data communications, satellites, and emails. Faster and more sophisticated than what the British did to decode Enigma transmissions used for German military signals during World War Two. To be blunt, everything spoken or written on a computer-linked mobile device exists somewhere. If you think Internet search engines are a marvel for their content, it doesn’t compare to what governments have gathered. An added dimension exists at this level. Searching for data is often like the proverbial needle in a haystack, but the government has a unique capability.
In old-fashioned wiretapping, either the sender or receiver needed to be known. Not so with these digital signals because they contain significant data attached beyond the message itself—including crucial geodata. The intelligence approach is to sift and sift. And where it gets more productive is combining it with other databases to learn who else is connected to it. These electronic footprints are far more extensive than the cookies you leave behind while Google and advertisers capture your Internet excursions.
High-speed supercomputers retrieve enormous amounts of data to sift, and sort. What language or coding system a government agent uses to tell the home office “mission accomplished” makes no difference. The Canadian intelligence system has likely stored every phone call and internet mail sent or received in the weeks before and after the event. Usually, it has been stored routinely somewhere to be reviewed later by secret high-speed intelligence equipment.
This approach probably turned up information that matched details of the professional hit job that killed Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in his truck as he left the temple parking lot on a June evening. Eyewitness accounts and security camera footage made it obvious this was not a random criminal act, especially given Nijjar’s activism on Sikh separatism. A reasonable speculation is that when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in India for the G20 meeting in early September, he hinted in a conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Canadian law enforcement surmised India was involved in the killing. That and awareness that the New Delhi government is unhappy with Canada’s attitude towards activist Sikhs perhaps accounts for the apparent frostiness in their meetings.
Trudeau, with mounting pressure at home over the extra-judicial killing of a Canadian citizen on his way home for supper with his family, decided to go public, knowing there is incontrovertible electronic evidence of another nation’s involvement. The legal quandary is obvious and the solution is always dangerous. One nation may define a person as a terrorist. In contrast, the nation where this person resides refers to him as an activist or freedom fighter, making legal extradition challenging. Indian authorities were clearly upset with the separatist rhetoric flowing from this Sikh temple near Vancouver, British Columbia, now a centre of nearly 8,00,000 Sikhs with a militant young second generation of Canadians of Indian extraction. When nations act on this situation, they are engaged in extra-judicial killings or kidnappings.
The most famous in recent decades is the USA flying into Pakistan with a special forces team to capture and then kill Osama Bin Laden for his role in the 9/11 terror attacks in America that killed thousands. Israeli agents kidnapped Adolph Eichmann for his role in killing millions of civilians during World War II in Europe, took him to Jerusalem, put him and the nazi-engineered holocaust on trial, and executed the architect of the “Final Solution”.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels