Nova Scotia

Navy spy probe kept military in dark: documents

The Canadian military felt snubbed by the RCMP and CSIS after the civilian security agencies began investigating navy spy Jeffrey Paul Delisle without telling them, according to secret documents obtained by CBC News.

Jeffrey Paul Delisle's case prompted fears of sabotage

Convicted of selling secrets to the Russians, former Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle was sentenced earlier this year to 20 years in prison. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Canadian military felt snubbed by the RCMP and CSIS after the civilian security agencies began investigating navy spy Jeffrey Paul Delisle without telling them, according to secret documents obtained by CBC News.

The documents paint a picture of a shattered military security system, scrambling to catch up with an outside investigation into one of its own, former Sub.-Lt. Delisle, one of Canada's most prolific spies.

The soul-searching military analysis states that the Canadian Forces has had a "prevalence of poor security practises over the years." The documents are marked "secret" and were acquired by CBC News through the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Forces' probe into its security systems following the Delisle spy scandal brought several other breaches to light, according to the documents obtained by CBC News.

In a section of the 77-page dossier called "Summary of Current Security Concerns," DND officials state that there are "ongoing security issues that have impacted or have the potential to impact DND strategically."

One incident involved a senior DND executive who left secret documents "inappropriately" in a car. The documents were stolen but later retrieved.

The post-Delisle spy scandal analysis documents state that there is an "evolved prevalence of poor security practices over the years and the requirement for a dramatically improved security awareness, education and training."

In another incident, the military's operations in Afghanistan appear to have been damaged by a security breach. The secret documents highlight a "detected security breach" in Operation Athena. Although heavily redacted, the documents say "containment and sanitization activities are being undertaken" by a special task force organized by the vice-chief of defence staff. No further details about the security breach are provided in the documents released to CBC News.

It also appears Canada failed to meet even minimum security measures expected by its NATO allies. During a NATO inspection of Canadian facilities, the inspection group "highlighted several areas where DND was non-compliant with minimum security requirements."

The documents give no details about what was lacking or where the inspectors found the faults.   

And there are security concerns about plans to move defence headquarters to the former Nortel campus in Ottawa. The documents say that the campus buildings are not secure and calls it a "major issue," saying it will be expensive to bring the campus up to the proper security level and that this will "cause delays to reach full operational capability."

"Little or no discussion concerning the advantages of employing the military police to lead the investigation … appears to have occurred," the document says, in a section entitled "Lessons Learned."

In fact, the highest level of the Canadian military was kept out of the loop on the Delisle investigation until it was well underway. The FBI in the United States tipped off the RCMP about the navy-intelligence-officer-turned-Russian-spy in a letter on Dec. 2, 2011. One week later, a senior military officer was tipped off that a "very close hold" national security investigation was underway involving a member of the military, the documents confirm.

But it wasn't until Dec. 13, 2011 — 11 days into the investigation — that the commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service was officially briefed by the RCMP.

"Whenever a member of the CF is suspected of involvement in such activities, the default practice should be to inform DND immediately," said the post-Delisle documents from the Department of National Defence.

Delisle was arrested on Jan. 16, 2012, and sentenced earlier this year to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to espionage charges and breach of trust.

Delisle held a top secret classification and worked as a threat assessment officer at HMCS Trinity, an ultra-secret military intelligence unit in Halifax where sensitive Canadian, U.S. and NATO information flows in and out.

When the RCMP and CSIS finally let the military in on the Delisle investigation, the first concern was sabotage. The military immediately launched an intensive cyber "Tiger Team" to see if Delisle had left bugs or Trojan horses inside computer systems that would allow the Russians to further probe or damage Canadian military intelligence.

The investigation to “ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability” of HMCS Trinity and other military security operations turned up “no evidence" of malware planted inside DND computers.

The military's fears were well-founded, given Delisle had access to terabytes of some of the Western world's most closely guarded secrets. He operated a computer system called Stone Ghost, which links the intelligence services of the Five Eyes: the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

As a threat assessment officer for the Canadian navy, Delisle was responsible for drafting daily reports on anything a Canadian warship operating on foreign waters might encounter. That gave him access to everything from weather reports to the movement of terrorist cells and organized crime gangs.

Delisle used a floppy disk to transfer gigabytes of secret information from the Stone Ghost computer to a non-classified computer. He would then transfer the information to a thumb drive. Once a month, he emailed the sensitive Five Eyes information to his Russian handlers.

In further reaction to the Delisle affair, the military hastily formed a unit called the Security Issue Management Action Team (SIMAT). This new group is charged with co-ordinating and cleaning up the military's security system. The military wants other government departments to be made aware of the new organization.

"The advantages of of using intrinsic assets to investigate and possibly exploit individuals  should be the norm, with RCMP and CSIS assistance utilized on an 'as required' basis," state the documents.

Delisle's romp through the Canadian military's top secret world started in 1996 when he joined the army reserve as a non-commissioned member. 

In 2007, Delisle walked into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, flashed his Canadian military identification and asked to speak with a Russian intelligence agent. The father of four — who was going through a divorce at the time — met with a Russian military intelligence officer for less than half an hour. A month later, Delisle began sending the Russians information for roughly $3,000 a month.

The document file obtained by CBC News is 77 pages long and is a heavily redacted document.


Rob Gordon


Rob Gordon has covered defence issues for CBC News, newspapers and magazines for more than 30 years. He has been embedded with the navy in the Arabian Sea and with the army in Afghanistan.


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