OTTAWA (Reuters) - A top Canadian police intelligence officer has been charged with leaking secret information, authorities said on Friday, in what could be a major security breach.
Cameron Ortis, a director general with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s intelligence unit, faces three charges under a little-used 2012 security of information law.
“It is alleged he obtained, stored and processed sensitive information ... with the intent to communicate that information with people he shouldn’t be communicating to,” federal prosecutor John MacFarlane told reporters outside Ottawa’s court house after Ortis was charged.
Sources with knowledge of national security investigations described Ortis as former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson’s most elite adviser on issues related to national security. Paulson was in office from 2011-2017.
“Operationally, this could be very, very bad,” said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor and security expert at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
Canada is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network with United States, Britain, New Zealand and Australia.
One section of the law used to charge Ortis refers to a person with security clearance who “intentionally and without authority, communicates or confirms special operational information.” He also faces charges of breach of trust and misuse of a credit card.
The RCMP said in a statement that the alleged offences had taken place when Ortis was a member of the force, but it gave no further details and said nothing about what other nations might be involved.
Neither Ortis, who is in custody, nor a lawyer for him could be reached for immediate comment. The next court hearing in the case has been set for Sept. 20.
A brief LinkedIn profile for Ortis shows he speaks Mandarin and has both a certificate in internet systems administration and a doctorate in international relations from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in western Canada.
A UBC newsletter from 2006 said the title of the doctorate was “the relationship between rapid Internet diffusion and the emergence of new threats and the digitization of traditional threats.” Ortis, it added, had conducted field work interviews in East Asia.
The 2012 law was used to prosecute a Canadian naval officer who handed over secrets to Russia for more than four years. Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle was jailed for 20 years in 2013 but released on parole in 2018.
Canadian officials told a sentencing hearing in 2013 that allies had threatened to withhold intelligence from Canada unless it tightened security procedures.
“I can assure you the authorities are taking this extremely seriously but you might understand I have no comment to make,” Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.
Andrew Scheer, whose opposition Conservative Party is vying to defeat Trudeau in an Oct. 21 election, said the case was extremely concerning and “a reminder of the threats we face from foreign actors.”
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown