Major Spy Secrets Found
On Disc Left In Phone Booth
By Andrew Mitrovica in Toronto
and JEFF SALLOT in Ottawa
Toronto Globe And Mail
A Toronto man who found a Canadian Security Intelligence Service computer diskette in a telephone booth says it detailed -- in plain English -- the names of confidential informants and contacts, information about the service's targets and covert operations in Canada and details about espionage training exercises.
"The more I looked, the more I realized that this was very, very, sensitive stuff," the man told The Globe and Mail yesterday in his first interview about the diskette mishap, which took place in 1996. "This is amazing, I thought." Federal government sources confirmed many details of the man's account.
The sources said the diskette was lost by a CSIS intelligence officer who was moving from headquarters in Ottawa to a new position in Toronto. Although its loss was reported in the media at the time, the man's comments provide the first details of the information the diskette contained.
The new revelations are likely to become the latest embarrassment for Canada's embattled spy agency, which has already been rocked by news that top-secret documents were in a briefcase stolen from an agent's minivan in Toronto last month.
The man who found the diskette in 1996 admitted he considered selling it to the "highest bidder" before returning it to the agency. "People were named; contacts that they [CSIS] had within organizations in Bosnia and in Canada, people that were in training, covert operations," he said. "They were talking about largely unofficial, undercover contacts and people that they were observing," he said.
He eventually returned the diskette to CSIS because he thought it was his duty, he said. But the episode "shattered my illusions about what a secret service operates like. I was doing what I felt was the responsible thing to do."
The incident was later investigated by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, an independent watchdog panel. The committee was satisfied that the classified material hadn't fallen into the hands of anyone who could have used it to harm national security. Nevertheless, the case caused changes in CSIS's internal procedures for transferring sensitive data from one location to another, the federal sources said.
The finder of the diskette, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, recounted his brief foray into the shadowy world of espionage.
It began in early August, 1996, when he stopped to make a phone call at the busy Toronto intersection of Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue.
"I went into one of the phone booths to make a call and there was a diskette on the shelf. It was just the diskette; there was nothing else. It had obviously fallen out of something because there were quite substantial scratch marks on it," he recalled.
He looked around for the owner. The library near the phone booth was closed, so he posted a note on the doors, saying: "Disk found, please call . . ."
He went home and waited for a reply. Curious, he shoved the unmarked diskette into his computer. "I thought, 'Maybe there is something in here that identifies who this belongs to,' " the man said. He opened the document using his computer's word-processing software and was shocked by what popped up on his screen.
"It came up without any conversion. It just opened right up; it wasn't password protected and [as] I started scanning through this stuff there was a large quantity of clearly sensitive information. Quite frankly, I thought at first it was just an elaborate practical joke. It was a whole bunch of cloak-and-dagger stuff."
He kept reading the uncoded documents. There were between eight and 12 in total, each about four pages in length. He only read three or four documents, he said.
He said he considered selling the diskette to one of CSIS's targets, who was identified in the documents. "I briefly toyed with the possibility of seeing who would buy this for the highest bid. I do know there were names there, and I thought, 'Hey, what if I give this person a call and say: Do you know what CSIS has on you?' I abandoned the idea. I figured I could get myself in a lot of trouble that way."
He tried to make a copy of the diskette but realized that the information had not been transferred.
In mid-August, he picked up the phone and called CSIS in Toronto. "I didn't know who CSIS was. So I just looked them up in the phone book and I called them up."
He described his find to a CSIS officer. A few hours later, H. N. (Harry) Southern, the agency's head of internal security, arrived at the man's home office in downtown Toronto. The following day, CSIS called back and said they wanted to pay him another visit. This time, two agents dropped by: Angela Jones and Mr. Southern.
They began to question him about "everything I knew about this," he said.
CSIS knew that he had told friends about his diskette adventure. "They asked me: 'Did you make any copies of it?' and I said that I didn't make any printouts but I had made a copy of the diskette, but when I tried to open it, I couldn't read it. They took my word on it and never asked me for the copy," the man recalled.
The agents asked him not to tell anyone about the lost diskette. "They were extremely uncomfortable. They were very ill at ease, very embarrassed. It's an organization that's supposed to be top secret. And I think it was uncomfortable for them to go to a Joe on the street like me and ask him how he managed to just find in a phone booth these kind of documents," he said.
The pair of agents paid him a third visit after they learned that he knew a journalist who worked in Toronto for The Christian Science Monitor newspaper. The same agents later paid a visit to the journalist and his wife and peppered them with questions about what they knew about what was on the diskette.
He said the agents told him they were getting a lot of heat from their spymasters, who were anxious that his find not hit the front pages of newspapers in Canada.
The man, who works as an administrator in Toronto, asked the CSIS agents for money in return for his silence. They refused.
He had some harsh words for the agency. "I told them if things are as unprofessional as they seem, maybe it would good if a little heat was put under some people. They said: 'Believe me, there is some heat being put under some people,' " he said. He was not threatened. "They were very meek," he said.
Former CSIS officer Peter Marwitz said the case of the missing diskette is known widely within the service and is a sore point for many veteran officers who think carelessness on this scale should have been a firing offence.
The veterans, Mr. Marwitz said recently, believe the careless officer in the 1996 incident went unpunished because "she brazenly defied her challenger, reminding the service that she was a woman and a minority."
The SIRC, the watchdog committee that reports to Parliament, made an oblique reference to the 1996 incident in one of its published audits.
Procedures were changed after the incident so that an officer moving from headquarters to a regional office isn't required to carry data physically on computer diskettes, federal sources said.
Officers can now transfer their computer network data accounts to the new location and sign on to the network and get access to any of the files they are authorized to see, the sources said.
CSIS spokesman Dan Lambert said the service will neither confirm nor deny details of the lost-diskette episode. He said an internal investigation is still under way in the case of the employee who lost the operational planning document while at the hockey game.
Meanwhile, Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay, the federal minister responsible for both CSIS and the RCMP, confirmed that the Mounties lost a briefcase containing sensitive documents in British Columbia in 1995. But he said RCMP Commissioner Philip Murray assured him that the loss did not pose a threat to national security.
Opposition parties blasted Mr. MacAulay for the third day running yesterday for his failure to immediately notify the SIRC, the review committee, upon learning of the incident at the hockey game.
"People . . . need to know that these departments are not leaking like sieves," Reform MP Jim Abbott said.


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