September 17, 2019 / 1:30 PM / a month ago

Canada bids to reassure U.S., other allies after intelligence official arrested

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is working to reassure the United States and other allies after a top police intelligence official was charged with leaking secrets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Cameron Ortis, director general with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's intelligence unit, is shown in a court sketch from his court hearing in Ottawa, Canada, September 13, 2019. Lauren Foster-MacLeod/Handout via REUTERS

The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said there was a chance Canada’s allies might decide they could no longer trust the force, but noted none had clamped down on information sharing so far.

Cameron Ortis, a director general with the RCMP’s intelligence unit, had access to highly sensitive domestic and foreign intelligence, and his arrest last week sparked fears of a possible major security breach.

Ortis was charged on Friday under a 2012 security information law used to prosecute spies. The RCMP said it had taken immediate measures to mitigate any risks.

Security experts say the case could damage Canada’s standing inside the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that also includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

“We are in direct communications with our allies on security, not only the Five Eyes group,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “We are also working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we are taking this situation very seriously.”

Canadian security officials are working urgently to see what if any data might have been leaked, a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation said.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki conceded there was concern in the Five Eyes community, but said it was too early to tell what damage might have been done. There was no sign that Ortis had had accomplices, she added.

“At this point cooperation with our allies is not at all compromised. ... There is no risk of being able to share information,” she told a news conference in Ottawa.

Asked whether partner intelligence agencies might decide Canada could no longer be trusted, she replied: “There is always that possibility, but I am confident the measures we have in place will mitigate those risks.”

Canada’s allies are working on the assumption that if any secrets were shared, China and Russia are likely to have been the main beneficiaries, said a second source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Canadian officials say China, in particular, has been aggressively seeking to obtain sensitive information.

Lucki said the RCMP had become aware of the case during a probe into a separate matter with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. She did not give details.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp, citing government documents, said the FBI discovered in 2018 that someone had contacted the head of Canadian company Phantom Secure offering to sell secrets.

The chief executive of Vancouver-based Phantom Secure, Vincent Ramos, last year pleaded guilty to U.S. charges of facilitating international narcotics traffic by supplying drug cartels with encrypted communications devices designed to thwart law enforcement. Ramos was sentenced in May to nine years in prison and ordered to forfeit $80 million as proceeds of the crime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Leslie Adler

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