The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department has admitted it possesses and uses a controversial cellphone surveillance tool currently at the center of several legal debates across the country. The acknowledgement comes months after an investigative report filed by Sacramento television station KXTV that revealed several law enforcement agencies throughout California had purchased or possessed a cellphone surveillance tool called a “Stingray”.
[Jerry Cowley apparently being filmed by a garda while he addressed a Shell to Sea protest at Bellinaboy, Co. Mayo in October, 2006]
In 2007, Former Independent TD Jerry Cowley suspected his phone was tapped because he supported the Shell to Sea campaign and had raised his concerns with Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
He later claimed his grievances were met with a ‘wall of silence’.
In light of recent bugging revelations, Mr Cowley has raised the matter again.
The Mayo News reports the GP saying:
“The question is, was Belmullet Garda Station bugging phones because of the Corrib campaign? And can any of the tapes now being examined answer questions I raised in the Dáil in 2007?”
“I have no doubt that whatever facilities the Gardaí had at their disposal at the height of the Corrib controversy were used by them. Such an approach was endemic at the time. Our campaign was always very transparent and open, and we held meetings every Sunday night that anyone could attend. But we always feared we would be infiltrated, and when there was a series of unusual coincidences where certain people had knowledge of information they should not have been privy to, it caused me great concern.”
“I wasn’t the only person, associated with the Corrib campaign, who expressed concerns about their phones being tapped. They were met with a wall of silence, but perhaps the tapes that are now being transcribed will give us new answers.”
The latest list of Garda stations where calls were recorded, comprising the 2,500 tapes stored at Garda HQ in Phoenix Park, Dublin..
Anglesea St, Cork City
Bray, Co Wicklow
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Drogheda, Co Louth
Bandon, Co Cork
Castlebar, Co Mayo
Ennis, Co Clare
Fermoy, Co Cork
Henry St, Limerick
Letterkenny, Co Donegal
Mill St, Galway
Mullingar, Co Westmeath
Nass, Co Kildare
Pearse Street, Dublin
Portlaoise, Co Laois
Store Street, Dublin
Thurles, Co Tipperary
Tralee, Co Kerry
“Chairman, at this stage it would be appropriate for the senior Garda authority to come clean in relation to bugging. It cannot be covered up. There are at least two hundred men alive at the moment, and women, probably a lot more, who know exactly what went on over the years, some of them are still serving in the job, and to try and cover it up on a nationwide scale, it can’t be done. It just can’t be done. It did happen. The equipment was bought and purchased at extensive cost to do it. It was not a universal approach, in certain cases they were done and it’s not just down to interview rooms. It’s houses, cars, apartments and phones. And it’s done illegally, totally illegally, and the senior Garda authority know this is the case.”
Lawyers for two men accused of IRA membership successfully applied to the Special Criminal Court today to have their trial adjourned “in light of recent events”. Barristers for the two men told the court that their clients had telephone calls with their solicitors while in garda custody and before they were subsequently interviewed by the gardaí.
[Tom Clonan, top, and Stalker by John Stalker (1988)]
” I’d invite you to think about this. Simon O’Brien is a former commander in the London Metropolitan Police, so he’s a very experienced person with, very au fait with intelligence gathering and with policing in general. And last year it got to the stage, that because of their beliefs that they were being surveilled, they were carrying out their most sensitive meetings in cafés on Capel Street.”
“…[They believed they were under surveillance in their own building] And [Mr O’Brien] outlined one test that they carried out with this company Verrimus where it was suspected that O’Brien’s landline, his own landline was actually bugged from his office. So they carried out a confirmation test at one o’clock, in the morning.
“And, basically, the way this test works is, if the phone is bugged, and you carry out this electronic test, then the phone will ring immediately. They carried out the test at 1am and the phone rang immediately. Now that means one of two things. It means the phone was bugged or it means that, at exactly 1am, at precisely the moment they carried out the test, somebody, somewhere, accidentally rang Simon O’Brien’s personal landline.
“…From my perspective it would appear to be part of a concerted attempt to play down these, this very, very serious issue, to dilute its import and again, in my own experience, as a whistleblower in the Defence Forces, drawing attention to sexual violence against women, the first response by the military authority to that time was to shoot the messenger. And I’m seeing exactly the same dynamic here.
“You know it was done with the Garda whistleblowers, questions were raised about their ethical probity, and you know, had they gone through the correct channels, and we’ve had some very, very disturbing transcripts of recordings where one of the whistleblowers was effectively threatened. So this is all part of a pattern of denial, muddying the waters.
“The journalists are now all jumping on this notion of a mole within GSOC, that released this report to a journalist. And, yes, that’s an interesting sub-section to this but the most important thing here is, serious questions have been raised about the security of GSOC and that needs to be investigated by an independent, extrajudicial expert in order to restore public confidence in GSOC and in An Garda Síochána.”
