Cameron Ortis, the former top intelligence officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), was arrested in September 2019 and charged under a 2012 security of information law for prosecuting spies
A top Canadian police intelligence officer who allegedly leaked secret information to a cellphone encryption firm linked with drug trafficking was arrested following a tip off from a high-stakes gambler, new reports reveal.
Cameron Ortis, the former top intelligence officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), was arrested in September 2019 and charged under a 2012 security of information law for prosecuting spies.
At the time of his arrest, which sparked fears of a possible major security breach due to his access to highly sensitive domestic and foreign intelligence, the RCMP revealed few details of Ortis’ alleged crimes.
A new report from CBC, however, revealed he has been accused of violating Canada‘s secrecy laws by plotting in 2015 to leak sensitive information to Phantom Secure, a firm supplying encrypted phones to international criminals and drug cartels.
His alleged crime was revealed after a US gambler known as Robin Hood 702 tipped off the FBI to the criminal activity of former US college football player Owen Hanson, which led to Hanson’s arrest in 2011.
Hanson was found in possession of encrypted phones from Phantom Secure, and the FBI then joined the RCMP in an investigation into the firm.
Ortis was arrested after the covert joint investigation claimed to have found evidence he offered secret information to the company and its CEO Vincent Ramos, who was convicted of racketeering last year.
Pro gambler Robin Hood 702, whose real name is R.J. Cipriani, contacted the FBI after he feared college football player Owen Hanson was involving him in criminal activity. His tip-off would launch a wider investigation that led to the arrest of Cameron Ortis in September 2019
Robin Hood 702, whose real name is R.J. Cipriani, is famed for his winning streaks in casinos while donating the money to worthy causes, according to CBC.
He became suspicious after he was asked by Hanson to gamble money in Australia in 2011 and went to the FBI when he feared that the was being drawn into criminal activity.
Hanson was sentenced to 21 years’ prison in 2017 after a joint Australian and US investigation found him to be the kingpin of the violent ODOG drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal gambling syndicate
The former University of Southern California gridiron player admitted to trafficking ‘hundreds of kilograms of cocaine’ from California to Australia.
During Hanson’s arrest at a golf course outside San Diego in 2015, he was found in possession of six encrypted cellphones he had purchased from Phantom Secure.
The RCMP had already been investigating the firm for allegedly supplying encrypted technology to organized crime but were now joined by the FBI and Australian authorities to continue the probe.
The covert operation arrested Phantom Secure’s chief executive, Vincent Ramos in March 2018 in Washington state, with federal police in Australia also raiding several locations and seizing more than 1,000 Phantom Secure cellphones.
It is not clear what evidence led to the arrest of Ramos as warrants have been sealed.
Phantom Secure phones were desired by criminals, particularly in Australia, because of their perceived ability to thwart authorities
Founded by Ramos in 2008, Phantom Secure appeared to be a legitimate company with a base in Richmond, British Columbia, and a website targeting high-earning businesspeople.
Yet, its phones were consistently cropping up in domestic drug investigations and RCMP began to investigate the likelihood that they were selling directly to criminal organizations.
In a message submitted to a US Federal Court in 2018, Ramos boasts: ‘We are f–king rich man. I swear to God you better f–king appreciate it. Get the f–king Range Rover brand new. Cuz I just closed a lot of business. This week man. Sinaloa Cartel that’s what’s up.’
Phantom Secure phones were desired by criminals, particularly in Australia, because of their perceived ability to thwart authorities. They were marketed as an ‘uncrackable’ device that could even wipe contents clean if seized.
‘The handsets were being used by people from outlaw motorcycle gangs that obviously are involved in very violent crimes including, you know, potentially murder,’ Australian federal police Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan told The Fifth Estate.
‘As far as we were concerned, it was something that we really wanted to get involved with, take those handsets out of the hands of the criminal elements to ensure that law enforcement was back on a level playing field.’
