In a new report published in the Ottawa Citizen today, the military is defending the publication of photos; which clearly identify members of Canada's Special Forces team in Northern Iraq. (Photos which were also republished in previous posts on this webpage). The debate began, as the Liberals accussed the former Conservative Government of endangering CAF Special Forces members when then Prime Minister Harper visited Iraq.
Here is the full report:
OTTAWA — Military officials have defended the publication of photos and videos that clearly identify Canadian special forces soldiers operating in Iraq — even though the Liberals accused the Harper government of endangering lives by doing the same thing last year.
CTV and the Toronto Star shot and published the photos and video last month, after being invited to join defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance on a tour of the Canadian mission in Iraq. Vance organized the tour in close co-operation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.
Several members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment from Petawawa, Ont., are clearly identifiable in the footage, with one even sitting down in an interview to discuss what the unit has been doing in northern Iraq.
Military spokeswoman Maj. Isabelle Bresse said in an email that “considerations for the safety of our deployed personnel and the security of military operations are at the forefront of our military planning and decision-making processes.” She did not say who decided to let the soldiers be filmed and photographed.
Bresse said the military has tried to maintain a balance between security and transparency when it comes to the mission. The two media outlets were required to sign an agreement outlining what they could and could not show, she said, adding: “The images were vetted and approved prior to release.”
The footage stands in sharp contrast to the extreme restrictions imposed at the start of the Iraq mission in early October 2014, when media were forbidden from publishing photos or video that would identify military personnel — whether they were involved in the Iraq mission or not.
Officials warned at the time that the Islamic State or supporters would use the information to identify and target the family and friends of military personnel. Those concerns were reinforced after two self-declared ISIL supporters killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in separate attacks later that month.
(Military intelligence reports later obtained by the Ottawa Citizen also showed several worrying incidents in which Canadian military personnel or their families received messages from purported ISIL supporters on Facebook and other social media.)
Those restrictions were still in place when then-defence minister Jason Kenney tweeted photos in March 2015 of Canadian Forces personnel participating in a ramp ceremony for Sgt. Andrew Doiron, who was killed by so-called friendly fire from peshmerga fighters.
Two months later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office was forced to apologize after posting a video that showed Canadian military personnel in Iraq. The videos, shot while Harper was visiting the troops, were quickly removed after officials confirmed they posed a security risk.
In both cases, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of endangering Canadian troops. “They just want to promote themselves at any cost — and that’s at the expense of our Canadian Armed Forces,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said of the Harper video at the time. Garneau is now the federal transport minister.
But Bresse said the threat to deployed military personnel “vary between geographic locations and change frequently over time.” She would not say what specifically had changed from last year to now.
FBI Director James Comey warned in an annual report in October that ISIL is targeting U.S. military personnel and their families back home. “The names continue to be posted to the Internet and quickly spread through social media, depicting ISIL’s capability to produce viral messaging. Threats to U.S. military and coalition forces continue today.”
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Retired major Michael Boire, an associate professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., said he was surprised to see Canadian special forces troops in what he described as “full frontals,” given the nature of the conflict against ISIL. He said the real threat isn’t to the troops, but their families back home.
“They must be fairly certain that ISIL no longer poses a threat to the families,” Boire said of senior military officials. “If I were commanding those guys out in Iraq right now, I would be very, very leery of exposing their identities. And I sure as hell wouldn’t go on TV, but that’s just me.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the Liberal government has an obligation to explain how publishing the faces of Canadian special forces troops does not constitute a security risk.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the government of the day to monitor and control media access to our troops,” he said in an email. “I expect the government to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of our troops, even if that means correcting a mistake.”