“I’ve heard journalists, my fellow journalists talking about documents being sexed up and, you know, basically, following the Government spin and repeating it and collaborating with it, extending the Government’s spin on this.
“They should go to the library and take out John Stalker’s book and by the time they’ll have got to the end of the first chapter, where John Stalker describes his meetings with John Hermon, that they might think again about supporting Government spin in this regard. An independent expert investigation is needed, not a High Court judge from Ireland – a policeman or an intelligence expert from Ireland.”
Dr Tom Clonan,Irish Times Security Analyst, and former Irish army captain who blew the whistle on the sexual harassment of female soldiers in the Irish army speaking with Pat Kenny yesterday morning on Newstalk.
Meanwhile, read an excellent round-up and analysis of events by Michael Clifford, of the Irish Examiner, here.
From right: Kieran Fitzgerald, Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commissioner (GSOC), Carmel Foley, Commissioner GSOC, and Simon O’Brien, Chairman GSOC, arriving at the Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee in Leinster House, Dublin today.
[GSOC]’s Simon O’Brien says the Commission investigated possible bugging under a legal clause that allows it to investigate possible offences by members of the Gardaí. However, he says he personally decided not to report the suspicions to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, because he did not want to suggest that Gardaí had organised the surveillance of the office. However he is clear that he believes the office was targeted.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter spoke in the Dáil yesterday evening about the reported bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission’s offices during a 5.30pm debate on the matter, saying:
“It is important to say at the outset that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has informed me that, after an investigation, they concluded that no definitive evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance of their offices was found. Moreover, they have informed me that their databases have not been compromised. In other words, it has not been established that the offices of the Ombudsman Commission were subject to surveillance. Some public comment has proceeded on the basis that it is an established fact that the offices of the Commission were bugged when clearly it is not.”
… “The issue in question arose following a security sweep, in September 2013, of GSOC’s offices in Dublin. I am informed that there was no specific concern which caused GSOC to organise the security sweep, which was carried out by a security firm based in Britain. It was a routine sweep of a nature which had occurred previously. I do not think anyone could argue that it is unreasonable for a body which, of its nature, holds sensitive information to take measures to ensure the security of its communications.” … “I am advised by GSOC that the sweep identified what they refer to as two technical anomalies which raised a concern of a surveillance threat to GSOC. 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. A subsequent sweep identified a third potential issue. There was no suggestion that there was any risk of unauthorised access to the GSOC databases and the documentation on them.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, above, also addressed the Dáil, saying:
“So, if you’re asking me ‘was the office bugged, what I’m saying to you, in the words of GSOC that they found, following the investigation, no evidence of sophisticated evidence of unauthorised technical or electronic surveillance of their offices found, I think that’s pretty clear.”
RTÉ’s political correspondent David Davin-Power on the 9pm news last night, speaking to Eileen Dunne, from Leinster House.
Eileen Dunne: “David, the focus of this story seems to be changing all the time, where are we tonight?”
David Davin Power: “That’s right Eileen, the focus of this controversy has weaved about a bit but I think tonight it’s settled on the Garda Ombudsman Commission and its handling of events. The original newspaper story that sparked this controversy was pretty accurate in its detail, in that it mentioned wi-fi networks, conference phonecalls and so on but it also went on to cite unnamed sources, saying that there was ‘government-level technology involved’. Well, obviously, there doesn’t appear to have been and that raises the question of who leaked the information and, to borrow a phrase from a couple of years ago, who sexed up this particular dossier? And then there’s the question of not telling the minister, understandable perhaps at the time but scarcely credible now that the whole controversy seems to have been nothing more than something of a bottle of smoke. And then, finally, there’s last night’s statement, which infuriated ministers, aswell as the Garda Commissioner, in mentioning the gardaí specifically. Now the Ombudsman chairman [Simon O’Brien] wanted, in his comments, just to put the gardaí out of the frame completely, saying they weren’t involved in anyway but it had the effect of providing ammunition to people who have always been sceptical and suspicion, suspicious of the Ombudsman Commission. So, plenty of questions, serious questions for the chairman of the Ombudsman Commission to ponder, along with his colleagues. They appear before a Dáil committee tomorrow. They’d want to put in a pretty credible performance and present a united front, if the whole process of rebuilding trust and credibility is to have any chance of success.”
Garda Ombudsman Commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald then went on Prime Time with Miriam O’Callaghan, following the news, last night.
Miriam O’Callaghan: “So, Kieran Fitzgerald, the minister today seems pretty clear, there’s no evidence at all that you were bugged. So were you bugged?”
