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.”

Did the RCMP purposely aid the Liberals in the election?

On September 24 2019 Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives announced to the public that there would be an impeachment inquiry of the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. It had all been initiated by a “whistleblower”, and for the last month there have been a half dozen witnesses paraded before the Justice Committee overseeing the “investigation”. Most of their evidence has already been corroborated by a team of investigators. Several persons including the U.S. Attorney General William Barr have been implicated.

Let’s compare the speed and efficacy of the U.S. with the Canadian ability to investigate political over-toned “investigations”.

Go back to February 2019, when former Attorneys General Peter McKay and Douglas Lewis (albeit Conservatives under Harper and Mulroney) in an open letter to the RCMP requested that the RCMP investigate “fully and fairly” allegations of obstruction on the part of Justin Trudeau and several of his inner circle. In total, five former attorneys-general also came forward, calling for this same investigation.

An official complaint which would under normal circumstances trigger a formal “investigation”. This is relevant because the RCMP from the beginning, in the odd public utterance or reference, has been glossing over the “investigation” terminology. This in itself should raise an eyebrow.

Is it that they don’t like to implicate themselves in anything for which they will be asked to be accountable? Are they reluctant to even go so far as to use the very phrase just to avoid any taint associated with the word “investigation”?

Even seven months after this initial complaint, in August, the RCMP stated in a press release that “The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate steps as required” according to spokesperson Chantal Payette. Examining? Carefully?

It is not often that one sees this obvious dancing on the head of a pin. An investigation being referred to as a “careful” examination. The evidence was continuing to mount that the RCMP was more than reluctant to call this an investigation. Any reason for this terminological dance could only come down to politics.

The “careful examination” wording came in spite of a separate report from the Ethics Commissioner which was issued this summer. In the report the Ethics Commissioner concluded rather emphatically that indeed the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had in fact violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion stated in his findings that Trudeau had “improperly pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reach a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin”.

The Ethics commissioner’s report did not stop there. It described:” flagrant attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould…directly and through the action of his agents to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

We also learned, maybe even more significantly, that even though the Ethics Commission produced their report, they also remarked that their investigation had in effect been hampered in gathering the testimony of nine (9) witnesses. It had effectively been blocked from gathering further evidence by the Prime Minister’s office.

Mr. Dion was damning in his criticism: “Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are the subject to the regime I administer. ”

This of course created a bit of kerfuffle in those old limestone buildings and a tingling in the groin of the Conservatives. So the matter which had begun to fade from the public conscience came to life once again.

All the righteous Liberals who were implicated, pointed to the clerk of the Privy Counsel Office, Ian Shugart, as their scapegoat. They said it was out of their hands because Mr. Shugart was, conveniently, described as the ultimate guardian of “cabinet confidences”. To underline their lack of culpability, Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, said that the PMO had no role in the Clerk’s decision. However, he didn’t dawdle on the fact that Trudeau could have waived that privilege.

In other words the foxes were guarding the henhouse.

Now, in a freely functioning and unencumbered police agency, whose job is to ferret out crime, you would have thought this alone would have spurred the Mounties to at least think that they needed to get moving on their separate investigation.

There are a small group of people who would be central to this “investigation” or “examination”. That would be of course, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick. They testified in a very public forum, to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in late February and March of 2019.

In other words the version of three of the key players, all of which would have to be instrumental in any complaint of obstruction had now exposed the details, in their respective versions of course. Or as Wilson-Raybould likes to call it “her truth”. She also later revealed that in the spring of 2019 she had already been interviewed by the RCMP.

It is indeed rare for any investigator or investigative team, to have the bulk of the statement evidence handed to them on a platter and already on the public record, which would it make it difficult to refute at some later date. The speed of this investigation and the complexity of it was greatly aided by these details, making it even more difficult for someone to argue that this was a long drawn out investigative process.

There was a bit of a slip up in this iron curtain that had been put up by the Commissioner when on September 17, 2019 Lucki during a news conference which had been called to deal with the latest embarrassment for the the RCMP. Wannabe spy, Cameron Ortis (an apparently favoured child of ex-Commissioner Bob Paulson but that may be another blog) had been found out and charged with seven counts of having contravened the Security of Information Act.

It was during this rather painful press conference that Lucki was asked– off topic –about the SNC-Lavalin investigation. The ever smiling cherub faced Lucki grew a little ashen, stumbled a bit, but came back with:

“Today we are here for the Ortis investigation so I don’t want to comment very much…but we do take all investigations seriously and investigate to the fullest”. The counter narrative to this of course would be that the RCMP doesn’t investigate fully and some of those investigations are not to be taken seriously.

Lucki however with her repost did not get her out from under the press glare. After the press conference was over, no doubt once she was back in the safe hands of the media liasion group, she discovered that she had gone off her earlier practised talking points. She had committed the sin of referring to the matter an “investigation” and not an “examination”.

That political tiger, Andrew Scheer, hiding in the Conservative weeds leaped on this quickly; tweeting immediately that his nemesis Justin was in fact “under investigation.”

The Mounties had to act quickly.

