Category Archives: POLICE

This is how much access Australian police already have to your data

The Australian government now wants further powers to access encrypted communications, but does it need them?

Police and intelligence agencies already have significant abilities to access data about our emails, phone calls and text messages if we’re suspected of committing a crime, although it can be difficult to tell exactly what they’re doing with them.

The government argues existing interception capabilities are inadequate to protect national security. According to Attorney-General George Brandis, backdoor access to encrypted communications would redress the “degradation of our intelligence capability” to prevent terrorism.

Many Australians are unaware of current police and intelligence powers when it comes to accessing our data. As the government lobbies for new levels of access, that needs to change.

‘Backdoor’ access

The government’s proposal to compel technology companies to provide access to encrypted messaging services is modelled on laws passed by other members of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance, of which Australia is a member.

Deputy US Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein recently announced the Department of Justice intends to demand interception of encrypted communications. New Zealand already requires technology companies to grant access. In the UK, authorities may force decryption where it is technologically feasible.

As with our allies, it is unclear if Australia’s laws will require so-called “backdoor” vulnerabilities to be built into messaging applications like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

They could compel access via decryption keys or they might enable remote access to devices for interception of communications “at the ends”.

In response, cryptographers argue it is not mathematically possible to access end-to-end encrypted messages via interception without undermining online privacy for everyone.

The current state of telecommunications surveillance

The government already has various powers to access metadata, the contents of digital conversations and computer networks.

The Attorney-General’s Department recently released its annual report on telecommunications surveillance.

Thanks to the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act (TIA Act), law enforcement and other agencies can access stored communications with a warrant. This can include “email, SMS or voice messages stored on a carrier’s network”. In other words, the contents of any communication not encoded via encryption.

Agencies may also apply for “preservation notices” to compel telecommunications companies to preserve data.

During the 2015-16 financial year, there were 712 warrants issued for access to stored communications. Data is not available about the types of offences these warrants were used for. It is also not clear how the telecommunications information was used in investigations.

Applications for stored communications warrants (issued)

Agency 2014-2015 2015-2016
ACC 4 2
ACCC 4
AFP 94 80
ASIC 1
CCC (QLD) 3
CCC (WA) 5
DIBP 10 1
NSW CC 3 4
NSW Police 290 345
NT Police 16 11
PIC 7 16
QLD Police 123 132
SA Police 38 19
TAS Police 29 17
VIC Police 40 41
WA Police 38 35
Total 696 712

Source: Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 Annual Report 2015–16

The issue of metadata retention

A controversial 2015 amendment to the TIA Act requires telecommunication service providers to retain metadata for two years.

This allows authorised law enforcement agencies warrantless access to information about digital communications such as the recipient or time sent, but not their content.

However, some agencies that aren’t meant to be able to access metadata are still making requests under different legal regimes, according to the Communications Alliance, and there have already been reported breaches where an Australian Federal Police officer accessed a journalist’s metadata without an appropriate warrant.

The 2015-16 financial year was a grace period for service providers to comply with retention requirements. During this time, there were 332,639 authorisations by criminal law-enforcement agencies.

Authorisations occurred most for drugs or homicide investigations. It’s possible this may indicate police are relying on ready access to metadata rather than pursuing traditional investigatory methods.

Around AU$200m later, data retention mostly used for chasing drugs, not terror

The Attorney-General’s Department has exposed a report outlining the opening months of Australia’s data retention scheme.

Australia’s telecommunications companies have been left with a funding hole of over AU$70 million to cover the capital costs of Australia’s data retention scheme, according to the Telecommunications Interception And Access Act 1979 Annual Report 2015-16 [PDF], while data authorisations for terrorism ranked below those for illicit drug offences.

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Despite handing out AU$128 million in grants last year, the report, released on Monday, states that the capital cost to industry will total AU$198 million by the end of the 2016-17 financial year.

“Information collected from industry through the Data Retention Industry Grants Programme indicates that the estimated capital cost of implementing data retention obligations over the period between 30 October 2014 and 13 April 2017 is AU$198,527,354,” the report said.

“[Costs] relate to the anticipated direct upfront capital costs and not the recurring or indirect costs associated with compliance.”

In 2015, Attorney-General George Brandis said he expected the average ongoing cost for telcos to run their data retention system would be around AU$4 per month.

The report said the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) received 210 applications for funding, of which 10 were withdrawn, and 180 telecommunications providers were found to be eligible for funding. Of that 180, “most” were awarded a grant to cover 80 percent of their costs.

It was also detailed that during the implementation period for the data retention scheme, AGD received 402 data retention implementation plans from 310 providers.

