01/18/2012 12:46 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

The Spy Who's Still Out in the Cold


Few things are more enticing for the media than a juicy spy case.

Just how juicy the espionage scandal against navy Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle will be, is as yet unknown. But there's a taste of blood.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is inadvertently doing his best to increase mystery and tension by refusing to identify (or speculate) on which country the junior intelligence officer was presumably spying for -- or at least supplying with security information.

The fact that Russia confirms, through Izvestia, that they were the recipients, it's fair to assume that . . . wait for it! . . . Russia was the recipient, thereby scooping both Defence Minister MacKay and our top soldier Gen. Walt Natynczyk, both of whom won't talk.

What can be assumed in the Delisle spy case is that evidence is waterproofed as much as possible. The Canadian government doesn't act impetuously in spy cases. Also, Delisle is unlikely to have had sensitive military information, because the U.S. informs its allies on a "need to know" basis--despite the new claim that Delisle had "access to to national defence nerve centre."

So why is Peter MacKay being so mushy?

In the bad old days of the Cold War, the idea of a Canadian naval officer supplying secrets to the Soviets would have had the public both alarmed and outraged.

But today? Hmm. More peculiar than sinister.

Russia today is not the Soviet Union of yesterday. As far as is known, Vladimir Putin is not inclined towards world domination, or subverting, undermining, or sabotaging countries that are not in the Russian orbit.

What, one wonders, are the "secrets" S/Lt. Deslisle would be handing off or peddling to the Russians? We don't have much of a navy these days, and telling the Russians (presuming Delisle was) which dry-dock our four aging submarines (that the British conned us into buying) are being repaired in, can't be a much of an espionage coup. Our subs have difficulty going underwater.

Snitching on the strategic intentions of our coastal ships -- frigates, destroyers, whatever -- doesn't mean much. It's unlikely the Canadian navy would have access to what, say, the U.S. navy is up to, or where its nuclear submarines are targeting.

Supposedly the Russians are interested in our underwater surveillance technology, and our activities and detection capabilities under the polar ice. Fair enough. But Russian underwater and polar technology is so superior to ours, that there's little they could learn from us.

Whatever Russian submarines may be doing under the polar ice right now, it's a good bet that we haven't a clue about it. Nor do we want to know, because if we did we'd probably have to do something.

Apparently, S/Lt Delisle was posted at the HMCS Trinity communications centre in Halifax. According to the Globe and Mail this may turn into the biggest spy scandal in Canada in the past 50 years. Hunh. So the Globe and the media hope . . . .

Of course the military should be concerned about espionage within its ranks.

If found guilty, any punishment dished out to Delisle is warranted. But the damage he may have inflicted on us or our allies is of the embarrassing kind, and unlikely to undermine or expose operational plans.

Last year the U.S. expelled 11 people who were part of a Russian espionage ring; in Canada CSIS identified someone whom it felt was working for Russian intelligence. That's routine in international diplomacy.

Defence Minister MacKay, who seems a bit lost in this whole business, has tried to assure the nation that "our allies have full confidence in Canada."

Oh? Surely that's an assessment our allies should make, not a Canadian politician. Likely, confidence in Canada stems from the fact that perhaps our allies don't tell us much -- and why should they, if we aren't involved?

Meanwhile Russia has its own internal problems.