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A Canadian Forces frigate heads out of Halifax harbour in March of 2011.

ANDREW VAUGHAN/Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

A Canadian Forces officer who served for a decade inside military intelligence has been charged with passing government secrets to foreign interests over the span of four and a half years – a case that threatens this country's reputation among its closest allies.

The charge is the first ever laid under Canada's rarely used Security of Information Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The offence carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, works as an intelligence officer at the Royal Canadian Navy's HMCS Trinity centre in Halifax. Trinity gathers and analyzes information for warships. It receives intelligence collected by unmanned aerial drones operated from vessels. And perhaps most critically in the eyes of Canada's international partners, it is a nerve centre for information that is collected and then shared among allies including the United States.

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As an intelligence officer, SLt. Delisle has worked for some of the top offices in the Canadian Forces over the past decade, often at the heart of operations.

Sources say he worked at Trinity from 2001 to 2005 and then transferred to the Chief of Defence Intelligence group in Ottawa in 2006. He spent 2007 at the Strategic Joint Staff offices, also in Ottawa, and then 2008 at the Royal Military College in Kingston. SLt. Delisle later moved to the Canadian Forces Joint Headquarters, also in Kingston, before returning to Halifax in 2010, ending up back at Trinity.

The Mounties would not say whether the allegations involve a country or some other group. CTV reported Monday night that SLt. Delisle passed information on to Russian interests.

Sources say the officer first joined the enlisted ranks of the reserves in 1996 before becoming part of the regular force in 2001 and finally receiving a promotion to officer in the past few years.

Last Friday afternoon, however, his career exploded as investigators descended on his home in Bedford, N.S. Neighbours said that authorities arrived in unmarked cars and spent hours photographing and searching the house. They carried out boxes and bags.

SLt. Delisle, who was arrested days ago, was being held in custody pending a bail hearing Tuesday. He is also charged with criminal breach of trust. His lawyer could not be reached for comment on the allegations.

As recently as last week, RCMP allege, the sailor tried to leak confidential government information. In court documents, the force alleges that, between Jan. 10 and Jan. 13, SLt. Delisle attempted "to communicate with a foreign entity information that the Government of Canada is taking measures to safeguard."

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The RCMP further allege that the alleged espionage took place over a 4 1/2-year period, beginning on July 6, 2007 and including locations "at or near" Ottawa, Kingston, Halifax, Bedford "and elsewhere."

The RCMP said the alleged offences have not placed Canada in danger.

"Notwithstanding the seriousness of these charges, the RCMP is not aware of any threat to public safety at this time from this situation," Mountie Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a statement. He went on to add: "This investigation demonstrates that Canada is not immune to threats posed by foreign entities wishing to undermine Canadian sovereignty."

The Delisle case has the potential to anger allies because a Canadian military intelligence staffer might have access to the secrets of our allies.

"When it comes to signals intelligence, the league of English-speaking people are joined at the hip … you'd have a hard bargain trying to sell Canadian secrets, wouldn't you?" said John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.Org website, in an interview. "He's going to have had access to whatever the Americans have access to."

The case will likely force the Pentagon to do a damage assessment over the possibility of compromised secrets, Mr. Pike added. Intelligence gathered by naval vessels "is how we keep track of China at sea … how we keep track of Iran and North Korea, their shipments around the world," he said

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A purported U.S. State Department document from 2004 published by WikiLeaks last year describes the Halifax Trinity facility where Mr. Deslisle worked as a "fully integrated" fusion centre for naval intelligence as part of "a fully integrated US-Canada Maritime surveillance system."

Neighbours of Mr. Delisle said he moved into his nondescript rental home in Bedford, just outside Halifax, less than two years ago. He shared the two-storey home with a woman and three children – a girl described as being in her late teens and two boys thought to be around the age of 10, neighbours said. According to several people in the area, he did not go out of his way to make friends in the neighbourhood.

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