American intelligence officials supplied vital information in the early days of the investigation that climaxed with the arrest of an accused spy inside Canada's top-secret naval signals centre, sources say.
The involvement of the United States in building the case against Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle adds a key new detail to a story that Ottawa is anxious to keep under wraps.
The Canadian government has been tight-lipped on how it learned that there was a leak of confidential secrets to a foreign power – and the way it went about building a case against the sub-lieutenant.
Canadian officials have privately identified Russia as the recipient of secrets, and the Russian ambassador to this country said last February that Moscow has an agreement with the Canadian government to "keep quiet" about any connection between his nation and the spy case.
SLt. Delisle is in custody after being charged in January with passing state secrets to a foreign country. The sailor, who last worked at Trinity, a Halifax naval intelligence hub, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
SLt. Delisle, 41, has not yet entered a plea; his next court appearance is in June.
The Globe and Mail reported in March that the fallout from the Delisle case has done significant damage to Ottawa's treasured intelligence-sharing relationships with key allies such as the U.S. It's also embarrassed the Department of National Defence, which is now looking to restore confidence in its ability to keep secrets.
A source familiar with the matter said Canada helped build its investigation of SLt. Delisle through contact with its biggest ally: "It's not just one nugget of information that I would describe as a tipoff. [Rather]It's an accumulation of information that leads to an investigation coming to a point where, okay, we have enough to go after this person."
The extent of what the U.S told Canada is still unclear. "Sometimes we're able to match – or in some cases co-ordinate – some of that intelligence and paint the picture that we need to make decisions," the source said.
The source said Canada and the U.S. have a privileged relationship in sharing this type of information through security forces including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Communications Security Establishment Canada.
"It is reasonable to assume that we exchanged information and yes we are helpful to one another and this case was no exception," the source said.
When the RCMP announced SLt. Delisle's arrest last January, it publicly thanked two other federal authorities: CSIS and the Canada Border Services Agency, both of which collaborate with their U.S. counterparts.
In March, the Wall Street Journal cited sources alleging the naval officer leaked a volume of military communications data to Russia that was on par with what the U.S. government suffered through WikiLeaks, the organization that has irked governments around the world by making secret documents public.