An RCMP spokesperson Cpl Caroline Duval came to the rescue of Commissioner Lucki and provided a clarification. She re-framed the words of her boss saying that her leader’s statement was just “a general statement about investigations”. She was able to say this with a straight face. For good measure she underlined the fact that “The RCMP will not comment on the SNC-Lavalin issue”.

Phew, back to calling it an “issue”, not an “investigation”. Scheer had to take back his tweet as a result of the RCMP clarification.

Since September and up to the time of this blog, the RCMP are still saying nothing. The usual “no comment”— a stance which seems to be becoming commonplace under Ms. Lucki’s reign.

In October just before the election, the Globe and Mail further revealed that the RCMP will put the investigation on “hold” pending the “election”. In the Globe story they confirmed that there was indeed an “investigation” into the SNC-Lavalin affair, and that the Mounties had been stymied, like the Ethics Commission, by the lack of witnesses or documentation that would support the allegations due to cabinet privilege.

The decision to put any investigation on “hold” pending the election is alarming.

If true, the RCMP may have crossed the line. Were they now purposefully aiding the Liberals in the election?

At this time it might be beneficial to go back in history. One must also keep in mind that Commissioner Lucki at that time was reporting to Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety.

Back in 2006, we were also in the midst of an election campaign, one which eventually would bring Harper to power. The Liberals were suffering in that the “sponsorship scandal” was tainting them; although still leading in the polls.

The RCMP Commissioner at the time was Giuliano Zaccardelli, who announced during this election period that there was a criminal investigation into an alleged leak from the Federal budget. The Liberals had decided not to tax income trusts and that information leaked out from somewhere in the Finance Department.

Commissioner Zaccardelli named Ralph Goodale in that investigation and there were calls for his resignation. Goodale was eventually cleared and an official in the Finance department was eventually charged. Many argued at the time that this allegation and investigation was a fatal blow to the Liberal campaign, who ended up losing to Harper.

The RCMP complaints commissioner of that time looked into the matter, but concluded that there was no evidence that Zaccardelli meddled in the election for political purposes. Interestingly, Zaccardelli refused to answer questions during the investigation by the complaints commission.

The parallel is obvious and a little disarming.

So what can we conclude from all this?

a) The Mounties would have had to enter into an investigation. Anytime a formal complaint is made, a file is started, a file number assigned. Whether the investigation is big or small. In this case, several individuals had made complaints, and formalized those complaints in writing. If the RCMP did not open a formal complaint, they were simply derelict in their duties. Call it an examination if you are so inclined, but there is no doubt a process was started.

b) What was being alleged is a serious offence.

The definition of Obstruction under Section 139(1) of the Criminal Code: “every one who wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding, a) by indemnifying or agreeing to indemnify a security, in any way and either in whole or in part …”

This is termed an indictable offence; with a maximum 10 year sentence.

c) The investigation may have been hampered by Cabinet confidences which blocked testimony and documentation. But, is there an obligation on the RCMP to report that fact; to report that indeed the investigation had been compromised by the Privy Counsel office and that the PM did not waive those privileges? Does the public have a right to know this fact? Justin Trudeau Prime Minister Mandate Letter to Ralph Goodale in Public Safety, emphasizes the need “to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government”. If only they chose to live by their words.

d) Has sufficient time passed to have conducted this investigation? The complaint was originally received in February 2019, so at the time of this writing nine months have gone by. This is more than sufficient time to have conducted this investigation. The case was not complicated, the numbers involved relatively small and the documentation for the most part would have been emails. The key witness Raybould-Wilson was interviewed in the “spring” and even some of the email documentation was willingly provided by some of the witnesses.

That being said HQ division operates at a pace of a snail on heroin, so it is still possible that they have not concluded their investigation, but investigations besides being competent should also be timely. The Supreme Court Jordan decision was based on this very principle. As was referred to at the beginning of this article, the U.S. may impeach the President before the Mounties can investigate a relatively simple obstruction charge.

For the investigation to still be ongoing is the equivalent of being put on hold in terms of its effect. There is only one political party that would benefit from this. The same party that appointed Lucki as the Commissioner.

It should be stated that this blogger is not convinced that Trudeau and his associate actions in this case were in fact an act of obstruction.

It’s not clear that Trudeau didn’t obstruct justice, but it’s also far from clear whether there is any reasonable expectation of conviction.

Maybe, there is no crime.

Even Wilson-Raybould testifying before the Senate committee said she did not believe that it amounted to a criminal action, but forgive this writer for not holding the legal opinion of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the learned final authority on this matter, especially when she at the time was trying to remain a Liberal.

But we can reach one final conclusion. The RCMP, under Lucki, made a concentrated effort to both downplay the investigation, and then to withhold any results until after the election.

There is only one party that stood to benefit from nothing being said. The same Liberal party that appointed Lucki, and a Liberal party which has now been re-elected with a minority government.

Is it possible that a revelation, whether proven or not, of a criminal investigation of a Prime Minister would have dealt a fatal blow to the Liberals? Equally, is it possible that the RCMP purposefully aided the Liberals in their election?

If there is any element of this thesis which is indeed correct or is later proven to be correct, then it is a very dangerous political game the Mounties are playing, one that could and should result in the removal of the Commissioner if true.

It is a game that has no place in a democratic government.

Photo Courtesy of the RCMP Instagram Some Rights may be Reserved