Government, Defence Forces deny trying to place retired agent into Cooke inquiry

Ex-Army intelligence officer approached inquiry after “boys in green” comment

The Cooke report, published two weeks ago, found no evidence that bugging had taken place at GSOC’s offices last year. Photograph:  Collins Photos

The Cooke report, published two weeks ago, found no evidence that bugging had taken place at GSOC’s offices last year. Photograph: Collins Photos

Mon, Jun 23, 2014, 01:00

The Government and Defence Forces have said they had no role in trying to covertly place a retired Defence Forces intelligence officer into the Cooke inquiry which investigated allegations of bugging at the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

A spokesman for the Government said a letter passed by the Department of An Taoiseach to Mr Justice Paul Cooke containing an unsolicited offer of assistance from a retired Defence Forces intelligence officer was sent on to him “without comment or endorsement”.

The Defence Forces said none of its members was in any way involved in any approaches to the inquiry and because of that it did not intend to comment further.

A number of sources in Government said the offer of help was treated as genuine when it arrived into the Department of An Taoiseach and was treated accordingly.

The same sources pointed to the fact while Mr Justice Cooke in his report included references to the offer of help and a suggestion that the “boys in green” were trying to place a retired officer into the inquiry, he saw no need for the matter to be investigated further.

Modern equipment

The Cooke report, published two weeks ago, found no evidence that bugging had taken place at GSOC’s offices last year as described by media reports in February, let alone any Garda involvement in bugging.

However, it said given the sophistication of modern surveillance equipment, it could never completely rule out the possibility bugging had taken place.

And while the UK-based Verrimus security company hired by GSOC had found three main security anomalies in the Garda watchdog’s telephone and computer systems, the Cooke inquiry conceded one of those anomalies remained unexplained.

The Cooke report outlined a chain of events suggesting an unidentified party tried to influence the evidence given to the inquiry by Verrimus staff.

One section of the report carries what appears to be a transcript of part of a telephone conversation between an employee of Verrimus and an unidentified man conveying concerns expressed to him by members of the Garda and Defence Forces.

Advice

The caller says the “boys in green” were trying to place a contact of theirs into the inquiry in the guise of an expert who would advise the judge on the technical evidence he would be reviewing.

Mr Justice Cooke also notes that when he began his inquiries the Department of An Taoiseach passed him a letter containing an unsolicited offer of assistance from a person who had 20 years’ experience “in the intelligence services as an officer in the Defence Forces”.

The offer was not taken up.

Mr Justice John Cooke described the telephone conversation between the unidentified man and the unidentified Verrimus official as “quite oblique”.

The caller suggested that when the Verrimus official gave evidence, he should impress upon Mr Justice Cooke the need for the Garda to be provided with the results of the sweep of GSOC’s offices for investigation.

“I was satisfied the ‘phones calls received by Mr (name redacted) had not in fact influenced in any way his co-operation with the inquiry,” Mr Justice Cooke said.

As the “events had no bearing on the subject matter of the terms of reference” of his inquiry he “considered it unnecessary” to investigate the content of the phone calls and the subsequent offer of assistance to determine if they were linked.