Canada spy agency refused to notify Mounties about Russian agent

Jeffrey Paul DelisleBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Canada’s main counterintelligence agency opted to keep secret from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) vital information about a Canadian naval officer who spied for Russia. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Jeffrey Paul Delisle, a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, who until 2011 was employed at Canada’s ultra-secure TRINITY communications center in Halifax. Delisle was arrested in January 2012 for passing information gathered from radio and radar signal interceptions to a foreign power, most likely Russia. In May of last year, it emerged that it was in fact the United States that alerted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) about Delisle’s espionage activities. What was supposed to happen next was that the CSIS —which is not a law enforcement agency— should have notified the RCMP of Delisle’s activities and requested his prompt arrest. Remarkably, however, the CSIS chose to keep the Delisle file concealed from the RCMP, ostensibly to prevent the possible exposure of intelligence sources and methods in open-court proceedings. The Canadian Press, which broke the story on Sunday, cited “numerous sources familiar with the Delisle case” in claiming that the CSIS’ refusal to request Delisle’s arrest “frustrated Washington”, which feared that the spy was routinely compromising United States secrets shared by America with its Canadian allies. So frustrated were the Americans, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sketched out a plan to lure Delisle onto US soil and arrest him there. Eventually, the FBI decided to simply sideline the CSIS and contact the RCMP itself. As soon as the RCMP received the FBI’s notification, it opened a case against Delisle, which led to the naval officer’s arrest in January of 2012. During his trial, Delisle admitted having spied for Russia in exchange for over $110,000 over a period of four years, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Canadian Press says the CSIS’s refusal to notify the RCMP about the spy’s activities “raises question about whether the naval officer could have been arrested sooner”, thus safeguarding many of the secrets he routinely shared with Moscow. The news agency approached several Canadian intelligence officials with this question, including Michel Coulombe, CSIS’s former Director of Operations and interim Director, who refused to speak publicly on the case.

7 Responses to Canada spy agency refused to notify Mounties about Russian agent

  1. Little typo in the text: “Remarkably, however, the RCMP chose to keep…” should most likely be “Remarkably, however, CSIS chose to keep…”.

  2. Pete says:

    A mighty interesting post. CSIS reluctance to advise the RCMP inorder to protect sources and methods seems a very odd way to run a security regime.

    Perhaps the CSIS was covering up embarrassment:

    – to itself, not only had Delisle’s treachery occurring on its “watch”, but that it was a foreign organizaion (the FBI) that detected it.

    – to Delisle’s dual employers: the Canadian Navy and Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSE) sigint organization, and

    – to Canadian politicians including the Minister of National Defence

  3. intelNews says:

    @ ŁUMBΞRJΛCK: Corrected, thanks for catching this. [JF]

  4. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Interesting comment Pete. I’ve no doubt there was an immediate scramble by public servants to attempt some form of damage control. Nevertheless, this particular case was so serious no one in their right mind could possibly hope to limit the fallout and far reaching ramifications of this
    traitors actions, the affects of which are still reverberating from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia & New Zealand.

    SO – no, I’m not so sure the RCMP was not immediately informed – based purely on the reasons you suggest.

    I prefer to re-visit the comment from CSIS Director Richard Fadden & as per article quoted at the time: ” Delisle case ” is one case that we caught. I suspect there will be others over time both here and within our allies”.

    That unusually candid statement comeing as it did from the CSIS Director ; if you read between the lines, should be enough to leave anyone stone cold….( I’m certain there is far more yet to come as a result of this event)

    I’d hazard a guess that the C.S.I.S was playing for time ; the longer the better for what they were trying
    to achieve, despite the unthinkable security implications of such a delay

    The RCMP’s swift action culminating in a timely (but premature) arrest may actually have in many ways ruined what the CSIS were doing and deprived them of netting even more traitors in one hit.

    ** Incidentally – the article is slightly incorrect insofar as it states ” The RCMP chose to keep the Delisle file concealed from the RCMP… (I assume Joe intended that to read CSIS chose to keep the Delisle file concealed from the RCMP ??)

  5. Pete says:

    @Peter Wallerberger

    Yes I assume CSIS had good Canadian national interests or UKUSA (UK, US, Canada, Aus, NZ sigint alliance) collective interests in mind to explain its (possible) inaction.

    Perhaps Delisle knew/knows about Canadian sigint matters, unrelated to his particular CSE/Navy role, that Canada wanted/wants to keep under wraps even at the expense of not prosecuting him. Such matters might include what is already on the internet – that is the process of cross-interception mutually arranged between the 5 UKUSA members.

    To illustrate see “It’s illegal for the United States to spy on it’s citizens. Likewise the same for [Canada]. But under the terms [unlikely to be written precisely] of the UKUSA agreement, [Canada] spies on Americans and America spies on [Canadian] citizens and the two groups [CSE and NSA] trade data. Technically, it may be legal, but the intent to evade the spirit of the laws protecting the citizens of those two nations is clear.”

    Canada’s inexplicable hesitation raises such a theory.

  6. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Delisle certainly had access to Sigint data that had little to do with what you describe as his CSE/Navy role. He has from what I can see, severely compromised the UKUSA global network,
    in doing so ; by default, this arrogant clown has caused serious damage to the security and stability of the Western world and in fact democracy as we know it.(We can all but hope and pray that this is not going to turn out to be another ‘Cambridge Five scenario’ as I’m sure the public have only been fed the absolute minimum of information on this case.)

    This is not an area that falls within the oversight / control of civil / domestic agencies such as
    the F.B.I nor the R.C.M.P.rather – this sphere is dominated by purely external intelligence agencies and at an enhanced security level – hence why on the face of it many events in this saga might appear to be inexplicable or odd !!

    The UKUSA terms you describe have be rewritten a number of times over the years particulary post 9/11. You can be reasonably secure in the knowledge that such ammendments
    would not have been inserted in order to evade ‘the spirit of laws protecting ordinary citizens’ but rather one should take comfort from the knowledge that such changes would have be implemented with urgency in order to protect citizens. In doing so I’ve no doubt the rights and privacy of some citizens have been eroded nevertheless it is for the ‘greater good’ – i.e: ‘the means justifies the end’.

    Given that humans are the weak link in any chain of events, regretably one has to accept that there will be instances where such intercept powers are missused and abused by intelligence agencies and I guess those charged with overseeing such agencies just have to be made a damn site more accountable and empowered to operate free of political interference, in order
    to maintain public faith and political support for such work otherwise you will suffer the consequences as has happened to the GCSB in New Zealand recently.

    * Incidentally Pete – I’m not so sure that Delisle had but “two masters “!!

  7. Pete says:

    @Peter Wallerberger

    On “two masters” in probably most developed countries uniformed services traditionally provide the high manpower needs for collection and often translation – working very closely with sigint organizations (like CSE and NSA) who maintain the now vast records and do much/most of the analysis.

    My own views diverge from the quote. I don’t think the UKUSA sigint allies are abusing their powers just working within laws, accepted powers and the UKUSA treaty.

    Politicians still need to be responsible for their sigint organizations’ functioning but politicians may rely on a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach so they can plead ignorance (or “neither confirm nor deny”) when embarrassing issues come up.

    To fill this vacuum of political oversight and due to the highly specialised nature of sigint laws and technology experienced and constant security inspector-general oversight is needed.

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