Update: Former RCMP intelligence officer, Cameron Jay Otis, was sentenced to 14 years in prison having been found guilty in November of violating Canada’s secrets act. Prosecutors had requested a 28 year sentence. Prior to sentencing, the prosecutor, Judy Kliewer, argued that “His conduct betrayed the RCMP. It betrayed the Five Eyes.”  Following the arrest of Otis in 2019, the RCMP adjusted their internal security measures, including how to detect insider threats, noted Chief Superintendent of the RCMP Jeffrey Beaulac.

September 15, 2019: Canada arrested and arraigned a senior member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Cameron Jay Ortis Friday. Ortis was the director general of an intelligence unit at RCMP headquarters who was identified as a potential source of Chinese intelligence by the United States.

According to media reports, the United States learned of Ortis from a Chinese intelligence officer whom they had “flipped.” While other media reporting references possible covert communications with Chinese intelligence dating back to at least 2015.

The “flipped” intelligence officer may be referencing Chinese Ministry for State Security officer, Deputy Division Director Yangun Xu, who was arrested in Belgium and extradited to the United States in October 2018 for his participation in multiple espionage investigations targeting the U.S. aviation industry and the attempt by China to seed an asset into the United States Army Reserve program which resulted in the arrest of  Ji Chaoqun (Ji) in early October 2018.

The latter draws our mind’s eye to the case of Kevin Patrick Mallory, who had ties to the U.S. intelligence community (CIA) and was issued a covert communications system by the Chinese for the purposes of transmitting the fruits of his espionage efforts.

Who is Ortis?

Ortis held a senior position within the RCMP intelligence apparatus. Media reports indicate his role gave him access to a plethora of highly classified topics to include the identities of Canadian intelligence personnel operating clandestinely, and potentially the sources being run by those operations officers. This knowledge would be a gold mine to Chinese counterintelligence entities, as it would allow for the neutralization of assets in short order.

Ortis holds a PhD from the University of British Columbia (2006), MA from McMaster University (1999), and a BA from the University of Northern British Columbia (1999). His dissertation for his PhD was titled, “Bowing to Quirinus: Compromised Nodes and Cyber Security in East Asia.” A cautionary warning excerpt from the dissertation’s intro is “The insecurities of the digital world call into question the efficacy and legitimacy of traditional state-based security when applied to new Internet based threats. But for the foreseeable future the state remains the only actor with the authority, legitimacy resources and governance tools to address these issues.”

Ortis is fluent in Mandarin and has had foreign assignments of unknown duration.

Charges against Ortis:

Ortis is facing a seven counts drawn from within five areas of the Canadian penal code. If convicted he could face up to 37 years imprisonment.

  • Section 14(1) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 22(1)(b) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 22(1)(e) of the Security of Information Act
  • Section 122 of the Criminal Code
  • Section 342.1(1) of the Criminal Code

Insider threat program?

What’s important to note is that the insider threat program (if such existed) within the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) did not detect the entrenched and very senior insider who had broken trust.

Whether Xu identified the existence of Ortis or the covert  communications system used by the Chinese with Mallory was the genesis of the tip from the United States to Canada may never be known. What is important is the evidenced cooperation between the intelligence agencies of the United States and Canada in thwarting and neutralizing another counterintelligence bonanza enjoyed by the Chinese.

Canadian media, citing unnamed sources, indicate this arrest is part of a broader counterintelligence effort to neutralize Chinese espionage efforts against a number of countries, to include, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as some NATO countries.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com