PHOTOS: Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, at right, somewhere in Iraq in 2015 (Photo: Screenshot of Global News video). Below: The very model of a modern major general, although not necessarily a Canadian one (Photo: Wikimedia Commons), and the Canadian defence minister of the day with some ghostly military personnel passing behind him (Photo: Screenshot).
So who authorized the public release of those photos that could have revealed the identities of Canadian soldiers on an obviously not-so-secret 2015 secret mission in the Middle East?
Or, in the event no one authorized the release of the photos, who was responsible for the breach in operational security?
These questions remain unanswered, alas. A whodunit, as it were, the culprit or culprits still unidentified.
Still, thanks to freedom-of-information filings by Canada’s national broadcaster, we now know that no one in the media broke any security rules laid down by the Department of National Defence by publishing unauthorized pictures of Canadian special forces soldiers and air force crews during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s photo op trip to Iraq and Kuwait in the spring of 2015.
Actually, we already knew that back in 2015 as soon as the proscribed photos briefly appeared on the Conservative Prime Minister’s Sun Media-style personal PR Youtube “news channel,” 24/7, and as quickly disappeared.
Anyway, the reason the Conservative prime minister and his minister of defence were in a reasonably safe corner of the unsettled region having their pictures taken in the company of macho camo-clad men with machineguns under snapping Kurdish banners is obvious … a federal election was looming and being photographed with armed soldiers comes right out of the Republican campaign handbook Mr. Harper’s Conservatives used.
Still, it’s worth remembering that bureaucratic ass covering is just as important in post-modern major media as it always has been in the military. And the CBC is the very model of the modern major media.
This almost certainly explains why the network ran the story even through it didn’t really contain much that was new. After all, you just can’t get it on the record too many times that it’s not your fault, especially in this era of fake news generated by un-fake news makers like Canada’s former Conservative government.
On the other hand, the fact that there wasn’t much new there also probably explains why the story ran in the post-Christmas dead zone, which is usually reserved for important reports on the Top Ten entertainment stories of the previous year and predictions of the 12 best new high tech gadgets of the next 12 months.
This is not to suggest that the CBC’s work digging into the confused and panicky emails whizzing back and forth among officials in the Defence Department and the Prime Minister’s Office was not a worthwhile effort. On the contrary, the entertainment value alone is worth the small cost to taxpayers of the FOI searches.
When media published stories complaining that they had to obey rules the PMO’s in-house propaganda arm was ignoring, the Harper Government’s first instinct was to point the finger somewhere else. The PMO issued a statement saying the photos had been cleared by the military.
This sent the soldiers, as the CBC’s report put it, scrambling to find out who approved the use of the pictures – a problem, because it was soon pretty clear that either no one did or that whoever did wouldn’t own up to it.
It also sent the aggrieved media scrambling to discover the same thing.
“In more than 500 pages of documents, it’s never revealed who, if anyone, approved the release of the images,” the CBC report solemnly intones. Most of the military personnel involved, the broadcaster added, were “clearly in the dark.”
The story quotes a public affairs officer, rank unmentioned but presumably not a brigadier general, telling an actual brigadier general that “we were never approached to review prior to release. Only the reporters asked me about their own footage.”
Another email from another soldier made it clear that despite the PMO’s protestations and panicky calls from other Ottawa offices, no one with the Armed Forces in Iraq or at the airbase in Kuwait appeared to have reviewed the pictures and, as a result, the minister of national defence “is scrambling to back up their story.”
As is well known, the election in October 2015 didn’t go the way Mr. Harper or his minister of defence, had hoped. Alas for them, the victor was a young former drama teacher named Justin Trudeau who Mr. Harper had been telling Canadians was “just not ready.” Turned out he was and his Liberals formed the government.
Mr. Trudeau, who required no special in-house Post-Sun Media operation to get either photojournalists or citizens with cellular telephones to take nice photos of him, swiftly disbanded 24/7.
Just the same, I have a suggestion about how to get to the bottom of this whole mess, which obviously continues to fester.
After all that scrambling, you’d think by now that the former minister of defence would have a pretty good idea what actually happened, and why, and who did or didn’t review the video from the front.
And the former minister of defence, as it turns out, is still around and still available to reporters from the CBC and other media outfits.
His name is Jason Kenney, and nowadays he’s the leader of the United Conservative Party here in Alberta, which seems to have excellent relations with mainstream media.
So here’ my suggestion for reporters: Why not ask Mr. Kenney the next time you see him? You’d think that would be soon.
Then you could say, as we used to write on the police beat back in the days when media had more than a couple of reporters and most of those reporters still had beats, “the investigation continues.”