RCMP leak case suggests Vancouver a crucial global crime hub
Five Eyes intelligence allegedly leaked by Cameron Ortis focused on Vancouver criminal phone companies
The jury trial of Cameron Ortis, the former RCMP intelligence director accused of leaking Five Eyes secrets to the Canadian agents of a multi-billion-dollar Hezbollah money laundering network, has paused for national security reasons.
On Wednesday, Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger told the jury another judge will have to consider an unspecified matter, before Crown prosecutors examine new witnesses.
“Something has come up in the trial that has got to be dealt with by another court,” Maranger said. “There are certain national security issues involved, so another judge has to decide something, before we continue.”
The case is one of the most sensitive in Canada’s history, because its central evidence includes top secret intelligence shared with Ortis and the RCMP from the United States, Australia and United Kingdom.
Ortis faces six charges, including four counts of violating the Security of Information Act.
He’s accused of seeking to profit by helping the network of Hezbollah terror-financier Altaf Khanani, one of the world’s top money launderers, evade Five Eyes investigations.
He’s also accused of seeking to profit from a circle of high-tech criminals in Vancouver that offered uncrackable Blackberry phones to clients including Khanani and Mexican cartel bosses.
But in cross-examinations of RCMP witnesses, Ortis’ lawyers have implied Ortis had “carte blanche” to share Five Eyes secrets while running undercover operations against Khanani’s network from within Operations Research, the secretive RCMP intelligence unit Ortis headed in 2015.
This unit had access to top secret signals intelligence from Canada’s more powerful allies.
In an interview outside of the Ortis proceedings, David Asher, a former U.S. counter-threat financing official who led the worldwide Khanani probe, toldThe Bureau he wonders whether Ortis’ alleged compromises could extend far beyond evidence being considered now in Ottawa, and touch upon Ortis’ expertise with Chinese transnational crime and cyber-intelligence capabilities.
“Ortis was a China hand,” Asher said. “I hope the Canadian government is looking at that, too.”
The jury has heard that RCMP forensic investigators have only partially decrypted files that they seized from Ortis’ Ottawa apartment in 2019.
What the RCMP can read from these seizures, is planning documents and classified files showing that Ortis planned to sell top secret information to Vincent Ramos, the CEO of Vancouver company Phantom Secure, which sold modified Blackberrys to gangsters across Canada and worldwide.
But before approaching Ramos, the jury heard, Ortis meticulously planned a series of anonymous emails and partial disclosures of documents, based on top secret files including an intelligence assessment on Phantom Secure that Ortis received in September 2014, from his unit, Operations Research.
And Ortis’ business strategy included warning Ramos of an RCMP plan to insert an undercover officer into Phantom Secure, by having that officer approach Ramos’ technical advisor during a controlled Canada Border Services search procedure.
For example, one document called “subsequent email exchanges” showed Ortis planned to prove his credibility to Ramos, with these messages:
“- the DEA is working at compromising your server (s) in Florida
- soon, you may meet someone new who you will think is relatively harmless. This person will offer to move or launder money for you. Do not take the offer. They may hint at it, hoping you will bite. Don't.”
Evidence seized from an encrypted USB in Ortis’ downtown Ottawa apartment and emails recovered from Ramos, also showed that Ortis asked Ramos for $20,000, in order to share fuller versions of classified reports.
“The full (unembargoed) versions of the documents, will provide you with a clear understanding of what you're up against,” Ortis emailed to Ramos in February 2015, the jury has heard. “For example, the sixth document is a law enforcement intelligence assessment of your organization which combines other western intelligence and law enforcement information into one document.”
Ramos responded with interest, email exchanges captured by the RCMP show.
But he asked Ortis to explain how Phantom Secure could benefit from the information, and furthermore, wanted to know: “who you are, how you know this company and what your initiatives and business proposition is?”
"I am in the business of acquiring hard-to-get information that individuals in unique high-risk businesses find valuable. I sell that information to them," Ortis responded, according to emails seized from Ramos’ computer.
"Through the course of my normal discovery ops (some call this hacking, others cracking) I came across a number of documents that pertain to your current efforts."
Another record seized from Ortis said: “The unembargoed full documents will give you the information necessary to defeat this effort against Phantom Secure, and provide a clear understanding of how to begin thinking about how to continue your network's growth safely.”
In late March 2015 — with no deal yet apparently reached between Ortis and Phantom Secure — Ortis followed up with a message that could have outed the undercover RCMP officer who had approached a Ramos employee earlier that month, the jury has heard.
"I thought I would check in and touch base. Did [Phantom Secure’s technical manager Kapil Judge] arrive on the 8th as planned?" one of the emails filed in court said.
"Let me guess, he met someone 'friendly' while being secondaried by CBSA at the airport?"
Phantom Secure located beside Silver International
Records filed in Crown’s case against Ortis demonstrate how crucial Vancouver has become to global criminal empires — not only as a hub of transnational money laundering, but as a technology-facilitation centre — according to The Bureau’s analysis of court evidence and different RCMP cases, which Ortis may or may not have been involved in.
A range of RCMP records that Ortis either shared or planned to share with Phantom Secure, shows the Five Eyes were targeting at least four similar secure communications firms in Vancouver that shared expertise and employees, while facilitating drug traffickers operating across four continents.
One of those companies, according to The Bureau’s review of B.C. civil forfeiture and corporate documents, appears to be tied to a slain Vancouver gangster and also an Ontario man involved in a massive fentanyl precursors case in Vancouver.
A key secure comms player targeted by RCMP financial crime analysts alongside Ramos was Jean-Francois Eap, Ortis case records show, a babyfaced Chinese-Canadian computer wizard and high-rolling gambler at Richmond’s River Rock Casino.