Thursday 25 August 2016

Paul Williams: There's a long list of suspects in this hi-tech crime world

Paul Williams

Published 11/02/2014 | 02:30

The Minister for Justice at the Department of Justice yesterday. Picture Steve Humphreys
The Minister for Justice at the Department of Justice yesterday. Picture Steve Humphreys

The unavoidable impression created by the shocking revelation of a plot to bug the offices of the Garda watchdog is that the prime suspects are shadowy renegades within the organisation GSOC was set up to police.

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The alleged discovery of a secret eavesdropping operation represents a grave attack, not just on the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission, but the security of the State.

But before any further enquiries can be made – and there are many more questions than answers – one arm of the State has been unfairly implicated in the absence of any evidence presented to the public so far.

While a lot of details have not yet been revealed, the source of the story seems to be adamant that this was not the work of organised crime or terrorist gangs – the equipment used, we have been informed, was "government-level" technology.

By late yesterday evening, the revelations were still sparse and fairly vague.

The subtext to GSOC's decision not to alert Justice Minister Alan Shatter about the clandestine attack, and its initial silence since the story first appeared, clearly infers that they don't trust the man.

And that is effectively an insult to Shatter, who even his most vocal critics agree, is a man of unflinching integrity.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that GSOC had an obligation under law to report the matter to the Justice Minister.

The vagueness of the information so far released has achieved two things: pointed the finger of suspicion at the gardai and firmly established GSOC as victims of their quest to root out corruption.

The Garda authorities and the Justice Minister have now been thrown into the midst of an unprecedented storm without being given any forewarning.

It has provided the opposition with an unexpected opportunity to make political hay while the lobby, whose goal it is to undermine law enforcement at every turn, had a great day.

To expose the culprits behind this plot, GSOC must at least make public the full report from the security company so that it can be fully investigated.

But the fact that the gardai have been slyly implicated in the scandal, through the use of the deliberate term government-level technology, will taint any investigation they conduct.

The statement from GSOC saying there was no evidence of garda misconduct came too late – the damage has already been done.

Security experts disagree with the contention that the equipment for this type of sophisticated eavesdropping operation is no longer confined to the state security services.

It would be in the interests of serious criminals and terrorists to get their hands on information in the possession of a GSOC investigation team.

'Government-level' security technology can be purchased by any major league criminal godfather with the right international connections. And it would not be the first time that such a plot was exposed.

In 1996, Patrick Dutchy Holland, the man who assassinated Veronica Guerin, hatched an equally sophisticated plot to eavesdrop on gardai investigating the murder.

Dutchy ordered custom-made bugs and transmitters specially built into his shoes when he was arrested.

The plan was to secretly tape conversations among the investigation team in a bid to thwart their offensive against the gang responsible.

But Dutchy's plan collapsed when gardai found the bugs.

Later detectives discovered specialist receiver and recording equipment hidden in two hotel rooms rented on behalf of the veteran killer close to Lucan and Tallaght garda stations where he expected to be questioned.

The availability of such hi-tech bugging equipment on the international underworld markets broadens the list of possible suspects for this operation.

More than ever this is not the time for GSOC going after the usual suspects.

Irish Independent

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