Jeffrey Delisle, or, the Incredible Creaking Canadian Spy-Catching System

It took the FBI to get the RCMP onto Royal Canadian Navy Sub-Lieutenant Delisle; one really does wonder how many other cases are not being properly investigated and charged. By Jim Bronskill (tweets here) of the Canadian Press:

Former FBI official says Canada’s spy catching system caused delay, angst in Delisle case

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s former head of counter-intelligence says it fell to him to tell the RCMP about a spy in the Canadian navy, even though the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was already well aware of Jeffrey Delisle’s sale of sensitive secrets to the Russians.

In a newly published book [The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence], Frank Figliuzzi casts a critical eye on the Delisle case, pointing to the episode as a prime illustration of systemic problems with how Canadian agencies investigate espionage.

As a sub-lieutenant at the Trinity intelligence centre in Halifax, Delisle had access to a databank of classified secrets shared by the Five Eyes community — Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Read more: Russian spy case had its documents lost, destroyed: Canada’s information watchdog

The RCMP arrested Delisle, a junior navy officer, on Jan. 13, 2012, for violating the Security of Information Act. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Delisle had given secret material to Russia in exchange for upward of $110,000 over more than four years [he was working for military intelligence, the GRU–more details at 2012 Globe and Mail story: “Russian mole had access to wealth of CSIS, RCMP, Privy Council files“].

The official story detailed in court records suggested the FBI tipped Canadian authorities to Delisle’s relationship with the Russians on Dec. 2, 2011, through a letter to the RCMP.

However, as The Canadian Press reported in May 2013, the story actually began months earlier.

Senior CSIS officials were called to Washington, where U.S. security personnel told them a navy officer in Halifax was receiving cash transfers from Russian agents. The Canadian spy service soon got court approval to begin electronic surveillance of Delisle [emphasis added].

“The United States and its allies were hemorrhaging our most sensitive Russian reporting for as long as five years. As soon as we learned of Delisle, we knew we had to tell the Canadians and stop this guy. Easy, right?” Figliuzzi writes in “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence.”

“Not so much. Not when dealing with a system that’s so very different from ours,” the book says.

“The problem arose when it came time for someone to put Delisle in handcuffs.”

CSIS watched Delisle pass top-secret information to Russia for months without briefing the RCMP. The spy agency, acting on legal advice, opted to keep its investigation sealed for fear of exposing sources and methods of the intelligence trade in open court proceedings [emphasis added].

“Someone had to call Canada’s cops. Strangely, that task went to me,” says Figliuzzi, who led the FBI’s counter-intelligence division as an assistant director.

I wrote a simple letter on FBI stationery to the RCMP explaining that Jeffrey Delisle was a spy. I flew up to Ottawa and sat in a conference room with RCMP officials and verbally briefed the Mounties. Now the RCMP had to start their own investigation to be used in court [emphasis added],” he recalls in the book.

Again, the cycle started from scratch, all while Delisle continued to spill everyone’s secrets to the Russians. This was taking so long that we considered luring Delisle into the United States so we could arrest him on our own charges [emphasis added].”

Figliuzzi says Bob Mueller, FBI director at the time, even placed a call to his counterparts in Canada and “torqued up the pressure for someone to put an end to the madness. The end couldn’t come fast enough.”..

CSIS must hand over a case to the RCMP or work in parallel with the Mounties, then pass along the file when it comes time to take suspected spies or terrorists into custody…

Authorities don’t have the luxury of time for different agencies to independently develop the same information because their protocols and regulations require that they not share with each other, Figliuzzi said.

“The bad guys don’t respect our rules and our protocols. And in fact, they learn to exploit them quite skilfully. And this is an age that requires a swift response to breaking threats.”

To this day, the Delisle case remains the worst breach of Canadian secrets in the post-Cold War world, said Wesley Wark, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

“There has never been any public accounting of the handling by Canadian authorities of the counter-intelligence investigation.”

The RCMP mounted a crash investigation in the navy spy case over the December 2011 holidays, he noted. “But how much time was lost, and how many secrets, before the Mounties put the cuffs on Delisle?

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment…

Federal agencies face challenges when attempting to use intelligence in a form that is admissible as evidence, said Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

“This is a long-standing issue considering that an accused individual cannot be tried based on evidence that cannot be disclosed to them in some fashion.”

CSIS, the RCMP and the Department of Justice are constantly working together to improve their intelligence gathering and on addressing national security threats, Power said.