Kieran Fitzgerald: “Miriam, it would be very, very good if we were able to say definitively yes, or definitively no. Unfortunately, the reality of modern surveillance and intrusive surveillance mechanisms, is that it’s very often an inconclusive result. So what we got were credible threats to our own security, we hired consultants, experts, international experts to consider those for us, examine those and test them. At the conclusion of their testing and their sweeps, their security sweeps, they were able to tell us that certain things did not look likely and other things, they could not be definitively sure.”
O’Callaghan: “What were the credible threats?”
Fitzgerald: “The credible threats were three-fold. One was a piece of equipment which was connecting to an external network, a wi-fi device. Now it should have been activated by a password, in actual fact it was activated, seemingly, without the need for a password and transmitting. It did not compromise our data, it did not connect with out internal security. But, having found it, we certainly needed to take it very, very seriously. That was one. The second was more worrying, it was a conference call telephone, a conference call facility that we use, not infrequently, and that was tested, and the test showed up what we called, in our first report, an anomaly, but it showed up something that gave them cause for concern and their judgement was that the strange behaviour of this device, in response to their test, was such that, it could have been coincidental, it could be accidental, it could be explained away but they rated in their report the possibility of it being coincidental as close to zero.”
O’Callaghan: “And the third one?”
Fitzgerald: “And the third one was a sophisticated piece of equipment that does sweeps of buildings, from an external, it doesn’t have to be in a building, just in the vicinity and that can, if you like, attack mobile phones and mobile devices.”
O’Callaghan: “It sounds like, still, like your statement last night from GSOC which more or less confirms what you’re saying now: you still believe that there could have been bugging of your building and your equipment. And that is not what the minister is saying today.”
Fitzgerald: “Well, we’ve no disagreement at all with the minister and we…”
O’Callaghan: “Well you clearly have…because he came out today saying there was none.”
Fitzgerald: “Well, what the minster actually said was that he had received a thorough briefing from us yesterday and further again today, with his officials and what he said was that we said that there was no definitive evidence of…”
O’Callaghan: “He said actually, just to quote him, he said that what was identified was ‘potential threats and vulnerabilities but there was no evidence that any surveillance had, in fact, taken place’.”
Fitzgerald: “There is no evidence to sugge-to confirm that surveillance has taken place. The minister is absolutely right and we have no, as a result of our briefing to him, we have no disagreement on that topic.”
O’Callaghan: “But on the balance of probability, Kieran Fitzgerald, do you believe you were bugged?”
Fitzgerald: “It is very difficult to say, I mean…”
O’Callaghan: “But what do you believe?”
Fitzgerald: “Well, hold on, Miriam, it would be lovely to be able to say we could be certain one way or another. What we are faced with, at the conclusion of this, is that we could more or less dismiss some of these threats and if you like, on a balance of probabilities, on others, we just do not know. What we have learned though, are the threats to our building and ensure that they no longer exist.”
O’Callaghan: “OK but on one of the anomalies you just mentioned, you said the likelihood, you know, that it’s an innocent thing was remote to zero, the possibility?”
Fitzgerald: “Well that’s what was reported to us, exactly.”
O’Callaghan: “So you can’t still believe, or say to me tonight that that would make you believe that there was some form of surveillance.”
Fitzgerald: “Well we cannot definitively, as the minister said and as I’m saying now, we cannot definitively say that we were bugged, certainly we cannot say that.”
O’Callaghan: “But was it routine, Kieran Fitzgerald? To go to a British firm? To do it in the middle of the night, to do it at weekends, or did something make you do it?”
Fitzgerald: “Can I just say, there aren’t an awful lot of people engaged in this work so the pool of people…”
O’Callaghan: “Ok. But was there something that sparked you to do this?”
Fitzgerald: “If you recall, throughout 2012, we were involved in some serious investigations and we…”
Fitzgerald: “And we submitted a special report to the Oireachtas, something we very rarely do, something we do only in grave and exceptional circumstances. We were obviously in a state of heightened awareness of our security at that point. And some things appeared in the public discourse that gave us rise to concern, nothing terribly specific but things that worried us and we thought this is a good time to do this.”
“In this State, two specific agencies, Garda Special Branch and the Defence Forces Intelligence Branch (G2) have been granted specific surveillance powers under legislation (the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009).
Since both of these agencies fall under the ultimate authority of one Minister, Mr Alan Shatter TD (in his capacities as Minister for Justice & Equality and Minister for Defence), the ICCL trusts that the Minister will provide unequivocal assurances that neither agency has been involved in spying on GSOC. In the event that it remains impossible to identify the culprits with the necessary degree of certainty, an inquiry of a judicial nature may be required.
…There is no direct Parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence activities of Garda Special Branch or Defence Forces Intelligence Branch and, under the existing legislation, ministerial and judicial oversight is very limited. Irrespective of whether the integrity of GSOC has been compromised by agents of this State, or by other rogue elements, our national safeguards against unlawful surveillance urgently require to be strengthened.”