Tinker, Tailor, Friend of Bob’s

Is he a spy? Is he a criminal?  Or was he just an academic who turned out to be not quite the wunderkind that the upper management of the RCMP purported him to be. 

Who is this 47 year old Cameron Ortis? Someone out of a le Carre novel? A dysfunctional nerd? Someone living quietly in the shadows, but craving adrenalin? A crass profiteer? It is likely that the eventual story will be some combination of all of the above. 

As John Le Carre said in his most famous of novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy “the more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal”.

But whoever he is, or was, or wanted to be, things didn’t turn out for him as well as he expected considering his somewhat blessed rise in the RCMP. 

Mr. Ortis joined the RCMP, in 2007, coming in from the academic cold; after having obtained a PhD in International Relations from the University of British Columbia. It may prove relevant to his eventual court case to note that Mr. Ortis spoke Mandarin and for his Phd had travelled extensively through China. As part of that thesis he interviewed many individuals in the underground world of hacking in China.

By 2016, nine years into his job, he had convinced many of his ability to lead, and was promoted to being the Director General of the National Intelligence Coordination Centre. 

This is also the unit responsible for the RCMP efforts against cybercrime.  As originally structured, the Cyber Crime Fusion Centre stood on its own but in 2014 was placed under the aegis of the National Intelligence Coordination Centre. This higher profile for the Centre resulted in greater funding and resourcing with the inclusion of that cybercrime responsibility. Mr.Ortis with his academic background in cybercrime was therefore, it would have been argued, a natural fit.

It was in November 2011 that Bob Paulson became the Commissioner of the RCMP.

Clearly the appointment and some level of friendship Cameron Ortis enjoyed with the new Commissioner aided in this bureaucratic re-structuring as well as his rise in status. Global News quotes four high level sources who all say that Paulson was “instrumental” in Ortis’s rapid rise in the RCMP.  It was in 2016 that Ortis was promoted to the Director of the Centre by Paulson and the Executive Committee of the RCMP. He also became the first-ever civilian director-general. 

Since the arrest of Mr. Ortis now ex-Commissioner Paulson is backing away from his relationship from Ortis; saying only that “they had a friendly relationship” and then playing with semantics said  “I never personally promoted him”…but he was “ always impressed with him”.  

The Globe and Mail reported that Paulson even attempted to convert Mr. Ortis to a cop, rather than remain a civilian member, but ran into opposition from the uniform ranks.

As the Director General Mr. Ortis would have been cleared Top Secret and he would have enjoyed access to human sources and learned covert methods of information collection; not just by Canada but by other allied agencies. He would also have had access to the Canadian top secret network often referred to as “Mandrake”. This network links twenty different Federal Departments and distills the most important and secretive information flowing between them.  

It all came to an end for Mr. Ortis in 2019 when the coy and secretive Clark Kent look a like, was officially charged with eight counts under the Security of Information Act as well as the Criminal Code for Breach of Trust and Unauthorized use of a Computer. These multiple charges concerned passing on secrets to a foreign entity in 2015 and that he was gathering information in 2018 to do the same– that he had taken “steps to access, for concealing, or surreptitiously obtaining information”.

Commissioner Lucki later described these events as “unsettling” and that she was “shaken”, but maintained that all was well in terms of the RCMP relationship to the other intelligence partners. That is probably untrue.

Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” which is an oblique reference to the other countries to which Canada shares or receives information. The United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are part of the group, but it should be pointed out that Canada is usually a “net consumer” of intelligence information. A bureaucratic way of saying that they are given far more information than they provide. 

There is absolutely no way that the Americans and the others would have been pleased nor happy about going into damage control. It would have by necessity caused a long audit of all operations, some with possible major ramifications. The ripple effect of this traitorous behaviour can often be far reaching in the world of the cloak and dagger. It could have endangered lives and significant covert operations around the world. Foreign intelligence cases may have had to have been pulled after being exposed by his subterfuge. 

