Saturday 24 February 2018

Shatter demands full report from Garda Ombudsman on 'spying' claims

Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Tom Brady, Security Editor

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has demanded a full report from the Garda Ombudsman Commission on allegations that it has been the victim of a sophisticated spying operation using "government level" technology.

The astonishing claims indicated that the commission's phones had been bugged and eavesdropping equipment installed to monitor conferences on sensitive investigations.

Mr Shatter said he was not aware of the allegations until he read them earlier today in a newspaper report.

Senior garda officers also revealed they were not aware of the allegations.

But the Garda Ombudsman refused to make any comment on the claims and would not say why, if they were true, it did not refer its suspicions to either the Garda authorities or to the Government.

Mr Shatter now wants to know from the Ombudsman if the claims are accurate, if so, why they had not been reported to the relevant authorities and has asked them to supply a detailed explanation of what took place.

Last night the Ombudsman declined to make any comment to thirteen questions put to the commission by the Irish Independent.

Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins called on Mr Shatter to make an urgent statement on what he described as "these extraordinary claims" .

Mr Collins said the idea that someone or some organisation was engaged in covertly monitoring the Ombudsman was deeply unsettling and risked undermining public confidence.

"The minister needs to come forward and state whether he has spoken to the Ombudsman and whether he was aware of this surveillance.

"If he was, he needs to explain why on earth this was going on.

"If he wasn't, we need to get answers very quickly on who was responsible", Mr Collins added.

The report in a Sunday newspaper suggested that the Ombudsman decided to hire a British security consultancy company after it became concerned that its internal communications system was being bugged.

The consultants allegedly concluded that the commission was being targeted using controlled technology, which was not commercially available or sold to non government agencies.

The report said the Ombudsman decided last summer to "integrity test" its communications network last summer after concerns were raised about internal security and brought in consultants, who included former staff of the British GCHQ telecommunications monitoring agency.

It said a test on a speaker phone in a room used regularly to hold case conferences on sensitive investigations had been bugged and used to eavesdrop on meetings.

It also claimed the consultants found the Ombudsman's wi-fi network had been compromised to steal emails and other confidential data and possibly listen in to mobile phone calls.

A second wi-fi system had been created to allow the data to be examined, using an IP address in Britain while electronically concealing the identities and whereabouts of those involved in the spying.

The report said the Ombudsman had sought help from the British Independent Police Complaints Commission with counter surveillance systems.

It claimed the company, whose staff included former members of Britain's military and security services, carried out its work to prevent the investigation from being compromised by Ombudsman staff.

However, it is not clear how long the Ombudsman allegedly had the findings and why it decided to keep them secret

It is also a mystery why the Ombudsman has declined to comment since the report clearly infers that the bugging was carried out by a government agency, which could access the type of sophisticated equipment allegedly involved in the bugging operation.

Irish Independent

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