Crown prosecutors are asking that confessed spy Jeffrey Delisle be sentenced to at least 20 years in prison for selling secrets to the Russians – a term that a former top CSIS official says is necessary to demonstrate that Canada is not taking this betrayal lightly.
Lyne Decarie, the federal Crown attorney, told a Halifax judge that the naval intelligence officer deserves a heavy punishment for abusing the trust of Canada’s allies and “ordinary Canadians.” She noted that the 41-year-old sailor volunteered to spy for the Russians and blamed his actions on others rather than himself.
“And for what reason?” Ms. Decarie told the Halifax Provincial Court. “He was going through marital problems. He was upset.”
Sub-Lieutenant Delisle has admitted to passing Canadian and allied intelligence to Russia’s military spy agency in exchange for more than $111,000 over a 4 ½-year period starting in 2007. The Crown has argued this caused grave damage to Canadian interests and hurt intelligence-sharing relations with allies.
The disgraced Canadian Forces officer tried to made amends Friday, standing up in court and apologizing to his family, friends and colleagues.
“If I could go back in time, I would. But I can’t,” SLt. Delisle said. This was the only time he spoke at any length in court since he was arrested.
Ray Boisvert, who served as assistant director of intelligence for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service until he retired last year, said Canada needs to send a message with the punishment levied on SLt. Delisle.
The country has been warned by its closest allies in the aftermath of the Delisle 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. Mr. Boisvert said SLt. Delise’s spying could still hurt Canada and its allies for years. He spoke of the “mosaic effect,” how the combination of what might seem like innocuous bits of information can help spies gain deeper insight on their opponents.
“I think 20 years sends a pretty strong message … much less and people may question whether there’s a deterrent effect,” Mr. Boisvert said.
Nova Scotia’s Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, Patrick Curran, said he will hand down his sentence on Feb. 8.
“There is a need to ensure there is a decent precedent set. If it’s treated lightly it’s a bad start because there will always be others like Delisle,” Mr. Boisvert said.
The Crown is also asking that the naval officer be fined $111,817, the amount of money he received from the Russians since 2007. This includes the $72,000 he received in payments, plus a load of cash he was given by his Russian handlers during a 2011 trip to Brazil.
Mike Taylor, SLt. Delisle’s defence lawyer, is asking for a far lighter sentence, of nine to 10 years, arguing that the sailor’s decision to plead guilty spared the government an expensive and embarrassing trial that could have further highlighted security breach failures.
SLt. Delisle had no desire to embarrass the government, Mr. Taylor said. “Mr. Delisle could have talked at great lengths about those things,” his lawyer said. “He chose not to do that. He did not want to air that kind of laundry in public.”
Legal experts suggest Judge Curran’s ruling next week is likely to be appealed, given that this is the first sentence handed down under the Security of Information Act, the updated version of the Official Secrets Act that was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The videotaped confession SLt. Delisle made on Jan. 13, 2012 – shortly after his arrest in a Halifax suburb – was released by court Friday.
The record shows it took about 90 minutes in a cramped, grey RCMP interrogation room for SLt. Delisle to break down and acknowledge he’d served as a Russian agent. Dressed in jeans and a blue hoodie, the sailor crumbled during the evening interrogation in the face of mounting evidence served up by RCMP officer Jim Moffatt.
In the video, the interrogator moves slowly at first, eating a meal with the accused and listening patiently as the naval officer goes on at length about his love of Internet gaming. SLt. Delisle lies when asked why he travelled to Brazil in 2011, and is evasive about why Canadian border authorities found so much money on him when he returned.
At about the one-hour mark, the RCMP interrogator reveals that the force has been tracking his computer and Internet activity at home. Then he alerts the naval officer to the fact that police have also been intercepting communications on a Middle East e-mail website that SLt. Delisle used to pass secrets to Russia.
“What would you say, Jeff, if I told you that we were also monitoring all your activities on Gawab.com?” the RCMP officer says before exiting the interrogation room. “I’ll be back.”
SLt. Delisle is left alone, looking forlorn and dejected on the video, to ponder developments. About 10 minutes later, the Mountie returns to confront the spy. The detective’s body language has changed. He stands over the sailor instead of sitting across from him.
“I did a good investigation … and there’s no doubt in my mind that you did transmit classified documents illegally to Russia,” the interrogator tells him. “You know you did.”
SLt. Delisle sits stone-faced listening to this, but quickly melts, crying, wiping his eyes with his hands and sighing.
At about the one-hour, 24-minute mark, the naval officer weeps about his collapsed marriage and his wife’s infidelity. “You do not understand. I loved her for 19 years,” he says. “And she betrayed me twice.”
SLt. Delisle tells the Mountie he considered killing himself, “taking the car and just ramming it into a pole,” he says. “The pain of her betrayal and the pain she put my children through killed me. I thought of suicide. I wanted to die. But I can’t leave my children.”
Driven mad with grief, SLt. Deslisle says, he offered his services to the Russians, walking into the country’s embassy in Ottawa. It quickly became an arrangement he couldn’t escape.
“They had me by the short hairs,” he says of the Russians.