Canada still in tight with intelligence allies, even after spy scandal

CALGARY – The federal public safety minister says Canada remains tight with its intelligence allies despite a naval spy scandal that is said to have done “irreparable damage” to the country’s interests.

Vic Toews said Thursday he doesn’t believe Canada’s reputation with its closest collaborators has been hurt at all by navy Sub-Lt. Jeffery Paul Delisle’s actions. Toews noted he continues to work closely with Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary in the United States. and Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general

“They have never expressed anything other than a commitment to working with us in the future,” Toews said at a Calgary news conference. “As you know this is not a situation unique to Canada. We had very similar experiences like that in the United States.

“This has certainly not in any way hampered our very robust exchange of information.”

Delisle, a 41-year-old intelligence officer with the Royal Canadian Navy, pleaded guilty Wednesday to passing military secrets to Russia. He transferred sensitive information onto a thumb drive from a secure location before passing it to a Russian operative.

How that could happen so easily at a highly protected facility has prompted a review of security measures that were in place at the time, Toews said.

“That’s something I believe that the Department if National Defence is doing. We are very aware of the case and together with our allies are reviewing the procedures that were in place to protect the security of that information,” said Toews.

“Given the extensive sharing of information that occurs between the Five Eyes community — Great Britain, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia — our agencies are always concerned when there is any compromise of security and we work very closely together.”

Toews wouldn’t get into the specifics of the case and said he would not comment on Delisle’s guilty plea until after he is sentenced Jan. 10.

Delisle, who joined the navy as a reservist in 1996, became a member of the regular forces in 2001 and was promoted to an officer rank in 2008. He had access to systems with information shared by the Five Eyes group.

In damage assessments read in court, officials in the Canadian intelligence community said the breaches from 2007 to 2012 could unmask intelligence sources and place a chill on the sharing of vital security information.

“Delisle put into jeopardy the identity of the confidential sources of information and the means by which the (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) collects information,” one official wrote in a statement read in court.

“Delisle’s unauthorized disclosure to the Russians since 2007 has caused severe and irreparable damage to Canadian interests.”

Toews said it is important to redouble efforts to protect Canada’s interests. He suggested the Internet is constantly changing the nature of the threat.

“Our agencies have to be more aware of potential threats and move to act proactively.”

Toews said the government is aware that the head of the U.S. Intelligence Committee is urging Canadian companies not to do business with the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as a matter of national security.

A U.S. report earlier this week urged companies to avoid doing business with Huawei and ZTE and said regulators should prevent them from buying U.S. companies. It also said government computer systems should not include components from them because they might pose an espionage risk.

The report has implications for Canada because Huawei is partnered with Bell Canada and Telus. Huawei could also be in the running to help build the government’s new secure telecommunications system.

“I’m not going to comment on any specific company in a security context. I can tell you that the issue that has been raised by the Americans has also been raised in Canada and among many of our allies, including Great Britain,” said Toews.

“This is an issue that concerns us, in particular the security of our Internet and infrastructure. That’s something that the government of Canada is very concerned about and continues to monitor very closely.”

Toews wouldn’t comment on whether the U.S. report would have an impact on the proposed Chinese takeover of Alberta oil company Nexen (TSX:NXY).

Industry Canada is still reviewing the $15.1-billion bid by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Co. for the Calgary-based company.

The NDP opposes the CNOOC takeover because it says ceding control of the large Canadian resource company to a state-owned Chinese interest raises national security concerns, among others.

“I’m not going to comment on that issue. That’s before my colleague, but I can tell you that every transaction that is referred to cabinet is considered from a security and safety point of view.”