After the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader, American spy agencies supplied information to Ottawa, but Canada developed the clearest intelligence, which, according to Western allied officials, led it to accuse India of orchestrating the plot.
After the killing, US intelligence agencies provided their Canadian counterparts with context that helped Canada conclude that India was involved. But what appears to be the “smoking gun”: intercepted communications from Indian diplomats in Canada suggesting involvement in the plot has been collected by Canadian officials, allied officials said.
While Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has urged India to cooperate with the Canadian investigation, American officials have largely sought to avoid a diplomatic backlash from India. But disclosing the involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies risks drawing Washington into the diplomatic battle between Canada and India at a time when the country is keen to develop New Delhi into a closer partner.
The United States learned of the plot or evidence suggesting Indian involvement only after militants killed Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, allied officials said.
Two men fatally shot Mr. Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who advocated for independence for a Sikh-majority region of India, on June 18 in the Vancouver area.
Before the killing, Canadian officials had told Mr. Nijjar that he was in danger. Several of Mr. Nijjar’s friends and associates said he was repeatedly warned about threats against him and told to avoid the temple.
After his death, American officials told their Canadian counterparts that Washington had no prior information about the plot and that if U.S. officials had done so, they would have informed Ottawa immediately under the intelligence community’s “duty to warn” doctrine, according to two allied officials .
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss what had become a diplomatic firestorm, said Canadian officials had issued a general warning to Mr. Nijjar but did not tell him that he was the target of an Indian government conspiracy.
The United States routinely and automatically releases large volumes of intercepted communications to its closest intelligence partners, including Canada. However, the contextual information about the murder was deliberately passed on as part of a package of various intelligence streams.
A White House spokesman declined to comment. U.S. officials have been reluctant to talk about the killing because while Washington wants to support Canada, a close ally, it does not want to anger India, a partner with which it wants to expand its ties as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in Asia.
The allegation has sparked a diplomatic rift between Ottawa and New Delhi, leading to each expelling the other’s intelligence officers and India suspending visas for Canadians.
Still, the killing and the Indian government’s alleged involvement shocked officials in Washington. While democratic countries carry out targeted killings in unstable countries or regions, and the spy services of more authoritarian governments – particularly Russia – stage assassinations wherever they want, it is exceedingly rare for a democratic country to carry out a deadly covert operation in another democracy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canadian officials have refused to provide details of the intelligence Canada has collected on India. Canadian officials say it is important not to jeopardize the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s investigation into the murder.
Allied officials would not describe in detail the intelligence shared by the United States.
A Canadian government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, said the government had received intelligence from several countries.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation previously reported that the Canadian government had collected communications from Indian diplomats in Canada.