Under Australia’s data retention laws, passed by both major parties in March 2015, telecommunications carriers must store customer call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data for two years, accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies.

Over the period from October 13, 2015 to June 30, 2016, the report said the offence for which the highest number of authorisations to telco data was made was illicit drug offences, with 57,166. This was followed in ranking by miscellaneous, homicide, robbery, fraud, theft, and abduction.

Terrorism offences ranked below property damage and cybercrime, with 4,454 authorisations made.

As part of the data retention laws, the spirit of the legislation was to restrict access to stored metadata to a list of approved enforcement agencies, with those agencies not on the list theoretically having access removed on October 12, 2015.

Overall, the report said 63 enforcement agencies made 333,980 authorisations for retained data, of which 326,373 related to criminal law.

“In 2015-16, law enforcement agencies made 366 arrests, conducted 485 proceedings, and obtained 195 convictions based on evidence obtained under stored communications warrants,” the report said.

During 2015-16, 3,857 telecommunication interception warrants were issued, with interception data used in 3,019 arrests, 3,726 prosecutions, and 1,812 convictions. Total cost for interception warrants was AU$70.3 million, at an average cost of AU$619,200 per warrant.

Australia Post accounted for 64 authorisations between June 30 and October 12, 2015, compared to none the year before; and the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources made 173 authorisations in 3.5 months compared to 226 the entire financial year prior.

It was also noted that on six occasions, warrants were exercised by people not authorised to; in three instances, the Ombudsman could not determine whether stored communications related to the person named on a warrant; and in one instance, it could not determine who had received stored communications from a carrier.

It was also revealed that during the 2015-16 year, the Western Australia Police had received a pair of journalist warrants, which saw 33 authorisations of data made.

“These authorisations were for the purpose of enforcing the criminal law,” the report said.

In April, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealed that it had “mistakenly” accessed a journalist’s call records without a warrant in breach of the data retention legislation.

It was subsequently learned that AGD had advised government departments to skirt metadata laws and rely on coercive powers.

In May, the Commonwealth Ombudsman found the AFP to be handling metadata in a compliant manner, but noted a number of exceptions.

“We identified two instances where a stored communications warrant had been applied for and subsequently issued in respect of multiple persons, which is not provided for under the Act,” the report said.

In response, the AFP said its warrant templates were not clear enough.

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Henry Sapiecha

Federal Budget 2017: Gangs, terrorists targeted in $321 million Australian Federal Police shakeup

A MASSIVE $321 million boost to the Australian Federal Police budget will mean 300 extra covert intelligence operators and forensic specialists to help protect Australians from the threat of terrorism.

GANGS and local terrorists will be the target of a beefed-up Australian Federal Police force in a $321 million Turnbull government plan to tackle ­violent crime.

A major drive to recruit 300 specialist police will see AFP ranks bolstered by new tactical response teams, undercover investigators and forensic experts, some of whom will ­support Victoria Police to iden­tify and arrest gang members.

The security package, to be announced today, is part of a Budget spending spree, which will also benefit Victorians with $100 million to help struggling manufacturing businesses adapt after the car industry closure. Treasurer Scott Morrison told the Herald Sun Tuesday’s Budget aimed to deliver fairness, security and opportunity, sharing the benefits of Australia’s economic growth with everyone.

“We know that things are improving globally and we’ve got to make the right choices to secure those better days ahead,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have to keep the economy growing for more and better paying jobs, to guarantee the services that Australians rely on, to put downward pressure on rising costs of living, and to ensure that the government lives within its means.”

The four-year AFP funding boost will pay for 100 intelligence experts, almost 100 forensic specialists and more than 100 tactical response and covert surveillance officers.

The package will fund more 100 intelligence experts and more.

Firearms specialists, bomb response technicians, intelligence analysts, negotiators and covert online investigators will be added to the AFP’s ranks, with several new officers placed on the National Anti-Gangs Taskforce to help Victoria Police.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said violent crime and criminal gangs were “two of the biggest issues facing Victoria” and the government would back the AFP to “crack down” on them.

“Victorians, like all Australians, deserve to feel safe to go about their daily lives without fear,” he said.

Mr Keenan said it was the largest funding boost for the AFP’s domestic policing operations in a decade.

“This will equip the AFP with new capabilities and greater flexibility to respond rapidly to emerging crimes today, and into the future,” he said. “The additional experts will fast-track investigations and lock up criminals sooner, targeting areas of priority including terrorism, criminal gangs, drugs, organised crime, cybercrime, fraud and anti-corruption.”

The AFP had previously raised concerns about its lack of funding, but Mr Keenan said the investment was “the first step in the AFP’s 10-year plan” for its future.