As a former member of the Security Service, it can be said with little hesitation by this writer, that it was always  pretty well accepted that the United States had very little faith in Canada and would often vet any information given to Canada, fearful of its leaky bureaucracy. This episode is not going to help this decades long fear that others have had with the level of security in the RCMP.  It would be completely natural for all the partners to fall back and reassess all information sharing.

To better understand how Ortis rose through the ranks, one needs to look at the history of this unit .

Ottawa and the focus on Federal policing by the RCMP, was for the most part prompted by the single event of 9/11. 

The shock and exposure that this tragic event exposed was two fold; that North America could be a target, and secondly, that the RCMP in Ottawa was severely lacking in the Federal intelligence sphere. It was discomforting to know that the hijackers came through Canada for a reason. 

The Mounties had already had the Federal Security Service  taken away from them in 1984 (and transformed into CSIS) and they were scrambling to both appear and be relevant to their political bosses.  That effort continues to this day, as the Mounties continue to struggle with the Federal versus Provincial divide. The RCMP is currently a schizophrenic organization, seemingly underpowered and overwhelmed in both mandated spheres. Spread thin many argue with an overwhelming mandate for any singular agency. 

But after 9/11, in all too typical knee jerk fashion, the RCMP began to exponentially expand its Federal presence; re-assigning both manpower and monies in an attempt to grow an FBI style policing model around intelligence gathering and dissemination. This quick expansion was often administratively cumbersome, often amateurish, and often shotgun-like in its approach. 

Some would argue that the Maher Arar episode in 2006 was evidence of this unprofessionalism and due in part to this unbridled expansion.  Suffice to say there are and were some serious growing pains that continue to this day. 

As part of this expansion and the need to demonstrate its prowess the Mounties greatly expanded its analytical role and like CSIS sought out academia. It was hoped that by plumbing the ivory tower this would at the very least add a level of educational sophistication, often difficult to find in the homegrown RCMP members. Like CSIS, the pendulum swung too far.

Management fell in love with the academics, who in turn were pushing away the investigational component and thus downplaying investigational experience. All effort was in exchange for this “enlightened” approach. Mr. Ortis climb to the top was part of this trend.

What is equally interesting is how this genius level Phd, head of an intelligence agency within the National Police Force; with a speciality in cybercrime; how you may ask did he got caught. 

To answer this question there is a great deal of evidence pointing to one individual. Mr. Vincent Ramos. 

Mr. Ramos headed a company called Phantom Secure, or Phantom Security Group. It turns out that Mr. Ramos had come under scrutiny by the Americans as he was pedalling “secure” phones to criminals. These phones allowed those intent on criminality to “go dark” –technically invisible to the authorities. This consisted of removing, using Blackberry phones, the GPS and tracking hardware and install encrypted messaging capabilities. He did this by routing the encrypted data through servers in Hong Kong and Panama while also using hidden usernames. 

To obtain one of these $4,000.00 per year phones, someone, another client, had to vouch for you. By 2018 Ramos and his company had about 10,000 subscribers. Proceeds were kept in cryptocurrencies. 

The attention Mr. Ramos garnered led to a massive investigation, made up of the FBI, the Australian Federal Police and the RCMP —the company business address was in Pickering Ontario. By the end of the American led investigation, over 25 search warrants were executed, and the RCMP had targeted Ramos using an undercover operation in Las Vegas.  

The arrest of Ramos in May of 2019, in San Diego, by the U.S FBI,  then led quite incidentally to the uncovering of an as yet unidentified individual who was  trying to pedal intelligence information to Ramos and his well-connected criminal group.   

The answer to how he got caught? Apparently, our Canadian cyber security expert and head of intelligence had sent an email to the Ramos group “offering valuable information”. 

Thus was borne “Project Ace”.  (The A in the name indicates that it was run out of A Division in Ottawa) . This investigation would therefore have been headed by the SIU in Ottawa, the same investigational group that gave us the Mike Duffy case and the Mark Norman case. One can only hope this turns out a little better.

