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Federal intelligence analyst fired over contacts with Russians

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 14, 2013.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

An intelligence analyst who fought money laundering for the Canadian government was fired after socializing with Russian diplomats.

The case of Irina Koulatchenko – a 36-year-old who came to Canada as a Russian refugee via Cuba – is laid out in a court ruling released this week, as part of her ongoing bid to appeal her case.

In the fall 2010, the Kyrgyzstan-born woman was hired by Canada's financial-intelligence agency, which is known as FINTRAC. She worked there for nearly 18 months as she awaited Top Secret clearance, but then a Canadian Security Intelligence Service probe recommended she not be trusted to do that job – or, effectively, any job in Ottawa's bureaucracy.

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Her lawyer, Chris Rootham, said Wednesday that his client is now in a "similar line of work" in France.

The decision to deny Ms. Koulatchenko security clearance came just weeks after federal police arrested a naval-intelligence officer on charges that he sold Moscow sensitive U.S., British and Canadian files. In 2007, Jeffrey Delisle had walked into the Russian embassy in Ottawa offering state secrets for cash. Caught in January, 2012, after more than four years of unfettered leaking, the Canadian Forces member confessed to his interrogators that his Russian handlers were "interested in organized crime" files.

The Delisle debacle caused Canada profound embarrassment, factored into the departure of some Russian diplomats from Ottawa, and led to stepped-up scrutiny of soldiers and civil servants in Canada. (CSIS spent only $40-million a year on screening in 2012, but today spends nearly $70-million.)

There is no allegation that Ms. Koulatchenko ever did anything criminal. The government essentially alleges that she got too close to the Russians to be afforded access to the state secrets inside FINTRAC. She is challenging the findings, and Federal Court files related to a March 3 ruling outline the specifics.

According to a partly redacted CSIS file, Ms. Koulatchenko admitted during screening interviews that she had had several social encounters with Russian diplomats – including one she met at a Cirque du Soleil show, another who was friends with her ex-fiancé and another she bumped into "all the time" at various social events.

CSIS officers asked her what she might do if a Russian approached her for information. She is said to have responded that she "would most likely say no," unless her Canadian bosses wanted to use her as a double agent.

According to the filings, she also told CSIS she had learned about the "methodology" of Russian intelligence when she wrote a university paper on the subject.

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Before she got a job at FINTRAC, Ms. Koulatchenko worked for a non-profit organization in Ottawa, where she says she had first had contact with Russian diplomats. After the federal financial-intelligence agency hired her in the fall of 2010, she was given a provisional position in its "terrorist financing unit."

Nearly 18 months later, FINTRAC's former director moved to oust Ms. Koulatchenko. "The information brought to my attention in the CSIS assessment report led me to have serious national security concerns," Jeanne Flemming wrote in a court-filed affidavit. FINTRAC then stripped Ms. Koulatchenko of even "reliability" status – the most basic security requirement for any civil servant.

On March 3, Federal Court Justice Catherine Kane ruled that "the information disclosed is sufficient to ground the [FINTRAC] Director's concerns about her [Ms. Koulatchenko's] loyalty." But because Ms. Koulatchenko had not had much opportunity to defend herself, "the decisions regarding the security clearance are quashed and must be remitted to the current Director of FINTRAC for re-determination."

Editor's note: A earlier version had the wrong date that Jeffrey Delisle was sentenced. This is the corrected version of the story.

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