The jury will hear closing arguments today in the trial of a former senior RCMP intelligence official accused of offering top-secret information to police targets for money.
Cameron Ortis has pleaded not guilty in Ontario Superior Court to six charges, including four counts under the Security of Information Act — the law that’s meant to guard Canada’s secrets.
The Crown alleges the former civilian member used his position within the RCMP — leading an intelligence unit that had access to Canadian and allied intelligence — to attempt to sell secrets to individuals on the RCMP’s radar.
Ortis is accused of leaking special operational information to Phantom Secure CEO Vincent Ramos — who sold encrypted cellphones to organized crime members — and Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf, two men police suspected of being agents of an international money-laundering network with ties to terrorists.
He’s also accused of trying to leak information to Farzam Mehdizadeh. One RCMP witness told Ortis’s trial he believes Mehdizadeh worked with “the most important money launderers in the world.”
Ortis, however, has told the court he never intended to sell information to anyone — that he was actually working on a secret mission from a foreign agency. Ortis said the plan was to lure criminals to an encrypted email service to allow authorities to collect intelligence about them. The email service has called Ortis’s claims “completely false.”
Ortis said he sent the information to police targets in order to prove his “bona fides.”
The accused said he didn’t brief his superiors on what he’d heard from the foreign agency because he had agreed to strict caveats requested by his foreign contact.
He also said he was worried about moles inside law enforcement.
“I had sensitive information from multiple sources that each of the subjects had compromised or penetrated Canadian law enforcement agencies,” Ortis testified earlier this month.
Crown accuses Ortis of ‘enabling’ targets
During cross-examination, prosecutor John MacFarlane accused Ortis of helping the very people police were watching.
“You were enabling them. Sending them RCMP information so they could avoid detection from the RCMP. Isn’t that right?” he said.
Ortis said his operation, which he dubbed Project Nudge, was “simply designed to nudge” the police targets toward the encrypted email service.
“That’s it. No disruption, no enabling, no criminal investigations. It was simply an intelligence operation to nudge them towards a secured e-mail provider,” he said.
Hundreds of pages have been entered into evidence in Ortis’s trial. They include emails Ortis said he sent to the police targets.
In emails to Ramos, he pitched a “business proposition” and asked for $20,000 “in cash (firm)” in exchange for police intelligence. The jury has heard there is no evidence Ortis ever received money for the information.
The Crown also read Ortis’s web searches into the record. They include a search for “top 10 tips for counter-surveillance while walking” and “how to avoid video surveillance cameras and avoid facial [recognition].”
Ortis said those searches were for a training program he was putting together for his team members.
MacFarlane also asked Ortis why he looked up information online about Kim Philby, a British intelligence officer who was a double agent. He was part of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring which provided intelligence to the Russians during the Second World War and the early part of the Cold War.
“All these web searches are in the exact time when you’re communicating special operational information to alleged criminals?” MacFarlane asked.
Ortis said he was doing a “risk assessment” for the RCMP on Edward Snowden, who leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013.
The unprecedented trial has taken close to eight weeks to get to this point. It’s the first time Security of Information Act charges have been tried out in court.