Trump’s Unsettling Nation-Building VOICE

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Trump’s address to Congress was a clear attempt to change the tone of the administration. But how much of a change was there? Does it really matter if the President “sounds” more presidential or is it substance that should be the real focus? I think the latter because while he may have sounded more presidential, his VOICE plan sounds very worrisome.

The Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) will be a new office that will track crimes committed by immigrants and publish them in a weekly list. It sounded awfully familiar to a Breitbart News section on “black crime.” The office and program are unsettling for many reasons with the main one, for me, is the further association being made between immigration and crime. 9/11 created a linkage between terrorism/anti-terror law and immigration law but now with Trump’s plan this will be dramatically ramped up. Trump is setting up the immigrant straw man as the cause of all of America’s ills. I couldn’t help but notice how everything “foreign” in his speech was the cause of America’s problems in his mind, from foreign trade, to illegal immigration to just plain immigration. The emphasis on the “foreign” threat is something we have seen many times in history and certainly in both Canadian and American history as not only were other cultures and races portrayed as “dangerous foreigners” but also those on the left of the political spectrum. What Trump is effectively beginning with his administration is nation-building by way of repression of the “foreign” element in America, where “foreign” is defined by the government and “American” the opposite.  Not only is this targeting of immigrants regressive but the definition of “foreign” threat will most certainly shift to include broader segments of society than just immigrants.

Add to this two other unsettling future White House plans (this in addition to the new travel ban and suspected Russian ties) which include an investigation into voter fraud and the intelligence community (IC). Will Trump seek to purge the intelligence community with supporters and “yes men/women?” You bet. I wrote about the liklihood of this in a previous post. Add in the voter fraud investigation, which will certainly (I imagine) look into changes that could make it easier for Trump to win reelection, and you have the beginnings of a very dangerous situation emerging in the US.  Trump predictably booted critical media last week from participating in White House coverage, I also wrote that if he did this and continued his attack on the IC, he was effectively going to war with them and the gloves would be off and this seems to have occurred and is a mistake on his part. If the White House doesn’t want to work with the IC or media, both will only feel as though there’s no point in even giving Trump’s administration the benefit of the doubt. Still, one cannot help but feel that if ever there was a time in American history to be critical of the direction things were going in, this would be it. You have to wonder at what point will the majority of GOP members start to publicly admit that the President isn’t wearing any clothes.

“Build-the-wall!” Coming to a Canadian City Near You


Many Canadians reacted smugly to Americans shouting that phrase (Build the Wall!) in support of Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. What they could not have foreseen, was that this chant is on the cusp of being shouted by a number of Canadians if they’re given the opportunity, and the wall would be between Canada and the United States.

Asylum claims have been sharply increasing since Trump introduced the travel ban and even though US courts shot it down, a new one is in the works and set for release soon. Just in Quebec alone the number of people crossing from the US has tripled from 424 to 1280 in the past year. The increases are happening in many provinces but Quebec and Manitoba in particularly have garnered much media attention as people make the difficult trip on foot from the US into places like Manitoba and in harsh winter weather with some even losing limbs from frostbite. As much as these heart-wrenching stories elicit sympathy from many, there is a steadily growing sentiment that something has to be done to stop the “illegal” crossings. These crossings are occurring because of the Safe-Third Country Agreement between Canada and the US which stipulates that a person claiming refugee status has to do it in the country they arrived in. This agreement emerged in the aftermath of 9/11 and it was not just to prevent a “clogging of the refugee system” as people have lately claimed. It came about because of American fears of Canadians having a lax refugee and immigration system and the mistaken belief that some 9/11 hijackers entered the US from Canada. The goal was to reduce the number of asylum seekers from leaving the US and entering Canada to claim refugee states. Refugees faced higher levels of refusal in the US and incarceration.

Recent media reports have as many as 1 in 4 Canadians wanting a Trump style travel ban imposed. That’s 25 per cent and that’s not a small number. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. As I wrote in an earlier post, hostility to refugees and immigration is not new in Canada or the US and since the 1980s refugees have also been regarded as a security threat. Canada’s immigration policy and its refugee policy have, for the vast majority of Canadian history, been tied to economic policies and not humanitarian ones. Tony Clement of the Conservative Party even hung up on a CBC reporter this week when he refused to stipulate what he meant when he said the government has to “enforce the law” when it came to illegal crossings. When pressed in the phone interview to describe what he meant he hung up. Why? Because what he may have meant was that the crossings should stop, but he likely knew where that would lead, “do you want a wall?” could have been an obvious next question from his interviewer. Maybe Clement doesn’t want a wall, but he and other similar minded people are probably starting to quietly admire the architecture of walls in general, waiting for someone to give them permission to publicly profess their support for solid structures.

So the question is not if but when will this chant or a similar one like it start emerging in Canada?  Remember this Tweet during Trump’s ban?

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017

The Tweet, to me, sounded smug, and it still does.  As a historian that is quite familiar with Canada’s immigration history, Canada does not have a history of welcoming people and as I wrote in an earlier post, comments like this that were clearly designed to capitalize for political gain, can come back to bite you. What Trump likely knew if he read this, was that it’s all well and good for Trudeau to throw this out there but when refugees start coming we’ll see what happens.  Sure enough, when Trudeau was pressed to temporarily suspend the Safe-Third-Country Agreement, so that refugees could claim asylum at a legal crossing instead of getting turned away and having to risk their life in an illegal crossing, he refused. Even the Immigration Minister said that “people should claim asylum in the first safe country that they land in,” a direct endorsement of the Safe-Third- Country policy (of which the government is well aware) that compels desperate people to literally risk life and limb to cross into Canada in an unsafe manner. Strange the government opted not to Tweet this. All it will take is just one negative incident involving a refugee to set off calls for a wall. In the end it’s the current government that, by refusing to suspend the agreement and allow people to safely declare asylum, is contributing to playing up the daily drama of these crossings, contributing to needlessly risking lives, and failing to adequately devote the proper amount of resources to handle the influx. It’s the current government that is doing the most to lay the concrete foundation for the calls that will surely come once hate and fear begin to take over.


