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Tuesday 15 October 2019

IRFU denies hiring former spy to combat media leaks

Stock photo: Sportsfile
Stock photo: Sportsfile

Cormac Byrne and Ian Begley

The IRFU has described as "fictionalised" claims it hired a former British military intelligence officer to root out suspected bugs it feared were planted inside its Dublin headquarters.

The claims refer to its apparent worries regarding media leaks after Ireland's disastrous World Cup in 2007.

A new book 'Client Confidential: Spooks, Secrets and Counter-Espionage' by Seán Hartnett, the pseudonym of a former army spy, alleges that dressing room issues and plans to replace head coaches were being given to journalists.

Cork-born Mr Hartnett says he had joined a private industrial espionage business in Ireland at the time after moving from a counter-terrorism army unit in Northern Ireland.

He claims his expertise was allegedly sought after the contents of a post-World Cup meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel were reported "almost word for word" in the media.

Mr Hartnett said Philip Browne, the chief executive of the IRFU, was so concerned the meeting was bugged that he called him in to search for listening devices.

He came to the conclusion that the leak was most likely the result of a recording on a mobile phone.

Mr Hartnett claims that when compiling his report, he accessed the IRFU's Ballsbridge headquarters after using an employee electronic pass card and returning via the underground car park.

He says he went into the office of Mr Browne and had access to his files.

"From there I moved to a room next door where player information, including salaries, was openly on display,

"I now knew how much Paul O'Connell was earning. As I walked around the building that morning, picking up information as I went, not one single person asked who I was or what I was doing," he wrote.

After issuing his security report, Mr Hartnett said he told IRFU board members that the next press leak would be investigated fully.

"Before this meeting began, I carried out a full sweep of this room. If anyone so much as turns on a mobile phone, I'll know about it."

He also says that he briefed incoming Ireland head coach Declan Kidney.

"Officially, the briefing was to inform them of dangers involving information security. Unofficially, it was to tell him that not all his enemies were outside the walls of the IRFU HQ."

Responding, the IRFU disputed the claims and said Mr Hartnett used "extreme degrees of artistic licence".

It said in 2008 it sanctioned the retention of Risk Management International (RMI), a risk assessment and security consultancy, to conduct a wide-ranging risk assessment of the then newly occupied IRFU headquarters building, IT systems, hotel accommodation and meeting facilities being used by the Irish team and the union.

"It is apparent the author of 'Client Confidential' has fictionalised many elements in the account of the IRFU's engagement with RMI and has exercised extreme degrees of artistic licence in his portrayal of the process undertaken.

"For the record the IRFU has never retained, the services of, or worked with, a 'Seán Hartnett'."

Irish Independent

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