Last week, I said the Commissioner of the RCMP needed to communicate with Canadians about the senior employee of the Force who was arrested last week and to discuss what had happened and what the risk was to the country. Cameron Ortis was charged with five counts, three under what was formerly called the Official Secrets Act and two Criminal Code violations including Breach of Trust by a Public Official.
Well, the Commissioner held a press conference on Tuesday and gave us some information but still left a lot of questions, but at least it was a good start.
Brenda Lucki was appointed to the commissioner’s position last year after a search committee headed by former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna recommended her to the Prime Minister. Until Tuesday she had been remarkably quiet in terms of having a public profile.
Events of last week have forced her hand and, good for her, she accepted the challenge the situation presented.
Lucki wasn’t able to provide much in the way of details, but she did provide some insight into what is the largest breach of security in RCMP history.
What we do know is that the Mounties were working with the FBI looking into a Canadian company based in Vancouver that was selling re-programmed cellphones, primarily Blackberrys, enabled with specialized encryption that police were not able to penetrate and monitor.
In turn, they routed the encrypted traffic through offshore servers in places like Panama to make things even more difficult for law enforcement.
We don’t know how the FBI got on to this, but we can guess it was because of an arrest of someone with one of these devices that forensic analysis showed the non-standard encryption.
Because their investigation involved a Canadian company, the RCMP became involved in the endeavours of the FBI. According to Lucki, during that investigation information became apparent that there was a leak or source of information within the RCMP. Their worst nightmare.
The Mounties did what they had to do without letting Ortis know they were on to him and to let him continue doing what he was doing. Digging himself a deeper hole as it were.
That is all as it should be and the Force appears to have acted appropriately once they learned of the information breach.
But, what we don’t yet know is what the breach entailed and was national security involved? If the breach involved is just the encryption of handheld devices for about 40,000 of the world’s bad guys, that’s bad enough. If some of those bad guys were involved with nation states, that’s another thing entirely.
Spies use things like encrypted devices. What was Ortis’ involvement? Did he, with his expertise, design the encryption the bad guys were using? Or perhaps, just advising? We don’t know and Lucki was not forthcoming.
What she did say that was enlightening was tacitly admitting that the RCMP were in fact investigating the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the involvement of the Prime Minister and his office as well as senior members of the Privy Council Office including Michael Wernick who resigned as a result of the exposure of his actions.
We are left in the midst of an election campaign with a Prime Minister whose government is involved in at least one RCMP investigation perhaps more. That is an issue.
Lucki didn’t say specifically, but what might happen if in 4 weeks Trudeau is re-elected as PM and the RCMP complete their investigation and determine the Prime Minister should be charged with the crime of attempting to obstruct justice?
That is the difficulty with not being forthright with Canadians.