US Administration Teetering on the Brink

Mario Tama/Getty Images

On Monday Canada’s Prime Minister visited President Trump in Washington. Many Canadians, especially media, watched nervously wondering what would come of the visit. The answer was not much, the sun still came up in Canada and the visit was fairly uneventful and it also included a round table about women executives and entrepreneurs.  It seemed more like an attempt for Trump to try and cash in on some of Trudeau’s feminist political capital (not likely to work) and a staged event to have Trudeau feel like he’s making some positive contribution. The media analyzed every detail of the visit including whether Trudeau could handle Trump’s handshake (really?) and then there was the way over-drawn discussion of what Trump meant when he said he would be “tweaking” NAFTA when it came to Canada. The phrase was clearly meant to convey that the US is NOT concerned about its arrangement with Canada. How could it be? Three states that backed Trump in the election greatly depend on Canadian trade for jobs: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Instead of relaxing a bit, Canadians immediately began the anxiety parade about what “tweaking” will mean. Washington has its own issues right now, and Canadian trade isn’t that high up, or even on the list. The Press Secretary even called Justin Trudeau “Joe” on Tuesday, a pretty good indication of how little this visit and Canada ranks on their radar. There’s a good reason for this and that’s because of Michael Flynn.

Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned Tuesday because, as Spicer put it, the President had an “eroding level of trust” for him and asked for his resignation. It wasn’t just Trump, Trump just couldn’t put it off any longer. The issue leads back to Russia. During the presidential transition in December, and just as Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its hacking during the election, Flynn was on the phone with the Russian ambassador promising an end to these sanctions when Trump took over and he lied about the contents of the call to VP Pence. It would be one thing if this was the only issue but the transition, as has become blatantly obvious, has been a mess and marred with infighting. For a man who seems to care so much about his brand, Trump seems content to surround himself with people who are intent on destroying it to implement their agenda, Banning being the other advisor that is contributing to this and helping erode whatever is left of Trump’s reputation. He’s even part of a side group operating away from the input of the National Security Council. Does Trump really think this will be a good idea? Trump need only look at retailers who want nothing to do with the name to see how this whole “being President thing” has completely sunk his reputation, both because of his doing but also because of who he has surrounded himself with. It begs the question if things would be or could be better for him if he would only ditch the most controversial, and baggage laden figures in his entourage. But the other side of this that we also have to consider is: are White House staff scrambling to implement a Trump agenda that is poorly defined, made up on the spot, frequently changing and they’re crashing and burning in the process? Leakers seem to suggest this is also a factor in the chaos. Things seem to be going from bad to worse.

The nightmare is far from over for him because apparently Trump knew for weeks about Flynn’s lie. This wasn’t Flynn’s first brush with Russia. He had also dined with Putin, had paid public speaking engagements, and had connected with Russia during the election. Those close to Flynn also believe they saw a change in his views on Russia, Iran and Islam when he became connected with Trump. Was he acting on his own with this phone call about sanctions? Some media, like Politico, are suggesting that may not have been the case. There are now calls for a congressional committee to investigate the ties Trump’s administration has to Russia. This is serious, serious stuff affecting the highest branch of the US government. It comes on the heels of Russia possibly having embarrassing material on Trump, the hacking during the campaign, and the resignation of Paul Manafort last year who was Trump’s campaign chairman. He resigned also because of ties to Russia. The intelligence community needs to know definitively what is going on with this administration and Russia because otherwise it will mean an intelligence failure of the highest magnitude if Russia has penetrated the highest office in the US a la Manchurian candidate. Think about that. Really think about it. They have to get to the bottom of this and if a congressional committee has to be called to help with it, so be it.  Even from Trump’s perspective, if there is nothing else to uncover, this should be something he should support. You can’t go forward in the presidency with this scandal hanging over the White House, every decision will be overshadowed by it going forward. Russia has also just test fired a new cruise missile, a violation of a historic 1987 treaty with the US that bans intermediate land-based missiles. It’s a clear provocation, and a test not just of a missile but of Trump. Russia is claiming all this talk of investigating Russian connections in the Whit House is just anti-Russian sentiment and a witch hunt. That isn’t surprising – near the end, Kim Philby said something similar.

What Trump’s Presidency Means for Canada and What it Doesn’t (Updated 2/10/2017)

The Lapine

What a month. It’s been difficult to keep up with all the intelligence, immigration and politics stories and mainly because Donald Trump has given everyone plenty to write about. This is, I think, part of the problem the Trump presidency poses for the future. Trump loves the spotlight, he loves the engagement and his willingness to try and get it, or his inability to stay away from it, poses a problem because how much do we really want to devote to discussing Trump? He is the POTUS now so we can’t avoid it and what does this presidency mean for Canada? I will try and address some of the main stories that have come up in the past two weeks with this question in mind.

