OTTAWA — The prime minister’s bureaucrats are hoarding a trove of decades-old records that chronicle Canada’s Cold War intelligence history, say security researchers who are pushing to make the files publicly accessible.
They’re puzzled as to why the Privy Council Office has not handed the extensive collection — which touches on everything from Iron Curtain defectors to possible Soviet invasion — to Library and Archives Canada for preservation and public release.
“I think Canadians have a right to understand their history,” said Alan Barnes, a senior fellow at the Centre for Security, Intelligence and Defence Studies at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. “To allow the government to hide this history away for their own convenience, it defeats the whole purpose of having an archival system.”
Barnes cites the importance of government transparency in urging people to sign an online parliamentary petition to the prime minister aimed at ensuring people will be able to see the documents.
He became aware of the records while serving in the Privy Council Office’s intelligence-assessment secretariat, where he worked from 1993 until his retirement in 2011.
The records were invaluable to historian Wesley Wark when he was asked in the late 1990s to write a classified history of the Canadian intelligence system in the decades following the Second World War.
A draft of the book-length study was disclosed through the Access to Information Act in 2005, though considerable portions — including an entire chapter — were deemed too sensitive to release.
Wark’s project provided some unusual glimpses of Canada’s post-war intelligence efforts.
The study revealed that Ottawa accepted some 30 defectors from Soviet and Communist Bloc diplomatic and consular missions between 1945 and 1952, and that Canadian spies secretly analyzed Soviet movies during the Cold War in the hope of gleaning useful intelligence.
Barnes has recently made requests under the federal access law for various records in the Privy Council archive, but has largely been met with delays and denials, prompting him to lodge complaints with the information commissioner.
Many of the old paper documents are of great historical significance but have not been preserved or handled properly, said Wark, who teaches at the University of Ottawa. “They sit moldering away.”
The Privy Council Office was never meant to serve as a perpetual archive of important documents and none of these records has “any conceivable contemporary operational use,” Wark said. “But PCO has guarded them as a fortress and constructed impenetrable walls to any researcher brave enough to tackle Canada’s access legislation.”
Privy Council Office spokesman Stephane Shank said the agency is reviewing records to ensure classified information is not improperly released before transferring them to Library and Archives.
The review includes more than 8,000 pages of minutes and other documents related to federal cabinet papers, including some documents from the security archive, Shank added. However, he did not say what would become of the many remaining intelligence records in the archive.
The petition, which can be found at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2025, has been signed by over 200 people. It requires 500 signatures by June 11 to receive certification for presentation to the House of Commons.
“The petition offers the right solution,” Wark said. “PCO must let go its iron grip on these records and transfer them to Library and Archives Canada where they can be properly preserved, indexed and made available to future generations of researchers.”
— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press
Behind the Violence, Looting & Vandalism During the Black Lives Matter Riots
Image Credit: Michael Tracey
Behind the Violence, Looting & Vandalism During the Black Lives Matter Riots
It has been just over 2 months since the death of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the hands of 3 police officers in broad daylight, ignited a global conversation on police brutality. The significant outrage invoked by this tragedy has manifested across the globe in the form of mass protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter. While a significant number of protests have been peaceful presentations of solidarity and collective calls for change, a number of cities throughout the United States and across the world have been devastated by violent riots, vandalism and looting. The response of the media and general public to these instances of violence, which have left a number of people dead, have dramatically deepened the ideological divide surrounding the already controversial issues of systematic racism and police brutality.
One side of the argument is highlighted by an opinion piece written by Robin D. G. Kelley, an American history professor, published in the New York Times titled “What Kind of Society Values Property Over Black Lives?”. This article argues the media’s focus on looting as a part of the riots is a way to deflect from the central issue. “The police keep killing us with impunity,” says Kelley, “Instead, once the burning and looting start, the media often shifts to the futility of “violence” as a legitimate path to justice.”
Similarly, an InStyle piece by Jacqueline Schneider states, “If you’re more concerned about looted storefronts than the brutal loss of life that spurred these protests, please re-evaluate.” The article goes on to highlight certain leading fashion brands, such Marc Jacobs and Coach, have come out in support of the protests despite the material losses sustained by their brands as a result of the looting and destruction. Marc Jacobs published an Instagram post featuring the vandalism of a Los Angeles branch location with the simple caption, “A life cannot be replaced. Black Lives Matter.”
A number of other works with a similar sentiment have emerged over the last two months, many of which make reference to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. While King is largely known for his unwavering commitment to non-violence in the face of oppression, he “recognized violent political rebellions … as the organic response to racial oppression and structural violence” (1).
““Alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, [the looter] is shocking it by abusing property rights,” he said. The real provocateur of the riots, he argued, was white supremacy.” (2)
Therefore, many of the arguments that do not denounce looting as a part of the riots lean on this ideological argument along with the notion that the destruction of property should not be discussed alongside the loss of human life.
On the opposite side of this controversial debate, journalist Michael Tracey presents an investigative report featuring first-hand stories from shop owners and locals in small US cities that have received minimal coverage throughout the riots. In something of a post-apocalyptic Purge-esque collection, Michael Tracey’s interviews showcase the current quality of life in places like Atlantic City, Fort Wayne, Green Bay, Olympia and more. The impact of the riots in these areas has been the significant destruction of small businesses and housing projects, burnt buildings and cars, shattered glass and windows barricaded with plywood, oftentimes featuring bullet holes.
Photo Credit: Michael Tracey
According to Tracey, who spent six weeks travelling the US collecting testimonies and documenting the unfolding implications of the ongoing riots, “…The primary victims – meaning those who feared for their safety, suffered severe material losses, and whose lives were upended – are themselves minorities, and were targeted by activist whites.”
Tracey shares the stories, fears and opinions of a number of minority locals and shop owners who struggle to make sense of the looting. Victims of the riots highlight the lack of available emergency responders during the crises, adding to the level of fear and helplessness being experienced. In one video, Tracy interviews a local resident, who “recalls being told during the riots that there would be no fire or police service available and people needed to fend for themselves.”
A number of boarded up storefronts, many of which will likely never open again, feature signage with the phrase “Black-owned business”. Tracey believes this is both a statement of pride as well as a plea to be left alone by rioters, “Does the ubiquity of these types of signs, in which owners declare their ethnic or racial status, seem healthy to you?” he asks.
Photo Credit: Micheal Tracey
These disparate opinions position looting and violent rioting as an inevitable response to minority oppression and injustice, while highlighting the logical inconsistency that occurs as a number of those being victimized are themselves, minorities. While this debate continues to unfold, the chaos remains ongoing across the United States, where many protests have continued to take violent turns and the death toll continues to rise.
For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.
“Could a Tweet Start a War?” – Implications of the 2020 Twitter Hack
On July 15, 2020, the social media world received a shock as a number of high-profile Twitter accounts were hacked in what Twitter referred to as a “social engineering attack”. Among the targets were the verified accounts of billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, as well as major political figures Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The coordinated attack has been identified as an elaborate Bitcoin scam, with the hacked accounts all sharing a variation of a similar message promising the public doubled funds in return for sending $1,000 Bitcoin within a 30 minute window.
Twitter responded rapidly, removing the false tweets and suspending activity on a number of verified accounts while launching a full investigation. However, the incident has raised a number of concerns regarding cyber security and the potential dangers of a significant social platform with a major public following being turned into a forum for a personal political agenda.
With debates surrounding the Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to dominate the social and political spheres around the world, social responsibility for celebrities and influencers remains at an all time high. In a digital world where the line between fact and fiction is often blurred and information travels entire continents in the blink of an eye, the Internet does not forgive, and it never forgets. In this reality, social channels such as Facebook and Twitter carry significant political weight. Statements by influential public figures absolutely have the power to fuel controversy, incite public action, bring people together or deepen the divide.
According to Brandwatch, a total of 1.3 billion accounts have been created since Twitter’s inception, and there are approximately 330 million active monthly users, with 145 million users active daily. The combined public reach of the impacted accounts is extensive, with some of the largest audiences including Barack Obama’s 120.6 million followers and Bill Gates 51.2 million.
With this kind of reach, the potential for the rapid dissemination of false information, negative narratives and damaging statements is untold. Although President Donald Trump was not among the accounts accessed, users have highlighted the dangerous possibilities if ever hackers were to gain access to Trump’s account for more malicious purposes than a Bitcoin scam.
Twitter user @DotDotDot_John says, “A hacker could take over his account and say ANYTHING damaging both foreign and domestically. The possibilities are endless. The ramifications could be catastrophic.”
Another user, @Jar0fGhosts asks, “What if @realDonaldTrump’s account had been hacked, and a message was posted that the US is launching an attack on China, Russia, or North Korea? What would be their immediate response? Could a tweet start a war?”
As Twitter works to contain the situation and undo the damage of yesterday’s incident, the public continues to debate the frightening potential of social media as a political weapon, adding #twitterhacked to 2020’s already outrageous timeline.
For more stories, see Todayville Calgary.
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