GSOC briefing paper contains more than Shatter Dáil statement

Analysis: Briefing paper to Alan Shatter broadly consistent with GSOC evidence to committee, write Harry McGee and Fiach Kelly

Simon O’Brien, Carmel Foley and  Kieran Fitzgerald of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) arrive for a meeting with the Public Service Oversight Committee at Leinster House, Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph:  Collins

Simon O’Brien, Carmel Foley and Kieran Fitzgerald of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) arrive for a meeting with the Public Service Oversight Committee at Leinster House, Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Collins

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 14:41

The briefing note supplied by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter seems to contradict his comments last night that he set out to the Dáil the information furnished to him.

The three-page briefing note, which has been seen by The Irish Times, includes a number of specific details which were not referenced by Mr Shatter in his statement in the Dáil on Tuesday. The note also seems to reflect, in summary form, the account given by GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien to the Oireachtas Committee on Oversight and Petitions during four hours of hearings.

Mr Shatter last night said that the three-person GSOC commission had given different answers to particular issues. “Some of what was said during the course of that was to be a little confused or contradictory”, Mr Shatter said during an interview on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night.

However, an examination of the briefing note by The Irish Times indicates that the evidence given by Mr O’Brien and the other commissioners to the committee is largely consistent with the information contained in the briefing note it submitted to Mr Shatter before he made his Dáil statement. It includes information that was divulged to the committee but was not disclosed by the Minister when speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday evening.

However, the briefing note does not contain any reference to a context or “trigger” for the initial security sweep – Mr O’Brien revealed on Wednesday there were specific concerns and reasons that prompted the sweep.

While Mr Shatter quoted from the briefing notes in the Dáil on Tuesday, he did not include some of the details in relation to two of the three specific potential security threats that were identified that would tend to increase the gravity of the threat posed to the security of the GSOC’s offices.

One of the potential threats concerned a telephone in Mr O’Brien’s office. The test involved sending an audio signal down the line to see if somebody was listening in. The note, and Mr Shatter’s Dáil statement, both stated that immediately after the transmission of the audio signal, the conference phone rang.

However, the briefing note – and subsequent comment by Mr O’Brien and fellow commissioner Kieran Fitzgerald – went on to say that the operator from the UK security company Verrimus “judged that the likelihood of a ‘wrong number’ being called at that time (1am), to that exact unknown number, at the time of an alerting text, was so small as to be at virtually zero”.

There is no reference to this sentence in Mr Shatter’s Dáil statement which rather emphasises another point in the briefing that no further anomalies were discovered.

On the third threat there is another omission from Mr Shatter’s Dáil statement. That related to an “unexpected 3G network” detected in the vicinity of the GSOC offices. Mr Shatter did not disclose to the Dáil any further details of this network other than it suggested that UK phones registered to that network making calls would be vulnerable to interception. The Dáil statement did not specify that it was not a network that might be operated by a mobile telephone company rather a specific operation established – according to the security company Verrimus – for clandestine purposes.

The briefing stated: “[VERRIMUS] advised that such a network can only be simulated through a device called an ISMI catcher. An ISMI catcher, in simulating a UK mobile phone network, will pick up UK phones register to that network.

“Once a phone has been connected to that ISMI catcher, it can be forced to disable call encryption making the call data vulnerable to interception and recording. The specialist firm indicated that this level of technology is only available to Government agencies.”

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