The penalty for betraying Canada – day parole

I remember it as if it were yesterday.  My first day at CSE was July 14, 1983.  I moved to Ottawa from London (ON) and went to the Sir Leonard Tilley Building where I was brought to a former RCMP officer I’ll call ‘Joe’ who provided me my security indoctrination.  After outlining what CSE did and what my obligations were he looked at me and said “Son, if you choose not to protect the information you have access to IT IS 14 YEARS IN THE SLAMMER!”  I decided to take him seriously.

When you get a Top Secret security clearance like I had for 32 years you agree that in exchange for getting access to really cool information and tasks you do what you can to protect that information and share it only with others who hold a similar clearance.  Among those were foreigners with whom we worked closely, especially in the ‘5 eyes’ community (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK).  At the time I was indoctrinated it sure as hell did not include the Soviet Union.

Fast forward to the post Cold War era.  Jeffrey Delisle, a Canadian naval intelligence officer, decided to pass information to the Russians starting in 2007 and ending only when he was arrested in 2012.  His marriage failing, addicted to video games, his life going nowhere, he decided to commit ‘career suicide’ by going to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa and offering Canadian and allied intelligence.  Yep, that would be a great way to derail your own career.

Delisle was arrested by the RCMP in January 2012 and incarcerated in February 2013.  A few days ago the Parole Board of Canada decided that Mr. Delisle can have day parole.  In a few months he may get full parole.  You read that right. Despite a 20-year sentence, the government has decided that after a little more than five years he has been given a ‘get out of jail free card’.  Except that this is not a game of Monopoly, it is for real.

I am of two minds on this.  First, Mr. Delisle poses little threat now to Canada or Canadian society.  He is not violent.  He has no access to classified information and sure as hell won’t get access ever again.  He is of value to no one.  He will forever be known as a traitor to our nation.

On the other hand five years for selling secrets to the enemy seems like a sham.  Is that all a crime of this nature costs you?  Seriously?  I remember when I was at CSE and a close colleague, Jane Shorten, had a ‘crisis of conscience’, traveled to New York and divulged sensitive collection programmes.  She suffered no penalty.  Another CSE employee, Mike Frost, wrote a book called Spy World and disclosed overseas collection platforms.  Nothing happened to him either.  So ‘Joe’ had lied to me?

The vast majority of us who worked in national security and did so proudly took our jobs seriously and did everything in our power to keep secrets secret.  Mr. Delisle did not share that view.   Many of us had hard times in life – marriage failure, addictions, etc.  – and yet we did not go to the Soviets or the Chinese or the whatevers ands sell our souls.  Delisle did

There are many who think we classify too much information.  That is an interesting argument we need to have.  At the same time there are things that are sensitive in nature and must be protected.  If we sign up to alliances we need to guard what we receive or else the flow will end.  It is as simple as that.

The decision to grant Mr. Delisle day parole after five years sends a bad message.  It suggests that betraying your country is not taken seriously.  What if others contemplating following in Mr. Delisle’s footsteps see this as a worthy risk?  Will we see more traitors?  Or am I being too dramatic?  Only time will tell.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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