Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why Were They Erased?

It's hard to know quite what to make of the CSIS blunder in erasing as many as 150 wiretap tapes of the conversations of Air India bomber, Talwinder Singh Parmar.

The Canadian spy agency claims it was just a bureaucratic bungle in keeping with its policy of erasing recordings within 10-days of transcription. The former head of the counterterrorism branch said his service's focus was to collect intelligence, not evidence. Say what?

The line goes that CSIS underlings erased the tapes because they hadn't received orders to the contrary from above. We're talking about the worst terrorist act in Canada's history and the worst air bombing in the world - ever. Surely that alone attracts the sort of gravitas that would ensure that every possible scrap of evidence would be preserved.

This isn't just an "oopsie" or is it? That may depend on just what was said on those tapes. There are transcripts of a sort just not verbatim. That destroyed the evidentiary value of the tapes so they couldn't be used in prosecutions of other plotters. But, of itself, that doesn't mean that anything truly significant was erased. That's merely an assumption.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Why did CSIS underlings not seek authorization from their superiors before erasing these tapes? Do the sketchy transcripts reveal comments that were probative to the prosecution of others? Just what is in those transcripts that can be safely made public?

Inquiry chairman Justice John Major has to walk a fine line on this one. Secrets are secrets after all. Yet he has to let us in on whether there was really much in those erased tapes that could have made a difference to the prosecution. CSIS won't tell us that but somebody should and the guy to do that is John Major.

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