Canadian Security Magazine

Former RCMP official Cameron Jay Ortis found guilty of breaching secrets law

The Canadian Press   

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By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

A jury has found former RCMP intelligence official Cameron Jay Ortis guilty of breaching Canada’s secrets law.

Jurors declared Ortis guilty of three counts of violating the Security of Information Act and one count of attempting to do so in a verdict delivered on Wednesday.

They also found him guilty of breach of trust and fraudulent use of a computer.


Ortis, 51, had pleaded not guilty to all charges, including breaking the secrets law by revealing classified information to three individuals in 2015 and trying to do so in a fourth instance.

He testified he offered secret material to targets in a bid to get them to use an online encryption service set up by an allied intelligence agency to spy on adversaries.

The Crown argued Ortis lacked authority to disclose classified material and that he was not doing so as part of a sanctioned undercover operation.

Ortis could face a stiff prison sentence.

Following the verdict, Justice Robert Maranger told the court that Ortis’s bail would be revoked prior to sentencing.

As the trial began last month, Ortis pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The defence contended that the former official did not betray Canada, but was rather acting on a “clear and grave threat.”

Ortis led the RCMP’s Operations Research group, which assembled and developed classified information on cybercriminals, terror cells and transnational criminal networks.

He told the jury that in September 2014, he was contacted by a counterpart at a foreign agency who advised him of a particularly serious threat.

Ortis said the counterpart informed him in strict confidence about an online encryption service called Tutanota that was secretly set up to monitor communications of interest.

Ortis said he then quietly devised a plan, dubbed Nudge, to entice investigative targets to sign on to the encryption service, using promises of secret material as bait.

“Cameron Ortis was not and is not an enemy to the RCMP, or to the citizens of Canada,” defence lawyer Jon Doody told jurors.

The company, now known as Tuta, denies having ties to intelligence agencies.

Although Ortis asked one target for thousands of dollars before he would send full versions of sensitive documents, there was no evidence he received money from the individuals he contacted.

“Was there a profit motive? Maybe,” said prosecutor Judy Kliewer. “It’s not something the Crown has to prove.”

Even so, the prosecution portrayed Ortis as self-serving and reckless, flouting rules and protocols on a solo mission that sabotaged national security and even endangered the life of a genuine undercover officer.

The Crown, which called several current and former RCMP employees to testify, argued that no one other than Ortis had heard of operation Nudge and that no records of the project could be found.

Kliewer described Ortis as an evasive witness with a selective memory, saying he simply “can’t be believed.”

Ortis was taken into custody in September 2019.

The trail to his arrest began the previous year when the RCMP analyzed the contents of a laptop computer owned by Vincent Ramos, chief executive of Phantom Secure Communications, who had been apprehended in the United States.

An RCMP effort known as Project Saturation revealed that members of criminal organizations were known to use Phantom Secure’s encrypted communication devices.

Ramos would later plead guilty to using his Phantom Secure devices to help facilitate the distribution of cocaine and other illicit drugs to countries including Canada.

A retired RCMP investigator told the jury he found an email to Ramos from an unknown sender with portions of several documents, including mention of material from the federal anti-money laundering agency, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as Fintrac.

The sender offered to provide Ramos with the full documents in exchange for $20,000.

Ortis acknowledged in court that he was behind the communications to Ramos and others, saying it was all part of the clandestine operation involving Tutanota.

A statement of agreed facts in the case said information sent anonymously to Ramos, Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf — as well as material intended for Farzam Mehdizadeh — was “special operational information” within the meaning of the Security of Information Act.

The lengthy statement said that from at least 2014, the RCMP and multiple enforcement and intelligence agencies of Canada’s close allies were investigating money laundering activities conducted by various entities associated with Altaf Khanani, a Dubai-based money service businesses owner.

Henareh and his companies Persepolis International and Rosco Trading, Ashraf and his company Finmark Financial, and Farzam Mehdizadeh and his firm Aria Exchange were subjects of the investigation in Canada.

In tying Ortis to the information disclosures, the Crown walked the jury through materials on a memory key seized during a search of Ortis’s downtown Ottawa home upon his arrest.

In his testimony, the former intelligence official generally played down the sensitivity of the information he shared.

Kliewer painted a far more damaging scenario, saying the materials could allow targets to evade law-enforcement efforts and frustrate police progress against criminal networks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

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