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Why did CSIS remain a mute spectator, and why did it make a dog's breakfast of the aircraft bombing investigation?
This post continues from the following story.
If the cavalier manner in which Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) ignored warnings from mutiple informants about Parmar’s plot to bomb Air India aircraft seemed strange, their destruction of 156 out of 210 tapes of telephone conversations involving Parmar, Reyat, and their collaborators was downright absurd. Making the theatre of Canadian absurdities even less believable was the fact that no transcripts were ever prepared.
CSIS tried to explain it away as a consequence of retention policies extant at that time, and the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) claimed in 1992 that the destruction of tapes had no impact on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) investigation of the bombings. This, however, was contradicted by then RCMP Inspector Gary Bass who led the Air India inquiry from 1996.
Apparent willingness to share intelligence
In his memo, Bass took exception to SIRC’s conclusion that RCMP had not asked CSIS to retain tapes. He mentioned repeated reminders from RCMP Superintendent Lyman Henschel to Randy Claxton (the highest ranking CSIS official in Vancouver) beginning 26 June 1985 — just two days after the bombings — about the need to “isolate and retain any intercept evidence CSIS had gathered”.
"Telephone conversation. Randy Claxton. CSIS. Re: Interceptions - any incriminating evidence off C.S.I.S. installations will immediately be isolated and returned for continuity"
—Henschel’s contemporaneous notes from 27 June 1985
Claxton agreed to do what was asked, but mentioned that there were “one or two very sensitive installations which he would want to consider very carefully.”
Destruction of valuable tapes after the bombings
Further repeated requests were made for tape retention and other than 54 tapes recorded in May , none were retained…Numerous intercepts of high probative value between several of the co-conspirators leading up to the bombings were destroyed.
So CSIS retained some tapes recorded in May 1985, but destroyed tapes recorded in June 1985, the month in which the bombings took place.
Bass goes further in exposing CSIS. He notes that John Venner, CSIS member, asked RCMP Deputy Commissioner Inkster in September 1985 if RCMP wanted the tapes retained. The implication is that the tapes still existed nearly two months after the bombings. He also mentions that CSIS correspondence states tape destruction began in July 1985, the month after the bombings, and highlights that CSIS’s explanation for tape destruction — how they were destroyed and when — is full of contradictions.
Misdirection and lack of cooperation
Not only did CSIS hide intelligence from RCMP personnel investigating the bombings, it let RCMP waste valuable time and energy pursuing the wrong targets. As Bass notes:
…valuable wiretap evidence in possession of CSIS was destroyed…lack of disclosure by CSIS in the early days [after the bombings] allowed the RCMP to seek a wiretap authorisation on the wrong targets…a great deal of evidence, primarily through CSIS investigation, existed by the time the bombings took place.
CSIS’s deliberate sabotage of the investigation is borne out by a statement made by Henschel in 2007 that even two years after the bombings, CSIS did not inform him that they had taped phone conversations involving Talwinder Singh Parmar.
Bass concludes his memo with an unequivocal and damning observation:
Had CSIS cooperated fully from June 23rd onward, this case would have been solved at that time.
Why did CSIS sabotage the investigation?
They may have had a multitude of reasons, but one motive bears looking into. And for that, it is necessary to take another look at the key conspirators involved in the bombings.
The story linked above introduced Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat. Another person involved in the plot was Ajaib Singh Bagri, who was considered Parmar’s right-hand man in Babbar Khalsa. The fourth conspirator was Surjan Singh Gill, a resident of Vancouver, who had proclaimed himself the consul-general of Khalistan.
The events of 4 June 1985
On 4 June 1985, Gill drove Parmar and an unidentified person — Mr X — to Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver. They were tailed by CSIS officers who had Parmar under surveillance.
After dropping them off at Horseshoe Bay, Gill left. Why didn’t Gill accompany Parmar and Mr X on the ferry to Vancouver Island? RCMP provided the answer.
While interrogating Bagri on 28 October 2000 at the Vancouver Polygraph Unit, RCMP Inspector Lorne Schwartz and Sergeant Jim Hunter stated that the reason Gill didn’t accompany Parmar to Vancouver Island is that his handlers had told him not to because they didn’t want him to get involved further in the plot.
Parmar and Mr X took the ferry to Vancouver Island and went to Inderjit Singh Reyat’s home on Kimberly Drive in Duncan. At 6:30pm that evening, Reyat, Parmar and Mr X left the former’s house and headed off highway 18 near Hillcrest.
Around this time, Gill rang Parmar’s residence. He told Mrs Parmar that he wouldn’t be able to pick up Parmar from Horseshoe Bay later that evening because he was sick, and asked her to do it. Hunter brought this up in Bagri’s interrogation, explaining that Gill made this excuse because he had been ordered by his handlers to dissociate himself from the conspiracy.
Meanwhile, on the island, CSIS surveillance observes that Mr X remains in the car as Parmar and Reyat walk into the bush. A few minutes later, they hear a loud explosion: Reyat and Parmar have successfully tested their bomb.
They were now ready to plant two bombs on two Air India aircraft.
Parmar realises Gill is getting cold feet
On 16 June 1985, Parmar called Gill and demanded to know why the latter hadn’t come to meet him. Gill made excuses, but Parmar was upset. Jim Hunter referenced this event, confirming that Gill is a significant co-conspirator.
On 20 June 1985, just days before the bombings, Surjan Singh Gill resigned as Officer Director and member of Babbar Khalsa. RCMP Sergeant Jim Hunter referenced his letter of resignation while interrogating Ajaib Singh Bagri, and mentioned Gill’s motivation for quitting:
Hunter unequivocally told Bagri that Surjan’s handlers in CSIS told him to distance himself from the plot: Surjan Singh Gill, who was one of the co-conspirators in the Air India and Narita bombings, was a CSIS agent.
What reinforces this assertion is the fact that despite being intimately involved in the plot along with Parmar, Reyat, Bagri and others, Gill was never charged in the Air India 182 and Narita bombings.
Given this context, CSIS’s eagerness to destroy tapes and its unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation look less like incompetence or callousness, and more like malice.
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