Secrets in hands of alleged RCMP spy would cause devastating damage to Canada, allies: documents – CBC News

Secrets in hands of alleged RCMP spy would cause \devastating\ damage to Canada, allies: documents - CBC News
Arrested intelligence official Cameron Ortis had access to high-level information from allies, RCMP head says
The cache of classified intelligence material an RCMP official was allegedly preparing to share with a foreign entity or terrorist organization is so vital to Canada's national security that the country's intelligence agencies say its misuse strikes at the heart of Canada's sovereignty and security, documents seen by CBC News reveal. 

According to an assessment by the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's cybersecurity agency, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Cameron Ortis, the director general of the RCMP's national intelligence co-ordination centre, had material that, if released, would cause a "HIGH"—in all caps— degree of damage to Canada and its allies. 

"What we are claiming is that the proponents of a more digitized form of community building need to be aware of the risks involved and the likelihood that national governments will be more concerned than ever with surveillance and control. For individuals, whatever their level of capacity, IT poses threats of information overload, eavesdropping and monitoring, and various forms of attack including viruses and worms."

"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 documents said. 

A 2003 paper published in The Pacific Review appears to have been prophetic about the rise of cybercrime and the use of the internet as a government surveillance tool. It was part of a broader examination of how the internet was being used by bad actors, while acknowledging that it is also sometimes a force for good.

"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."

The documents say that the possible dissemination of the documents would threaten Canada's relations with its allies. 

"I think people will understand I cant make any public comments on this, but I can assure you this is something that the responsible authorities are engaged with at the highest levels, including with our allies," Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Waterloo, Ont.

"CSE's preliminary assessment is that damage caused by the release of these reports and intelligence is HIGH (sic) and potentially devastating in that it would cause grave injury to Canada's national interests." 

An assessment by CSIS says that while the agency has only had time to conduct a preliminary examination of the documents in Ortis's possession, they contain "sensitive intelligence that was highly classified in nature."

"While these allegations, if proven true, are extremely unsettling, Canadians and our law-enforcement partners can trust that our priority continues to be the integrity of the investigations and the safety and security of the public we serve," said Lucki.

"Disclosure of such information beyond the intended audience may reveal not only the classified content of the particular reporting, but could possibly lead to the discovery of sensitive sources and methods with grave consequences.

"The loss of such information could also lead to a loss of confidence by our foreign partners," the CSIS analysis in the documents said. 

Ortis studied the international implications of the darker corners of the internet before joining the RCMP. He earned his PhD at the University of British Columbia in 2006, one year before joining the Mounties, and after seven years as a graduate student.

The documents reveal that Ortis's condo was covertly searched last month and a number of handwritten notes were discovered providing instructions on how to wash metadata from PDF files. 

The documents, of which CBC News has only seen parts, say that about 25 documents had been "sanitized to remove identifying information." 

"We are aware of the potential risk to agency operations of our partners in Canada and abroad and we thank them for their continued collaboration. We assure you that mitigation strategies are being put in place as required."

The papers reveal, as reported by Global News, that the security services first got wind of Ortis through a separate investigation of Phantom Secure Communications, a B.C.-based company under investigation for providing encrypted communication devices to international criminals. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had little to say Monday when asked about the impact on Canadas counterparts in the Five Eyes, the intelligence group that also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

In March of last year, the FBI revealed that it had taken down an international criminal communications service based in Canada that had a revenue of $80 million over the last decade. The operation resulted in the seizure of 1,000 phones that the FBI said were being used to facilitate murders and drug smuggling. 

The documents seen by CBC News say the FBI investigation discovered in 2018 that a person was sending emails to Vincent Ramos, the CEO of Phantom Secure Communications, offering to provide valuable information. 

They also predicted that non-governmental organizations and networks would face threats to their "infrastructure, confidentiality, mailing lists, electronic subscriptions and databases."

"You don't know me. I have information that I am confident you will find very valuable," one email contained in the documents said. 

"The walk on the dark side does not lead to the conclusion that the internet is the enemy of those wishing to construct a more stable and peaceful regional order," they wrote.

A subsequent email promised to provide "intel about your associates and individuals using their network internationally."

Over the span of his career Ortis had some of the highest access to classified and allied information within the RCMP. Sources familiar with his work said he would have had knowledge of code words and operations.

She also confirmed that Ortis was director general of the RCMPs National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, after starting his career with the Mounties in 2007.

Ortis was charged under a section of the Security of Information Act that applies to individuals "permanently bound to secrecy" as a condition of their work — which strongly suggests he had access to top secret material.

Ortis made a brief court appearance last Friday. He remains in custody with a bail hearing set for this Friday.

"This is an ongoing investigation and we are assessing the impacts of the alleged activities as information becomes available," she added.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki listens to questions during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy. Full Disclaimer

Ortis has also worked in the RCMPS Operations Research and National Security Criminal Investigations branches, she said.

Cameron Ortis, director general of the RCMPs intelligence unit, is shown in a court sketch from his hearing in Ottawa, on Sept. 13, 2019.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has confirmed that Cameron Ortis, a civilian member of the national police force who was charged last week in relation to an alleged security breach, had access to high-level intelligence from Canadian and foreign agencies.

We are aware of the potential risk to agency operations of our partners in Canada and abroad and we thank them for their continued collaboration. We assure you that mitigation strategies are being put in place as required, she said in a statement Monday.

Mr. Ortis, 47, was director general of the RCMPs national intelligence co-ordination centre. He faces charges under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code in relation to alleged infractions between 2015 and 2019.

She said she was limited in what she could say because the matter is before the courts, but she confirmed Mr. Ortiss wide access to confidential information. He has worked for the RCMP since 2007, including in operations research and national security criminal investigations.

By virtue of the positions he held, Mr. Ortis had access to information the Canadian intelligence community possessed. He also had access to intelligence coming from our allies both domestically and internationally, she said.

All government departments involved in national security are carrying out a review to determine if secret information had been shared with Mr. Ortis, according to a senior government official. Those departments include Global Affairs, National Defence, Public Safety, the Privy Council and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service [CSIS]. The Globe and Mail is keeping the officials name confidential because the individual was not allowed to speak publicly about the alleged security breach.

According to documents filed in court, Mr. Ortis is charged with obtaining and preparing information for the purpose of communication with a foreign entity or terrorist group, as well as communicating or confirming special operational information to an unspecified entity or individual. He is also charged under the Criminal Code with breach of trust.