Comment: US helped Canada nab accused spy Jeff Delisle

Jeffrey Paul Delisle
Back in January of this year, when the Jeffrey Delisle spy affair made headlines around the world, I spoke with several journalists from The Globe & Mail, The Canadian Press, and other Canadian news outlets. Most of them were –rightly– curious about the role of the United States in the affair, in which Sub-Lieutenant Delisle, who had been employed at Canada’s ultra-secure HMCS Trinity communications center in Halifax, was accused of spying for a foreign power. I told them that, given that Trinity handled –aside from Canadian– NATO communications, Canada was in fact obligated to notify all of its NATO partners about the suspected penetration. That aside, I said that it could be “safely assumed” that US counterintelligence agencies were “fully involved in the Delisle case, and probably ha[d] been for several months”. By the latter phrase, I implied that US counterintelligence agencies had been closely involved in helping their Canadian counterparts build their case against Delisle. Now a new report in The Globe & Mail suggests that US counterintelligence officials “supplied vital information” to their Canadian colleagues during “the early days of the investigation” into the Delisle affair. The article says that the full extent of what the Americans told Canadian authorities remains unclear; but it quotes “a source familiar with the matter”, who claims that the US “helped Canada build its investigation”, not necessarily by providing a single tipoff clue, but through “an accumulation of information”. The paper adds that Washington’s involvement in the investigation from an early stage “adds a key new detail to [the] story”. Not necessarily, I would argue. The involvement of the US in the case should be taken as given, considering the importance of HMCS Trinity in maritime intelligence collection in the Arctic. A far more important subject concerns the degree in which this alleged penetration has affected Canada’s intelligence-sharing relationship with its NATO partners, particularly with the United States. Another vital question concerns the extent to which the Delisle affair has affected Ottawa’s relations with Moscow. As most intelNews readers will know, Canadian officials have privately identified Russia as the country that secretly employed Delisle, but Ottawa has refrained from officially linking its former Cold War adversary with the spy affair. The Toronto Star reported this week that the Canadian government has decided to remain mute on the subject, instead of risking “alienating Russia”. The latter scenario could “potentially set off tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions” and would have “more downsides than upsides”, said the paper. Delisle, who was charged in January with passing state secrets to a foreign country, remains in custody. His next court appearance is expected to be in June.

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