For live updates from the Delisle sentencing hearing, scroll to the bottom of this article.
Canada has been warned by its closest allies in the aftermath of the Jeffrey Delisle spy affair that it must meet higher and more stringent standards for handling intelligence – or risk being shut out of the information loop when it comes to sharing of secrets.
A sentencing hearing for Sub-Lieutenant Delisle, a Canadian naval officer who’s confessed to spying for Russia, has exposed the severity of the damage inflicted on Canada’s intelligence-gathering abilities as well as its relations with allies – something government officials have played down to date.
“The underlying message is if [you] do not implement these enhancements and these changes over time you will lose access to certain intelligence that is provided,” James Abbott, a senior official at the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s national surveillance and cryptological agency, told the sentencing hearing for SLt. Delisle.
The naval officer has admitted he passed secrets to the Russians for nearly $72,000 over a 4 ½-year period, and a Halifax court is now determining what sentence should be handed down in this extraordinary case. The 41-year-old will be the first person prosecuted under the Security of Information Act passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Three senior intelligence officials enlisted by the Crown took the stand Thursday to bolster the prosecution’s case that SLt. Delisle’s activities jeopardized Canada’s ability to protect itself, as well as its standing with key partner nations.
The CSE’s Mr. Abbott said Canada is now under pressure to comply with tougher standards among the intelligence-sharing community known as the Five Eyes. This group includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“Shortly after Mr. Delisle was arrested, the United States, where much of this information came from, put in place what is now a program of work … aimed at enhancing the measures around our IT systems and our personnel security,” he told the court. “That was a direct result” of the Delisle affair, he said. “There are specific dates and specific expectations that we have been advised of,” Mr. Abbott said, adding that these increased standards are being met jointly with other Five Eyes countries.
A top Canadian Security Intelligence Service executive also testified she believes SLt. Delisle sold the Russian government information that could expose the identity of people who furnish Ottawa with intelligence data.
Michelle Tessier, director-general of internal security at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said CSIS considers the damage caused by the naval officer’s treachery as “high,” meaning “exceptionally grave damage” that could include exposing the identity of a human source, leading to potential loss of life and harm to relations with allies.
Canadian officials concede they do not know precisely what SLt. Delisle gave the Russians between 2007 and 2011. They’re drawing inferences from material they intercepted just before arresting him.
Ms. Tessier said the final transmission attempt by SLt. Delisle contained two CSIS reports, one of which was raw intelligence that was not even supposed to be shared with Canada’s allies. One report was classified Secret and one was rated as Secret: Canadian Eyes Only. She said CSIS considers the reports representative of the type of material to which SLt. Delisle had access.
“They contained information that would allow a knowledgeable reader to potentially identify a human source,” she told the court. This would give the Russians intelligence they could use to target people for espionage or recruitment. “They are tactical pieces of intelligence … somebody receiving that type of information over a period of time would certainly be well placed to start identifying potential human sources.”
After the sailor was arrested, Defence Minister Peter MacKay played down the impact of the betrayal, saying allies retain “full confidence in Canada.”
Brigadier-General Robert Williams, director-general of military signals intelligence, has written damage assessments of the Delisle affair that say “the release of this information … puts Canada’s relationship with our partners in jeopardy.”
He said a December, 2012, follow-up assessment found things may be worse than was first thought in February of that year. “My conclusion at that point in the December assessment was that the damage is potentially far greater than we assessed in February at the early stages of our investigation.”
Challenged by the defence lawyer for Mr. Delisle, the general noted the Defence Minister’s statement came early in the investigation, before the military had more time to assess things.
“I am aware that Minister MacKay commented in early January in the early stages of our investigation where we didn’t know – and I don’t imagine either could he have known – the extent of the damage,” Gen. Williams said.
Asked if he was saying the Defence Minister was wrong, the general said Mr. MacKay would not have had more information than Forces intelligence experts.
“I can’t speak for Mr. MacKay, sir, but I know what little we knew at that time when he made the statement in January, he wouldn’t have known more than us on the particular damages,” the general said.
SLt. Delisle has already admitted to two charges of “communicating with a foreign entity” under the act. The maximum sentence for someone convicted of these offences is life in prison.
His defence lawyer, Mike Taylor, challenged the general’s statements. He suggested the military is assuming “the worst” but can’t prove exactly what SLt. Delisle passed to Russia.