At high school in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Jeffrey Paul Delisle was known as a bit of a geek, a loner who kept to himself.
A clearer picture is emerging of the 40-year-old naval intelligence officer who was charged on Monday with passing government secrets to foreign interests, and who one military expert says was likely under police surveillance for months or years.
Fellow students in Sackville High School’s graduating class of 1990 had few recollections of the ordinary kid with the low profile now enmeshed in what could be Canada’s biggest spy scandal in more than half a century.
“He was probably one of the biggest geeks in the school,” recalled former classmate Ian Wilson. “He definitely wasn’t an outgoing party animal type guy. He was one of those guys who was always under the radar.”
Sub-Lieutenant Delisle left few traces at the school on the outskirts of Halifax. He does not appear to have played on any sports teams, and participated in only one formal group.
In 1989-1990, his graduating year, he was part of the “student police,” a group that helped provide security at school events.
The junior officer, arrested late last week, is in custody in Halifax. He’s expected to appear in court for a bail hearing on Jan. 25 and is the first person charged under Canada’s Security of Information Act with giving secrets to a “foreign entity.” He’s also charged with criminal breach of trust.
SLt. Delisle has not entered a plea, and his lawyer earlier this week urged the public not to rush to judgment.
Christian Leuprecht, an associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada, said he expects that SLt. Delisle was under surveillance for an extremely long time.
That’s because authorities would need to build as airtight a case as possible in such a high-stakes matter, he said.
“This is not the sort of case you build in a week – they probably had him under investigation for months, if not years,” Dr. Leuprecht said.
He said he expects the intelligence officer would even have been under surveillance when he moved back to Halifax in late 2010 or 2011 to re-join the navy’s ultra-secure Trinity communications centre.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird refused to confirm reports that the recipient of the stolen secrets was Russia. Nor would he address CTV reports that Ottawa is planning a “measured response” to Russia that could include either summoning its ambassador or expelling diplomats.
“We’re fully looking into the issue and will respond – we’ll have a more formal response,” Mr. Baird said, declining to elaborate.
The middle of espionage allegations is the last place that one former classmate said he would have expected to find his low-key fellow student.
“You would never have seen any of this coming if you knew him then,” Greg Auton said. “Jeff was a sort of person who just blended into the background.”
SLt. Delisle was a part of Mr. Auton’s immediate circle of friends, but they lost touch after high school.
Mr. Auton described SLt. Delisle in his younger days “as a bit funny, ordinary guy, but nothing unique” and an average student.
He was part of a militia unit in grade 12, according to a former Sackville High School student who knew him from several classes and remembers him as an academic achiever.
“He’s a smart guy, for sure,” another former student said on condition of anonymity. “I remember him being a strong student.”
He recalled him as less successful socially, never appearing to have a girlfriend.
Paul Cellucci, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada between 2001 and 2005, said he doubts the spy incident will affect relations between the two countries.
“I don’t think this isolated event – one soldier – is going to have any negative impact on the relationship between the two militaries and between the law enforcement and intelligence communities,” Mr. Cellucci said.
He noted that a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning, leaked a massive trove of confidential documents concerning the United States and its allies to Wikileaks.
“Sometimes you have rogue elements in your military in both countries and it’s important to discipline and prosecute – and I think that’s what both countries are doing.”
With reports from Anna Mehler Paperny and Colin Freeze