A senior Canadian police intelligence officer accused of stealing and sharing highly classified materials pleaded not guilty as his trial started Tuesday.
Cameron Ortis, 51, was the director general of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) national intelligence coordination unit until his arrest in September 2020.
As such he had access to sensitive information from Canada and the powerful Five Eyes intelligence alliance to which Canada belongs along with Australia, the United States, Britain and New Zealand.
His arrest convulsed the national security and intelligence community, with then-RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki saying that the alleged betrayal caused much concern within the Five Eyes system.
Arriving in court in a dark blue suit and tie, Ortis pleaded not guilty to six charges of stealing highly classified materials and sharing special operational information, dating back to 2015.
The last few years awaiting trial, his lawyer Jon Doody told AFP, have “been very difficult for him.”
“He’s ready to have his day in court,” Doody said, adding that Ortis planned to testify in his own defense.
“He wants the jury and the public to hear his side of the story. And we’re confident that when the jury hears his version of events that they’re going to acquit.”
Prosecutor Judy Kliewer said in her opening remarks to the jury that there is “not very much in dispute” in this trial, as both the prosecution and the defense have agreed on the facts.
“The issue appears to be whether what (Ortis) did was with authority, whether he was authorized to communicate what he did and I expect that the evidence will satisfy you that there was no such authority,” she said.
– ‘Bound by secrecy’ –
Many of the details surrounding the case may not be divulged due to national security concerns.
But Kliewer laid out the basics, saying that Ortis led a small team of RCMP analysts who had “pretty much unlimited, unrestricted access” to Canadian and Five Eyes intelligence in order to help shape domestic criminal investigations.
He and his team “could look at any investigation that was going on at any time,” she said.
Kliewer accused Ortis of having communicated special operational information to four people through anonymous encrypted emails found on his computer, at one point asking them for Can$20,000 in exchange for more documents.
“What makes this case interesting is not only that Mr. Ortis is a person permanently bound by secrecy, but he was one of the highest ranking persons in the RCMP with that designation,” she said.
There has only been one other conviction under Canada’s Security of Information Act in the past two decades: a Canadian naval officer who pleaded guilty in 2012 to selling secrets to Russia.
Authorities got wind of Ortis’s alleged crimes through a separate investigation of a British Columbia company that provided encrypted mobile phones to drug traffickers and money launderers around the world.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered RCMP documents on the laptop of Phantom Secure Communications founder and key administrator Vincent Ramos, who has admitted to racketeering in the United States.
Those documents — which included operational details of Canadian and international probes targeting encrypted mobile phone providers and money launderers — were traced back to Ortis.
The trial is scheduled to last up to eight weeks.