The “problem” or puzzle of Trump is especially apparent for America’s allies. Canada has certainly been experiencing its share of anxiety about what to do about Trump, and there have been countless stories about what Canada should or shouldn’t do when it comes to Trump. Some have even suggested that Canada needs more intelligence on the US, but not spy on them (which would be ridiculous and almost impossible given how closely connected our intelligence and security agencies are). The argument is that Canada should seek to gain more intelligence in terms of material on Trump and how he thinks and Canada’s diplomats should seek this out. Fair enough, but I have to ask: is this really the problem, i.e. that there isn’t enough about Trump out there? Anyone with a Twitter feed and tuned into security and politics stories can attest to the seemingly never-ending stories on everything Trump, every advisor of his, every move he makes, it is quite simply never-ending. I can’t help but feel that we have too much information as it is, the problem you could say lies more in the analytical end. Trump has not hidden his agenda (just go on Twitter) nor have his advisors like Steve Bannon. He certainly hasn’t hidden his temperament or his views on immigration and security. If we want to understand Trump just look to his past, specifically his childhood which would mean the 1950s. Trump has a nostalgia for a time when I think he genuinely believes America was better, the economy was humming, and the auto worker was a desired job among the working class (and dismissing the aspects that didn’t work because he didn’t experience them). Even his choice of food hearkens back to a time before anyone was sounding the alarm about heart disease and fast food. His campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” leaves one wondering when he thought it great, likely his childhood. He strikes me as the kind of person that would have viewed the civil rights movement as an unwanted and unnecessary disruption in the way the world worked from his point of view. He also continually tries to avoid being pinned down and certainly likes to play the role of the fool. My concern since he entered politics is that it’s an act, an attempt to keep people guessing and allow his agenda, allow the outrageous, to continue to become the norm.  Probably the only thing we can count on is that Trump is not an experienced politician, and that his administration and staff are very unsettled at the moment and it shows. I suspect we are likely going to have a never ending supply of stories in the media trying to deconstruct Trump.

Back to the issue of Canada, so what should Canada’s strategy be? Do as you do. What else can it do? There really isn’t anything Canada can do differently as long as Canada is defending its interests and the reality is the White House, as usual, doesn’t really care all that much about Canada. So don’t give it a reason to and play it steady. Since I originally wrote this Canada’s PM will be visiting Trump this coming Monday and I don’t think I’d deviate much from what I’ve written. Trudeau has the benefit of being able to work a room and he might be able to convince Trump that he’s “one of the boys” which is very much how Trump appears to think. Where Trudeau is vulnerable (and his political opponents should recognize this) is that he has a temper when he’s challenged or perceives to be challenged and things are not going his way. His town halls have revealed this side of him even more than his election campaign debates when we saw some of that come out. He’s prone to making rash statements too, and it remains to be seen if Trump will call him out over his tweet during the travel ban or about his scolding of Fox News over its misreporting of a Moroccan attacker in the Quebec attacks (perhaps not a coincidence, border agents have been turning away Canadians of Moroccan descent that are Muslim coming from Quebec, is this related to the Fox scolding?). I interpret Trump as someone who notices these things (or his advisors might). The PM will have to do his best to contain himself if challenged. The sad reality is that over the last several decades Canada has relied on the US far too much, for everything, and the result is that Canada has to walk a tight rope at times like this.

Trump’s presidency (likely) means little will change for Canada. There has been some question over whether Trump will expect Canada to pay more of its share for NATO but if Canada said it couldn’t, what could the US really do about it? What everyone knows and no one wants to admit is that the US will never not defend Canada because the defense of Canada is essential to the defense of the United States. It simply won’t happen and everyone knows it. There’s no need to throw it in their face, and to date no one has, but the status quo is likely to remain. Canada makes up the gap by doing what it can such as helping out with special ops missions and conducting signals intelligence. The same applies for NAFTA. There’s been anxiety here too in Canada on trade but not much. There’s also been silence from some corners, and that silence is most loudly expressed from the nationalist Left of the political spectrum. Sure everyone is protesting Trump’s travel ban, and for good reason, but there is scarce mention of NAFTA and it’s because for the first time there is a leader in the White House who agrees with a platform that many Left nationalists in Canada have expressed for some time, and that is the anti-globalization, anti-free trade platform. He killed the TPP. “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” and it’s not just Canada where this is happening but in the US as well. Sanders Democrats in the rust-belt have had to swallow their hate for Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and travel ban because they quietly agree with his stance on NAFTA and helped elect him. It’s not an entirely unheard of situation, the Democrats in the US for decades were the party of choice for many Southern racists all while FDR implemented the New Deal for workers. Yes, with Trump we are living in strange times with alliances and opponents not so easily drawn and Trump knows it. As much as there’s hope Canada will get a better shake in a new trade deal, I wouldn’t hang much on his promises of “fair trade” coming to fruition. I also wouldn’t make much of the idea that “resistance” is working against Trump either and perceive changes in Trump’s stance to mean he is backing down on things like his travel ban or plans for CIA black prisons for torture. He may simply perceive that moving more subtly on these things would be a better approach rather than the direct approach because most people do tend to miss subtle legal changes as opposed to big executive orders. Sill, his recent change of heart on some issues likely have more to do with ensuring Congressional support. Protests would be better directed at Congress members (which is now happening) and have more affect than those directed at Trump.

