- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

TORONTO — Canadian security and immigration practices came under scrutiny yesterday after the weekend arrests of 17 persons suspected of plotting to blow up southern Ontario landmarks.

About 90 percent of immigration applicants from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past five years have not been sufficiently screened for security concerns, Jack Hooper, deputy director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), told a Senate committee last month.

Security analysts, meanwhile, warned that past cuts in staffing and funding for the nation’s security services have left them short of manpower to search for terrorist cells.

Seventeen Canadian residents, many of them regular attendees at a Toronto mosque, were arrested Friday and Saturday after members of the group purchased 3 tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make bombs.

Authorities said the suspects had been monitored by security agencies since 2004, but few details of the plot were offered ahead of a court hearing today. News reports said investigators had been eavesdropping on Internet chat rooms espousing anti-Western sentiment that are frequented by some of the accused.

John Thompson, president of the MacKenzie Institute think tank, said he thinks at least one other terrorist cell and “probably more” were still operating.

“Most of them would be in the Toronto area. It’s the largest concentration of Muslims,” he said.

If he is correct, finding such groups will be a challenge for the CSIS, which worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local and federal agencies in the weekend roundup.

The budget of CSIS was cut by about 20 percent in the 10 years before the September 11 attacks in the United States, and staff levels went from about 2,700 to 2,200, said Dwight Hamilton, lead author and editor of a recently released book on terrorism and Canadian intelligence.

The federal government boosted the CSIS budget by 30 percent a few months after the attacks, funding “a recruiting drive to expand on their linguistic and cultural skills,” Mr. Thompson said. CSIS also integrated with other Canadian law-enforcement agencies to better track terrorism.

Even so, Mr. Hamilton said, “CSIS doesn’t have the manpower to deal with the threat. They’ve been gutted. And just because [staff] numbers went up after 9/11 doesn’t mean that all is well.

“The head of the standing [government] committee on national defense and security, Colin Kenny, has said that training an intelligence analyst takes about as long as training a neurosurgeon. You do the math.”

Mr. Hooper, the CSIS deputy director, acknowledged to a parliamentary committee last month that most immigration applicants from Pakistan and Afghanistan are not adequately screened.

CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said that everyone who applies for immigration or refugee status in Canada is screened but that security checks are completed on only the 10 percent of overseas applicants who are deemed worrisome by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Mr. Thompson said that as well as monitoring jihadist groups, CSIS is struggling to monitor threats from non-Muslim organizations in Canada, such as Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sikh group Babbar Khalsa.

CSIS said it plans to complete a review of “operational resources” this summer.

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