POLITICS

Jeffery Delisle Spy Case Comes Amid Navy Intelligence Overhaul

01/22/2012 02:57 EST | Updated 03/23/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - An unfolding spy drama involving a junior Canadian officer comes amid a determined effort by the Royal Canadian Navy to improve and expand its own intelligence capacity.

Over the last two years, military planners working for the head of the navy have been drawing a "road map" in order to provide decision-makers and warships at sea with better information on possible threats to domestic waters and among international shipping lanes, a series of internal documents reveal.

The strategy was widely circulated among senior echelons of the navy in 2010, according to a briefing list obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws.

It could prove to be an intelligence bonanza in the wrong hands, providing insight into how Canadians gather their information.

Neither the Harper government, nor National Defence will say whether Sub-Lt. Jeffery Delisle had access to the strategy — or early drafts of it.

Just what a potential spy might have been after and for whom has been the subject of frenzied speculation.

Officials have refused to discuss any and all aspects of the case.

Delisle's career trajectory took him through some of the most senior, sensitive posts within the military, including the Chief of Defence Intelligence section, the Strategic Joint Staff and the highly-secure naval intelligence centre known as Trinity.

At Trinity, the accused spy could have had access to so-called tactical level secrets, such as ship movements and plans.

But defence and intelligence experts say the real gold for a foreign power — be it Russia or some other nation — would lay in the country's methods, code words, and placement of assets — both human and electronic.

The 40-year-old is accused, under the Security of Information Act, of leaking information to a "foreign entity" and breach of trust — violations that if proven in court could land him a sentence of life in prison.

The proposed intelligence road map was the subject of nearly a dozen high-level briefings over the last 20 months, mostly to the former head of the navy, retired vice-admiral Dean McFadden, who has since been replaced by Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison.

Concurrent with the development of the new strategy, the navy conducted a highly-secret review of its intelligence operations and staff, the findings of which were presented in an Oct. 27, 2010 briefing.

There was considerable internal debate about deploying naval intelligence teams and whether the service, which has struggled in recent years with staffing, could afford the manpower.

National Defence was unable to provide comment on the road map strategy and the review when questioned on Friday.

Defence expert Christian Leuprecht said the Delisle case is bound to raise some uncomfortable questions for the country's security agencies — particularly when it comes to the security screening of officers.

While still a reservist in the late 1990s Delisle declared bankruptcy, a fact that would have shown up in his background check prior to joining the regular forces in 2001 and when he applied to become an officer.

"That should have set off a red flag right there," said Leuprecht. "Nobody picked up on this? This guy had financial trouble for years. This guy was vulnerable."

What prompted the navy to embark on the intelligence review is somewhat unclear, but clues abound in a wider series of internal documents.

Separate briefings to Defence Minister Peter MacKay and his deputy that look back on operations against Somali pirates off east Africa suggest the navy felt it needed better real-time data and analysis about potential threats and ship movements.

There was discussion about deploying a CP-140 Aurora patrol plane to beef up information gathering and better intelligence was seen as a necessity if Canada was to "assume command roles" on such missions.

Part of the overall appears to have been motivated by the Harper's government's increased concern about migrant ships and human smuggling.