Mr. Ramos has now been sentenced in the United States, to nine years and forfeited $80 million. 

It should be mentioned that there were other people involved with Ramos; Kim Augustus Rodd  (an Australian Thai citizen), Younes Nasri, Michael Gaboa and Christopher Poquiz. All of whom remain at large. 

After the initial headlines and the “shock” expressed by the Commissioner there have now been a couple of further developments.

Apparently Mr. Ortis had some administrative problems while heading the Intelligence unit. Three former “investigational analysts” (Francisco Chaves, Michael Vladars, and Danya Young)  have launched a civil suit against Ortis and the RCMP for “strange and controlling behaviour” under his direction.

They claim Ortis “misappropriated their work and used it for personal gain”, and further claim that Ortis and therefore complicit senior managers of the RCMP had mishandled the situation to the point that over 1/2 of the analysts had left the organization. In all they are blaming a “failure of leadership”.  

The obvious implication of this civil suit is that Mr. Ortis may have come under some level of managerial investigation prior to his attempts at being a spy. This possibility seems a little weak in terms of whether a human resources complaint would have in the end exposed Mr. Ortis.

Interestingly, neither Paulson or Lucki are named in the suit, although Paulson has already had to answer media questions as to whether he was protecting his friend from the employee complaints of mismanagement.   

The case against Mr Ortis is now before the Ontario Superior Court and by no means is a fait accompli that he will be found guilty of all these charges. There is a possibility that the demands of disclosure to a proper defence, will include presumably asking for names of witnesses and this could reveal some state secrets. Rather than expose these secrets the government could be forced to withdraw certain charges. 

The initial disclosure package contained 14,000 pages, a new normal in terms of the courts. This too could delay the process. It has also been learned that Mr.Ortis apparently kept a number of encrypted computers at home. 

There has long been a long standing saying that only the dumb ones get caught. That can be argued, but if a long history of investigations has taught this writer anything it is that even the good ones make mistakes. That being said, this academic was not that smart in terms of wanting to stray into the dark world. But he was clearly good at impressing those that needed to be impressed. 

Nor does this imply that Mr. Paulson is culpable.

It has long been known that Mr. Paulson was loyal and royally rewarded his faithful followers. (One only needs to check all the promotions his friends received just prior to his departure). Equally, Mr. Paulson in demeanour and in action seemed to want to portray and hangout with the learned academic clan. With his glasses perched at the end of his nose, he seemed intent on promoting the air and idea of being an intellectual constrained in the confines of the RCMP. It is extremely likely that he would have been enthralled with Mr. Ortis.  

It’s now been a year since Ortis’ arrest. In his last court appearance on September 4th., Crown and defence were still struggling with the large disclosure packages and arguments over what will be allowed to be introduced into court, and what will be determined to be too sensitive for the public eyes.

It is expected that the case will go well into next year.

Best bet would be that the Mounties are looking for a guilty plea. Guilty pleas are apt political camouflage and the intelligence partners will be demanding that nothing be revealed. It also seems likely that the upper management of the RCMP would like to avoid putting on display how well they were duped.

Will we ever learn the truth? More likely is that the small beam of truth when and if it finally shines through will have passed through a series of intelligence agency prisms.

Such is the world when one lives in the shadows.

Photo courtesy of Phillip Sidek via Flickr Commons – Some rights Reserved

Correction: This was recently pointed out, quite rightly, by an astute reader:

 “I enjoy your blog posts, and in general consider myself a kindred spirit. I must point out an error in your latest, however–the canard, rolled out again and again by U.S. conspiracy theorists, that “It was discomforting to know that the [9/11] hijackers came through Canada for a reason. ” 
This is incorrect. True, the LAX bomber was intercepted coming through from BC. But none of the 9/11 hijackers had circumvented US immigration controls by coming through Canada. The closest mention one can find of a Canadian connection to this atrocity is in the following article:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/magazine/9-11-saudi-arabia-fbi.html

If the 9/11 commission had identified such a Canadian loophole, it would have said so. 
Canada doesn’t have a perfect record in the intelligence and security field (with the Air India bombing being the most egregious failure on our part to date) but we’ve made some progress. With, as you point out, some backsliding.
My only suggested correction to an otherwise sharp and perceptive blog post.”

