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Thursday 28 August 2014

Bugging device linked to ombudsman inquiry 'can be bought openly'

Tom Brady

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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Mr Justice John Cooke
Mr Justice John Cooke

A Government-ordered inquiry into the alleged bugging of the Garda Ombudsman Commission's headquarters is understood to have dismissed claims that a device used was available only to government agencies.

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The device was reported at the time to have been so sophisticated that it could not be purchased on the open market.

This fuelled speculation that members of the garda force might have been involved in bugging the ombudsman's offices, but the inquiry carried out by Mr Justice John Cooke, whose report is in the hands of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, is believed to have concluded that the device, known as an IMSI catcher, could be bought openly.

The IMSI catcher can simulate the UK mobile phone network and will pick up UK phones registered to that network.

The conclusion confirms the disclosure in the Irish Independent last February that the device was commercially available and, in an ironic twist, similar equipment was demonstrated to the gardai last September by officials from the British security firm Verrimus, which had been called in by the ombudsman to investigate its surveillance fears.

Verrimus officials were in Dublin from September 23-27 to carry out a security sweep, mainly at night at the ombudsman's offices, to avoid any compromise by staff.

Their meeting with the garda experts took place at the force's headquarters on the afternoon of September 26. Verrimus later confirmed it had demonstrated a number of specialist technical surveillance counter measures to the gardai on behalf of their manufacturers and agent but insisted that they did not, and could not, offer to sell the equipment to the force.

It is understood, however, that prices were discussed at the meeting and officials told gardai that the IMSI catcher could be purchased at between £80,000 and £100,000 (€99,000 to €124,000), depending on what was included.

Surveillance

The gardai stated that they were not interested in purchasing the device.

Government ministers are expected to hold preliminary talks about the Cooke report at today's cabinet meeting, but it is likely that no decision to publish the findings will be taken until detailed consideration of the report has taken place. The full contents of the report have not yet been circulated outside a tightly knit group, who include the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, and it is not clear if the judge has determined whether or not surveillance did take place at the ombudsman's offices in Upper Abbey Street, Dublin.

In a briefing note to then Justice Minister Alan Shatter last February, the ombudsman said that during another visit here on October 19 and 20, Verrimus detected a UK 3G network.

It pointed out that such a network could only be simulated through the IMSI catcher device. It explained that an IMSI catcher, in simulating a UK network, picked up UK phones registered to it and once a phone had been connected to the device, it could be forced to disable call encryption, making the call data vulnerable to interception and recording.

Irish Independent

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