Shatter: Offices checked but no evidence of surveillance

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the offices of the Garda ombudsman were checked for potential vulnerabilities but that there was no evidence of surveillance and they were not bugged.

But he said the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has told him that it found three threats, including one of its own devices which was linked to an external wi-fi connection.

His comments came after Taoiseach Enda Kenny earlier told the Dáil there was no “definitive evidence of unauthorised surveillance” of GSOC’s offices.

During a Dáil debate on the suspected bugging of the GSOC’s offices, Mr Shatter outlined a briefing he received from the ombudsman and said he had asked for a copy of the external British consultants’ report on the security check at their offices.

A routine sweep of the offices by the firm identified “two technical anomalies” which raised a concern of a surveillance threat, he said. A third threat was then also identified, TDs were told.

“I should emphasise that my understanding is that what was at issue were potential threats or vulnerabilities, not evidence that surveillance had, in fact, taken place” he added.

The three threats included:

* A wi-fi device — owned by GSOC — in its boardroom which was password protected and found to be connected to an external wi-fi network. But GSOC does not operate wi-fi and never activated the device;

* The conference call telephone in the chairman’s office was tested, involving sending an audio signal down the telephone line. Immediately after this transmission, the conference phone line rang. GSOC conducted a number of checks to establish the source of this telephone call, but was unable to do so. No evidence was found of any phone call made or received being compromised;

* A UK 3G network near the GSOC offices was detected which suggested that UK phones registered to that network making calls would be vulnerable to interception. But no GSOC staff have UK-registered phones.

Mr Shatter said GSOC investigated all three issues and concluded that “no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance was found”.

Mr Shatter said it was “a matter of substantial concern” that GSOC did not originally report its concerns to him.

He said there was “no bad blood” between him and GSOC and he rejected suggestions that he had forced the ombudsman to apologise for not originally referring on the security issues.

There were growing demands last night for an independent panel to examine allegations of bugging at the Garda ombudsman’s offices.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said a three-person panel was the only way to resolve concerns about security threats to the ombudsman’s systems.

Opposition TDs also said the Taoiseach should apologise for inaccurately claiming that the Garda ombudsman was compelled under law to report important matters to the Government.

Independent TD Shane Ross claimed GSOC had originally not reported the security breaches — discovered last September — because the ombudsman had “no trust” in the establishment.

Its work had been attacked and frustrated, said Mr Ross, and that was why there was a need for an independent inquiry.

During Leaders’ Questions earlier in the day, Micheál Martin also claimed that GSOC had been turned into a villain rather than victim.

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