What Trump’s presidency doesn’t mean is that Canada is completely free to flout moral superiority (nor should it). Canada has its own problems with racism, intolerance and a history it shouldn’t be too proud of on these issues and there’s no need to start sounding triumphant as the PM did when the travel ban came into effect (and over Twitter of all places). No one is saying Canada should compromise on anything but throwing things in people’s faces leads to a tendency to have those things come back in your face.  Canada would make the biggest negative impact on Trump if it does something akin to the Liberal government’s rejection to join the Iraq War in 2003 (which Canada assisted with in its own way as we now know from WikiLeaks cables). Canada is viewed by a majority of Americans as its number 1 ally and a perceived break from the US on something like not going to war with them would likely garner a strong rebuke from Trump and a lasting grudge.  It will be foreign affairs then where Canada will have to tread skillfully. I’ve been more concerned for some time that Canada has placed itself at the mercy of the US military in terms of its defense, precisely for times like these, i.e. when a leader like Trump takes the reigns of the US government, but that bed was made long ago.

In the meantime what Canada and America’s allies really need to know is what Trump’s ties are to Russia, this should be the central concern of every US ally, particularly the Five Eyes members (which are Canada, NZ, Australia, UK and US) because we share intelligence. This remains the million dollar unanswered question and Trump’s performance on Fox News where he claimed that the US is not undeserving of the reputation of being “killers” did little to help dissuade people Trump was not in Putin’s back pocket. If its one thing Trump has been consistent on, eerily consistent on, and same with Russia, it is the defense of Russia and Putin’s reputation and on the Russian end, Russia’s defending of Trump. This is the security concern where intelligence is badly needed. Let’s see what month two of Trump will bring.

It’s been 1984 for awhile -Trump just isn’t hiding it

1984 (film)

The book 1984 by George Orwell (real name Eric Blair) reportedly hit the top of Amazon’s bestseller list shortly after Trump’s win and I’ve seen a number of stories last week about it and I even shared some on Twitter and Facebook last. Yet I can’t help but wonder why it is that the public thinks that with Trump, the dystopian nightmare of 1984 has now arrived. There are of course the lies the President has repeatedly told and the attempt to defend them as truths. These occurred all throughout the election campaign and it became a big story once the term “alternative facts” made its appearance last week. The most recent one being that a computer “glitch” was behind last weekend’s airport chaos and not his actions as President.

In some ways though, we owe Trump some credit, as much as we should be fearful. It’s Trump’s brash, bombastic, over-the-top, lack of subtly that has seemed to awaken the public to this issue of lies and half-truths being portrayed as truth and facts. This has been going on for sometime and it didn’t start with Trump. It’s actually rather hard to pick a moment in time when this began though there have been some more memorable and public moments.

Nixon was often accused of doublespeak, the well known term from 1984 used to describe language that deliberately attempts to obfuscate or distort meaning. But the examples in history are really too many to list. Pierre Trudeau’s government for instance passed the Protection of Privacy Act in the 1970s, a law designed to criminalize unauthorized wiretapping, sounded great, except it also permitted the government to legally engage in warrant-less  covert wiretapping. In 1980 The National Council of Teachers of English gave Ronald Reagan the 1980 doublespeak award for his many inaccurate statements including claiming that Alaska had more oil than Saudi Arabia. The runner up that year was Jimmy Carter. Has the world forgotten the invention of the term “ethnic cleansing?” This was the way Western nations avoided intervening in the Rwandan genocide by doing their best to avoid using the word genocide to describe the genocide taking place (if they did use it they were obligated to intervene) and the US led the initiative in this regard. How about “collateral damage?” The phrase dates back to the ’60s but was used by collation forces to describe the unintentional deaths of civilians during the 1991 Gulf War. When you’re trying to kill people in war, can any deaths be considered unintentional? It was used again in the Kosovo conflict. How about the phrases the “War on Terror” or “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (torture) “extra-juridical killings,” (assassination) even the media is to blame for participating in this madness, calling lies “falsehoods.” I could go on for some time because these are some of the most highly publicized examples, and don’t include the many laws politicians in many countries have passed that do the opposite of what their titles suggest or the many answers politicians give that avoid saying much of anything. Politicians have been leading the way in doublespeak and the destruction of words (along with Twitter perhaps) and until recently, the media have permitted it to go on.

The Classic Equation Photo: Radiohead + 1984 by onimatrix

What Trump has done is throw doublespeak in people’s faces, so much so that it just can’t be ignored, so for that I’m grateful but also worried. I’m grateful because it brings the issue to life as the media have started to join the rest of the public (finally!) and have now actually started using the word “lie” to describe some of Trump’s lies. I’m worried though because most people miss the real message about power in Orwell’s dystopian horror. Yes, there’s the danger of absolute power of the state and Party and yes there’s the suffocating of ideas, but most people in their reporting of the novel in recent weeks forget that the strength of Orwell’s message is that what enables doublespeak to become hegemonic in his book is people’s complacency. In the world of 1984 doublespeak became normal, so did the absolute power wielded by the state and Party. New editions of Newspeak were brought in gradually as each year a few more words were destroyed.  The majority of people didn’t resist because it was all they knew, it was normal, and not worth the effort. Much the same is happening in our society. Think of all the examples of doublespeak I gave and the many more each of us have encountered (George Carlin has a long list). They are casually shrugged off even when doublespeak is being used to mask repressive laws in plain sight, and sanitize torture and assassination. Some of the examples I gave have even entered the lexicon, most people today would wonder why the phrase “collateral damage” is even an example of doublespeak it having already achieved normalcy (“isn’t it also the name of a movie? What’s wrong with that?”). So I’m grateful that Trump’s obnoxiousness has raised the public antenna but worried because as it continues, it will become normal, and his doublespeak is some of the most sensational we’ve seen in the West, at least since the propaganda of WW2. My worry is that before we know it, we may find ourselves anxiously awaiting the newest copy of Newspeak and inadvertently cheering the next time the chocolate ration gets increased.