Citizen Paulson

The 23rd Commissioner of the RCMP has now entered into the phase of life in policing where you become redundant– back to being one with the people. Some coppers are pushed or dragged kicking and screaming into the older year phase; others just fade out, content in having reached the end worn but intact.

Of course, most doubted whether Mr. Paulson would fade out and spend his time “On Golden Pond“. Most ex-Commissioners seem to feel the need to return, to pad their already lucrative accounts, but also to catch a bit of the remaining light.

We all share some ego, some love of the limelight, no matter how brightly or dimly it lit your career. Some often get hooked on that ill- defined and elusive drug of empowerment that is part and parcel of this policing vocation. In some cases that power was dwindling by the time one leaves, for others their power was more perception than substance. Individual circumstances always fed this self-conceit.

In a recent podcast we heard in a public way from the recently retired Commissioner.

Mr Paulson is inarguably articulate, fluid in his delivery. He transitions gracefully from self-deprecation to being self-aggrandizing.

He chose to speak to an American based podcast; with an American based audience entitled: “The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg” which is a product of MSNBC.

Mr Rosenberg, the host and interviewer has an extensive and impressive legal background; formerly Chief of Staff to FBI Director Jim Comey and Counsel to FBI Director Bob Mueller among his many credits.

Mr. Paulson talked at great length about his career in the RCMP and as a result displayed some insight into his persona, whether it was intentional or not. Sometimes startling in his honesty, but in other instances he was conveniently vague.

Surprisingly and counter to my expectations, in light of Mr. Rosenberg’s legal background, this was far from a hard hitting interview–this was in fact a syrupy love-in. Mr. Rosenberg clearly was a fan of Mr. Paulson and clearly the two had met before and established some sort of relationship. He began by describing Mr. Paulson as “thoughtful”, “progressive” and an “impressive” leader. There is no point in quibbling with this description, but it was clear that Mr. Rosenberg had an American Nelson Eddy view of the Mounties.

Mr. Rosenberg allowed the free-wheeling Mr. Paulson to describe his career unencumbered, free of any questioning or challenges, failing to even come near the edges of some of the controversies which were in play during his reign. Mr. Paulson had clearly prepared and easily embarked on a lengthy running monologue, with Mr. Rosenberg only interjecting in to elaborate or explain what was being said in terms of the function and process in the RCMP.

There is nothing wrong with this type of interview of course, and Mr. Paulson clearly warmed to the style and narrative he was being handed.

The theme of this podcast as we gradually learn, was leadership; the ability to lead and what it takes to be a great leader. It became clear early, that both Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Paulson seem to count themselves as members of this select few.

It was equally clear that Mr. Paulson and Mr. Rosenberg feel that they are now in the world of academia, philosophers rather than practitioners. Now, both safely ensconced in the ivory tower, now willing to share their intimate insider knowledge with the general masses.

It was during this theme of leadership and what had led him down the trail to eventual head of the RCMP that Mr. Paulson talked about his early life with the RCAF. His life as a “fighter pilot”, a Canadian “top gun”.

In the interest of accuracy, this blogger knew Mr. Paulson, but not extensively, and was certainly not one of his seemingly plentiful fawning inner circle. I knew him by personal and professional reputation, by observation of his manner among the police and in the face of the public.

Suffice to say that not all police officers were fans. In fact there was a distinct dichotomy between the lovers and the haters of his style and personality. The Paulson who elicited tears on the national stage when apologizing for the sexual harassment of female members was not the Paulson some of us knew or had seen in action.

One often repeated story included his days as a “fighter” pilot. Why he left was never fully explained. In this podcast he tells his version of what happened.

As it turns out Mr. Paulson got kicked out of the RCAF. Or as he terms it in the podcast “I had a bad go” in the RCAF.

