No evidence surveillance took place, report finds

Evidence available does ‘not support’ the proposition that surveillance had occurred

Mr Justice John Cooke. Photograph: David Sleator/THE IRISH TIMES

Mr Justice John Cooke. Photograph: David Sleator/THE IRISH TIMES

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:00

The Government report into the alleged bugging of the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has found that there is no evidence surveillance took place.

The Cooke report says the evidence available does “not support” the proposition that surveillance had occurred, as had been initially reported by The Sunday Times newspaper.

“It is clear that the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance of the kind asserted in The Sunday Times article took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Síochána,” the report says.

The initial report said the GSOC offices had been targeted by “a sophisticated surveillance operation which used ‘Government-level technology’ to hack into its emails, wifi and phone systems”.

GSOC hired a UK company, Verrimus, to investigate the suspected security breaches at its offices.

‘Not convincing’

Mr Justice John Cooke deals with three main elements of suspected surveillance. Firstly, he describes as “not convincing” accounts that a wireless remote device for video and audio equipment in the GSOC offices were transferring data to a nearby internet wifi hotspot in a cafe.

Mr Justice Cooke report found it is “highly improbable that haphazard performance of such a… device constituted the planned means of covert eavesdropping on GSOC in a sophisticated surveillance exercise by any agency equipped with a capability of ‘intelligence service level’”. He said the initial characterisation of these anomalies should now be re-examined.

“The possibly sinister characterisation attributed to its abnormal behaviour appears now to warrant reconsideration in view of the fact that: a) it was not microphone-enabled as had been assumed; and b) its original default password was publicly available and had not been changed.”

The report also deals with the alleged fake 3G mobile network, suspected of being a mechanism for tracking and intercepting mobile phones – an IMSI catcher.

Testing

He said this was “highly likely” to have been caused by testing for a new, updated 4G network in the vicinity of GSOC’s offices on Upper Abbey Street on Dublin’s north inner city.

The tests were connecting to the relevant mobile phone company’s network in the UK, and the company was interviewed by Mr Justice Cooke as part of his deliberations.

“Having regard to the explanation given by the mobile phone network in relation to the testing of the 4G/LTE equipment at the time, it is clearly more probable that the iPhone scan detection of the country/network code was not caused by the presence in the vicinity of the offices of an IMSI catcher, notwithstanding the points to the contrary made by Verrimus,” he said.

The report also examines the “ring back” to a phone line in the GSOC offices in the early hours of the morning, which was initially described as a security threat.

It had been described as a threat and an “anomaly that has no benign explanation in scientific testing”, and it was suggested by Verrimus that an eavesdropper monitoring the line intervened to phone the extension being tapped.

‘Careless monitoring’

“The Verrimus expert was strongly of the view that the only available explanation was that of a somewhat careless monitoring agent unthinkingly intervening to phone the extension. This attribution of the occurrence to human error would appear, on the face of it, to be somewhat at variance with the premise that GSOC was being subjected to a sophisticated surveillance attack which was characterised as at intelligence service level.”

It also says there is no evidence this could have been carried out by An Garda Síochána.

By way of his concluding opinions, Mr Justice Cooke said that although it is “impossible on the basis of the technical opinions and available information, categorically to rule out all possibility of covert surveillance in the three threats identified by Verrimus, it is clear that the evidence does not support the proposition that actual surveillance of the kind asserted in The Sunday Times article took place and much less that it was carried out by members of the Garda Síochána.”