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RCMP criticized for 'spin' in BC bomb plot case

On July 9, the first day of Ramadan, Muslim convert John Stewart Nuttall carried a copy of the Koran into Surrey Provincial Court and was briefly reunited with his partner, Amanda Marie Korody.

The co-accused of a plot to bomb the B.C. Legislature on Canada Day are being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day: Nuttall at the Surrey Pre-Trial Centre, Korody at the Alouette Regional Correctional Centre.

Defence lawyer Tom Morino told reporters outside court that the corrections system decided on the solitary confinement for their security. He also said Nuttall is off methadone "cold turkey," but receiving medical attention to deal with "his discomfort."

On July 10, their case will be transferred to the Law Courts in Vancouver, after the Crown opted to proceed by direct indictment to B.C. Supreme Court, meaning there will be no preliminary hearing. Morino will seek a two-month adjournment so he can consider the evidence the RCMP and partner agencies gathered during their five-month counterterrorism sting dubbed Project Souvenir.

Project Souvenir and the charges against Korody and Nuttall were revealed in a sensational July 2 news conference in Surrey by RCMP assistant commissioners James Malizia and Wayne Rideout. The senior Mounties claimed the couple had been "self-radicalized" and inspired by "Al Qaeda ideology." Nuttall and Korody were arrested in Abbotsford, accused of offences on March 2 and June 25 involving the development of homemade pressure cooker bombs.

After Nuttall and Korody's appearance, Morino criticized the RCMP for the "spin."

"I think many of the comments were a bit over the top, quite frankly," Morino said outside court. "In the fullness of time, the evidence will come out that might undermine some of the police suggestions."

Morino said he believes U.S. authorities were involved in the operation, but did not say from which agency. He said "it's safe to assume" some of the people neighbours saw coming and going from Nuttall and Korody's Surrey apartment in recent months were undercover operatives who could have assisted in the alleged self-radicalization of the accused.

"Entrapment is a very high hurdle to clear, I think it's safe to assume there were certain elements of that," Morino said. "Whether or not it officially constitutes the legal definition of entrapment, that remains to be seen."

Canadians can expect more stings like Project Souvenir, the second major terrorist plot the RCMP says it has quashed in 2013. On April 22, a week after the Boston Marathon bombing, the RCMP announced the result of Project Smooth and charges against two men for allegedly plotting to bomb a Via Rail train.

For the last three years, the RCMP Annual Report on Plans and Priorities has contained a yearly target of six as the "number of disruptions, through law enforcement actions, to the ability of a group(s) and/or an individual(s) to carry out terrorist criminal activity, or other criminal activity, that may pose a threat to national security in Canada and abroad."

The RCMP report identified national security as the force's second priority, just below combatting serious and organized crime and above economic integrity.

The 2012-released "Building Resilience Against Terrorism" is the federal government's blueprint for counterterrorism. It identified violent, Islamist extremism as "the leading threat to Canada's national security" and pinpointed homegrown extremism.

"Canadian authorities continued to investigate a range of potential domestic terrorist threats," said the 2013 annual report on counterterrorism activities. "The majority of these involved individuals influenced by the ideology of Al Qaeda. Homegrown violent extremism can be based on other causes but is more limited in scope and scale than the activities of terrorist entities listed under the Criminal Code."

The RCMP appear to be following a controversial strategy employed widely by the FBI in the U.S. The 2011 Mother Jones investigative project, Terrorists for the FBI: Inside the bureau's secret network that surveils and entraps Americans examined files for 508 people charged with terrorist-related crimes since 9/11. Of those, 243 were targeted by an informant, 158 through a sting and 49 were lured by an informant who led the plot. When the cases got to court, there were 333 guilty pleas and 110 convictions. The remaining 65 cases were awaiting trial. While 299 suspects, or 59 per cent, were listed as affiliates of Al Qaeda or other Islamist groups, a whopping 209 (or 41 per cent) had no affiliation at all.

Journalist Trevor Aaronson said his research found the targets of FBI counterterrorism stings were economically desperate or mentally ill males who had a crude understanding of Islam and didn't possess the ability to carry out a terrorist attack until they were surrounded by undercover operatives. The FBI, he said, had little success in foiling actual terrorist attacks, such as the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Nuttall and Korody's second court appearance coincided with not only the beginning of Ramadan, but the last day in politics for Vic Toews, who headed the Public Safety Ministry for the last three-and-a-half years during which the federal counterterrorism strategy was crafted.

Early in Toews's tenure, Justice John Major's published his Royal Commission report into the Air India flight 182 incident and blamed federal government, RCMP and CSIS bungling for not preventing Sikh extremists from bombing the plane and killing 329 people on June 23, 1985.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 36 Canadian civilians have died via terrorism and 158 Canadian soldiers died at war in Afghanistan. The Rideau Institute, in a 2011 analysis, found $92 billion extra was spent on public safety and security since 2001. In 2011-2012, the budget for military and public safety was $34 billion. If budgets stayed at 2001 levels, the Rideau Institute estimated the expenditure would've been $17 billion.

At the end of April, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson's report on the federal Public Safety and Anti-Terrorism Initiative found three dozen departments spent $9.8 billion of their $12.9 billion allotment and couldn't account for the remaining $3.1 billion.

Part of the federal plan to counter homegrown terrorism is a $10 million, five-year research and development fund called the Kanishka Project. A $116,000, three-year grant was given Dr. Garth Davies of Simon Fraser University to lead the development of a customized web tool to automatically browse the Internet and collect information about websites and bulletin boards used by Islamist radicals to recruit individuals. The project is based on a similar program used to investigate child pornography.

Plans are underway in B.C. to open a Real Time Intelligence Centre next year via the Justice Ministry. It is expected it will be located at the new, $1 billion RCMP E Division regional headquarters in Surrey.

"In 2010, the policing community identified a need for a real-time operations centre to provide an integrated multi-agency response to serious crime crossing jurisdictional boundaries," said the B.C. Policing Plan.

"This has led to the development of the Real Time Intelligence Centre -- British Columbia (RTIC-BC) mandated to provide actionable intelligence and real time operational support provincially across all jurisdictions in the province. The RTIC-BC will play an integral role in reviewing serious incidents for patterns and sharing information and coordinating investigations between jurisdictions."

The real time crime centre concept was recommended by the Oppal Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry.

Similar facilities exist on a larger scale across the United States and are known as "fusion centres." The Department of Homeland Security facilities cost taxpayers between $289 million and $1.4 billion from 2003 to 2011 and had little return on investment, according to a report called Federal Support for and Involvement in State and Local Fusion Centers.

"Despite reviewing 13 months' worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot," said the report to the U.S. Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations.

"The Subcommittee investigation also found that DHS failed to adequately police how states and municipalities used the money intended for fusion centers. The investigation found that DHS did not know with any accuracy how much grant money it has spent on specific fusion centers, nor could it say how most of those grant funds were spent, nor has it examined the effectiveness of those grant dollars."

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990.

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