In 1977, Mr. Paulson was an “instructor pilot” who even in his early assessments was accused of having a “downward flowing loyalty”; which apparently in bureaucratic speak, translates to mean that he was concerned with being one of the boys and girls, not too concerned with the organization, or the rules of that organization. He was interested in being “popular”, being their “friend” and “partying” in his own words.

His first major run in with the Air Force authorities occurred when Mr. Paulson had a student pilot, who in turn had a brother who was working at the Pitt Meadows airport control tower; a small airport east of Coquitlam, British Columbia. Mr. Paulson who was instructing on flying in high density airports at the time was in the Vancouver area and decided to stray over to Pitt Meadows– it is pertinent to note that at the time his military jet had no radio communication with civilian air traffic control.

Nevertheless, he decided to go out and do some high speed fly-bys by the small control tower in an obvious attempt to impress the brother of the student. He dived and climbed, spinning through the cloud ceiling in this impromptu air show– oblivious to the fact that he was flying directly into the civilian air path with whom he had no radio contact.

Unfortunately for him, he was observed by a civilian flight instructor who quickly took down the call sign of Mr. Paulson’s aircraft. Fortunately for the general public, there was no fatal air incident that resulted from this early Tom Cruise impression.

The Air Force was not as impressed as the air traffic controller.

He was officially “grounded” and was found guilty of a Code of Justice offence (the Air Force equivalent of a criminal act) and sent to a desk job in North Bay Ontario.

Mr. Paulson has the gift of gab and eventually talked his way once again into the airways, into a limited role of being able to fly Tudor training jets.

He hadn’t learned his lesson though, so this respite didn’t last.

There was a second incident when a warning light came on in the aircraft during one of these training sessions. Aviation protocol dictated that he land for safety purposes, but emergency landing protocol also dictated that he needed to burn off the extra fuel load prior to attempting that landing. Mr. Paulson, being smarter than everyone else including his over-ranking navigator, brought the plane in “heavy”, as they say and ended up almost using up the entire runway and over-heating the plane.

After this second incident, the RCAF sat with Mr. Paulson and told him maybe the Air Force was not to be his true vocation mainly due one assumes due to his lack of judgement and disregard for authority.

In other words he was terminated.

So, while back at school and bar tending at a shady bar for extra monies, Mr. Paulson decided to become a Mountie after meeting a “narc” doing his rounds, becoming enthralled apparently with the policing role.

While going through the application process he decided that being kicked out of the RCAF would not be the best look on his application form. When questioned further by the staffing officer as to why someone as clearly gifted as he would have left the glamour world of flying fighters, he decided to fudge the truth and just said he was “incompatible” with the Armed Forces.

Again, he got caught in the lies and was confronted.

He was told in no uncertain terms that there was no room in the RCMP for “liars”. Remember, in those earlier times applicants were often turned down for seemingly minor matters, such as less than 20/20 eyesight. So the fact that he got caught lying would and should normally have concluded his chances. But, for whatever reason, the interviewer decided to take a chance on him and he was given a “big break” and allowed in to the RCMP.

Mr. Paulson then goes into a fairly lengthy narrative of his mercurial rise to the top of the organization. He related a couple of stories– convincing a heroin addicted female into telling him about her crime spree in Chilliwack. Finishing “first in the country” on the Corporal’s exam while in Comox. He also bonded with the indigenous in Prince Rupert while investigating victims of the residential schools; which he highlighted with a story of crying while embracing an indigenous male. He was trying to make up for the “black marks on the Force” and their role when “the indigenous were ripped from their families”.

“I’m good at talking to people” he underlined.

He tells the story of driving around with his young daughter in tow during his time off, looking to pick up local criminals with warrants for their arrest, and bringing them in to face justice. This reckless behaviour, even in recounting, seemed to be only a display of his determination and drive.

He also confirms that during his rise, his mentor was Gary Bass, then the 2nd highest ranking officer in British Columbia and he became an Inspector in 2001. He was asked to become the Major Case Manager by Bass himself and tasked to go after the Hells Angels in British Columbia. He described the Hells Angels as being untouched “until his arrival”.

