Belfast Telegraph

Surveillance firm sale claim denied

The UK security firm called in to carry out bug sweeps at the Garda ombudsman's offices has revealed it was asked to demonstrate high-level counter-surveillance technology to the Garda.

Verrimus was invited to Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park in Dublin last year as its experts were separately called in by the watchdog over fears it was being spied on.

The company confirmed the approach but denied reports that it had tried to sell equipment to the Garda.

"Verrimus can confirm we attended the Garda HQ on their invitation to demonstrate a number of Technical Surveillance Counter Measure (TSCM) technologies.

"Verrimus can confirm we demonstrated a number of specialist TSCM equipments on behalf of their manufacturers and agent, however in relation to the equipment demonstrated to the Garda, Verrimus demonstrates only, we do not and cannot sell those specific equipments."

Justice Minister Alan Shatter is to be questioned by a parliamentary committee on Wednesday over the handling of the suspicions of a surveillance operation mounted on staff and offices of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said a full public investigation is needed to stop an erosion of public trust in police accountability.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has repeatedly stated that he has definitively eliminated the possibility of any authorised or unauthorised spying by members of his force.

He called for a line to be drawn under the scandal.

Verrimus carried out counter-surveillance sweeps on the Gsoc offices last September and then conducted a follow-up check and submitted a report which warned it suspected a security concern related to government level surveillance technology.

Its experts found three security concerns - one was a wi-fi device - described as a media console - in the boardroom which was found to be connected to an external network.

Although it is not known how this happened, the device was not used by Gsoc and it could not connect to any of the watchdog's internal systems or databases.

Another was a suspected bug on the chairman Simon O'Brien's landline in his office which could not be traced.

The third was an ISMI catcher device which was imitating a UK 3G network around the Gsoc offices in central Dublin and could have been used to intercept calls and data on a mobile phone activated by the signal.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk said only a full independent inquiry into alleged covert surveillance can end confusion and controversy.

"With the greatest of respect to my colleagues on the Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee we do not have the necessary technical expertise that I would like to see brought in to comprehensively investigate what happened at Gsoc," he said.

"The issues at the heart of this controversy and the Government's handling of it are extremely serious and must be addressed in a manner that is open, transparent and will have the confidence of the public."

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party would also press for new laws for the ombudsman.

"The existing legislation clearly presents barriers to allowing Gsoc to fulfil its role as the body charged with conducting thorough, comprehensive and independent investigations into possible Garda misconduct," she said.

"Currently Gsoc does not have the power to investigate the Garda Commissioner. It is necessary that Ombudsman when conducting investigations can have oversight of and accountability from every level with an Garda Siochana, up to and including the Garda Commissioner."

"You cannot foster a policing culture based on the principle of accountability if the person at the top of the force is exempt from independent investigation."

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