*** Concentrate on building bridges with the community FIRST otherwise your Arabic-speaking spooks will have no one to talk to when they get home. CSIS has a serious challenge ahead NOT because they cannot communicate in Arabic - it is because they do not communicate EFFECTIVELY right now. Last point I am surprised that CSIS does not get: these homegrown terrorizers you're chasing around? They speak very little Arabic. ;) MS ***
OTTAWA - Canadian spies are heading overseas to take Arabic lessons as part of a long-term effort to help secret agents tackle terrorist threats more effectively.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden says the spy agency will send officers to "a country which will remain nameless" to learn the language.
Fadden told a group of military and intelligence officials the effort is "excruciatingly expensive" because of the money and time involved in mastering a new tongue.
"The difficulty, of course, is that those countries in which we're most interested — for people with brains like us — they have the most complicated language which take the longest to learn," Fadden said.
"So in some cases, for our purposes, somebody has to study for two or three years. It is excruciatingly expensive, just in plain cash bucks. And it's expensive in that it takes an experienced officer off-line for two or three years."
But he said CSIS is determined to invest more in language training because otherwise its officers will miss out on useful contacts "on the human front."
Fadden revealed the plans in March to the Royal Canadian Military Institute, but the comments are only coming to light now because of controversy over his remarks — initially made during the same speech — about CSIS suspicions of foreign influence over Canadian politicians.
The most recent CSIS annual report says 44 per cent of the service's intelligence officers can speak a language other than English or French. Collectively, CSIS employees know about 103 languages.
But when asked during the military institute event whether CSIS employees spoke foreign languages effectively, Fadden replied: "Nowhere near as we bloody well should."
"We're trying, at one level, to recruit people who speak more than just English or French," he said, describing the effort as an uphill battle.
"But in fact we've just come to an agreement with a country which will remain nameless where we'll be able to send our officers to learn Arabic, which is a big concern today.
"And we're setting aside some money to enable us to do this in a more systematic way. But we're not doing it anywhere near as much as we can." (MS: There are people right here at home who can do it too for half the price.)
CSIS has tried to build bridges with the Muslim community and other minorities in Canada following a rocky period marked by mistrust after the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States. (MS: I'd like to see proof of this bridge building.)
The language initiative is a positive move because it will help CSIS make better connections and reduce the chance of misunderstandings, said Salma Siddiqui, a member of the federal Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security. (MS: The differences are not based on language but credibility.)
"I think this is money well spent because they need to have the language training," she said.
In his speech to the military institute Fadden noted how CSIS has become much more active abroad in its 26-year history.
"Initially created as a service that was literally bound to Canada, we have now more and more of our operations taking place largely in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, and I suspect this will continue."
CSIS has served alongside Canadian troops in Afghanistan since 2002. It has also worked with the RCMP, military and other government agencies on helping free Canadians kidnapped abroad — a development that worries Fadden.
"It is an extremely profitable way for terrorist groups to collect money. And it doesn't matter how often Foreign Affairs tells people not to go to a certain part of the world. Canadians will insist on going," Fadden said.
"Large ransoms are paid, or worse, terrorists are released from prisons to go out and to continue their work around the world."
He noted that a French secret agent had recently been freed by his captors after Mali agreed to release four terrorists.
"They've now lost track of them entirely, and we now have four very dangerous people who will continue to do damage in that part of the world for years and years to come," Fadden said.
Canada and its allies expect the practice to continue, he added.
"Because aside from anything else it sows discord between countries who have different views on these issues.
"And already the counter-terrorism efforts in that part of the world, in the Mahgreb and the Sahel, are suffering because governments are so annoyed with the decision to release these terrorists that they've stopped talking and stopped sharing intelligence."