Leaks of secret information ‘happen often,’ lawyer for ex RCMP official tells court
October 11, 2023 By The Canadian Press
Oct. 11, 2023, Ottawa, Ont. – A lawyer for a former RCMP intelligence official accused of breaching Canada’s secrets law said Wednesday that government leaks of sensitive information “happen often.”
Mark Ertel, who represents Cameron Jay Ortis, suggested in Ontario Superior Court that some people have authority to leak highly classified information and therefore it may – or may not be – an offence.
Ortis, 51, has pleaded not guilty to violating the Security of Information Act by allegedly revealing secrets to three individuals in 2015 and trying to do so in a fourth instance, as well as breach of trust and a computer-related offence.
Ortis’s lawyers have said they will argue their client had authority to take the actions he did.
A detailed job description for Ortis says he became director of the RCMP’s Operations Research group in 2013. The unit had the task of assembling and developing classified information on terror cells, transnational criminal networks, cybercrime actors and commercial espionage.
The unit director was expected to manage a high-risk program that provides actionable packages of information to senior RCMP executives, says the description, filed in court as part of a statement of agreed facts in the case.
By the time Ortis was arrested in September 2019, he had become director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre.
RCMP Sgt. Peter Neily, who took part in the police force’s investigation of Ortis, testified Wednesday it was “unfathomable” to him that the secret information allegedly disclosed could have been legitimately provided in the course of someone’s duties.
“In reviewing what had been shared, and the lives that were potentially put at risk there, I didn’t see that being a possibility – that that was in the realm of professional action,” he told Ertel under cross-examination.
Ertel asked Neily whether the alleged breaches in the case could have happened in the course of a person’s duties. “Could they be directed to do it by somebody who has the authority to do it?”
Neily said there are specific protocols in the Criminal Code for operations that involve police committing offences, but such actions require prior approval and must be fully documented.
The investigative path to Ortis began in 2018 when the RCMP analyzed the contents of a laptop computer owned by Vincent Ramos, chief executive officer of Phantom Secure Communications, who had been arrested in the United States.
An RCMP effort known as Project Saturation revealed that members of criminal organizations were known to use Phantom Secure’s encrypted communication devices.
Ramos would later plead guilty to using his Phantom Secure devices to help facilitate the distribution of cocaine and other illicit drugs to countries including Canada.
A retired RCMP investigator has told the court he found an email to Ramos from an unknown sender with portions of 10 documents, including mention of material from the federal anti-money laundering agency, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as Fintrac.
The sender would later offer to provide Ramos with the full documents in exchange for $20,000.
Neily told the court Wednesday about how he personally followed up with individuals believed to have received offers of secret information from an unknown sender.
The Crown is trying to make the case that Ortis was behind the overtures, ultimately breaching the Security of Information Act. It points to materials found on a memory key seized during a search of Ortis’s home when he was arrested.
Neily said Wednesday that an investigation of Ortis’s finances did not turn up unknown sources of income or evidence that he received money linked to the offers of information.
The statement of agreed facts in the case says information sent anonymously to Ramos, Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf – as well as material intended for Farzam Mehdizadeh – was “special operational information” within the meaning of the Security of Information Act.
The statement, filed with the court, says that from at least 2014, the RCMP and multiple enforcement and intelligence agencies of Canada’s close allies were investigating money laundering activities conducted by various entities associated with Altaf Khanani, a Dubai-based money service businesses owner.
Henareh and his companies Persepolis International and Rosco Trading, Ashraf and his company Finmark Financial, and Mehdizadeh and his firm Aria Exchange were subjects of the investigation in Canada.
Henareh told police he had received a package in March of 2015 containing a cover letter, an 11-page disclosure summary from Fintrac and a DVD containing more documents from the anti-money laundering agency. He gave it to his lawyer, Clayton Ruby, the statement says. He consented to police retrieving the package from his lawyer.
Ashraf told police he only became aware of emails sent to his company’s email address in response to police inquiries in 2019. Police obtained the email messages through a production order.
Mehdizadeh fled the country before his anticipated arrest in 2017, the statement says. His son, Masih Mehdizadeh, declined to speak with police. However, police obtained emails sent to the son’s University of Toronto email account, and no replies were found.
Khanani was arrested in Florida, pleaded guilty in October 2015 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and received a lengthy sentence. He told police in December 2019 that he had not received a message offering to provide intelligence, the agreed statement says.
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