A former high-ranking civilian member of the RCMP who is on trial for allegedly leaking confidential intelligence to international criminal targets was spinning “fiction” when he testified earlier this month, a Crown prosecutor told jurors on Friday in her final address to them.
The accused, Cameron Ortis, has testified that he was contacted by a counterpart at an unnamed foreign agency in 2014, who alerted him to a threat and told him of a plan to use a “storefront” – a fake business or entity established covertly – that would feed information into the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance and then back into the RCMP. (The Five Eyes is made up of Canada, Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.)
Mr. Ortis says he then embarked on a project called “OR Nudge,” which he has said involved convincing criminals to use an encrypted e-mail platform known as Tutanota, the storefront, where their messages would be vulnerable to interception by authorities. He has said the goal was to share intelligence with targets, in order to lure them onto the platform.
Judy Kliewer, general counsel for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, told the jury during her closing statements at Mr. Ortis’s trial on Friday that there had been no such operation.
“The very concept, the very existence and alleged purpose of the so-called Project OR Nudge, it’s a fiction,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Ortis was appointed as the “officer in charge” of the RCMP’s operations research unit, a specialized national security unit, in September, 2012. He was promoted to director in April, 2013.
In September, 2019, he was charged with breach of trust and unauthorized use of a computer. He also faces four charges for allegedly breaching the Security of Information Act. He has pleaded not guilty to all six charges and is currently on bail – though he is under heavy restrictions, including that he wears an ankle monitor.
Members of the public were barred from the courtroom during Mr. Ortis’s testimony earlier in the trial, a restriction that a consortium of media outlets opposed, including The Globe and Mail. Journalists have had to rely on transcripts of his statements to the court.
Tutanota, now known as Tuta, has denied Mr. Ortis’s claims. In a statement, the company said, “the allegation that we have created any backdoor access for intelligence agencies made by Mr. Ortis is a complete and utter lie.”
Ms. Kliewer told the court that Mr. Ortis was not communicating with law-enforcement targets for RCMP purposes. She said he had acted without anyone at the RCMP knowing, and that he can’t be believed.
Mr. Ortis’s legal team has said he had the authority to communicate with international criminal targets, including Vincent Ramos, the chief executive officer of a company called Phantom Secure, which produced encrypted cellphones.
Mr. Ramos was charged in the United States with racketeering and conspiring to distribute narcotics, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. His March, 2018 arrest in Las Vegas led to a significant discovery that set off the chain of events that resulted in Mr. Ortis’s own arrest.
At the beginning of Mr. Ortis’s trial, early last month, Ms. Kliewer told jurors that Mr. Ramos’s arrest was a result of an FBI investigation, with which the RCMP and members of the Australian police service had been asked to assist.
After the arrest, an RCMP staff sergeant and another officer tasked with going through Mr. Ramos’s laptop came across an e-mail that contained 10 attachments, which the officers recognized as documents from the Mounties. Police later discovered a series of e-mails to Mr. Ramos from an unknown sender.
The Crown has also pointed to e-mail exchanges between Mr. Ortis and Mr. Ramos that culminate in a May, 2015 request from Mr. Ortis for a $20,000 payment in exchange for full copies of classified documents.
The jury has heard that the RCMP found no evidence of a payment to Mr. Ortis.
New court transcripts released by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada on Friday afternoon show an exchange between Mr. Ortis and John MacFarlane, another Crown prosecutor, during Mr. Ortis’s cross-examination. Mr. MacFarlane asked Mr. Ortis if he had hidden his actions for almost four years because he didn’t want anyone knowing what he had done was illegal.
“Absolutely incorrect,” Mr. Ortis replied.
One of Mr. Ortis’s Security of Information Act charges is for allegedly communicating with Mr. Ramos. The other three relate to alleged communications with Greater Toronto Area businessmen Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, and an alleged attempt to communicate with another person, Farzam Mehdizadeh.
The agreed statement of facts in the Ortis trial says Mr. Henareh, Mr. Ashraf and Mr. Mehdizadeh and their companies were subjects of investigation in Canada.