CBC story underlines that the Canadian intelligence community experienced a very close call; it’s a relief a potentially devastating release of highly classified information was averted by the RCMP

Please note: The notes at the end of this post feature links to CBC radio and TV broadcasts which provide a detailed, comprehensive overview of the critical information that is highlighted at the current post.

A Nov. 23, 2023 CBC article is entitled: “Ortis was ‘on the cusp’ of passing state secrets to foreign entity at time of arrest, Crown alleged: Information presented at RCMP analyst’s bail hearing can be published for the first time.”

This is a story about the timely thwarting by the RCMP, of the threat that highly classified information was about to be released by a civilian intelligence specialist working for the RCMP.

The story underlines that the Canadian intelligence community – and allied intelligence services – experienced a very close call.

An excerpt from the CBC article reads:

Ortis, a civilian with a doctorate in international relations, was serving at the time as the director of the RCMP’s national intelligence co-ordination centre in Ottawa. He had access to Canada’s Top Secret Network (CTSN), a computer network used by the federal government to share classified information. CTSN held intelligence from Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing network that includes the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

During his bail hearings in October 2019, federal prosecutor Judy Kliewer alleged Ortis was in the final stages of a plan to pass state secrets to a “foreign entity.”

Ortis was arrested by his RCMP colleagues on September 12, 2019 before he acted on that plan, said the Crown. During the bail hearing, Kliewer argued that if Ortis had carried out his plan, the consequences would have been catastrophic for the security of Canada, its allies and intelligence agents in the field.

A second excerpt reads:

The RCMP seized five laptops, three cellphones, five portable hard drives, 10 memory sticks and a few pre-paid SIM cards from Ortis’s condo in Ottawa.

Although some of his computer tools were encrypted, at least one laptop was accessible without a password, which allowed RCMP experts to move quickly.

Investigators found 488 classified documents in a laptop under a folder called “Batman,” prosecutors said.

Based on the dates on the documents, investigators concluded they had been printed mostly on weekends and holidays, when fewer colleagues would have been in the office to see Ortis at work.

Prosecutors said Ortis removed the headers and footers from certain documents before transforming them into PDFs, to make them untraceable.

Spy fiction

The CBC story brings to mind previous posts about spy fiction:

Walt Disney steered well clear of ambiguity; John le Carré thrives on it; that said, respective story architectures are identical

An excerpt reads:

A key point is that despite apparent differences, in relation to how ambiguity is dealt with, both traditional Disney animation and traditional spy fiction are fundamentally alike.

Each genre presents a characteristic narrative arc. In each genre there is a set of problems and, in the final scene, a solution is enacted. The underlying narrative structure is identical.

Mr. Putin (2015) illustrates that you can write a first-rate biography even if standard biographical details are missing

An excerpt reads:

You don’t need to know every detail about a character

As noted at a previous post, storytelling can take many forms. Non-fiction, book-length storytelling is one such form.

Mr. Putin (2015) is of much interest to me because it demonstrates storytelling at its finest.

In particular, it demonstrates that storytellers can do wonderful things, even when reliable information, about the key character in a story, is absent.

As the authors of the story, Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, demonstrate, you don’t need to know every detail about a character, in order to tell a great story about the person.

In Search of the Third Man (2000), a study by Charles Drazin, examines the making of The Third Man (1949), based on Graham Greene’s novel

An excerpt reads:

The storyline in The Third Man (1949) hinges on a situation where a person who was believed to have been killed, and whose body was allegedly buried, turns up alive and well at a critical juncture in the narrative. In the film, as many critics have noted, many elements work together well – including the zither music featuring The Third Man Theme.

Irregular warfare

I am reminded as well of two additional previous posts:

Military history, irregular warfare, scams, and formative experiences

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2017) provides a good overview of “irregular warfare” in the Second World War

RCMP faces dire challenges

I am reminded as well that a Nov. 7, 2023 Global News article is entitled: “RCMP ‘cannot function’ effectively on national security threats: committee.”

An excerpt reads:

Canada’s national police force cannot effectively counter serious extremist and criminal threats and urgently needs a major overhaul according to a new report from an all-party national security committee.

The starkly-worded report, released by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), stated the RCMP cannot operate as “effectively as it must” to protect Canadians from serious national security and criminal threats.

The core of the issue is the balance between federal policing operations – things like national security and transnational crime investigations – and the RCMP’s responsibilities for what’s known as “contract policing” in provinces and territories.

The Mounties’ “long focus” on contract policing has led to a situation where the force “cannot function as effectively as it must” to counter “the most significant national security and criminal threats” to Canadians, the committee’s two-year probe found.

Ubiquity of Artificial Intelligence

When we speak of intelligence, we cannot avoid the ubiquity in news reports about Artificial Intelligence and potential ‘threats to humanity’ associated with it. In this context, A Nov. 27, 2023 Guardian article is entitled: “OpenAI ‘was working on advanced model so powerful it alarmed staff’: Reports say new model Q* fuelled safety fears, with workers airing their concerns to the board before CEO Sam Altman’s sacking.”

An excerpt (I have omitted embedded links) reads:

OpenAI was reportedly working on an advanced system before Sam Altman’s sacking that was so powerful it caused safety concerns among staff at the company.

The artificial intelligence model triggered such alarm with some OpenAI researchers that they wrote to the board of directors before Altman’s dismissal warning it could threaten humanity, Reuters reported.

The model, called Q* – and pronounced as “Q-Star” – was able to solve basic maths problems it had not seen before, according to the tech news site the Information, which added that the pace of development behind the system had alarmed some safety researchers. The ability to solve maths problems would be viewed as a significant development in AI.

3 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 7, 2020 CBC article – that is, three years ago: 2020 – is entitled: “How a high-stakes gambler set authorities on the trail of accused Canadian spy Cameron Ortis: Former RCMP intelligence chief charged with leaking secret operational information to convicted cellphone CEO.”

    An excerpt reads:

    Reviewing a seized computer following Ramos’s arrest, the RCMP discovered that someone had reached out to Ramos and offered to provide him with intelligence information. The Mounties started an investigation, dubbed Project Ace, to find the source of the leak.

    Ortis was arrested in Ottawa on Sept. 12, 2019. Then director general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre (NICC) for more than three years, he was one of the highest-ranking civilian members in Canada’s federal police force, with access to numerous sensitive national and multinational investigations.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Dec. 7, 2020 CBC article, with a link to a 24-minute CBC broadcast, is entitled: “A gambler, cartels and a high-profile arrest inside the RCMP.”

    An excerpt reads:

    It’s been more than a year since Cameron Ortis, the former director-general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre, was arrested and charged under Canada’s Security of Information Act.

    The Fifth Estate’s Bob McKeown discusses the bizarre chain of events that led to Ortis’s arrest, including the vandalism of the graves of a high-stakes gambler’s parents.


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