Wednesday 24 January 2018

Revealed: watchdog set up elaborate sting to catch a garda 'spy'

How false trail was laid to expose non-existent surveillance on GSOC

GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien
GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien

Paul Williams

Garda watchdog officials set up an elaborate sting in conjunction with the English security firm Verrimus in a failed bid to lure potential spies out into the open.

The details of the operation raise fresh questions about the exact role Verrimus played in trying to flush out those who were supposed to be spying on the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

As part of the counter-surveillance operation, a false document was drawn up.

The document contained deliberately misleading information which would have been of interest to suspected eavesdroppers.

It is understood that the document was then uploaded on to the GSOC computer system which Verrimus claimed had been subjected to cyber-surveillance.

The second part of the ruse involved a meeting that took place in the office of GSOC chairman Simon O'Brien to discuss the "information" in the document as if it were true.

And at the same time, two Verrimus operatives were in Dublin on the day to monitor if any eavesdropping activity took place during the meeting. GSOC officers were also on standby to "carry out arrests in the event that the surveillance was discovered".

An official inquiry by retired High Court judge John Cooke this week found no evidence to support concerns that the watchdog's offices were bugged.

In response to Judge Cooke's report, Verrimus released a statement insisting that it was never its role to uncover the source of any possible surveillance, but simply to highlight areas susceptible to threats.

However, it is clear that two Verrimus operatives were in Dublin on November 18 and 19, 2013, when a meeting was arranged to take place in Mr O'Brien's office to discuss the

spoof document which they referred to as the "legend".

The meeting was attended by GSOC officers and two GSOC commissioners, Carmel Foley and Kieran Fitzgerald.

Mr O'Brien, who was at home in the UK at the time, participated using the audio/visual conference system in his office – which Verrimus believed was being secretly monitored.

At the hour-long meeting the GSOC officials acted out their roles and discussed concerns about bogus errors in a previous probe for the benefit of those believed to be spying on them.

The ploy was devised after Verrimus claimed that it had detected the presence of a so-called IMSI device being used to set up a fake UK phone network for the purpose of eavesdropping on GSOC. But Judge Cooke found that there was no such IMSI device operating in the area. The anomaly was explained by a mobile phone company which was testing a new 4G installation nearby.

The judge made reference to the sting in his report, which he said was done "with a view to drawing out the attackers".

The firm said it was "never part of Verrimus's remit to investigate and uncover the source of any possible security threat".

Meanwhile, a Dublin-based security consultant who has studied the Cooke Report has questioned the actions taken by Verrimus operatives on October 20 last year.

On that occasion the specialists noticed that the watchdog's wi-fi had connected with the Bitbuzz network in an Insomnia coffee shop on the ground floor of the same building. When one of the operatives went to the cafe he saw one person using a "handheld computer or mobile device". The Verrimus officials then spotted a "white van" parked in the street.

The security operative said he noticed two men walking together nearby on three separate occasions. When the mystery men spotted him, they turned and walked away.

The specialists also claimed that they were photographed by an individual when they checked in at Dublin Airport for their flight back to London.

But a security consultant said it was "extraordinary" that there was no mention in the report of what actions were taken by either GSOC or Verrimus to identify the supposed spies.

There was nothing in the report to suggest that GSOC had sought CCTV footage in the area, or that the registration of the van had been taken down, said the security consultant, who did not wish to be named.

GSOC refused to comment on its responses. "We don't really think it is right to get into a discussion about the details of the investigation," the spokesperson said.

Irish Independent

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