by KJ Howe
Does intelligence matter? It is a sad state of affairs when we have to even consider the self-evident answer to this question, but in the Western world we have many naysayers. One only has to look at past examples to determine that intelligence operations are absolutely vital to the success of nations, organizations, companies, and individuals involved with security issues.
Unfortunately, some current political figures seem willing to undermine the value of the modern intelligence community for short-term political gain. As a society, it is important that we respect and value these agencies and operatives even if we can’t immediately realize that value.
In support of this goal, I’d like to share an amazing success story from Canadian intelligence that proves the Mounties always get their man–and that if you mess with a Canadian citizen anywhere in the world, you should be prepared to pay the price.
When we consider intelligence operations, we often think of “spy-vs-spy” scenarios where government operatives work against each other in the field, attempting to gain information to enhance national security or protect national interests. In the post 9/11 world, this model has changed to a significant degree. Now state agencies are seeking information about terrorist organizations in order to prevent attacks. Or alternatively, governments are trying to find ways to starve terrorists of resources in an attempt to degrade their capacity to generate the very fear they thrive on. But sometimes, even beyond advancing national interests or enhancing security, intelligence operations can deliver that most rare, but valuable, commodity…justice.
In August of 2008, two days after arriving in Mogadishu, Somalia, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photojournalist were kidnapped by teenage members of the Hisbul Islam fundamentalist group. Held captive for 460 days, Lindhout was repeatedly raped and tortured. When she was eventually returned home after the payment of a $600,000 private ransom orchestrated by the AKE international risk management company, Amanda was malnourished and battered, both physically and emotionally. Several Canadian journalist organizations complained about the federal government refusing to fund ransoms directly or indirectly, feeling that they had not done enough to bring Amanda home. Other than this mild backlash, the case seemed to be closed.
Except that it wasn’t.
Immediately after the kidnapping, the Canadian government installed covert assets on the ground in Somali, and these assets gathered intelligence, risking their lives in chaotic and dangerous circumstances to help. To give a little background, it’s important to know that the Criminal Code of Canada grants extra-national jurisdiction to several Canadian law enforcement agencies over kidnappings of Canadians anywhere in the world. In this case, they began operating in a country that was in virtual anarchy, hostile to any type of western intervention. You might think that after Amanda was freed, they would shut down the operation and go home.
Except they didn’t.
Equipped with only a cell phone number and several recordings of the lead kidnapper’s voice captured during calls with Amanda’s parents while conducting ransom negotiations, the team got to work. They spent years developing human sources, conducting surveillance, engaging in communications intercepts and investigations throughout the war-ravaged country until they were able to identify Ali Omar Ader as the ransom negotiator as well as one of the key players in the kidnapping. A teacher, Mr. Ader had been a member of at least one fundamentalist group, and he owned an internet cafe and a small publishing house in Mogadishu. Normally there would be nothing that could be done to punish Mr. Ader for his involvement in this horrific crime. Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Somalia. It seemed that all Canada could do with the information was to issue a warrant for his arrest and add his name to seemingly never-ending lists of wanted individuals maintained by international law enforcement organizations.
But that was not acceptable.
Seven years after the kidnapping, the announcement of Mr. Ader’s arrest in Ottawa stunned the Canadian public. How had the Mounties apprehended this fundamentalist criminal who lived across the globe?
|The would-be author, Mr. Ader
After identifying their target, the RCMP spent years building secret connections to him through his business and social circles. After working their way into his life and earning his trust, the Canadian operatives offered him the one inducement that no one can refuse, the one potential bribe so tempting that it lured him out of his safe haven right into the Canadian capital.
A book deal.
It appears that Mr. Ader fancied himself a budding author and through a front organization, he was offered a publishing contract to pen a book on Somali history. He flew to Ottawa believing that he was going to be signing a publishing contract. Imagine his surprise when he was greeted by his Mountie “publishers.” Now he sits in a Canadian jail awaiting trial.
Operation Slype was a masterwork of gathering and utilizing overseas intelligence. As one Canadian government official shared, “This operation posed a number of significant challenges, as it was carried out in a extremely high risk environment in a country plagued with political instability.” It also has reflected a new and more aggressive Canadian policy towards harm directed at Canadians overseas. Recently, charges have also been filed against Syrian Colonel Sallourm for torturing Canadian engineer Mahar Arar in 2002 and 2003. The investigation in this case was expensive, complex, risky and took over a decade to complete.
So, yes, intelligence does matter. And the Mounties still get their man.