“None Is Too Many:” Trump’s Claims of Refugees as Security Risks Not New For US or Canada

G. Morty Ortega/Getty Images

Over the weekend Trump managed to create an international incident by banning travel from 7 predominately Muslim countries with the stroke of a pen. His flurry of signing Orders at the start of his term is not unlike what Obama did, and the Orders are largely meant for his base. Many of the Orders lack clarity because they are designed to simply be political gestures not real policy. But the lack of forethought for this Executive Order is quite evident as Trump has rather quickly caused chaos in American airports and created a boon for lawyers across the country as the Order is legally challenged nationwide. The White House claims the basis for this ban is to keep America safe and to protect the security of the country. What makes Trump’s actions shocking to many is the boldness of them but Trump’s claim that immigrants or refugees are a security risk isn’t exactly new. The Canadian government is trying to cash in on the US ban by welcoming the stranded but the country was no more welcoming to immigrants and refugees than the US over the course of its history. Today we are also learning about a terrorist attack in Quebec directed at Muslims. Canadians and Americans have enabled these views to fester and grow for decades. If Americans are upset about it, as they should be, many need to do some soul searching in the mirror before putting all the blame on Trump.

For much of American and Canadian history refugees and immigrants were often blamed for bringing “foreign” and “dangerous” ideologies. In the 19th century Irish Catholics were viewed with suspicion and as a lesser race especially by Protestants. Anarchism and communism were often the boogeymen that were tied to an individual’s country of origin for much of the 20th century. Yiddish speaking Jews, Finns, Ukrainians, Croatians, and Poles were some of the immigrants that were considered as potential security threats to both Canada and the US. Before the UN was created, accepting refugees was done on an ad hoc basis and they were often only accepted if they were believed to be contributing to the economic well being of the country, if not, they were not welcome, humanitarian needs were not a central concern. One of the most well known examples was the case of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. The Americans didn’t want them and neither did Canada leading Canada’s head of immigration Frederick Blair to claim that “None was too many.” Racism and the belief that Jews could be communist troublemakers were behind the actions. Even after the creation of the UN and its 1951 Refugee Convention, acceptance of refugees was often tied to one’s political affiliation as Western states were very selective in trying to accept refugees fleeing communism but not people fleeing right-wing dictatorships. When countries like Canada did accept refugees fleeing right-wing dictatorships, such as the Chilean refugees, they were heavily screened as potential security risks. For instance, screening for them took 4 weeks vs. 3 days for Hungarian refugees fleeing communism in 1956. The connection between immigration and refugees as security threats continuing to grow. 9/11 accelerated this trend as the lines between immigration law and anti-terrorism law became blurred.

Moments in history where immigrants were met with extreme demonstrations of nativism often had other factors at their root, in addition to the racist views of the day. Poor economic conditions, social change, heightened tensions during war or just before war, these were often contributors to nativism during these periods. Americans’ current uneasiness about their economy, tensions with other nations like Russia and China, terrorism, conflict in Syria, these factors I think are behind this recent bout of nativism and were also ones that helped Trump get elected (who also campaigned on this issue of banning people from certain Muslim countries). It has led to Muslims, again, being “othered” and blamed as being risks to the country’s security as they were during the days after 9/11, even though none of the countries currently in the travel ban Order have been responsible for terror attacks on US soil.

The realities of security threats are far more complex than Trump’s administration portrays them. The idea that terrorism is tied to states is a foolishly outdated one. Sure there are states that in the past have indirectly supported terror cells, and some still do, but if that is the rationale, how are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or others not on the current Order? Of the 9/11 attackers for instance, 15 were Saudis, the others from United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of these are on Trump’s Order. Frankly, state support of terrorism is something even the US is guilty of dating back to the 1980s and Reagan’s term. If we take the administration at their word and accept this isn’t about religion (which is extremely difficult to do because of Trump’s own statements during the election campaign with regard to Muslims) I think we can accept that Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia are not the best examples of stability, democracy and good government (why is a much longer post) but why Iran? This suggests to me the ban was designed to target places where U.S. forces and intelligence may be highly active with Iran thrown in for good measure. The Order may be directed at countries the U.S. is in conflict with or politically opposed to like Iran or is based on the worldview of Trump advisors like Bannon, either way for the administration this Order equals good security policy except – it isn’t. It is irrational to think  that all citizens of these states are potential terrorists and that terrorism is imported. Similar to Western nations in the past which painted communism as an imported ideology, terrorism is not something that is always imported. One of the most frequent terrorist acts being committed in the US are mass shootings and these are often committed by Americans on Americans and sometimes they were committed by those that were self-radicalized, by whatever ideology or form of extremism.  Has the administration forgotten about the Boston bombings and other similar attacks? The internal conditions and contradictions of a nation are more to blame for unrest than outsiders coming in to do people harm. It is a mistake to paint 9/11 as the archetype for a terrorist attack, which is what Trump is doing by constantly invoking it, and treating it as such is a recipe for missing future attacks. This ban is really pointless and can easily be circumvented anyway (doesn’t ban entry of dual nationals or nationals from EU, which saw increases in attacks in the last few years). Trump should be leaving security threat assessment to the people in intelligence who know it best and not make their job harder which he has certainly done.  Will Trump’s Order increase terrorist recruiting? Quite possibly, but my assessment is that the greater problem will be that it will sow more division and discord within America and with its allies. It may also backfire as some who elected Trump have second thoughts when they see his policies possibly coming to life causing problems for Republican House members in the next round of elections. Still, the existing and deepening divisions in the country are the real security risk that Democrats and Republicans are unable or incapable of grasping. More division will surely bring a smile to America’s opponents, watching from afar as the country continues to tear itself to pieces.

