A senior intelligence officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been arrested for allegedly stealing a large quantity of sensitive documents, amid speculation he may have been preparing to share secret information with a foreign government.

Cameron Ortis, 47, faces five charges under Canada’s criminal code and its Security of Information Act, the federal police agency said in a statement on Friday.

“The allegations are that he obtained, stored, processed sensitive information, we believe with the intent to communicate it to people that he shouldn’t be communicating it to,” prosecutor John MacFarlane told journalists after Ortis appeared in an Ottawa court via video link on Friday.

Canada’s Global News reported that Ortis, who was arrested on Thursday, was a top adviser to former Royal Canadian Mounted Police commissioner Bob Paulson, and had control over counter-intelligence operations.

The work of Ortis, who speaks Mandarin, was central to national security and his arrest involved multiple security agencies, CBC News reported.

Intelligence community ‘reeling’

CBC said Canada’s intelligence community was reeling at the discovery of a senior official – a civilian director-general working with an RCMP intelligence team – has been charged.

It said the event was expected to have a ripple effect for years.

Federal departments across the national government are reportedly conducting in-house damage assessments in the wake of his arrest.

The RCMP fears Ortis stole “large quantities of information, which could compromise an untold number of investigations,” according to Global News, which first reported the arrest.

While specific details relating to the arrest of Ortis were not immediately available, analysts said he had some of the highest access to classified and allied information within the Canadian police, with knowledge of code words and operations.

CBC said Ortis faces three charges and multiple counts of a rarely used law that deals with communicating or confirming special operational information. The network quoted one analyst as saying the charges suggested that he had already shared secret information, perhaps just in Canada, but that he may have been preparing to share sensitive information with a foreign government or a terrorist organization.

‘Five Eyes’

Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance with Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States.

The public broadcaster Radio-Canada said Ortis is a specialist in East Asia, critical infrastructure and the use of “bots” online.

Ortis has been detained in custody until his next hearing on September 20. He could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of their meeting in Beijing on August 31, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Wu Hong/Pool
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of a meeting in Beijing on August 31, 2016. Photo: Reuters

‘Extremely serious’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is campaigning for a second term in office, told reporters at an election rally “I can assure you that the authorities are taking this extremely seriously,” without commenting further.

His opponent Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said it was “extremely concerning that a senior RCMP intelligence officer has been arrested for leaking national security information.”

“This is another reminder of the threats we face from foreign actors,” said Scheer, who is tied in the polls with Trudeau.

On the LinkedIn social network, the account of a person named Cameron Ortis indicates that he has worked for the Canadian government since 2007 after receiving a doctorate in international relations and political science at The University of British Columbia.

The account also says he speaks Mandarin, the main language of China, with which Canada is in the midst of an unprecedented diplomatic crisis.

Beijing last December detained two Canadian nationals in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese tech executive on a US warrant.

China has also blocked Canadian agricultural shipments worth billions of dollars.

With reporting by AFP