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”.
“I will say this: he pleaded guilty to selling secrets of the United States and secrets of Canada to the Russians. That is obviously not good,” the ambassador told CTV’s Question Period.
How he did it
On the 10th day of every month for nearly five years, Jeffrey Delisle sold secrets to the Russians.
First, he downloaded military secrets from his secure office computers onto a floppy disk. Then, he put the data on a memory stick, took it home to his laptop, and then input the data in a “Draft” e-mail.
He used Gawab.com – a Web-based e-mail provider hosted in the Middle East. He and his Russian handlers shared a password to one account. That way, they could communicate via draft e-mails, without ever having to send more traceable messages across the Internet.
For this, Sub-Lieutenant Delisle was paid $3,000 a month. The amount was capped because, he told police, anything more than $3,000 “gets flagged.”
His paymasters told him not to be too “flashy” with his money .
He was paid by money orders. Records show SLt. Delisle picked up his funds at a number of Money Mart locations, regardless of whether he was stationed in Kingston, Ottawa or Halifax .
What he took
Two days before his arrest on Jan. 13, Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle was observed by police as he attempted to send two “secret” CSIS documents to Russia.
CSIS later determined the risk to national security was “high” given the documents could have helped identify intelligence officers, as well as a “shopping list” of other valuable reports.
That was one breach. But the vast amount of spying that SLt. Delisle committed over four and a half years of treachery was never observed.
Under interrogation, he said he passed Russia material originating from Canada, Britain, the United States and Australia. He also said he sent over conversations gleaned from electronic surveillance as well as “contact lists” of intelligence officials.
He denied ever giving up undercover spies.
“The full scope and nature of the injury, if ever fully known, can only be determined once the Service and its partners (domestic and foreign) have additional insight,” CSIS wrote in its “injury assessment.”
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Mandate: Human source spying
Delisle damage assessment: “Severe and irreparable”
Implications: “The unauthorized release of [CSIS] reports to a hostile foreign intelligence service could have allowed this foreign intelligence service to identify CSIS sources ... The service is unaware at this time if and how many other CSIS employees’ names were potentially passed to the Russians. Their association to the service might put might put these employees at risk by hostile intelligence services and terrorist groups.”
“Delisle admitted to providing contact lists of intelligence-related individuals .. he has put at risk the security of these individuals and the partnership of Canada’s closest allies.”
“[Delisle] may have 1.) damaged the Service’s relationship with its closest foreign partners... 2.) affected the safety/security of Service sources and that of its closest foreign partners; 3.) informed the Russians of the extent of the Service’s investigations; and 4.) compromised service methodologies including how it assess, reports and communicates information and intelligence.”
Communications Security Establishment Canada
Delisle Damage assessment:“High”
Implications: “Should a non-allied foreign government have acquired the [CSIS] reports uploaded on 11 January 2012 it would have gained insight into matters of national security well beyond the intended intelligence purposes of the reports themselves. ... Analysis of the contents of these reports could reasonably lead a foreign intelligence agency to draw a number of significant conclusions about allied and Canadian intelligence targets, techniques, methods, and capabilities. Countermeasures taken as a result of insight (real or perceived) into intelligence capabilities could be costly in terms of lost sources and additional work to re-establish – where possible – these intelligence capabilities.”
Trinity centre at CFB Halifax
Mandate: Intelligence “fusion centre”
Delisle damage assessment: “Astronomical”
Implications: “I can’t fathom the response the globe will be facing . It’ll stop. We’ll lose our intelligence ... it could lead to the death of our sailors in the worst-case scenario.
“We’ll lose our intelligence. If he passed information about what the [CENSORED] reporting was doing, he could expose or provide information to whoever. And that puts either their operations or their lives in jeopardy ... civilian members, government members.
“If we lose information from our allies we might not get that indication of an impending terrorist attack. ... I think this is going to push us back to the Stone Age ...
“It’s the worst case scenario and it’s unfathomable.”
Department of National Defence
Mandate: Canada’s military
Delisle damage assessment: “Exceptionally grave”
Implications: “The release of this information by the accused puts Canada’s relationships with our partners in jeopardy. The inability to provide the assurance to our allies that we can and are safeguarding their intelligence could in extremis result in the termination of access. Canada’s closest intelligence allies are the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and NATO …
“This compromise could put Canadians, Canadian Forces members, and allies in the field at risk. This disclosure may also negatively affect our ability to receive timely and essential intelligence and information from our allies, which in turn puts the safety of Canadian citizens and of our Canadian Forces members in jeopardy.”