We’re Not in a New Cold War – It’s a Great Game With No End in Sight

Dr. Strangelove (film 1964)

There have been a few political analysts who are pondering whether Russia’s recent espionage tactics mean we’re heading into a new Cold War. Add to this the seeming explosion of other countries engaging in espionage, and now Canada’s spy agency CSIS, is warning that Russia and other powers like China have been engaged in cyber espionage against Canada too. Before we plunge into defining our current period by slapping on another neo onto an older term, let’s give some thought about the term Cold War as a historical period. Strictly speaking if we’re talking about the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States then the Cold War is very much done, not only because the race didn’t continue but because the Soviet Union as a political entity is gone even if Russia remains. I suspect though that when analysts are throwing the term “new Cold War” around they are defining Cold War much more broadly, perhaps even referring to the general contest between states or Russia generally and if that’s the case then the Great Game never ended.

The reality of course is that the intelligence race, or the building up of counterintelligence and espionage activities was never limited by the years we commonly think of the Cold War (1945-1989 or 1991). Ever since states realized the importance of intelligence this build up has been going on. For the most part, we can trace it back to the era of the First World War, in addition to the construction of mass surveillance infrastructure. Peace was never a limiting force in the intelligence world. Once the British realized the value of Room 40, despite some failings in the Battle of Jutland, they continued monitoring cable traffic in peacetime (it helped that British companies owned much of the cable lines around the world). The Americans too flirted with surveillance with the Black Chamber in the interwar period. What the Cold War did was ramp things up. More states entered the espionage world and became major players like China and Israel to take but two examples.  Even the recent Trump blackmail scandal, which is not yet proven, sounds like an old tactic the Russians have gone to again and again. Back in the interwar period the Soviets launched a number of operations against foreign emigre groups which they viewed as the biggest threat to their power. The tactic was to lure leaders back to Russia by having agents pose as underground resistance fighters, and once they successfully got them back to Russia, interrogations or executions were carried out. The tactic was known as “The Trust” named after “Operation Trust” the initial and most successful one that nabbed emigre leaders in the 1920s and later British spy Sidney Reilly. “Trust” tactics were used by the KGB during the Cold War. The Russians believed that by going on the offensive, Russian intelligence was providing defense.

What is occurring now is more of the same. If “Trust” tactics were used against Trump I wouldn’t be surprised, except instead of capturing an enemy, they’d be blackmailing one. We also still have espionage, but new technologies have made it much easier for states, even ones with low intelligence budgets, to play the espionage game. If new powers are needed for intelligence services to counter this espionage, Canadians should look long, hard and seriously at considering them so long as new oversight mechanisms can assure people that their privacy will be protected, and that intelligence powers won’t be used to spy on people expressing legitimate grievances against governments or help private companies go on fishing expeditions to stop the latest Game of Thrones download (this will only lead to an even bigger encryption market).

But the other aspect to consider is the role of human intelligence. It appears to me that Russia has been going back to the old days of not only employing “Trust” type tactics,  but is also trying to plant human agents in high places whether the Trump scandal proves true or not. They may be looking again at past successes, like the Cambridge Five, the five that penetrated British intelligence and went undetected for decades. Their recruitment started early. Russia may be grooming individuals from early on in their careers in the hopes they rise the ranks to be able to provide them with steady, and reliable intelligence. It was something they constantly did during the Cold War, in addition to turning high placed CIA and FBI officers. It would be the way to counter superior technology in the realm of cyber warfare and to steal it. Other states may copy the formula. This brings me to another topic of discussion appearing in intelligence news: was Snowden a spy?

The honest answer? I don’t know.  As much as I respect privacy, and can sometimes be skeptical of surveillance, because someone states they are not a spy after stealing thousands of top secret (and higher) documents, that isn’t enough for me. There’s a healthy amount of evidence to suggest it is unlikely Snowden was one, but the only people who could know for certain would be Snowden and Russia. One thing the Soviets often did during the Cold War was support peace groups and other similar organizations. I could see them indirectly helping civil liberties campaigns and whistle blowers because it indirectly assists them by turning people in rival states against their own governments. This shouldn’t be taken as an excuse for Western intelligence to go on witch-hunts, also common in history, but it has to be considered. It also makes it difficult for those wanting to create positive change in their respective countries without getting suspicion cast on them, again, this has happened often in the past.  This is also why oversight and whistle blower mechanisms are so important. They provide legitimate means for people to air grievances and counter illegal or unethical practices, and can counter foreign attempts to stoke tensions. A system that does this and protects secrets can be done. Good oversight and whistle blower policy is good security policy.

Going back to the issue of possible spies, there is growing suspicion on Assange for the Russian hacking/US election controversy. WikiLeaks has recently claimed that they would expose Trump’s tax returns and some might take this as their attempt to show they are neutral in the whole Trump/Russia/CIA dance. If they are assisting Russia, this wouldn’t convince me otherwise because I suspect Russia doesn’t care all that much about Trump, they would be fine with exposing information on him too, they seem to care more about destabilizing their opponents, fracturing alliances and sowing discord. Divided, Russia’s enemies would fall.They would like nothing more, now that Trump is in power, to have the US tear itself to pieces with election scandals and have Trump continue to turn the nation against itself, and fracture US alliances. If WikiLeaks really is working in the interest of the public by exposing secrets, where are the leaks on Russian corruption and scandals, considering all the effort Putin places on crushing dissent? You’re telling me there’s none? No leaks at all on this? If that’s true I find it remarkable.