His personal determination in his telling of the story led to turning an agent from the Prince George biker chapter, by paying him $50,000. This was “leading edge stuff I was doing”. They were “ultimately successful” and had “several successful prosecutions” although he admitted that they “burned out the agent”.

In this re-telling of course, he is leaving out some of the background story. The project “E-Pandora”, spent $10 million investigative dollars, a total of 18 persons were charged. In the end the Hells Angels were still not declared a “criminal group” by the courts.

Mr. Paulson was promoted again by Mr. Bass, and eventually ended up going to Ottawa in 2006 where he continued to move up and ended up working under Bill Elliott, the first civilian Commissioner of the RCMP.

At that time in history there was an awful lot of talk and innuendo of a backlash against Elliott; stories came out of him having temper tantrums, of fighting with the upper established Mounties. Mr. Paulson would have been in the thick of it and casually makes reference to the Deputy Commissioner under Elliott not liking him.

In the end Mr. Paulson clearly prevailed. He came out of the melee as the new Commissioner and Elliott was sent to Interpol, the police executive equivalent of a lucrative elephant graveyard. Mr. Paulson’s role in all this, knowing his personality, would have been an interesting insight, but was not one which he decided to relate in this podcast.

So in December 2011 Prime Minister Harper appoints Mr. Paulson, despite in Mr. Paulson’s words, there was a lot of “political pressure for someone else”.

The interview only strayed into some of the touchier points during Paulson’s tenure when the topic of “sexual harassment” and the various lawsuits came up.

He admitted that the lawsuits were mounting and he described it as not being “failures of individuals” but “failure of a system”. Of course, there may be many that may take issue with this characterization.

Asked how he dealt with this, Mr. Paulson said that “I brought process to it”.

After ninety minutes and by the end of the podcast one could not help but think that this will not be the last we hear from civilian Paulson.

Apparently he is now lecturing on “leadership” and portraying himself as somewhat of an academic; similar to his old mentor Mr. Bass who now teaches at Simon Fraser University.

It is not easy to sum up Mr. Paulson and his eventual contribution to the history of the RCMP.

While in office, he tried to give the impression of being of the new dynamic, but it was simply not believable. Ultimately, the man appointed by Harper would not be able to adjust to the new progressives, the cowboy had to hand it over to the archetype of modern policing Ms. Lucki.

Nowhere in this regurgitation of the past did he talk about having to testify in Moncton over the delay in carbine rifles and the charges relating to violating the Canadian Labour Code. It was in Moncton that he testified in dramatic fashion that “I am accountable to the safety of my officers”; but then was ridiculed for denying any responsibility in the deaths of the three officers.

At no time did he mention his lack of support for civilian oversight which is now being thrust upon the RCMP.

At no time did he mention the critical report on the RCMP mental health strategy where the RCMP was decried as being “poorly funded, partially implemented, and no one measuring results”.

At no time was it mentioned that the frustration level of the uniform officers led to an uprising where some officers pulled off the yellow stripes from their uniforms.

At no time was it mentioned the stagnating level of pay, the frustration with working conditions, the inability to fill the contracted positions, and the changes to health and dental benefits.

At no time did he answer to the constant criticism of the RCMP being too secretive.

In some ways Mr. Paulson could have been rejected outright as a member of the RCMP, but in the end he rose to the very top. A somewhat remarkable story to be sure– but historians may not end up being as kind to Mr. Paulson as was Mr. Rosenberg.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas , who in writing about death and oblivion said that one should “not go quiet into the night”. Civilian Paulson probably agrees. He even joked during the podcast that he had driven down to the local RCMP office to sign up for the Reserve program of the RCMP.

Of course, he laughed, how could one expect him to be just a Reserve officer?

A leader he may be, you can be the judge, but humility clearly is not one of his strong points.

Photo Courtesy of Luigi Mengato via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved