It soon became clear to CSIS that Delisle was handing over a great deal of highly sensitive material originating from the United States.
“The information he gave up caused grave damage – grave damage – to the U.S.,” said one source.
“We’re getting into the category of sources, techniques and methods of the most sensitive nature.”
Pressure on the Canadians began to build as American patience eroded. The FBI director and senior U.S. justice officials called counterparts in Canada.
“There was a very small subset of information provided by Delisle that impacted a couple of other of the Five Eyes, but it paled in comparison to the volume and gravity of the U.S. information he gave up,” said the source.
In mid-September, 2011, Delisle was summoned to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to meet one of his Russian handlers.
But it wasn’t Delisle’s obvious lack of a vacation tan that prompted Canada Border Services Agency officials to submit him to a secondary search upon his return. CSIS had tipped the border agency to Delisle’s pending arrival at the Halifax airport in a bid to gather more evidence for the case against him.
During its search, the border agency discovered a Rio hotel receipt, more than $6,500 in cash – most of it new $100 American bills – and pre-paid credit cards.
After reviewing the case, CSIS lawyers said handing the spy service’s file to the RCMP would pose the risk that both U.S. and Canadian secrets – investigative sources and methods – might be disclosed in criminal court as part of the requirement to ensure a fair trial.
During a meeting in Ottawa, CSIS, the FBI and RCMP discussed the possibility of arresting Delisle in the United States during an airport stopover, or by arranging a U.S. military secondment or training course for him. However, it was decided jointly that the FBI would send a letter to the RCMP about the case.
It almost “shocks the conscience” that an American agency had to formally notify the Mounties, said a source who spoke out of concern about what they see as systemic flaws in Canada’s intelligence apparatus that allowed Delisle to peddle secrets longer than necessary.
“CSIS had already made the case. But RCMP had to do it again.”
As the Mounties investigated, the junior intelligence officer continued to pass information to the Russians that was “as damaging or more damaging” than earlier packages uncovered during the CSIS probe, one source said.
Another source with knowledge of the investigation said ideally the Canadian Forces would have detected Delisle’s actions and told CSIS.
“CSIS should have helped them [the Forces] to investigate a little bit more,” said the source. “Eventually when they collected enough evidence, we say, ‘We’ve got a criminal case here,’ then we go to the RCMP and we let the RCMP prepare the criminal case from the investigation.”
Delisle’s lawyer, Mike Taylor, said he knew nothing of a prequel investigation by CSIS and found the revelation “disturbing,” adding that it raises serious questions about whether his client’s charter rights were violated, and how the Canadian government pursues national security investigations.
“I’ve always had concerns about what was going on behind the scenes,” Taylor said in an interview.
The existence of the spy service investigation and the resulting document trail should have been part of the court record, Taylor said, and had he known about them it would have affected the advice given to his client.
In the end, Delisle might still have pleaded guilty, Taylor said, but nevertheless he should have been given the “opportunity to chase back and determine whether information was obtained unlawfully.”
For example, the search conducted by border agents upon Delisle’s return from Brazil could have been deemed “tainted,” unreasonable and “subject to exclusion” in light of the CSIS investigation, he said.