SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE: by John MillerNews Weekly
Media shrugs while Russian espionage flourishes
, August 18, 2012
Far too little has been reported in the media about a major espionage scandal in which Australian, New Zealand and British intelligence secrets were allegedly sold by a Canadian to Russian intelligence over the past five years.
In January 14 this year, Canadian authorities arrested Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian naval intelligence officer, and charged him with supplying top-secret information to a “foreign entity” since 2007.
Despite its huge international ramifications, the case attracted strangely little publicity, except in Canada where Delisle enjoyed the distinction, or notoriety, of being the first Canadian to be arrested under laws tightened in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was denied bail.
The only time this espionage case received any global publicity was months later in July, and even then reports were distressingly homogeneous and lacking in detail.
Strangely, the story first surfaced on July 25 in the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC, then the New Zealand Herald and, finally, in the Toronto Global and Mail — all on the same day.
Some of the views expressed by so-called experts in the media have been positively risible or incredibly stupid, depending on your knowledge.
For example, there was no justification for the Sydney Morning Herald headline, “Canada spy case rocks ASIO”. The reason I can state that is that ASIO is not responsible for the internal security of the Defence Signals Department (DSD), Australia’s signals intelligence agency, which works closely with allied countries under a variety of arrangements.
The current agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand bears the unwieldy title of AUSCANNZUKUS. And while this acronym is typical of the intelligence world, the very pronunciation leads to a certain amount of hilarity. Among those in the intelligence world, the organisation is more commonly known as “Five Eyes” after the five countries which constitute it.
According to public sources, this is essentially a naval C4 (i.e., command, control, communications and computers) body. The fifth “eye”, New Zealand, joined in 1984 under a certain amount of secrecy and in the face of the country’s general antipathy towards the US, especially under the then David Lange Labour government. AUSCANNZUKUS’s main function is the collection of communications interception, more usually called SIGINT (signals intelligence), which feeds into a variety of allied government defence bodies.
Personally, I tend to tread very carefully in this area because of its sensitivity. A close friend was tapped on the shoulder back in the 1980s to join Australia’s DSD at a senior level, given his impressive experience in other fields. However, the secrecy under which he would have had to operate ultimately deterred him.
Conspiracy theorists remain unshaken in their belief that signals intelligence means the worldwide tapping of any and all electronic transmission. The civil liberties lobby frequently expresses its concerns about threats to privacy.
The Canadian equivalent of Australia’s DSD is the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC). Such bodies are of course predictably accused by the political left in most of the contributing countries of domestic spying in the name of counter-terrorism.
CSEC has naturally enough tried to keep the lid on publicity of obvious foreign penetration. Nevertheless, the bottom line in the Canadian case is that Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle was passing information to a foreign entity, known to be Russia, from 2007 onwards.
The key ingredient in this case was the odd behaviour of Delisle, although it didn’t prompt any investigation at the time it was first noticed. This is rather like the mindset of the US authorities who let Major Nidal Hasan cavort around Fort Hood in Muslim dress before embarking on his killing spree in November 2009.
Both the Fort Hood shooting and Canadian spy case reveal the great weakness of security-checking and underline once again the need for ongoing reviews of staff in sensitive positions. Delisle’s trial itself is scheduled for October and promises to be very interesting.
Further details of his career are somewhat mixed and include references to his service in Ottawa, Ontario, and in Halifax, Nova Scotia; but it is a certainty that the critical information he was alleged to have leaked was from HMCS Trinity, a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) shore establishment — or what Australians would refer to as a stone frigate (building) — and from the base at Stadacona.
These two establishments are part of a wider network and allegedly tasked with maintaining the Canadian forces’ Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) communications with vessels of the Canadian navy and allied units, along with developing strategic and tactical operational intelligence for field (oceanic) units.
Not unexpectedly, MARLANT’s Internet page is undergoing renovations and is currently inaccessible. (If any News Weekly reader can get past “error 404”, please pass any information found to the editor).
Apart from an article on the case in the Wall Street Journal, the US press has been too obsessed with President Obama in an election year to concern itself with such things as espionage and national security.
It now seems fairly clear that, contrary to statements made in some of the Canadian press, this was most definitely not an operation conducted by the SVR (as the foreign arm of the former Soviet KGB secret intelligence service is now known).
The Canadian government, probably with the acquiescence of the US and other allied governments, decided to minimise any publicity, and there has been a certain amount of fudging of facts concerning the departure from Canada of certain Russian officials. These included military attachés, diplomats and several ancillary staff.
An examination of what is known of these officials indicates quite clearly that they were connected not with the SVR but rather with Russian military intelligence, the often overlooked but highly effective GRU.
The allied governments involved were briefed through confidential diplomatic and intelligence channels.
News Weekly readers will be kept abreast of developments as more information becomes available.
It is important to note and fully appreciate that Russian intelligence continues to spy on the West and that Australia, which is a partner in the AUSCANNZUKUS intelligence agreement, needs to maintain the highest degree of security.
For nearly three decades, I have felt like a lone prophet in the wilderness warning about a resurgent Russia, especially since 1996 under the rule of Vladimir Putin. It is now time to face the truth.
In the mid-1980s, a few years before the end of the Cold War, I had the temerity to suggest that a non-communist Russia would pursue the ambitions of old imperial Russia. Our “experts” in academe and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of course scoffed at the idea. This is entirely in keeping with the strange desire of so many elites to erase any memory of the Cold War and to rehabilitate and sanitise those who betrayed Australia.
The power elite that surrounds Putin is generally regarded as the siloviki — men of power, generally drawn from the ranks of the former KGB, the military and quite a few old Communist Party apparatchiks, who did very nicely under communism.
Sure enough, as I had warned on several occasions, by 1996 Russian espionage in the West had reached Cold War levels, only to be surpassed in the years since. The top priority then appeared to be the acquisition of scientific and technical information (colloquially known as S&T), a large-scale theft defended by some as being almost expected because the scientific establishment in chaotic Russia had fallen so far behind the West.
Media coverage of Russian espionage has been abysmal and shown a total ignorance of Russian objectives. For example, the case involving Russian illegal agents in the US two years ago was completely misread by the press and even by former FBI and CIA officers who commented on it. It was patently obvious that the lessons of the long struggle against the Soviet Union and the KGB had been lost.
The media salivated over the attractive redheaded Russian spy Anna Chapman (born Anna Kushchenko) and her sex life, while ignoring the fact that the FBI had run a counter-intelligence operation of the highest calibre for 10 years without a leak.
In itself, this was a magnificent achievement but barely recognised, even though one of the spy ring was allegedly gaining access to members of the Obama administration.
We are entitled to ask why the Russians continue to conduct espionage abroad while professing democracy and the willingness to be what the misty-eyed windbags of diplomacy in Western capitals and Canberra refer to as a “good global citizen”.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.
Dan Karpenchuk, “Canadian spy ‘sold Australian intel to Russia’”, ABC News, July 25, 2012.
Philip Dorling, “Canada spy case rocks ASIO”, Sydney Morning Herald, July 25, 2012.
AAP, Herald Online staff, “Claim naval officer ‘sold’ NZ secrets”, New Zealand Herald, July 25, 2012.
Carys Mills, “Australian intelligence compromised by alleged Canadian spy, paper says”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), July 25, 2012.
Amy Willis, “Top level British secrets ‘compromised by Canadian spy’”, The Telegraph (UK), July 25, 2012.