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The Canadian Air Force Lost A $300,000 Secret Item For Nearly A Year

The loss of the item suggests a "possible systemic ignorance of security policy" at a Quebec air force base, an investigator says.

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The Canadian air force lost a $300,000 item classified secret and only found it nearly a year later, after an internal investigator started questioning people about the item’s disappearance, documents show.

Personnel at CFB Bagotville near Saguenay, Québec, also ignored Defence Department security policies when they took more than 40 days to report the item as lost to Military Police, according to an internal probe.

In the October 2013 report — contained within documents recently obtained through access to information laws by BuzzFeed Canada — an air force investigator says he can't say for certain whether the item was compromised during its 10-month disappearance.

The name of the item is redacted in the documents, and the Department of National Defence refuses to identify the object.

"The item in question is still classified so I don't even know what it is," a spokesperson said. The department did not answer other questions from BuzzFeed Canada before publication.

The incident, according to the 17-page report, suggested a "possible systemic ignorance of security policy" at 3 Wing Bagotville, one of two units that houses Canada's fighter jets.

"Although [I] was not specifically assigned to comment on the overall conduct of 3 Wing Logistics' storage practices for classified material, the loss [...] brought to light a larger issue which could not be ignored," wrote Capt. A. E. Hall, the Winnipeg-based air force member assigned to the case. "The resultant investigation has revealed a notable lack of knowledge of DND security policies and instructions, a lack of supervision and training for junior supply technicians, and significant procedural errors in the storage of classified material."

The incident began in September 2012, while the unnamed item was in transit from a maintenance squadron to a storage area for spare parts.

The investigator said the driver who delivered the item to the storage office didn't know the item was classified secret, so he left it in a "drop-off bin on the floor of the warehouse where it remained unsecured for possibly one or two days before it was sorted and locked up."

Handling errors continued when an "untrained private" was told to put the item in a locked storage container that didn't meet security specifications, Hall wrote.

On Sept. 25, the private returned to the locker after completing the necessary paperwork, but the item was gone. Hall said the private told her superiors and "a lengthy search of the warehouse floor" with employees from multiple teams followed, to no avail.

But it wasn't until Nov. 5 — 41 days later — that personnel from 3 Wing reported the item officially lost to military police. Hall called it "an excessive amount of time" and said it ignored National Defence Security directives.

"Periodic searches of 3 Wing storage spaces and enquiries at associated DND organizations on the national level yielded nothing for ten months," the investigator wrote. Even CFB Cold Lake, which houses Canada's other fighter jet unit, and the Defence Department's outside maintenance contractors were asked to search their inventories.

Hall said he arrived at CFB Bagotville on July 28, 2013 to start questioning personnel about the item's disappearance. Three days later, it turned up in a "locker" in the main storage warehouse where it first went missing.

Hall concluded the item "was lost due to a lack of training and a lack of supervision which resulted in its accidental misplacement." The investigator also said a "miscommunication" about what the item's packaging looked like "likely impeded an earlier recovery."

"As reported in previous findings, there were multiple occurrences of mismanagement of the [REDACTED] and disregard for its classified status," he wrote.

Hall's findings corroborated those of the Military Police, who wrote in a September 2013 letter that, lacking any other information, the loss appeared to be a "storage error," rather than "a theft or negligence."

But Hall concluded he couldn't "confirm in absolute terms" whether the item had been compromised either in transit to the warehouse or while lost. Nor did his report or the police letter provide an explanation for the seemingly curious timing of the item's discovery.

Hall made five recommendations in the report, most of which appear to have been implemented, according to subsequent memos.

The investigation ended in March 2015, when the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force received a briefing note with the report. The briefing note to Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin recommended he close the investigation — but also stated, contrary to the report, that the investigator had concluded the item had not been compromised.

UPDATE:

The Department of National Defence has admitted the briefing note to Blondin contained a mistake. A spokesperson said the briefing note "does not accurately reflect" Hall's report, in which he was unable to confirm that the item had not been compromised.

"Nevertheless, this error does not change the outcome of the summary investigation," Maj. Scott Spurr wrote in an email Thursday.

Spurr also said the report "did not assess the timing of the item's discovery as it was not within the scope of the investigation."

Read the full report here:

Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.

Contact Emma Loop at emma.loop@buzzfeed.com.

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