Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle's surprise guilty plea yesterday means that not only will highly classified intelligence be kept out of the courts, but it now may never be known why the leaks were undetected.
Delisle, a naval officer stationed in Halifax, pleaded guilty in Nova Scotia Provincial Court to communicating safeguarded information and breach of trust.
"Can you imagine how many sighs of relief are being breathed in the corridors of Ottawa?" said intelligence expert Wesley Wark of the Munk Centre for International Studies. "This would have been a complicated long-running case with lots of diplomatic embarrassment."
The techniques Delisle used were antiquated in terms of today's cyberworld sophistication. "A floppy disk, for God's sake", says Wark, and a USB key were the means of transporting information out of HMCS Trinity, an intelligence facility at the naval dockyard on Halifax's waterfront.
"Co-workers in sensitive areas are meant to keep an eye on each other. If they spot something they consider a bit fishy, then they are supposed to be part of the security web. It sounds like it was a security breakdown at potentially many, many different levels," according to Wark.
Information presented at Delisle's bail hearing detailed how Delisle would browse for material on the secure computer at Trinity, save it in the notepad feature, then transfer it to a floppy disk drive. He would take the floppy out of the secure computer, transfer it to an unsecure system and make a USB copy. After taking the USB home, he would access an email account given to him by the Russians and write in drafts. None of the material was ever transmitted, but the Russians could access the account and read the drafts.
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Wark also points out that the other members of the "Five Eyes", the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, might have reason to be upset by Delisle's spying. "What Delisle might have been able to tell the Russians that's very, very damaging is how the communications systems themselves worked and the codes and processes they used to protect secrets. If the Russians have that, it's a huge advantage for them, it's a key into communications systems of not just Canada but all of our allies."
It's not known what information Delisle shovelled to the Russians, and even he may not remember since he wrote over each previous email draft as he sent a new one, but court information suggests the Russians were most interested in Russian mafia activity within Canada and its "Five Eyes" allies.
Wark has an article in the Ottawa Citizen going into more detail about his concerns that the secrecy surrounding the case isn't going to allow for a proper public consideration of the issues involved, whether domestic or international.