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The Globe and Mail

Summit of Canada’s ‘Russia Watchers’ gathered in wake of Delisle’s arrest

Russian servicemen in historical uniforms take part in a military parade rehearsal in Moscow’s Red Square on Nov. 3, 2011.


The federal government summoned its "Russia Watchers" to a conference after a Canadian Forces intelligence officer was caught selling secrets to Moscow.

Records released to The Globe and Mail show that nearly 80 Canadian bureaucrats in a host of departments who have dealings with Russia convened in 2012.

On Jan. 13 of that year, the RCMP arrested Canadian Forces naval-intelligence officer Jeffrey Delisle for leaking state secrets to Moscow since 2007. Officials regarded his activities as a cataclysmic failure for the country's military and its intelligence agencies.

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Six days after the arrest, an e-mail invitation titled "Russia Watchers' Conference" was circulated to a range of federal functionaries. The source of the e-mail was redacted from the document, which was released to The Globe under Access to Information laws.

The e-mail did not mention the Delisle case.

"The objective of the conference is to bring together Russia Watchers across the government of Canada to perform a full-spectrum diagnostic assessment of department relations with/engagement of Russia," reads the e-mail dated Jan. 19, 2012. "… We would be very grateful if each interested department could identify an individual who will be able to provide a brief 10-15 minute presentation on the status and evolution of their departments' relationship with Russia."

The conference was held on Feb. 20, 2012. It kicked off with remarks from a diplomat and top Privy Council Office bureaucrat, and closed with remarks from a National Defence official specializing in NATO policy.

The participants explored the Canadian government's relationship with Russia from the perspective of air, land, sea and space. Among the presenters were officials from Fisheries, Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Canadian Space Agency, according to a partly redacted draft agenda.

The documents, in which some names are blotted out, make no mention of Canadian Security Intelligence Service or RCMP personnel attending. Public Safety and Border Services Agency officials did speak.

The one-day event at Canada's diplomatic headquarters on Sussex Drive was co-organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat, a low-profile unit of the Privy Council Office.

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Mr. Delisle was feared to have plundered both departments' intelligence files, according to postmortem assessments at his criminal trial.

As a sublieutenant at the Trinity intelligence-fusion centre at Canadian Forces Base Halifax, Mr. Delisle had access to a range of top secret databases. He admitted that he had divulged British and U.S. secrets as well as Canadian material to Moscow during nearly five years as a spy.

He pleaded guilty last year to violating the Security of Information Act, was stripped of his military rank and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors argued he caused "exceptionally grave damage" to Canada's international relationships.

The diplomatic fallout between Ottawa and Moscow was minimal. Mr. Delisle had walked into a Russian embassy in Ottawa in 2007 offering secrets for $3,000 a month.

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