The FBI estimated that there were 20,000 Phantom Secure devices in service around the world while the US Department of Justice revealed in 2019 that ‘to date, neither Australian, Canadian, nor American law enforcement has identified a single non-criminal user of Phantom Secure devices’.
Undercover RCMP agents found that between February 1, 2015, and May 31, 2015, Ortis, pictured, allegedly ‘did, in the city of Ottawa, Ontario intentionally and without authority, communicate special operational information to V.R. [Ramos]’ and to his firm Phantom Secure
Ramos was sentenced in a San Diego court in May 2019 to nine years’ prison after pleading guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
He admitted to facilitating international narcotics traffic by supplying drug cartels with encrypted communications devices.
However, the investigation moved one step further to Ortis after a review of Ramos’ seized laptop reveled sensitive RCMP information had been offered for sale to the company, Canada’s Global News reported.
Ramos did not know the identity of the person allegedly brokering the RCMP information, but Canadian investigators reportedly persevered in an operation dubbed Project Ace and traced it to a list of suspects .
The CBC, citing an assessment by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment cybersecurity agency, reported Ortis had allegedly reached out to Ramos.
The arrest of former US college football player Owen Hanson, pictured, in 2015 eventually led the FBI and RCMP to Ortis
‘You don’t know me. I have information that I am confident you will find very valuable,’ one email, contained in the CSE documents, said, according to the CBC.
Ortis was arrested 18 months after Ramos and charged under the little-used 2012 security of information law for prosecuting spies.
He faces eight counts of violating the Security of Information Act and two criminal counts.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, undercover RCMP agents found that between February 1, 2015, and May 31, 2015, Ortis ‘did, in the city of Ottawa, Ontario intentionally and without authority, communicate special operational information to V.R. [Ramos]’
Ortis was initially released on strict bail conditions in October 2019 but this was revoked by a judge a month later and he was taken back into custody.
RCMP have still released minimal details of the charges but say that the alleged offenses took place when Ortis was a member of the force. They gave no further details and said nothing about what other nations might be involved.
Otis was a former adviser to the RCMP’s top officer and is the only civilian to have ever achieved the position of director general of intelligence. He advised on national security and sensitive investigations.
He is described as an Ottawa intellectual and an academic and was reportedly perceived as arrogant by members of the country’s national security establishment.
A brief LinkedIn profile for Ortis shows he speaks Mandarin and has both a certificate in internet systems administration and a doctorate in international relations from the University of British Columbia in western Canada.
It is understood that Ortis’ expertise in computers and cyberspace meant that he had access to sensitive high-tech information, according to Global News.
He has connections to East Asia and China so could have possibly had extensive national security information.
Cameron Ortis is still awaiting trial. He is shown here in a court sketch from his court hearing in Ottawa, Canada, on September 13, 2019, shortly after his arrest
He also worked with FINTRAC, (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada).
It was reported that he wrote a Ph.D. thesis at the University of British Columbia in 2006 on cyber-security in East Asia.
The thesis, titled ‘Bowing to Quirinus: compromised nodes and cyber security in East Asia’ was finished in 2006.
The thesis has an emphasis on cyber-security with a specific interest in East Asia, according to The Post Millennial.
‘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,’ writes Ortis in the thesis.
The 2012 law Ortis is being charged under was used to prosecute a Canadian naval officer who handed over secrets to Russia for more than four years. Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle was jailed for 20 years in 2013 but released on parole in 2018.
Canadian officials told a sentencing hearing in 2013 that allies had threatened to withhold intelligence from Canada unless it tightened security procedures.
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network alongside the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Australia and security experts feared that the Ortis case could damage Canada’s standing in the network.
In a September 2019 media briefing, RCMP Commission Brenda Lucki conceded there was concern in the Five Eyes community, but said it was too early to tell what damage might have been done, noting none of Canada’s allies had clamped down on information sharing so far.
Ortis is still awaiting trial.