In the months before the espionage arrest of a Canadian Forces sailor, the military quietly circulated “secret” memos warning against growing spy threats – including the prospect that NATO soldiers could be “exploited” by embassy-based Russian spies seeking to buy information.
Yet none of the general warnings from this period appear to have pinpointed the specific threat posed by an alleged mole, Canadian Forces Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle.
SLt. Delisle was arrested early this year in Halifax, where he worked at a naval-intelligence fusion centre. The divorced father of four who had declared bankruptcy in the late 1990s is accused of operating undetected for years while working for a “foreign entity.”
He could face life in prison, and the allegations have gravely damaged Canada’s reputation as a trustworthy security partner among close allies such as the United States.
The bail hearing evidence aired this week in a Halifax courtroom is under a publication ban, but federal sources had previously told The Globe and Mail that the amounts for which SLt. Delisle is accused of selling classified information to Russia are modest. (Or, as one observer candidly put it, “Peanuts.”)
Just about every month, an agency known as the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit circulates “secret” intelligence summaries through the military in hopes of helping soldiers keep on top of threats. Partly censored summaries from most of the 2011 calendar year were obtained this month by researcher Ken Rubin under Access to Information laws and shared with The Globe and Mail.
Last July, the memos highlighted the case of a Dutch fighter pilot who had just been charged with selling classified information to a Russian diplomat in Europe. The Canadian Forces unit noted that the defence attaché – who had been expelled – was (like most Russian defence attachés) presumed to be a member of the Moscow-based military spy service known as the GRU, which is always looking for NATO secrets.
“This incident demonstrates that even a long-serving member in good standing can be exploited by a foreign intelligence service particularly if circumstances such as financial problems make the member more vulnerable,” the memo warned.
Several Russian diplomats were asked to leave Ottawa as Canadian authorities in January arrested SLt. Delisle, who had Top Secret access.
He worked at HMCS Trinity, a hub of allied intelligence secrets that is feared to be frequently targeted by foreign spies. Several of the Canadian Forces counterintelligence memos warn that military personnel posted to Halifax could have been espionage targets of what are known as “phishing” scams – involving e-mails infected with malware attachments that, if opened, could seek out sensitive information.
Several memos suggest that phishing is a new tactic used by foreign spy services who have long seen Canada as a corridor to a greater prize. Much of the spying against Canada has to do with “our proximity with the U.S. and layers of military and strategic partnerships connecting Canada with its neighbour,” reads one memo.
The memos refer to a variety of publicized terrorist threats and espionage cases. Portions of them censored for national security reasons allude to specific activity. For example, in debriefings, Canadian Forces soldiers routinely speak of being suddenly befriended by strangers – over-inquisitive locals, chatty women or people saying they are military contractors – while travelling through airports, ports and security conferences.
The memos warn that one country (name redacted) is a highly aggressive collector of intelligence. Soldiers who go there should “assume that hotel rooms and personal residences may be equipped with listening devices and should never discuss matters of a sensitive nature or leave work materials unattended,” one memo says.
Suspicious strangers spotted lurking around military bases and the theft of some sensitive equipment are highlighted in the monthly memos. Yet there is little in them to indicate the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit had any notion that a foreign spy service may have had a mole on its payroll.
“It is important that DND/CF members remain continuously aware of their security environment at all times even in their social settings,” the memos say.