Archive for March, 2008
I thought I’d seen everything in my day….or most everything. But the article I wrote in today’s Citizen about the blueprints for a new military counter-terrorism installation ending up in the trash on Bank Street is one for the books.
If you read today’s paper, you’ll see that the blueprints were found on March 13 on top of a mound of garbage bags on Bank St. The blueprints showed every nook and cranny of the new installation including sewer lines, electrical grids, security fences, and a detailed floor plan, etc. The plans were for the building housing the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit at CFB Trenton, a force which deals with nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological threats and is one of the country’s first responders to a terror attack.
Even as I was writing the article I had trouble digesting the whole situation.
How did this all come about?
Yesterday, I got a phone call from Steve Staples, the president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa. Mr. Staples as you most likely know is one of the most outspoken critics of the Afghan war and a critic of DND’s spending. He is what is usually termed a leftie and believes defence dollars should be directed to peacekeeping and the defence of Canada (Arctic, coastal patrols etc). To say he is disliked by some in the defence community is an understatement.
Mr. Staples was trying to interest me in covering a press conference regarding opposition to the sale of Canada’s main satellite Radarsat-2 but I told him I was too busy. The conversation then turned to the fact that he had just returned from a holidays in Florida and that his work had piled up in the meantime. One of the things he was meaning to look at were some documents found on Bank Street by his program director Anthony Salloum.
Mr. Salloum and his spouse had been walking in the Glebe on their way to dinner when they passed a mound of garbage bags near a telephone pole. Nothing unusual there…but Mr. Salloum’s spouse’s attention was caught by the rather large rolls of paper which had “Department of National Defence” in black letters stamped on the outside. About 7 rolls were sitting on top of the garbage bags.
Mr. Salloum was obviously intrigued but his main priority was to get something to eat so he figured if the rolls were still there after dinner he would grab one. An hour later he and his spouse walked back down Bank Street and the rolls were indeed still there. He took one and the next day briefly looked at it. He could see that it said 8 Wing Trenton but not realizing what it was about he left it in the corner of his office.
Fast forward to a week later (i.e. yesterday) when Mr. Staples came back from vacation and Mr. Salloum told him about the documents. The two were so wrapped up with arranging their Radarsat-2 press conference they hadn’t fully opened up the rolls.
“I think it’s some kind of map of where they are going to put light poles and other electrical stuff at Trenton,” Mr. Staples told me on the phone.
“Or maybe it’s a plan for the new C-17 hangers?,” he joked.
To me it didn’t sound like a big deal…….but with my interest tweaked I asked Mr. Staples to unroll the paper and see if there were any indications of what exactly these records were of.
After a lot of crinkling of paper, he came back on the phone: “Yeah, it says NBCD Company, 8 Wing Trenton.”
“Say again?” I asked, thinking I had heard wrong the first time.
“Something called NBCD Company at 8 Wing Trenton,” replied Mr. Staples. “What’s that?”
At that point I thought this was all some kind of practical joke being played me. Two of DND’s biggest critics had the blueprints for special operations command’s new Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (which used to be called the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company) installation and they had no clue whatsoever what they were looking at.
I jokingly berated Mr. Staples for pulling my chain on what I thought was an elaborate stunt…. but he said he didn’t know what on earth I was talking about. He was so preoccupied with his press conference set for today that I don’t think even by the end of the day he had fully comprehended what was in his hands.
It was a truly bizarre situation. The plans for a secret military counter-terrorism installation had been sitting in the corner of the Rideau Institute’s office for a week. Neither men had realized the extent security had been breached at DND.
Then I had a another thought (my cynical side working overtime). This seemed too bizarre to be a coincidence- especially since it involved Mr. Staples and Mr. Salloum. Maybe someone was setting these two guys up for a fall. Certainly, catching DND’s critics with sensitive records might be a good way of discrediting both Mr. Staples and Mr. Salloum, since after all they had become royal pains in the ass for DND.
Had someone placed the rolled blueprints on Bank Street just so Mr. Salloum’s spouse would see them? The documents were so big….at least a metre in length, they would be impossible for someone to miss.
But as Mr. Staples kept talking, reading details from the blueprints, things started to make more sense and I eased up on my conspiracy theories. The Trenton blueprints had project identification numbers on them as well as the time, date and the name of a civilian contractor who had printed them out. (I later tracked down the name of the contractor and confirmed it).
The docs had also been stamped with “Received” by another civilian contractor working on the Trenton installation. There were also the telephone numbers of six civilian contractors who had worked on the project. A couple of quick checks confirmed the named contractors.
To me it was obvious that one of the contractors or someone associated with them (secretary, engineer, who knows) lived on or near that stretch of Bank Street…..and since the plans were dated March 2007–and there was no “SECRET” stamp on them — they had tossed the blueprints out into the garbage, not fully understanding the security ramifications of what they had done.
Along comes Mr. Salloum and his spouse and ……boom, the perfect security storm.
I told Mr. Salloum and Mr. Staples what they were in possession of and they immediately said they would return the plans to DND if they could figure out who to give them to.
I made a few phone calls to CANSOFCOM to let them know not only where the blueprints were but to give them a heads up that there were six other rolls of blueprints most likely somewhere at the Ottawa dump.
A military investigation was immediately launched when DND realized the severity of the breach.
The Citizen decided to do an article on the security breach but not to show details of the blueprints in photographs because of the national security implications.
I have to give credit to Col. Mike Day, commander of CANSOFCOM. When I talked to him his guys got right on the issue. CANSOFCOM picked up the blueprints last night from Mr. Salloum.
I get the sense that this was not a case of CANSOFCOM security breaking down; I would start looking towards some of the various civilian agencies and government departments involved in the construction of the Trenton site. The big question is: did other people walking along Bank Street that day take any of the rolls of blueprints?
Mr. Salloum can’t remember exactly which telephone pole the garbage bags and the blueprints were sitting beside but he recalls it was close to Feleena’s Mexican restaurant. So it should be a case of determining which civilian employees lives in this area. As well, the contractor who printed the blueprints had his name and phone number on the documents, so again a key place to start the investigation.
Who knows – maybe this incident will push DND to tighten up its security on the use of outside civilian contractors and there will be lessons learned for the Canadian Forces in all this.