Nova Scotia·Exclusive

Documents shed a little light on what spy Jeffrey Delisle sold to Russians

Former Canadian naval intelligence officer Jeffrey Delisle is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence after being convicted on espionage charges. CBC News has obtained some documents related to the case under freedom of information laws.

Heavily redacted documents were obtained by CBC News under freedom of information laws

Jeffrey Delisle leaves Nova Scotia provincial court after pleading guilty to charges related to selling secrets to Russia on Oct. 10, 2012. (Canadian Press)

The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has shed a little light on the information Canadian spy Jeffrey Paul Delisle was selling to the Russians.

The former Canadian naval intelligence officer pleaded guilty in 2012 to spying and selling secrets for about $3,000 a month. Delisle, 45, a Halifax native and former sub-lieutenant, was the first Canadian to be convicted of spying in decades.

The type of information Delisle sold to the Russians did not come out in court, but CBC News made more than a dozen freedom of information requests to various U.S. government departments. Most of the responses were heavily — if not totally — redacted, but some details were contained in documents from the NCIS.

Details included the kind of threat assessments of foreign destinations that are routinely prepared for visiting American troops and officials. 

Security advice for St. John's

The unredacted parts of the documents focus on St. John's. The U.S. State Department wrote the criminal threat for all Canadian cities is low, except Vancouver which was "moderate."

U.S. security agencies also warn about violence in the George Street area of St. John's, recommending American military personnel walk in pairs or in small groups for safety reasons.

They also mentioned concerns about crack, cocaine and ecstasy, prostitution and motorcycle gangs from other provinces that are often in the area.

The Defence Intelligence Agency assessed Canada's terrorism threat level as moderate "meaning terrorists are present but there is no indication of anti-U.S. activity." 

Former Canadian naval officer and Halifax native Jeffrey Delisle is pictured in his 1990 high school yearbook photo.

There wasn't credible intelligence to suggest interests in Canada are being targeted by terrorist groups, the U.S. navy's Multiple Threat Alert Centre reported. The MTAC provides indications and warnings for a wide range of threats to navy and marine corps personnel and assets around the world.

Routine threat assessment

The documents were classified as "Secret" and contain a warning that "any discussion of or reference to information in the report with representatives of foreign governments [was] strictly prohibited." There was also a request to "sanitize" the information.

Security experts in Canada said this type of threat assessment is routine and is generated by Canadian and American naval intelligence authorities on a regular basis, along with all other NATO countries. 

"All Canadian naval ships visiting foreign ports are required to produce a report about all aspects of their visit, which then goes into the database and becomes the basis for future reports," said Ken Hansen, who is with  the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He also served in the Canadian navy for more than three decades before retiring with the rank of commander.

He said much of the information in the NCIS documents is "open source" information about safety and security trends, and not militarily classified information.

'Embarrassing' details removed

But Hansen is curious about the large amounts of information redacted before the documents were given to CBC News. 

"The redacted parts are impossible to assess," he said. "But having read these things in the past, the removed sections are probably U.S. 'eyes only' assessments that find Canadian provisions for safety and security below U.S. standards.

"So, they could be viewed as embarrassing by some Canadians or even insulting." 

Experts have said that if this is the type of information the Russians were paying Delisle for, they were not getting value for their money.

For nearly five years, Delisle stole classified and secret information while he was working at various posts. He offered his services to the Russians after his marriage started to fall apart.

He worked at National Defence headquarters — including the military's nerve centre, the Strategic Joint Staff — and at the Office of the Chief of Defence Intelligence as well as at the Trinity intelligence centre in Halifax.

Delisle is serving a 20-year sentence in a federal prison for betraying his country.

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