09 February 2013

STAR PHOENIX: Canadian Naval intelligence is missing the boat

It is scandalous enough that a Canadian navy intelligence officer stole and sold secrets to the Russians. What's even more scandalous is that Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle smuggled those secrets out of the Navy's Halifax intelligence headquarters on floppy discs.

Who uses floppy discs anymore? They only have been obsolete for about 10 years. Computers that accept floppies you don't even see any more at SARCAN's recycling depot.

Along with the stone tablet, the papyrus scroll and the computer punch card, the floppy disk is ancient history, I would have expected.

To learn, then, that floppies are still being used at naval intelligence headquarters is not encouraging. It's as if the navy was still arming warships with muzzle-loading cannon.

If nothing else, perhaps this spy scandal will finally provide the impetus for naval intelligence to replace its Commodore 64s.

It is scandalous, too, that Delisle was able to copy any secrets at all. Secure computer networks normally are set up to block illicit copying and flag any such attempts. Del-isle should have been caught in July 2007, the first time he clicked on "download."

He also should have been caught in the fall of 2011 when a Canadian border agent found $50,000 in cash and prepaid credit cards in his luggage when he returned from a trip to Brazil.

The agent would not have known Delisle had met there with his Russian handlers, but the cash in his bags, his lack of a suntan and his apparent ignorance of Brazil's most popular tourist sites were suspicious enough to warrant a report from the border agent. Almost unbelievably, it did not prompt any kind of investigation.

There could be a legitimate explanation for a junior naval intelligence officer returning from Brazil with $50,000 and no tan or snapshots, but you'd think that someone in the vast Canadian security apparatus would have wanted to hear it.

Red flags all over the place went unnoticed. Delisle was known by his superiors to have money problems, an unravelling marriage and, somehow, the means for international travel. Maxwell Smart would have ordered a security review on the strength of those warning signs, but the navy did not.

Canadian intelligence authorities were only alerted to Delisle's activities two months later by a tip from the FBI. We had to hear from the Americans what was going on in our own naval intelligence headquarters.

How unimpressed with our security apparatus the Americans must be, all the more so when their defence secrets, shared with Canada, were among those sold by Delisle to the Russians. Our allies will think twice before they share secrets with us again.

A senior military intelligence officer described as "exceptionally grave" the damage done by Delisle to Canada's national interest. It will not be undone by sending him to jail for 20 years.

What I would like to know is whether any effort was made to salvage something from the mess by using Del-isle as a double agent.

By feeding phoney secrets through Delisle to the Russians, they could have been steered in all kinds of wrong directions. We could have had Russian spies tramping through waist-deep snow in rural Quebec for a glimpse of our new, top-secret maple syrup bomb, say. We could have let the Russians think just before the looming Winter Olympics that their top hockey players are CIA spies.

We could have drummed up work for Ottawa dry-wallers by letting them think their embassy was bugged.

We could have fed the Russians tantalizing details and maybe even photographs of our new, invisible jet fighter.

"But Jeffrey, I don't see a jet fighter here."

"Of course you can't see it. It's invisible"

If we could convince the Russians we had invisible jet fighters, we could save a lot of money on actual jet fighters. We then could use that money to buy some modern computers for naval intelligence headquarters.

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