So are we in a new Cold War? No, we’re not. The battle between states will continue as long as we have states. As so often is the case though, history continues to provide us with an important means of understanding and analyzing our current day dilemmas.

Bell Canada’s Reaction to Secret Wiretapping

Canadian Press

PICNIC was a Cold War warrantless wiretapping program that began with secret order P.C. 3486 and aimed at those who were deemed disloyal or suspected of disloyalty. You can read more about it Here and Here and find links to the press stories.

So what did Bell Canada have to say about all this? No program could take place in this period and be very effective without Bell Canada. CBC asked Bell the following pointed and direct questions:

1) Why did Bell Telephone agree to provide this surreptitious wire tapping to aid the RCMP in 1951 and again in 1954?

2) Does Bell have any records from the era?  If so, what records exist related to this RCMP program?

3) Does Bell know how many wiretaps were conducted during the 1950’s? How many?



4) Does Bell today provide any similar access to any police and/or
intelligence agencies to intercepted private communications (voice, text, data) under any secret orders or programs that are not authorized by the courts?

(For instance, does Bell provide CSIS or CSE access to private
communications, under any Ministerial orders – that are not vetted first by a judge?)

5) If so, how frequently does that occur?  And what volumes of calls/texts/data transmissions are intercepted under these extra-judicial orders from government?

This was Bell’s reply:

The documents you’ve found underscore that Bell has always complied with the law. Bell would provide government or law enforcement with access to information only with proper legal authority compelling us to do so. Customer privacy is of critical importance, and Bell fully complies with Canada’s access, privacy and other laws to ensure the protection of our customers’ privacy. One fundamental difference between then and now is that
Bell today competes with multiple carriers across the country in every sector of communications. These same access laws and privacy policies apply to all carriers in Canada.



I am amazed at how I can see words on my screen but they convey nothing. A non-answer is ultimately still an answer. I find a tinge of arrogance or pride in that first line. “oh we’ve always complied with the law.. see??” I think that’s a poor answer. First, wiretapping law wasn’t very clear in this period so it wasn’t that difficult to comply with it. Second, Bell made recommendations to the government on which legal approach to take in creating the program. For instance, the government contemplated using the Railway Act to justify gaining access to the phone lines and Bell suggested it preferred this option rather than using the Official Secrets Act s. 11. This appears to me as a means of trying to help the government devise a legal solution that could work for everyone. Nothing wrong with that in terms of law, but what about ethics?

Customer privacy is a concern of any business. I see this as a meaningless statement as is the final line. Thanks Bell for pointing out that other companies exist now (they did then too). So we’re left with silence on other questions, Bell records, how often wiretaps were ordered and the questions about the present are also not directly addressed. Infer what you will from that reply, but maybe I’m being too critical? Tell Bell below in the comments what you think of their reaction to the creation of a surveillance phone network in the 1950s and a surveillance program that extended beyond that.

Canada’s Secret Wiretapping Order is Out – Read About it and Download Here

It has been an interesting few months. A quick recap. In October I discovered the existence of a Canadian state secret, a secret wiretapping program that was run by the RCMP during the Cold War called PICNIC. The program monitored people deemed disloyal by the government or who were suspected of disloyalty and it was carried out by RCMP Commissioners issuing wiretapping orders under s. 11 of Canada’s Official Secrets Act (a search warrant section of the Act) to Bell Canada (main phone company in Canada).  The program was an attempt to continue in peacetime what the government had already been secretly doing during the Korean war using an emergency order called P.C. 3486 which the government refused to confirm the existence of when I asked for it. These revelations made national headlines in Canada in December and you can read about it and read the press stories Here.

So today, I’m happy to reveal that I have acquired P.C. 3486, the secret emergency Order that led to the creation of the PICNIC wiretapping program. It was released to me by the Privy Council Office (PCO) over the holidays. They contacted me on December 16, 2016 one day after the wiretapping story made national headlines. It finally showed up (regular mail) on January 3rd.  It tells us something about Access to Information in Canada when a historian needs to go to the national media to help get a historical document of significance released. I’m optimistic that the attention will lead to changes in the future.

Now what about this Order? What can we glean from it? A few things of importance. First, section 2. Note that the wording of this section bears a striking resemblance to the Official Secrets Act s. 16 which was added to the Criminal Code in the 1970s to legalize wiretapping. Why does that matter? Because we see a similar section in the National Defense Act today. The section I refer to in particular is 273.65 (1). There are obvious differences but I think what we have in section 2 of this order is an early version of this modern-day section which still permits the Minister to write an order for a wiretap involving a Canadian without judicial oversight.

Where this order gets particularly unsettling is in section 6 and on. Section 6 reads:

  1. Nothing in any Act of the Parliament of Canada or of a legislature or in any enactment made thereunder or in any other law shall be deemed to limit or affect the operation of this Order.
  2. Notwithstanding any Act of the Parliament of Canada or of a legislature or any enactment made thereunder or any other law, no person is liable in civil or criminal proceedings by reason only that he complies with this Order or an order made under this Order.

The powers in this section are as broad as any I’ve ever read. No law in Canada is able to affect this Order (which was secret too by the way) and section two made individuals immune from prosecution for anything they did as long as they were trying to carry out the order (wiretapping). The remaining sections made revealing wiretapping orders a crime, and made carrying out wiretapping mandatory if you were asked (phone company worker, officer etc). Also of interest is that the Clerk retained the information, ensuring it would never leave the government’s possession.

