Members of the Five Eyes intelligence bloc are already raising questions about the type of information accessible to Cameron Ortis as the director of an intelligence unit within the RCMP, diplomatic sources tell CBC News.
The Five Eyes, made up of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, is one of the world’s leading intelligence-sharing networks, linking some of the most powerful countries in the world.
Diplomatic sources speaking to CBC on condition of anonymity said the alliance is worried that Ortis, charged under Canada’s national secrets act, had access to their allied information.
Ortis — a 47-year-old senior intelligence official at the RCMP — was arrested Thursday and appeared in an Ottawa court Friday, facing five counts under the Security of Information Act. He’s also been charged with two Criminal Code violations.
The rarely invoked Security of Information Act was created to make sure operatives who know Canada’s top secrets keep them secret.
Ortis is accused of communicating special operational information back in 2015 and faces a slew of charges related to preparing, in the past year, to share either safeguarded or operational information with a foreign entity or terrorist group.
Little is known about what information he was gathering and to whom he allegedly was preparing to pass it, but sources who knew of Ortis’s work said he likely had access to Mountie operations, intelligence dossiers and information from Canada’s allies.
Allies waiting for details of Ortis case
Diplomatic sources said the Five Eyes alliance is waiting for a formal damage assessment from the public safety minister’s office, and said some members are already questioning how Ortis was able to hoard information within the RCMP.
“There’s really no overstating what he could have had access to. The devil is in the details on what he actually took,” said former CSIS analyst Jessica Davis.
“This could range from somewhat injurious to seriously detrimental to our national security and the partnerships we have with our allies.”
The alliance isn’t in full panic mode, sources say, since the charge sheet suggests Ortis was stopped before he actually shared information.
However, a government source who was briefed on the Ortis case said Canadian officials are worried because he was known as “the China expert.”
Motivation a key question
The case has thrown Ottawa and Canada’s security and government circles into a tizzy as officials try to figure out what Ortis’s motive was and to whom he was talking.
An initial search of property and bankruptcy records doesn’t suggest Ortis had any financial troubles
A source told CBC News that because Ortis’s work was so central to national security, federal departments across government are now running in-house damage assessments to get a sense of the ramifications.
That scouring has even been extended to people in retirement, meaning investigators are going back years to assess the damage.
Until now, the most high-profile use of the Security of Information Act was the case of navy-officer-turned-spy Jeffrey Delisle back in 2012.
In a case out of a bargain-bin spy novel, the former sub-lieutenant pleaded guilty to selling secrets about Canada and its allies to Russia after his marriage crumbled.
Distraught after his wife cheated on him, Delisle walked into the Russian embassy in Ottawa, and offered to sell top-secret classified information for $10,000 US.
For nearly five years he smuggled information from a Halifax base via USB memory stick until he was finally caught.