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RCMP intel director charged in major case was top adviser to former force head: sources

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RCMP intel director charged in major case was top adviser to former force head: sources

 

The RCMP has arrested and charged a high-level official with the force in a major national security case.

Cameron Ortis faces seven charges dating back to 2015 under both the Criminal Code and the Security of Information Act, and Global News has learned the RCMP believe he stole “large quantities of information, which could compromise an untold number of investigations.”

Other sources referred to the case as “serious spy s–t.”

Other sources referred to the case as “serious spy s–t.”

READ MORE: Canadian infrastructure sector made aware of potential effects of ‘insider’ cyberthreats

A statement from the RCMP said the charges “stem from activities alleged to have occurred during his tenure as an RCMP employee.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by reporters on the Liberal campaign on Friday whether he could reassure Canadians that the national interest had not been compromised and initially walked away from reporters.

He later briefly addressed the matter, saying he was “of course made aware” of the case but could not comment.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says he was “of course made aware” of the arrest of a senior RCMP official, but declined further comment

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Sources with knowledge of national security investigations described Ortis as former RCMP Comm. Bob Paulson’s most elite adviser on issues related to national security and sensitive investigations. They added he was likely the only civilian to ever achieve the position of director general of intelligence.

That role gave him control over RCMP counter-intelligence operations.

But a source with knowledge of national security investigations said that the elevation of Ortis as a top adviser to Paulson not only raised eye-brows but for some there was even concern.

The expectation is that such a high-level director of intelligence should have some operational experience a source said, but Ortis was viewed as purely academic.

With the stunning news of the investigations against Ortis — and considering his influence in Canada’s national security investigations – an emerging question that could be raised is whether Ortis could have discouraged investigations against certain nations or targets, a source said.

Ortis is described as an Ottawa intellectual and an academic that was seen as arrogant by some in Canada’s national security establishment.

Global News’ early source information indicates that Ortis’ expertise in computers and cyberspace, the level of sensitive high-tech information he would have access to as a longtime government adviser, as well as his connections to East Asia and China, are some of the areas that could have concerned this multi-pronged national security information.

As a civilian member of the RCMP’s strategic intelligence unit, Ortis had a lynchpin role that gave him unparalleled access to operation intelligence, according to a source.

At times, he worked extensively with FINTRAC, and once focused on Somalia, one of the countries that has attracted Canadian extremists to fight in the terrorist group Al-Shabab, the source said.

The source described him as professional and competent.

WATCH BELOW: Justin Trudeau addresses whether China should be considered a national security threat

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Ortis is charged with:

  • Section 14(1) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 22(1)(b) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 22(1)(e) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 122 of the Criminal Code
  • Section 342.1(1) of the Criminal Code

Those charges relate specifically with unauthorized leaking of sensitive operational information and breach of trust, as well as unauthorized use of a computer.

The other counts refer to “obtaining, retaining or gaining access” to information and possessing a device “useful for concealing the content of information or surreptitiously communicating, obtaining or retaining information.”

Two of the charges are based on a section of the Security of Information Act that relates to preparatory acts towards “communications to a foreign entity.”

He faces up to 33 years imprisonment if convicted.

Ortis appeared briefly in the Ottawa courthouse on Friday where the Crown announced it was in fact laying seven charges against him.

It’s not clear at this time what the additional charges are.

John MacFarlane with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada alleged in court that the Crown suspected Ortis of having “obtained, stored, processed sensitive information we believe with the intent to communicate it to people that he shouldn’t be communicating it to.”

The court adjourned and is set to resume on Sept. 20 at 9:30 AM after Ortis has had time to obtain a lawyer.

Potentially ‘one of the worst cases of espionage’: expert

Sources tell Global News the investigation was extensive and that Ortis was arrested on Thursday in Ottawa.

He holds a Ph.D from the University of British Columbia focusing on cybersecurity in East Asia and is listed on his LinkedIn profile as speaking Mandarin and having worked as an adviser to the Government of Canada for 12 years.

Global News reached out to CSIS asking if the spy agency had been involved in the investigation but was referred to the RCMP.

Heather Bradley, director of communications for the Speaker’s office with the House of Commons, also referred matters to the RCMP when asked whether any further assessments of administration infrastructure security or risks was ongoing.

Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert and assistant professor at Carleton University, said

“If this person succeeded, this could potentially be one of the worst cases of espionage that we’ve ever seen in Canada,” she said.
“If this was a four-year investigation, I would be surprised if this person had only tried once and failed once. The concern is that this may have been going on for some time but we don’t see that reflected in the charges yet.”

The arrest is the latest in Canada stemming from what it is sometimes called the insider threat.

In 2011, a navy intelligence officer, Jeffrey Delisle, was caught selling secrets to the Russian embassy in Ottawa. He was sentenced to 20 years but has already been paroled.

The RCMP arrested Quin Quentin Huang in 2013 for allegedly trying to pass secrets about Canadian patrol ships to the Chinese government.

He worked at Lloyd’s Register Canada, which was subcontracted by Irving Shipbuilding to work on the design phase of Canada’s Arctic patrol vessels.

The case has not yet gone to trial.

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