Catch the rat. Find the mole. It’s the classic scenario of a spy thriller.
Recently, a top spy in the Five Eyes collective—the secretive espionage and intel sharing alliance between agencies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Australia—was caught trying to sell top secret information.
An FBI investigation of Phantom Secure, the encrypted cell phone provider which sold devices to Mexican cartels, uncovered a secret Canadian mole who allegedly offered its CEO Vincent Ramos intel on the investigations surrounding his company.
Without knowing the anonymous leaker, the Canadian feds began the slow process of paring down the list of who the potential mole could be. This led them to a top cybersecurity expert and head of an intelligence unit that had access to not only Canadian spycraft, but to international intelligence shared between the top secret collective.
James Ortis, the alleged mole, had his hands on things like heavily guarded NOC lists (“Non-Official-Cover" spies, or double agents in the employ of intelligence agencies), international terrorism investigations, the clandestine surveillance records of cartels, and much more.
The leak is so unprecedented for Canada, the usually cagey RCMP, the country’s federal policing agency, issued an uncharacteristically forthright statement following Ortis’ arrest.
“The charges against a senior employee of the RCMP for alleged criminality under the Criminal Code and the Security of Information Act have shaken many people throughout the RCMP, particularly in Federal Policing,” it said. “While these allegations, if proven true, are extremely unsettling, Canadians and our law enforcement partners can trust that our priority continues to be the integrity of the investigations and the safety and security of the public we serve.”
Just what else was leaked, and the fallout from Ortis’ alleged betrayal has yet to be determined, but a breach from the “insider threat”—an employee of a spy agency—is almost impossible to defend against. As it stands, it appears Ortis wasn’t doing this on ideological grounds, like say, a communist-sympathizing Westerner who might’ve sold to the KGB during the Cold War. Instead, it was for cash. That means the list of suitors for that type of intel could range from hostile foreign powers like Russia or China, to bikers and mafia outfits.
Ortis is charged with five criminal counts including the rarely used Canadian version of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the leaking of secrets to a foreign power. He is awaiting trial in Canada. It’s believed his arrest is expected to be part of a global intelligence operation that will crackdown on a global, covert network of intel leakers.
To breakdown this monumental intelligence breach on CYBER, we have former Canadian spy Stephanie Carvin, who is a former CSIS (Canadian CIA) analyst turned academic at Carleton University and host of the Intrepid Podcast.
“You don't often hear the term Canadian spy,” said Carvin, but nonetheless this is, “a serious story because the consequences could be so potentially severe."