HMCS Charlottetown. Photo:
HMCS Charlottetown. Photo:

Military police are investigating a possible security breach on HMCS Charlottetown.

According to a search warrant application processed last week, Peter O’Hagan, the Marine Systems Engineering Officer on the HMCS Charlottetown, is suspected of illegally storing a classified file on the Defence Wide Area Network (DWAN).

“The DWAN is a password-protected intranet in which each user has an individual account, requiring specially programmed computers for access,” explained Corporal Timothy Bregante of the military police in the warrant application. “On these individual accounts each user had a personal network drive in which they can store personal work-related material, which can only be accessed by the user or the network administrator…The DWAN is only allowed to store material which is classified as Protected B or lower; any higher classified documents stored into the DWAN constitutes a security breach.”

The incident comes after a series of security breaches in CFB Halifax.

In 2011, Sub-Lt. Jeffery Delisle, assigned to the HMCS Trinity intelligence facility at Stadacona, was charged with selling military secrets to the Russians. In October 2012, Delisle pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In the wake of the Delisle charges, staff at HMCS Trinity were reassigned, and the military began a systematic security scan of the facility. That scan discovered another potential security breach involving a civilian web designer at HMCS Trinity, named as “Mr. Zawidski” in court documents.

“Zawidski’s personal network drive contained 1,086 secret documents and 11 confidential documents, dated between 2004 and 2009, the warrant says,” reported Michael MacDonald for the Canadian Press.

It doesn’t appear that Zawidski has been charged, and in January, Rear Admiral John Newton downplayed the Zawidski incident. “We’ve looked at … the work of the person involved and it’s an issue of imprudence in handling material, but it’s nothing more nefarious than that,” Newton told MacDonald.

The security scan also “revealed an inappropriate use of information by three instructors and two students at the training school [at Stadacona], who transferred classified training material from the military’s classified network to its unclassified network,” reported the Canadian Press.

In the wake of the discovery of more security breaches, military police widened the investigation to include the Charlottetown.

In January, wrote police investigator Timothy Bregante, “an electronic audit of classified materials had been conducted of all HMCS Charlottetown users’ personal network drives… this audit was conducted in response to several other recent unrelated security breaches that had occurred in Canadian Forces Base Halifax. During the audit, it was revealed Mr. O’Hagan’s personal network drive had a classified file containing sensitive information, which could potentially be damaging to the security of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

According to Bregante, O’Hagan had a folder named “Mountain”; the suspect file was placed in the folder in November.

Bergante says in the warrant application that he spoke with a “Mrs. Mountain” at CFB Halifax. “Mrs Mountain stated that she had no recollection of the file. She stated that she was unsure why a file she had possessed on HMCS Ville de Quebec was found on the HMCS Charlottetown, but suspects the file had been given to members of the ship’s company during turnovers and postings.”

The warrant application does not say what information the classified file contains, so it’s difficult to assess how severe the potential security breach was. Possibly, the military is discovering relatively low-level breaches and shoddy handling of routinely classified, but benign, information.

The search warrant was needed to maintain the chain of evidence. A system administrator had removed the file rom DWAN and placed it on a CD; that way, the file would no longer be widely available on the DWAN network but was preserved as evidence in the investigation. The approved warrant allowed Bergante to obtain the CD from the system administrator and to examine the file.

According to the warrant application, O’Hagan declined to be interviewed by military police, saying he would first speak with the Judge Advocate General for legal advice, then speak with police when the Charlottetown returned to port in mid-March. However, as of last week, O’Hagan had not contacted police.

Bergante wrote that the warrant would likely provide enough information to charge O’Hagan.

A military spokesperson has not responded to an Examiner request for comment. O’Hagan could not be located for comment.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. “Possibly, the military is discovering relatively low-level breaches and shoddy handling of routinely classified, but benign, information.”

    That’s exactly what’s happening.

    1. although it’s good they’re checking and good you guys are reporting this type of stuff