Leak fears led GSOC to order HQ sweeps

The Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has said it ordered overnight surveillance clearance sweeps on its Dublin offices because it feared “exceptionally informed” comments aired in public had been leaked from its headquarters.

GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien said “heightened concerns” about confidentiality first surfaced in May of last year when GSOC had been involved in a number of high profile investigations, including a special report which had been highly critical over what it claimed was a lack of support from the Garda.

It contradicts what Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Dáil on Tuesday that security checks were routine.

As a result of the sweep the Ombudsman told the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions that in September two potential threats were identified.

* A wireless device in the GSOC boardroom which had connected to an external Wi-Fi network, although Mr O’Brien said there was no question its databases or electronics systems were compromised.

* The second threat surrounded the security of a conference call telephone in Mr O’Brien’s office. When a signal was sent down the phone at 1am, the phone rang back. The UK investigators believed there was virtually no chance the resulting callback was a wrong number.

After assessing the two threats, Mr O’Brien said on October 8 a public interest investigation was launched under Section 102(4) of the Garda Act. He said GSOC’s Acting Director of Investigations believed that if the threats were proven, “surveillance may have originated with An Garda Siochána” and a member may have committed an offence. He said that as “impalpable” as it may be for committee members to hear, Garda members could have been involved, although there was no “definitive” proof.

Mr O’Brien said after the third threat, involving the uncovering of a UK 3G network whose technology was only available to Government agencies, they stopped discussing the investigation using texts, mobile phones or office meetings.

“We ended up having to keep it so tight that we were meeting in cafés in Capel Street to discuss this” he said. He said analysis of the threat was inconclusive, but he suspected GSOC may have been under surveillance.

Mr O’ Brien told TDs and Senators he regretted he did not report his concerns to Mr Shatter. He “sat on” it over Christmas and made a “strategic decision” not to report what he described as “suspicious activity” because the resulting public disquiet over alleged Garda involvement would have been immense.

Responding to TD Michael Healy Rae, he said the leaking of the report to a Sunday newspaper was “an outrage” and had damaged “an already strained relationship between GSOC and the gardaí.”

He has ordered an investigation into who leaked the information and wanted them brought to justice.

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