Adventures in War Zones and Disaster Areas for Journalists and Relief Workers

A Memo From Camp Warehouse Kabul About Security Clearances


In the early days of the Afghan Occupation

Today I sat on the banks of the many years dry Kabul River

A bridge over the dried out Kabul River in Afghansitan

As a result of decades of war, deforestation, and illegal diversions the Kabul River is now dry most of the year.

and wept sad tears, not because of what has been happening, but because I do not have the necessary talent of an Evelyn Waugh or a Joseph to tell this comic farce.

Ever since I arrived in this country, although to be honest it really seems like I was born here and the rest of the world doesn’t exist, we have been hampered by the lack of a NATO security clearance.  Now, for those who don’t know, a security clearance lets you learn secrets, pretty dark and interesting secrets, along with access to an unofficial bar and pizza joint in ISAF headquarters.  James Bond had a “License to kill”.  A NATO clearance is a license to learn real gossip.

ISAF Shoulder PatchWithout a clearance, the five of us cannot get so much as a map.  We have no access to intelligence or spy agency stuff, and no access to the military communications systems.

You can imagine how difficult it has been without any clearance and therefore official standing for me to advise NATO on communications issues and to participate in the high level communications planning that I have been involved in.

Because I do not have a NATO clearance, everything I write for the ISAF commanders gets stamped Secret and I am refused access to the very document that I created.  Meetings have been called to discuss issues I have raised and I am forbidden to attend.

I had one occasion where I had written a memo and handed it over, but then realized I had made a mistake in it.  I went back to the officer’s office and asked to make a change in the wording.  My body heat was still on the paper, my sweat hadn’t dried on it, but I was refused permission to pencil in the change because the document was now in a “secure” environment and I did not have access to a “secure” environment.

The German military I work alongside have learned a lot of Canadian obscenities as a result of cock ups like this.

But on this security clearance issue they have been surpassed by the Canadian civil servants in Ottawa who seem to have perfected the art of sucking one thumb while sitting on the other.

In order for a NATO clearance to be given, the home country of the person in question must first certify that there is no security risk.  This is a process that can take many months and involve spooks going twenty years or more into your past to interview former teachers, school yard friends, neighbourhood car mechanics and liquor store owners.  Unless, you work for a federal politician.  In that case you can get a clearance in an afternoon, and that is a true statement.  I know of several cases.

All well and good you think.  Our government is protecting us from deadly spies and anarchists.  And in a sense you are right, yet that does not hold in our case.

When I arrived here two months ago I had a copy of my Canadian government security clearance.  It is a current clearance and in theory it would allow me to find out the truth about flying saucers in Canada.

NATO could not accept it because of rather reasonable rules about document verification and certification.  Fine you say, put my name into the world-controlling (I shouldn’t have told you that) NATO computer and verify my information.

Nope, it has to be a real live person in the security section of Public Works Canada and there has to be direct communication.

This works for every nation in NATO except for Canada.  Canada is the only country that will only deal with a job contractor in cases like ours where we are civilians working for NATO.  Canada will not, under any circumstances, talk directly to NATO on clearance issues.  NATO will not issue a clearance until it has direct contact with a national government.  Complicate the matter by making the contractor a Washington company and paying us through a UK company.

Do you see a problem here?

There are five of us.  Two were until recently, senior Canadian military officers.  One had a Top Secret clearance dealing with nuclear weapons issues, the other was so high in the spook world that he had a COSMIC clearance and probably dealt directly with our captured UFO aliens.  He wrote most of the modern policy on security and intelligence for the Canadian Army.

But Ottawa has refused to speed things up and let NATO know that we are not Bulgarian freelance torturers.  In fact, Ottawa has actually asked for the fingerprints of one of the former officers.  (More Canadian obscenities shouted into the Afghan night)

We have filled out so many forms for Ottawa that we have burned out pens and photocopiers and exhausted the mail courier companies but still nothing happens.

Every single officer with any initiative in ISAF Afghanistan, NATO Brussels, SHAPE, and god knows how many retired Canadian generals, have gone to do battle with the minions in Ottawa and retired bloody and defeated.

And yet, while Ottawa is trying to protect NATO secrets from our nefarious predations we know for sure that Taliban are successfully emigrating to Canada. (I shouldn’t have told you that)

We had a chat the other day with a spook working for the US military, which is not part of ISAF.  The Americans are seriously bent and twisted about security, probably because they are so bad at it, and their procedures rival a lazy Pakistani bureaucrat looking for graft.  But when we outlined the problems we were having with Ottawa he said very seriously that he would have to file an intelligence report on the issue because it appeared that the Canadian system had been compromised by “rogue elements”.

That rogue element is very likely a passed over civil servant from Gatineau who hasn’t done a day’s work since joining the civil service.  Unless of course he is a crashed UFO alien in disguise like all the others in the Canadian government.  (Whoops, I really shouldn’t have told you that either.)

Camp Warehouse. HQ for the main battalion fighting force for ISAF in Kabul. 2003

Camp Warehouse. HQ for the main battalion fighting force for ISAF in Kabul. 2003

Eventually, my security clearance came through. The first thing I did with it was to access the top floor of the building where the Canadian general in command of the battalion at Camp Warehouse had a suite of offices. I wasn’t interested in all that, just the small heated bathroom he had with a toilet that had an honest to god wooden seat. After weeks of metal toilet seats in unheated and poorly cleaned (ah, the stench) communal toilets on the base this was luxury of the highest order.

I can’t tell you much more. You don’t have the clearance.