Former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Ortis asked a subordinate to compile a top-secret report on criminal organizations’ use of encrypted phones a year before prosecutors say he leaked sensitive information to a Canadian accused of selling such devices, the jury in his trial heard earlier this week.
Gregory O’Hayon worked under Ortis in a unit within the RCMP called operation research (OR), which was meant to brief senior leadership on emerging threats based on intelligence gathered by Canada and its allies.
Ortis now faces six charges, including four counts of violating the Security of Information Act, the law meant to prevent leaks of high-value, sensitive information.
The defence team has said Ortis, who has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, has a “compelling story” to tell and that he had the “authority” to do everything he did.
Ortis, who is permanently bound to secrecy, is accused of sharing special operational information “intentionally and without authority” with Vincent Ramos, the head of a company that was providing encrypted phones to criminals, including a drug cartel and a money-laundering syndicate accused of financing terrorists. According to the charge sheet, he’s accused of leaking between Feb. 1 and May 31, 2015.
According to evidence already presented to court, the RCMP was gathering information about Ramos’s company, Phantom Secure, as part of an operation dubbed Project Saturation. The FBI arrested Ramos in the U.S. in 2018, triggering the RCMP’s investigation of Ortis.
According to a redacted transcript of O’Hayon’s testimony, he told the jury he was asked to “synthesize the intelligence” on Phantom Secure.
“And who asked you to do that?” asked Crown prosecutor John MacFarlane.
“The director at the time, Mr. Ortis,” said O’Hayon. “Because at the time, in both the counterterrorism sphere and in organized crime, there was overriding concern about the increasing use of encrypted communications by the organizations and the individuals that we had an interest in.”
Testimony held in-camera
O’Hayon is the second witness to testify in-camera during the trial. A redacted transcript of what the Crown witness told the closed courtroom Wednesday was released to the media Friday.
A consortium of media organizations that includes CBC News fought the move to keep some witnesses’ testimony confidential, but lost. Other details of the secrecy measure are covered by a publication ban.
O’Hayon said he compiled this report using information gathered from Canada’s intelligence partners stored on Canada’s Top Secret Network (CTSN), a computer network used by the federal government to share classified information.
“And did you report back to Mr. Ortis?” asked MacFarlane.
“I did,” said O’Hayon.
A copy of the report has been entered into evidence as part of the agreed statement of facts, although it is largely redacted.
“I had collected reporting over a two-year span,” O’Hayon told the jury. “I was solely asked to look at what security intelligence was reporting on this.”
O’Hayon said he was recruited to work in operations research by Ortis when the unit was just getting off the ground.
He said the team had a lot of freedom to work on projects but not “carte blanche.”
The veteran civilian member said the OR did not take part in undercover police operations.
“Because we were an intelligence and analytical and intelligence unit, and that’s not our job,” he said.
Civilians were allowed to train on covert cyber operations: witness
For the second time, the Crown asked one of their witnesses about Ortis’s running habits.
“I remember seeing him running and being amazed at the speed,” said O’Hayon.
A transcript of the cross-examination has not yet been made available.
On Friday, the jury began to hear from retired superintendent Kevin Lamontagne, who became the “officer in charge” of the RCMP’s national undercover program in early 2015.
He walked the court through some of the RCMP’s policies and training for undercover agents.
“With undercover operations in particular, we do see a need to have a rigid governance model,” he said.
“By the very nature of the type of operations we conduct, where we rely on deception and guile to collect evidence and information from targets of criminal investigations, we know there’s going to be a certain level of scrutiny that’s applied by our communities, internally by the RCMP, and by the courts.”
Lamontagne said that while civilian employees would not be sent undercover to meet and interact with targets, the RCMP did change its policies over time to allow them to train on covert cyber operations.
Civilian employees would need to be granted peace officer status before taking part in an active undercover operation, he added.
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