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‘So dead inside’: How the Mounties cracked Jeffrey Delisle

Canadian naval officer Jeffrey Paul Delisle spied for Russia.

Eric Wynne/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It took more than an hour of patient questioning before RCMP Sergeant Jimmy Moffat tipped his hand.

"Jeff, we have you. Okay? You're caught. You're so caught," the police interrogator said, showing printouts of e-mails to Russian spies.

It was around 9 p.m. on Jan. 13, in the police interview room. Just a few hours after the arrest.

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For almost five years, Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle had lived a double life. But he broke down and confessed in no time, according to a 63-page interrogation transcript obtained by The Globe and Mail.

"Jim. I've been so dead. So dead inside," he said, before sobbing. "It wasn't for the money."

SLt. Delisle recalled the moment he betrayed his country. "I walked right into the Russian embassy and said, 'Here I am. …' "

It was 2007. He didn't specify the date beyond that it was "the day my wife cheated."

The 41-year-old divorced father of four admitted that he had spied. And that he done it for the most banal of reasons.

He had a broken heart.

The naval officer's hemorrhaging of state secrets has caused "astronomical" damage to national security, federal officials have said. On Monday in the House of Commons, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae pressed for a judicial inquiry into the Delisle debacle. The Conservative government is playing down the problem.

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Earlier this month, SLt. Delisle pleaded guilty to espionage-related charges. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for January.

The naval intelligence officer had never been a riser in the Canadian Forces. In fact, his 16-year career never really got off the ground.

"I can't deploy because I'm diabetic,' he told police. "I never sailed."

But he was put into a virtual crow's nest from which he could see very far: the Trinity naval intelligence centre inside CFB Halifax. Trinity bursts with state secrets collected from all corners of the Earth. Secrets that are lent in confidence to Canada by its allies.

Trinity is exactly where an aggressive, non-allied spy service such as Russia's GRU would want to be. And, through a proxy, it was.

No one noticed SLt. Delisle scouring intelligence databases for references to Russia. No one noticed him cutting and pasting text into files. No one cared that his secure computer had – against most military protocols – a floppy disk drive.

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Sgt. Moffat asked the suspect how he moved data out of a secure facility.

"Disk – floppy," SLt. Delisle replied.

"Floppy disk?"

"Yeah – I know," he said, adding that his computer was "ancient."

After SLt. Delisle downloaded material onto a disk, he used a second computer to transfer the data to a USB memory stick, which he pocketed before leaving. At home, he plugged the stick into his laptop to send files to the GRU. (And, after the stick was wiped clean, he said it usually ended up in his son's Xbox.)

The Mounties were tipped to Sgt. Delisle's treachery by intelligence partners in December, 2011. Once looped in, detectives rushed to get warrants to spy on the spy.

The surveillance meant there was zero chance SLt. Delisle could lie his way out of trouble. Police had seen his every keystroke. "You type, 'I love you,' I see, 'I love you,' " Sgt. Moffat made a point of saying during the interview. "You erase, 'I love you,' – I still see, 'I love you.' "

"Love" was used hypothetically. But, as it turned out, love was the key to cracking the psyche of SLt. Delisle, who had tried to be cagey for as long as he could in the interrogation.

Police knew he was not paid a princely sum for the secrets. Money transfers showed he got only $3,000 a month. And while the GRU had issued veiled threats to keep SLt. Delisle working, that wouldn't explain why he had turned in the first place.

Sgt. Moffat applied a classic interrogation technique, probing to see if a bruised ego could have been the trigger.

"Something went wrong Jeff. You went through a lot of pain," Sgt. Moffat said.

"A lot of pain," he replied.

The word "pain" triggered memories of his wife cheating. The intelligence officer confided to Sgt. Moffat that the infidelity had made him suicidal.

"I wanted to die, but I can't leave my children," SLt. Delisle said. So he settled on the next best thing.

"I committed professional suicide. That's what I did."

And that was why, he said, on a day in 2007, he put on his civilian clothes, went to Charlotte Street in Ottawa, and entered the Russian embassy to offer his services.

"I was devastated," he said. "Crushed to no end."

Somehow, in the muddled mind of the mole, his indiscretions were the lesser betrayal. Yet, he knew full well the global consequences.

"This is going to blow up like a powder keg," SLt. Delisle said as the RCMP interview wrapped up.

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About the Authors
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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