OTTAWA — The Harper government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter, claiming it was a breach of national security, The Canadian Press has learned.
The Mounties conducted a five-month review into an alleged leak of cabinet documents under the Security of Information Act, recently used to charge a naval intelligence officer in an apparent spy case.
Records obtained under the Access to Information Act show investigators had doubts almost from the outset in July 2010 that any laws were broken in the Globe and Mail story.
The story revealed angst within government about possible alienation from Washington if a competition was held to replace the air force’s CF-18s.
Still, the review pressed ahead and drew in one of the RCMP’s four Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, whose job it is to chase terrorism threats.
It was shut down in December 2010 for lack of evidence.
The case file shows the complaint was laid by Wayne Wouters, clerk of the Privy Council, the country’s highest-ranking civil servant and adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, shortly after the article appeared on June 11, 2010.
The story by reporter Daniel Leblanc ran a month before the Harper government formally announced it had selected the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 in a glitzy photo-op that included a mock-up of the radar-evading jet.
The first RCMP member to review the allegation on July 8 was mystified as to what the issue might be.
“By reading the article, it is unclear how the info, interferes with the development of weapons or jeopardizes the safety of Canada,” said the summary file, which rated the preliminary investigation as a medium priority.
“It is an analytical fact that Canada and the USA are allies in several aspects. International competition may hinder Can-US relationships if Canada decides to turn down US offer, and the Globe and Mail article has not shed new lights on these facts or revealed secrets.”
Doubts about the substance of the complaint lingered until the file was closed, the records show.
The prime minister’s communications director defended the decision to ask for an investigation.
“The RCMP was asked to look into a possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information as has been done from time to time,” said Andrew MacDougall in an email.
A spokesman for the RCMP, Cpl. David Falls, said the force has a mandate to “investigate the unauthorized disclosure, mishandling or communication of classified information,” but declined to comment on the specifics of the Globe and Mail investigation, referring questions to the Privy Council Office.
The case file reveals investigators recommended on Sept. 2, 2010, the review be shut down.