The Canadian mole at the centre of an international espionage scandal was after more than military secrets – he accessed computer networks filled with files from the Privy Council Office, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, as well as databases maintained by foreign allies.
Revelations about the Jeffrey Delisle spy case have been found in a treasure trove of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail – including his confession to police and the apocalyptic postmortems by federal officials.
These documents reveal the Canadian Forces intelligence officer’s astonishing breadth of access to state secrets, and precisely what the Russian GRU spy service was asking him to look for.
He spied for more than 50 months before being caught. A naval “threat assessment analyst,” he had been cleared to acquire reports from civilian agencies – including CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, and the PCO, Ottawa’s bureaucratic nerve centre.
“We spy on everybody. Everybody spies,” Sub-Lieutenant Delisle told police after his arrest. “I tried to just give them [the Russians] stuff that shows them that ‘Hey, we’re just paying attention.’ ”
The bulk of what he divulged, he said, was picked up by electronic eavesdropping, and not by any undercover spies. “There’s not human assets listed on our machines,” he explained. “It’s SIGINT [signals intelligence] really.”
Still, officials reckoning with his betrayal fear the worst about blown identities and blown surveillance.
“He has access to CSIS reporting … they were in places in the Middle East,” SLt. Delisle’s boss at the Trinity naval-intelligence-fusion centre in Halifax told police. “The fact that he could disclose that to other nations could embarrass the government.”
Placed under surveillance only days before his January, 2012, arrest, SLt. Delisle was caught copying two CSIS reports, in addition to unspecified foreign material, before trying to e-mail that information to the Russians.
Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has greatly reinvested in espionage. The GRU, the intelligence branch of the Russian armed forces, hired SLt. Delisle after he walked into the Ottawa embassy to volunteer his services in July, 2007.
Once interrogated, he admitted to some breaches. He said he passed along a U.S. Chief of Defence Intelligence contact list and similar contact lists to the Russians.
He denied blowing the cover of any Canadian or allied spies. “They wanted Western agents in Russia, which we never had,” he said.
SLt. Delisle’s “Top Secret Five Eyes Only” clearance provided him access to what one source calls the “motherlode” database – the “Stone Ghost” repository of intelligence from English-speaking powers, especially the United States and Britain.
It’s unclear what foreign material he purloined from it; but there is little doubt he took volumes.
“It was never really Canadian stuff,” SLt. Delisle told police. He later added, “There was American stuff, there was some British stuff, Australian stuff – it was everybody’s stuff.”
For Canadian military intelligence, he had turned to “Spartan” – a Department of National Defence network. For civilian intelligence reports, the “Mandrake” system was one-stop shopping. “So you got PCO, you got CSIS, you got RCMP, you got Transport Canada, you got CBSA – you get ’em all,” he told police.
Documents suggest some of SLt. Delisle’s Top Secret clearances may have been pulled for 18 months, but it’s not clear why they were pulled or why they were restored.
The Russians, he said, were fixated on counterespionage but wanted files on the “energy sector government of Canada” as well as Russian organized crime and political figures. The GRU also tapped SLt. Delisle to learn what he could about a specific but unnamed “GRU agent” in financial trouble.
SLt. Delilse pleaded guilty to espionage early this month. He is still to be sentenced, with his next court date set for January. His closest colleagues told police the damage he wrought was “unfathomable” and “astronomical.”
“He had robust access to all source intelligence from our partners … Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the United States … Straight through to Canada’s only reporting, such as CSIS reports or Privy Counsel Office reports.”
On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson characterized the leak as “a lot of highly classified material”.