Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday sought to reassure allies after a senior police intelligence officer was accused of stealing highly classified materials that, if released, could be “potentially devastating”.
Cameron Ortis served as the director-general of national intelligence coordination for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) before his arrest last Thursday.
The next day he was formally charged with accessing secrets and unauthorised communication of special operational information.
Trudeau, campaigning for re-election, told reporters in St. John’s, Newfoundland that Canadian officials had reached out to allies about the security breach.
“We’re working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we’re taking this situation very seriously,” he said.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki echoed the Canadian leader, telling a news conference that intelligence sharing was continuing as normal and that investigators are still assessing the damage caused by the security breach.
“We recognise that these allegations if proven true, are extremely unsettling,” she said.
“I would imagine that there is a concern amongst our Five Eyes community, as well as within Canada.”
A senior police intelligence officer, Ortis was undone when the RCMP and Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered an internal police document in criminal hands, Lucki said.
She would not confirm, however, a report by the Globe and Mail that the document was found on the seized laptop of a Vancouver businessman with ties to organised crime.
Ortis had reportedly emailed Phantom Secure Communications founder and key administrator Vincent Ramos in 2018 to offer him “valuable” information, said the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Ramos, whose company police estimate made more than $80 million selling encrypted cell phones to drug traffickers and money launderers between 2008 and 2018, admitted racketeering in an American court in May and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The RCMP looked at anyone with access to the internal document, eventually focusing on Ortis.
Ortis “had access to information the Canadian intelligence community possessed,” Lucki said.
“He also had access to intelligence coming from our allies both domestically and internationally,” she said.
Lucki did not specify which foreign organisations may have been exposed to the theft of secrets, which allegedly took place between 2016 and 2019, though Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance with Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the US.
No additional suspects have been identified in the “internal corruption” case, she said.
Ortis had access to material that could cause a “high” degree of damage to the country and its allies if released, with “potentially devastating” consequences, the CBC said, citing a report by Canadian intelligence services.
“Analysis of the contents of the reports could reasonably lead a foreign intelligence agency to draw significant conclusions about allied and Canadian intelligence targets, techniques, methods and capabilities,” the report said.
“This type of information is among the most highly protected of national security assets, by any government standard, and goes to the heart of Canada’s sovereignty and security,” it went on.
The Globe and Mail reported Saturday that Ortis’s arrest was linked to a major investigation into the laundering of stolen Russian funds.
Ortis, 47, as recently as August was said to be overseeing a probe into whether some of the money was funnelled through Canada.
According to the newspaper, the corruption investigation was looking at a $230-million fraud scheme allegedly run by senior Russian interior ministry and tax officials
Ortis, who has worked for the RCMP since 2007, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the five charges brought against him under Canada’s criminal code and its Security of Information Act.