Canada warned at least two of its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence partnership more than a year ago of a potential security breach in the RCMP, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The RCMP first formed suspicions of an internal leak in March, 2018, during a joint investigation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) into an encrypted communications company named Phantom Secure.
The RCMP found documents that raised fears of a leak inside the force, said sources familiar with the matter. The Globe is keeping the sources confidential because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter that is now before the courts. RCMP intelligence boss Cameron Ortis was charged on Sept. 13 for allegedly leaking information.
The FBI and the AFP were informed of the possible leak at the time and kept apprised of the RCMP’s investigation, a source said.
The documents that raised suspicions of a leak were found on a laptop seized by American authorities from the head of Phantom Secure, Vincent Ramos. The Vancouver-area businessman was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this year in the United States after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiring to distribute narcotics.
After exploring and eliminating the possibility the leak originated outside the RCMP, a small group of Mounties were put together to investigate who inside the force could have transmitted the documents to Mr. Ramos.
At the time, the RCMP wanted to showcase to allies that it took the situation seriously from the start and it was putting the necessary resources into identifying the alleged leaker.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said last Tuesday that Canada’s allies have not imposed restrictions on the information they share with the RCMP over fears of a continuing security breach.
Wearing dark-rimmed glasses and an orange prison jumpsuit, Mr. Ortis appeared in court for a second time on Friday, and is scheduled to return this week to set a date for a bail hearing. One of his two lawyers, Ian Carter, said he is expecting to receive a portion of the RCMP’s evidence against his client this week.
The RCMP laid seven charges under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code against Mr. Ortis on Sept. 13. According to court documents, the RCMP is alleging he communicated special operational information and prepared information for the purpose of communicating with a foreign entity or terrorist group.
Mr. Ortis, 47, remains a civilian employee of the RCMP. He had a meteoric rise when he joined the national police force in 2007 after finishing a PhD in political science from the University of British Columbia.
Current and retired RCMP officers described a competent and organized analyst who helped to reshape the intelligence unit, attract smart new recruits and bring innovative analysis behind some of the force’s highest-profile cases.
Former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson remembers when a recommendation landed on his desk to promote Mr. Ortis to director-general of the RCMP’s intelligence unit a few years ago. In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Paulson said Mr. Ortis was simply reaping the rewards of years of dedicated service to the fight against crime.
“I approved it,” Mr. Paulson said. “I favoured smart, hardworking people. And it wasn’t just Cam. I didn’t do anything specifically to advance him. In my view, Cam advanced on his own merits. He was a very impressive analyst and individual.”
Mr. Paulson was aware that Mr. Ortis could sometimes come off as arrogant in meetings with police officers, but felt it was a sign of his confidence in his capacities.
“I didn’t think he was arrogant, I thought he was just really, really bright, he had a tremendous work ethic and an intensity in his analysis that led to his rise in terms of leadership,” Mr. Paulson said. “I know his credentials and his so-called rise within the civilian ranks of the RCMP and eventual transition into more operational command roles or leadership roles really irked some of what we refer to as regular members. There was a friction there. But he was a very impressive analyst.”
The revelation that Mr. Ortis was charged under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code was stunning for his current and former colleagues.
“I think the people who worked with him are all, to a person, shocked and scared and worried,” Mr. Paulson said. “It is a very upsetting and hurtful realization that a person who is a colleague and a professional has been accused of this.”
The key for the RCMP at this point is to evaluate the scope of any security breach, Mr. Paulson said.
“We shouldn’t leap to any sort of conclusions around how broken the machine is until we see just exactly where it is broken,” he said.