A Crown prosecutor in the much-anticipated criminal trial of a once high-ranking RCMP civilian says the defendant shared some special operational documents with the head of an encrypted phone company and sought $20,000 in exchange for more.
Cameron Ortis, who is charged with allegedly leaking secrets while working for the Mounties, pleaded not guilty to all charges as his trial began Tuesday. The multiweek proceedings are taking place at the Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa, with Justice Robert Maranger overseeing the trial. A jury of 12 people has been selected.
Mr. Ortis, 51, worked as the civilian director-general of the RCMP National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, which afforded him access to sensitive, highly classified information. He was hired by the force in 2007 and also held positions in operations research and national-security criminal investigations.
Mr. Ortis faces six charges, including four related to allegedly breaching the Security of Information Act, including for sharing information with an individual identified on a charge sheet as “V.R.” That stands for Vincent Ramos, a Vancouver businessman whose company, Phantom Secure, produced encrypted communications devices used by criminal organizations. Mr. Ramos was charged in the United States with conspiring to distribute narcotics and racketeering, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Mr. Ortis also faces a computer-related charge and another alleging breach of trust.
At court Tuesday, prosecutor Judy Kliewer said the Crown intends to call approximately 12 witnesses during the course of the trial. She also said the prosecution intends to point to evidence that indicates Mr. Ortis did not have authority to do what he did and that she anticipates the jury will be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that is the case.
Ms. Kliewer told court that Mr. Ortis is permanently bound to secrecy and there was no policy in place that allowed for communication of targets of investigations in any way. She also said there was no operational plan and that at the time when special operational information was shared, Mr. Ortis was completing French-language training in person for one year.
Ms. Kliewer shared details on the background of an FBI investigation that gathered enough information to arrest Mr. Ramos in Las Vegas in March, 2018, which are relevant to how police turned their attention to Mr. Ortis.
The RCMP was invited to assist with the arrest along with members of the Australian police service, Ms. Kliewer said.
She told court that the RCMP and other police agencies around the world had identified a common problem, dating back to 2013, in their investigation of criminals involved in organized crime.
Ms. Kliewer said the problem was that more and more people committing criminal offences were using special phones, often Blackberries, and with an encryption software on them. Encryption, she said, means the messages are scrambled and can’t be understood without the decoder.
It became apparent that certain companies were providing encrypted phones to organized-crime groups around the world, she said, adding that one of the companies that was of primary interest was located in Richmond, B.C., and run by Mr. Ramos.
Ms. Kliewer said an RCMP staff sergeant and another colleague were tasked with going through Mr. Ramos’s laptop and e-mail. They then came across an e-mail that contained 10 attachments that were recognized to be documents from the Mounties, she said.
Police then identified a full string of e-mails from an anonymous author to Mr. Ramos that were sent between February and May, 2015, and in the culmination of these messages, the author asked for payment of $20,000 for full documents. The attachments in the e-mail included partial documents labelled “embargoed,” Ms. Kliewer said.
It took about 18 months for it to be determined that the e-mail author was Mr. Ortis, which led to his arrest in September, 2019, Ms. Kliewer said.
She added that this, however, was not where the investigation ended. When Mr. Ortis was arrested, and police searched his office and his bachelor apartment, she said they found, along with a lot of electronic devices, one particular encrypted USB stick.
Officers were able, with some effort, to decrypt some of what was on the USB stick, and what they found were e-mail addresses used to contact Mr. Ramos, Ms. Kliewer said.
She also said that the stick contained a folder called “The Project,” which included a subfolder with the embargoed documents sent to Mr. Ramos and the complete documents.
In other subfolders, police found RCMP documents, e-mails and scripts for communication to more “targets of international police investigations,” Ms. Kliewer said. This led police to believe that Mr. Ortis’s activities went beyond communicating special operational information to Mr. Ramos, she added.