“By breaking down the silos that come to exist over time, the government is confident it will avoid future roadblocks and better manage litigation.”

And maybe the RCMP Musical Ride will fly (video here). As for the increasing pathetic Mounties see these posts:

Cameron Ortis, or, RCMP Blows it Big Time Trying to Play in the Intel Bigs (note SIGINT)

The Mounties’ Constable Plod, or, the Globe and Mail Maintains the Time may be Right to Bust Up the RCMP

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

4 thoughts on “Jeffrey Delisle, or, the Incredible Creaking Canadian Spy-Catching System”

  1. Sent this in an e-mail: “One really does wonder how many more cases are known but not charged and prosecuted. Given the amount of espionage and currently criminal foreign interference (PRC, Russia, Iran, India, Paks etc.) that must be going on, and the almost non-existent number of cases taken to trial, it does seem that our pathetic counter-espionage system is just plain broken.”

    And got this in reply:”Amen. If I were the other four eyes I wouldn’t trust us with a muffin recipe.”

    Mark Collins


  2. And see this incredible security lapse involving PRC at Canada’s foreign ministry–trendy new name courtesy PM Trudeau:

    ‘Sensitive equipment being purchased by Global Affairs Canada without consultation with security experts: report

    Global Affairs Canada spent $250,000 to have a consulting firm look at the procurement system that led to the arrangement with Nuctech.

    Government security experts aren’t usually consulted by Global Affairs Canada when that department purchases equipment, including sensitive gear needed to protect diplomats and embassies, a procurement review has found.

    The September 2020 study was sparked by an article in the National Post about a Chinese firm that had been authorized to provide security equipment to the department. Procurement Canada selected Nuctech, which is closely tied to the Chinese military, for the $6.8 million standing offer that included the delivery, installation, operator training and software for X-ray machines for use at Canadian embassies around the world. The Chinese company was picked over a Canadian firm that had also bid.

    Three days after the National Post article questioned why Global Affairs would use a Chinese company to provide such sensitive equipment, the department scrambled to get its security specialists to review the deal. Those experts concluded that the Chinese X-ray machines could “provide numerous opportunities for attack,” including being modified to covertly collect information and images at the embassies…” Read on.

    Mark Collins


  3. Worthwhile Canadian initiative:

    ‘Senator urges study of vexing barriers to using secret information in court cases

    A Senate committee should examine the hurdles that make it difficult to use secret intelligence in Canada’s courts, says the government representative in the upper chamber.

    Sen. Marc Gold says “a fresh look” at the vexing issue would help highlight possible solutions that could make terrorism and espionage cases unfold more smoothly.

    “This is not an issue that’s going to go away,” Gold said in an interview. “There are reasons we are where we are.”

    A former high-ranking U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation official recently spoke out about how the challenges caused delay and frustration in putting handcuffs on Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian navy officer who was selling secrets to the Russians…”

    Mark Collins


  4. And espionage cases?

    ‘RCMP, CSIS modelling new collaboration efforts on lessons learned from Britain

    Canada’s national police and spy agencies, long under pressure to co-operate more effectively on security cases, are developing new ways to work together based on Britain’s recent responses to deadly terrorist attacks.

    Following the 2017 terrorist assaults in Manchester and London, British intelligence service MI5 and counter-terrorist policing authorities conducted a review to look at how intelligence was handled and identify changes to improve.

    The RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service approached their British counterparts to learn from their findings with the goal of ensuring similar challenges would not undermine work to thwart terrorism in Canada.

    “Both organizations were motivated by our collective effort to ensure public safety remains paramount,” the RCMP and CSIS said in a joint response to questions from The Canadian Press.

    The effort spawned Midnight Horizon, a CSIS-RCMP review of the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism model that the Canadian agencies say is helping them develop “an updated and clearly defined national security program” to uncover and manage threats.

    CSIS and the Mounties point to the British model’s emphasis on a “no-surprise culture” that features robust information sharing to support operational planning while protecting methods and sources.

    Midnight Horizon prompted the spy service and national police force to initiate an “operational improvement review” of Canadian practices in 2018. Both exercises “call for systematic changes to the way CSIS and the RCMP conduct and collaborate on national security investigations,” the agencies said.

    The review resulted in 76 recommendations, including enhanced co-operation and information sharing in national security probes, additional training for national security personnel, and improved handling and disclosure of sensitive and classified information…’

    Mark Collins


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