All government departments involved in national security are carrying out a review to determine if secret information had been shared with a high-ranking RCMP intelligence official who was arrested and charged on Friday with storing and communicating classified information, according to a senior government official.
The official said departments that handle sensitive intelligence are engaged in an intense effort to see what intelligence might have been shared with Cameron Ortis. Those departments include Global Affairs, National Defence, Public Safety, the Privy Council and Canadian Security Intelligence Service [CSIS]. The Globe and Mail is keeping the official’s name confidential because the individual was not allowed to speak publicly about the alleged security breach.
Mr. Ortis, who was the civilian director-general of the RCMP National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, faces charges under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code in relation to alleged infractions between 2015 and 2019.
The official said deputy ministers of the departments involved in national security are expected to meet later this week to assess the breach of highly classified intelligence and the damage that might have been done to Canada and its Western security allies.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office declined an interview request but said Canada has a well-established partnership with Britain, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. through the Five Eyes, adding that the alliance is committed to keeping intelligence secret and informing each other of potential breaches.
“Canada’s intelligence and security agencies work tirelessly to protect the safety of Canadians,” the office said in a statement. “We are unable to comment on the arrest of Cameron Ortis as it is before the courts.”
Wesley Wark, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said the implications of Mr. Ortis’s case could be serious, noting much remains unknown about it.
The nature of the Five Eyes partnership is one that involves sharing very sensitive information, he said, adding that there’s always an assumption that if an insider threat has been uncovered in one of the partners that it is bound to have had some impact on security of other members.
“That’s the lifeblood of the Five Eyes partnership,” he said in an interview. “It’s massive sharing of information with really very little restriction.”
Government departments conduct internal damage assessments when charges are infrequently laid under the Security of Information Act, Prof. Wark said, noting that the review will involve looking at the nature of access Mr. Ortis had to particular databases to assess the range of the potential threat.
The government instituted a system to track logins and logoffs into sensitive databases in the aftermath of the Jeffrey Paul Delisle case, Prof. Wark said.
Mr. Delisle was a naval officer who shared classified information with Russia and pleaded guilty to offences under the Security of Information Act in 2012.
“The point is that, in doing these damage assessments, the government has learned some lessons from the past and they, in theory at least, have an ability to figure out, as a first step, what Cameron Ortis actually had access to," Prof. Wark said.
Canada will need to talk to its Five Eyes partners once the damage assessment is complete if there was any indication that databases were accessed containing Five Eyes information, he said.
“Stage two is that uncomfortable conversation with Five Eyes partners saying ‘Here’s what we think we’ve found that might be concerning to you in terms of the protection of your own security records,’ ” Prof. Wark said. “That will be an ongoing discussion.”
Partners could become less willing to share information and that would ultimately hurt security, said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and former national-security analyst for the federal government.
“We have no indication that this has happened yet but it is a concern,” she said in an interview.
“This is why we have to demonstrate we are taking steps to prevent this from ever happening again.”
The national-security community is “deeply shaken” by the charges, she added, noting that Canada receives more intelligence information than it produces.
Mr. Ortis had access to detailed operational plans used by Canadian agents for covert work, according to a former Mountie and expert in undercover tactics.
Those plans also provide insight into how Five Eyes intelligence allies conceal undercover missions, said Bill Majcher, who spent more than two decades as a Mountie specializing in covert work before he retired in 2007.
In addition, Mr. Ortis oversaw a money-laundering probe into allegations that millions in defrauded Russian tax dollars, exposed by Russian Sergei Magnitsky, were funnelled through Canada.
Mr. Ortis was working on the case as recently as August, U.S.-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder confirmed to The Globe on the weekend.
Mr. Browder and his legal team met with Mr. Ortis on Feb. 7, 2017, and have been in touch with him since in an effort to get the RCMP to open an investigation into allegations that more than $14-million in Russian fraud proceeds were tied to Canada.
With reports from Nathan VanderKlippe and Michelle Zilio
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.