(Reuters) - A Canadian naval intelligence officer pleaded guilty on Wednesday to handing over secrets to Russia in a four-year espionage operation that involved access to a computer network shared with the United States and other allies, according to media reports.
The Canadian government, noting that proceedings were still subject to a publication ban, gave no details of the evidence against Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Paul Delisle. It confirmed that he had pleaded guilty to espionage.
But some Canadian media outlets published extensive details from previous proceedings in a Nova Scotia provincial court. Delisle worked at an intelligence facility at the naval dockyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with access to secret data from NATO.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said Delisle walked into the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in 2007, asked to meet someone from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence organization, and offered to sell it secrets.
The Globe and Mail newspaper said Delisle had “offered to betray his country for cash.”
The two media outlets said Delisle earned about C$3,000 a month from his Russian spy masters by gathering information on a computer system known as Stone Ghost. It links information from the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Delisle would go to work armed with a thumb drive, download information from the system and deliver it to the Russians on a monthly basis, they said.
The CBC said Delisle wanted to end the relationship with the Russians in 2009, but chose not to after his handlers sent him a picture of his daughter walking to school. Shortly after, he was told to meet his GRU handler in Brazil where he was given $50,000 in debit cards and cash, it said.
The money reportedly raised suspicions among Canadian customs officers at the Halifax airport. They allowed him to re-enter Canada but tipped off the Canadian military about their concerns.
The military and Canadian police launched an investigation which lead to a raid on Delisle’s house in Halifax in December, 2011. He was arrested a month later.
Christian Leuprecht, an analyst at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College, in Kingston, Ontario, said it was best that Canada’s government avoided a long court battle in the case, as sensitive information could have been made public.
“The Crown would prefer to keep all these details under wraps in order not to make public the extent of the damage done to Canada’s national security and to safeguard the counter-espionage methods Canada deploys,” he said.
Delisle, the first person charged under a new secrecy law enacted after the September 11, 2001 attacks, will be sentenced in January next year. He could receive up to a life sentence under the secrecy law.
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Russ Blinch; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Paul Simao