Kanishka Disaster --- Salient points of the major commission report - Part Seven

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by B.Raman

(June 21, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Bartleman’s evidence is not essential to arrive at the conclusion that the Government knew enough about the pre-bombing threat to make its failure to implement responsive security measures inexcusable. However, the prominence given to the testimony of Bartleman by the Government makes it necessary to conduct an evaluation of his evidence. With an understanding of what was known by the Government in the pre-bombing period, Bartleman’s evidence can now be assessed in its proper context.

Despite the aggressive insistence of the Government to the contrary, there is
nothing implausible about the existence and subsequent disappearance of a
document referring to a threat directed against a Canadian Air India fl ight. It is
possible that the passage of over two decades may have blurred some details
in Bartleman’s recollection, but the essence of his testimony is credible. The
Commission, applying the elements of common law assessment of evidence,
fi nds him a credible witness. He had nothing to gain from coming forward
with his evidence and he was fully aware that his evidence would be vigorously

The Commission accepts the possibility that a document such as that described by Bartleman would have been ignored and then subsequently could have gone missing from the Government’s documentary holdings because:

The documentary holdings for the pre-bombing period are incomplete.

Archives have been purged with no index of destroyed documents.

CSIS, as a matter of policy, destroyed source documentation once it had been reviewed and any intelligence reports had been written.

Despite statements made in documents before the Commission and in corroborating testimony at the hearings that asserts that in the pre-bombing period the RCMP was in
receipt of a large volume of threats to Air India forwarded by Air India itself, the number of RCMP documents produced to the Commission falls well short of that description.

The state of CSE documentary holdings from the pre-bombing period is unclear and the holdings themselves almost certainly incomplete.

Various government witnesses claimed that information about a threat against an Air India fl ight would have made an impression on them and that they would have raised an alarm immediately. This assertion, however, is inconsistent with what is known about the reaction to threat information received by the Government of Canada in the spring of 1985 for which documentary evidence remains. Such threat information, including the June 1st Telex, received little if any reaction.

A government witness who stated that he would have remembered and reacted
to any bomb threat concerning Air India had to be reminded of the existence
of an April 1985 threat against an inbound Air India fl ight. He defended his lack
of response in that case on the basis that there were no security precautions
necessary to deal with a threat against an inbound fl ight. Nevertheless, the
failure to raise an alarm and the absence of documentary reference to this
threat in any other material from the pre-bombing and post-bombing periods
parallels what happened to the June 1st Telex.

A CSE witness who attempted to attack Bartleman’s credibility asserted that he
would have warned the Government of any threat against an Air India fl ight, as
he had done months earlier when he saw a reference to the November Plot. He
apparently was unaware, however, of the existence of the CSE information about
security measures being mandated for Air India operations, inside and outside
of India in response to threats of sabotage by Sikh extremists and information
that Indian airports were conducting security audits in light of these threats.
This is information whose relevance to the Air India bombings the Government
disputes to this day. The very fact that the relevance of the CSE documents is
disputed is illustrative. If past and current CSE offi cials cannot, even in hindsight,make the connection between this information and the threat to Flight 182, it should hardly be surprising that its relevance was unappreciated in 1985.

It remains unknown how accurate the threat information seen by Bartleman may
have been. As he freely admitted, the information he saw merely suggested the
existence of a threat and he had no way to assess its seriousness or credibility.
The RCMP witness who testifi ed that the Force received threats to Air India before
every fl ight used that fact as justifi cation for the RCMP’s view of these threats as
“fl oaters” – sent by Air India in the hopes that the Canadian Government would provide additional security without additional cost.

This account of the RCMP’s view of the credibility of threats to Air India issued
at the time is consistent with Bartleman’s account of the dismissive and even hostile reception he received when he sought to bring the information to the attention of the Force. It is also consistent with notations in earlier documentation about a seeming annoyance on the part of the RCMP with being “second-guessed” on security decisions by a member of External Aff airs.

Even if Bartleman saw nothing more than what was contained in the CSE information unearthed by the Commission, it is likely that it would have been enough, given his knowledge of Sikh extremism in Canada, to convince him that the threat needed follow-up. The fact that Canada had the largest Sikh diaspora in the world, that June was a time when there was a very high risk that some action would be carried out against Government of India interests and that Air India was a possible symbolic target, all would lead anyone with his knowledge and experience in the area to raise questions about what precautions had been taken. This was precisely what Bartleman did.

( To be continued)