TD's concern 'heightened' over Shatter account

Padraig MacLochlainn.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s account of a suspected surveillance operation at the Garda Ombudsman’s offices differs considerably from a report he was given on the security concerns, it has been claimed.

The head of a parliamentary committee, which is probing the handling of allegations of a bugging scandal at the watchdog’s headquarters, has said he is concerned about what the minister knew and what he said.

Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Féin TD and chairman of the Public Service Oversight and Petitions, said Mr Shatter will be asked to explain his position next Wednesday.

“All I can say is, the concerns that I had have only heightened having read that (ombudsman’s) briefing,” he said.

“If you read the minister’s statement to the Dáil, the transcript, and if you read the report given to him the previous evening, there’s a number of considerable discrepancies in what he was given and what he said.

“My concerns are not lessened by what I have seen.”

Chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), former Met Police commander Simon O’Brien, said on Wednesday at the parliamentary committee that he suspects his headquarters have been placed under surveillance.

Mr Shatter held a two-hour meeting with Mr O’Brien on Monday to be briefed on the suspicions and received a copy of a report on counter surveillance sweeps carried out at the ombudsman’s offices late last year.

Following that, Mr Shatter made a statement to the Dáil dismissing suggestions of Garda involvement in a surveillance operation as “completely baseless innuendo” and said there was no definitive evidence the ombudsman had been bugged.

Last night the minister said Mr O’Brien provided confused and contradictory accounts of his concerns and that his own statement to the Dail was based on his meeting with the GSOC chief.

The alleged bugging was first disclosed in a report in the Sunday Times last weekend which Mr O’Brien described as having “an awful lot of provenance”.

Mr Shatter will be questioned by the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions on Wednesday.

The Garda watchdog chief said he believed the story was leaked from within his own organisation – possibly from an official internal report – and suggested the source could be responsible for the alleged spying on the oversight body.

Troubled relations between the Garda and its watchdog, which has resulted in very public spats in recent years, initially led to suspicions that elements within the force were behind the suspected targeting of the central Dublin offices of GSOC.

Suspicion within the GSOC headquarters was so rife, he said he would only talk about the security threat with the two other commissioners – Carmel Foley and Kieran Fitzgerald – in city centre cafes for fear of being spied upon.

The bugging claims centre on three issues which were identified with telecoms and technology in or around the GSOC headquarters on Abbey Street.

First, a wi-fi device – described as a media console – in the boardroom was found to be connected to an external network.

Although it is not known how this happened, the device was not used by GSOC and it could not connect to any of the watchdog’s internal systems or databases.

The device has been retained for evidence

The second issue revolved around concerns about the security of a telephone used for conference calls in Mr O’Brien’s office. Tests showed a suspicious signal coming back into the telephone when it was activated but the number could not be traced and there was no conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing.

There was no evidence of any calls being compromised.

A third issue related to the vulnerability of UK registered mobile phones in the area of the offices.

The technology – used only by government level security agencies – recreates a mobile network and picks up or locates phones registered to that network.

Once a phone has been connected it can be forced to disable call encryption and leave call data vulnerable to interception and recording.

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