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

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

By David Ljunggren

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, a director general with the national police force’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.

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, said a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation.

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.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., citing government documents, said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had tipped off Canada as it probed a separate criminal matter. The FBI discovered in 2018 that someone had contacted the head of Canadian company Phantom Secure offering to sell secrets.

The chief executive of the firm last year pleaded guilty to facilitating international narcotics traffic by supplying drug cartels with encrypted communications devices.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Brenda Lucki is expected to provide a “short update” and answer questions on the case on Tuesday at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

On Monday, Lucki said the leaks could have hurt allied nations’ intelligence operations and promised that “mitigation strategies are being put in place as required.”

(Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Edmund Blair and Bernadette Baum)