Duffy terror trial: MI5 operative tells how they recorded men in Lurgan park
An MI5 agent has told a Belfast court how security services were able to secretly record and film three men allegedly discussing a failed attempt to murder police.
However, even before he was sworn in at the Crown Court, counsel for the three accused said they intended to challenge the audio evidence allegedly obtained.
Colin Francis Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and Alex McCrory (57) all deny preparing and directing terrorism and IRA membership. Fitzsimons and McCrory also deny attempting to murder police and possession of two assault rifles and ammunition.
Counsel told Diplock trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara that they would be seeking to exclude the three audio exhibits "at the core of the prosecution case".
The covert audio recordings captured in Lurgan's Demesne Park were made in December 2013 under the codename 'Contraction', the court heard.
A video of the scene, codenamed 'Succinctness', was also made, as was a second video at the entrance of the Forest Glade area, designated 'Idealistic'.
Mr Justice O'Hara was told the defence had put the prosecution "on notice" in relation to the integrity of the audio recordings, as there were allegedly question marks surrounding their provenance and handling before they reached experts for examination.
A prosecution lawyer revealed that a separate undercover operation was also carried out in Santa Ponza with the assistance of Spanish authorities.
However, after giving evidence screened from the main body of the court by a blue curtain and guarded by a plain-clothed policeman, the MI5 technical officer with the personal identification number (PIN) 9281, refused to give any details about the workings of the various audio and, in particular, video devices.
Time and again 9281 told counsel: "I am not sure I can answer that on national security grounds."
At one stage counsel put it to the officer: "If I asked you any question on the functionality or capability of any of these devices, will the answer be the same?".
"Yes, My Lord," came the reply, before telling the court after further questions: "My Lord, I can say that I can't answer that on the grounds of national security."
Regarding the audio devices deployed in Demesne Park, he said if they were capable of being formatted, they would have been formatted, and if they required formating before deployment, they would have been.
Questioned about his statement of evidence concerning the deployment and retrieval of the various devices, he accepted that "each statement was prepared by someone else and I adopted it as mine".
However, there appeared to be differences in what he said about what had occurred during the various operations on the ground and statements on record. In one it was recorded that he had installed devices and that maintenance was carried out on them, and that in addition a further device was installed. Initially, he said that the reference to "maintenance" meant maintaining the correct protocols for the deployment of the audio devices.
When pressed, he appeared to accept that he had carried out maintenance and installed a further device, only later to say that he had a total of 15 devices and all were deployed and later recovered.
This was based on the serial numbers given to the various 15 devices, which although redacted, were recorded.
The officer said the difference was because of the use of his "terminology ... phraseology" in what was in the various statements, and that the meaning of "maintenance" was the removal of the devices.
PIN 9281 said that recordings from the various devices were downloaded to three USB flashdrives, designated Blue, Green and Purple by the defence.
However, it later transpired that the Purple USB, which could have been used as a "master", has since disappeared.
The court also heard that it was also accepted by both prosecution and defence that two viruses had been found on two separate copies of the Blue USB drive.
At least of one the viruses "could have opened the door" for the recordings to be altered.
It has also transpired that the computer used to download onto the USB devices had since been "decommissioned".
Asked later by Mr Justice O'Hara what would have been wrong with setting out what he had done in a notebook, the officer replied that he "wrote it down on a piece of paper".
The trial continues.