In a folder labeled “The Project,” police allegedly found snippets of documents sent to Vincent Ramos – the convicted CEO of encrypted communications service Phantom Secure – as well as email correspondence with Ramos, whose company sold untraceable smartphones. Those emails included snippets of RCMP documents relating to an investigation into encrypted communications providers, and a demand of $20,000 to turn over the full goods.
The USB drive also allegedly included “scripts” of planned conversations with Ramos and other targets of international police investigations.
Police say one file was labeled “What Was Sent.”
Those were among the now-reportable revelations outlined by Crown Prosecutor Judy Kliewer on the opening day of the trial of Cameron Ortis, a high-ranking ex-RCMP intelligence official accused of leaking secret police intelligence.
Ortis’ access to top-level intelligence is part of what makes his case “very unique,” in Kliewer’s words. It’s the first time someone who was dubbed “permanently bound to secrecy” has been tried for breaking Canada’s official secrets law.
Ortis is facing four counts of breaching the Security of Information Act, Canada’s official secrets law, as well as breach of trust and the misuse of a computer service. The trial comes four years after Ortis’ arrest, and more than five years after police began investigating a potential leak at the highest levels of RCMP intelligence.
The 51-year-old has pleaded not guilty, and the charges have yet to be tested in court.
Ortis sat in an Ottawa courtroom as Kliewer made her opening submissions to the 12-person jury that will ultimately decide his fate.
A former civilian RCMP intelligence analyst, Ortis had a meteoric rise within the national police force, ultimately reaching the level of director-general at the Mounties’ National Intelligence Coordination Centre (NICC).
From his perch at the RCMP’s national headquarters, Ortis had “unlimited, unrestricted” access to information on police investigations across Canada. He also had access to a top secret database of intelligence shared by Canada’s Five Eyes security partners, as well as intelligence shared with those partners by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).
“In this trial, you may be surprised, but there’s not very much in dispute,” in terms of the facts of the case, Kliewer told the jury.
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There’s no dispute that Ortis was bound to secrecy in his role as an intelligence analyst and RCMP manager, or that the information he’s alleged to have leaked constitutes what’s called “special operational information.”
What the case will turn on, according to Ortis’ defence lawyers, is whether the former RCMP official had the authority to release that information.
“That’s really going to be the crux of the case, both for the Crown and the defence,” Jon Doody, one of Ortis’ lawyers, said in an interview with Global News on Friday.
“The Crown is going to try to prove that he didn’t have the authority (to release the information), and we’re going to demonstrate he did.”
Ortis’ arrest stemmed from an international police investigation into Ramos whose company, Phantom Secure, sold untraceable smartphones to criminal organizations hoping to evade police surveillance. The company was eventually dismantled by authorities in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand in 2018.
According to the Crown, an RCMP officer sifting through the contents of Ramos’ emails discovered someone using an anonymous email was offering to sell information about police intelligence on Phantom Secure to Ramos. The Crown said the email chain included snippets of RCMP documents about the investigation into encrypted communications services with an ask of $20,000 for the full document.
Kliewer told the jury Ramos was also given information on an undercover investigator tasked with making contact with him.
It took 18 months for the trail to lead police to Ortis.
On the USB drive found in Ortis’ apartment were other secret RCMP documents and “scripts” for communications with other targets of international police investigations, Kliewer told the jury. Kliewer said the RCMP confirmed that three other people had received correspondence detailed on the USB drive.
The trial is expected to run roughly eight weeks, with Ortis expected to take the stand in his own defence towards the end.