But we’re left with more questions after this. Why did the government need these exceptional powers? What needed to be done to carry out orders? Where are the records about the creation of this Order and discussions that went into its creation? Surely they would have had to discuss if an Order could overrule a federal statute (it can’t as far as I’m aware). The PM at the time said this was a requirement of NATO, and remember the letter from Peter Dwyer in the PICNIC documents mentioning the US and UK secretly doing wiretapping, where are the documents about these international collaborations? How many secret Orders or laws did Canada pass and where are they? Also interesting to consider, if this Order was meant to continue, what would that have meant for section 6 and 7? Were they still expected to carry on with PICNIC and how? Espionage was added to the Treason section in the Criminal Code during this period and sabotage was added to the Code too. Was this an attempt to extend the criminalizing of revealing the surveillance or the tampering with it? It’s a question we’ll never know the answer to I suspect. Why was the Order also presented to a Supreme Court judge instead of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? The Administrator of Canada is usually the Chief Justice (see first page of 3486).

Overall the program and 3486 have begun to change our understanding of this period. It is now too simple to regard the RCMP has having gone rogue and engaged in illegal activities solely on their own accord. We can see from early on that they were following the wishes of their political masters. It also alters how we understand wiretapping in this period. We previously thought of wiretapping as something done on an individual basis, such as a bug being planted here or there and mass surveillance we associate with post 9/11. We knew wiretapping had occurred in the Cold War but this was a larger program designed to target many people at once.  It now appears that wiretapping could be done on a large scale in this early period and it was the start of mass surveillance in Canada. We can see that mass surveillance programs have been going on for a long time and with no court oversight. When the public became aware of these programs with the Snowden Affair, the public didn’t know how far behind the eight ball it was on the topic. Some form of it had been going on for at least 65 years.

It also reveals the accelerated formation of a secret state within the state, one that functions outside of Parliament and the gaze of the public and courts. Canada was also not alone in these actions. Where are the documents in places like the U.S. and U.K. which had also been doing similar things? It’s also unsettling to learn that the government was secretly using a law for a different purpose, in this case the Official Secrets Act. The Act contained an “official secret” that only the government, Bell, and the RCMP knew about. The public saw one law, but it was secretly being used in another way. We also still don’t know how long the program went on for and how large it became.

I am pleased that the PCO released the Order to me because it is a document of historical significance to Canadians and I hope that some positive changes arise from this historical moment. It’s time for this material to all come out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Canada’s Cold War era adversaries know more about our surveillance history than Canadians. More work remains.

For now this research on P.C. 3486 and PICNIC has been accepted for publication and will be published later this year in the Canadian Historical Review. I will shortly begin compiling everything I have on PICNIC into a database that I will regularly contribute to and make the contents available for everyone to download. In the meantime, download and read 3486 yourself and let me know what you think. Let’s get a discussion going in the comments.

Download P.C. 3486 Here

CBC story on 3486

Trump Being Blackmailed by Putin? Reports Russia has “embarrassing” Material on Trump

REUTERS/Mike Segar

I’ve been blogging about the Trump/Intel Community feud for awhile and it’s hard to even keep up with this issue and things have now taken a drastic turn and escalation. The Guardian is reporting that last month Senator John McCain handed over documents to the FBI Director James Comey that allege that Russian contacts had secret meetings with Trump’s campaign staff and that the Kremlin had “compromising material” on Trump himself from his stay in Russia during the Miss Universe pageant.

The documents date back to June of last year and were predicting events that came to pass such as turns in Trump’s campaign on policies affecting Russia. One of the reports claims that Trump had been targeted by Russian intelligence for at least five years with the goal to cause “splits and divisions in western alliance.” The documents also claim that Trump and his inner circle regularly accepted intel on his Democratic rivals and that the FSB had compromised Trump enough that it could blackmail him. The FBI is investigating the credibility of the documents but Comey is also under fire because he reportedly had information on the Trump/Russian connection and was investigating Trump campaign officials meeting with high-level Russian contacts as far back as October 2016 but didn’t make the investigations public but did discuss how the FBI was investigating Clinton’s emails. McCain claimed that he didn’t want to be involved at first for fear it would be seen as a partisan attack but felt confident in the source of the documents. The reports also indicate Russia hacked the Republicans as well but have chosen to not yet release the material. Trump was also briefed last week by intelligence officials about this as was President Obama.

If all these allegations are true it would be unprecedented. We are talking about a major human intelligence (HUMINT) move of the kind not seen since the days of the Cambridge Five, when Moscow had five of its agents placed in high ranking British intelligence positions for years. We are talking about the possibility of a U.S. President being blackmailed by a foreign government and working for their interests. It’s a major intelligence success for Russia if true and also reveals that Russia is not just playing cyber warfare games, but reviving and boosting its human intelligence operations to try and penetrate the highest offices in Western countries. We could be entering a new era of HUMINT of the kind not seen since the Cold War and a revival in the search for Russia spies. The key here is if the sources can be verified. The report is being taking seriously but until intelligence agencies can chase down and verify sources and information, the report is not yet considered “finished” intelligence and even if it was, things like this don’t usually get into the public because they cause a panic. Still, an investigation may reveal some of it is bogus, some true and some maybe explosive. Interesting times to say the least.

View the Story Here

The Canadian PICNIC Wiretapping Program

Read and watch more about Canada's secret and decades long wiretapping program

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