Another key element in the Budget will be the $100 million package to help struggling manufacturing businesses grow and adapt to changing technologies.

It includes $47.5 million over the next two years to pay for a third of the costs of capital upgrades to businesses in Victoria and South Australia that are trying to compete in the wake of the car industry closure.

“We shouldn’t fold our tents and believe Australians can’t compete. We can,” Industry and Innovation Minister ­Arthur Sinodinos said.

Mr Morrison said the Budget aimed to help Australians who had not shared in the ­nation’s strong growth.

“Our economic growth has been very good in a global context. At a personal level, at a household level, at a business-by-business level, things have been and felt a lot tougher.”

The manufacturing package also includes $5 million to help automotive research, particularly by students at ­universities.

Australia’s most successful businesswoman Gina Rinehart says Malcolm Turnbull must learn from Donald Trump to make Australia great again.

Ms Rinehart has urged the Prime Minister to cut spending and waste in Tuesday’s federal Budget, saying it is “frustrating” Australia is losing crucial investment.

“We have to do more to cut out spending. We’ve got to cut out a big slab of the expense of government,” she said.

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Henry Sapiecha

Former drug squad detective Paul Dale loses mental compensation bid

Paul Dale before appearing at the independent medical panel image www.crimefiles.net

Paul Dale before appearing at the independent medical panel in October. Photo: Eddie Jim

Paul Dale, the former drug squad detective implicated in the execution of a police informer and his wife during Melbourne’s gangland war, has lost a bid for taxpayer-funded compensation for trauma he claims he suffered in prison.

The Sunday Age can reveal the controversial ex-cop abandoned his lawsuit against the state government when an independent medical panel ruled Dale experienced no significant psychological damage from spending seven months in solitary confinement.

Dale claims he suffers from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder after being put in near continuous lockdown in a high-security unit in Barwon Prison while awaiting trial for the murders of witness Terrence​ Hodson and his wife Christine.

“The Victorian government is denying my mental injuries were caused by my incarceration in Acacia [Unit]. I’m going before this panel, they’ll make a finding, and we’ll see what happens after that,” he told The Sunday Age ahead of the review in late October

Dale said he was confident the state government had a case to answer for his mental injuries because Victoria’s Court of Appeal had found his incarceration in Acacia had “severely affected his mental health”.

“Not surprisingly, the conditions in which [Dale] has been kept in gaol have caused him great suffering. So far as can be told, he was not afflicted by any ailments when he was arrested,” the court said.

Dale was granted bail, in large part, for this reason in late 2009.

But a spokeswoman for the Andrews government said Dale has “discontinued” his compensation lawsuit after the medical panel found he was “unable to meet the relevant injury threshold” under the law.

No compensation was paid to Dale to drop the case, the government said.

Dale declined to comment.

The nature of Dale’s relationship to Carl Williams and the execution of Hodson and his wife remain one of the most controversial unsolved chapters of Melbourne’s gangland war.

Dale, who has beaten a string of serious criminal charges, has been accused of conduct that would make him one of the most corrupt police officers in the state’s history despite never being convicted.

In 2003, the former drug squad detective was charged with conspiracy to commit burglary and drug trafficking over his alleged role in a plan with fellow detective David Miechel​ and career criminal Terrence​ Hodson to steal millions of dollars worth of ecstasy from a stash house.

The charges against Dale were dropped after the execution style-shooting deaths of Hodson and his wife Christine in their Kew home in 2004.

Dale was charged with their murders in 2009 after drug kingpin-turned-jailhouse informant Carl Williams told police he acted as the middle-man between Dale and hitman Rodney Collins, who was allegedly paid $150,000 to kill Hodson after he became a police informer.

But that case collapsed after Williams was bashed to death in prison by Matthew Johnson, head of anti-informer gang Prisoners of War.

In 2013, Dale was found not guilty on 12 charges of giving false and misleading evidence to the Australian Crime Commission about his links to Williams.

After a coronial inquest into the Hodson murders in 2015, Judge Ian Gray could not determine what role, if any, Dale had in the killings.

“At the very least it certainly appears, following the Dublin Street burglary, to have been a highly inappropriate relationship [with Williams] for a suspended police officer to have engaged in,” Judge Gray said.

Fairfax Media revealed in July that police were considering laying fresh corruption charges over Dale’s relationship with Williams.

Earlier this year, Carl Williams’ daughter Dhakota​ received a compensation payout from the state government for the trauma she allegedly suffered when he was killed in prison.

The “pragmatic call” was made by Premier Daniel Andrews after an independent medical panel found Dhakota​ and Carl’s former wife Roberta had experienced severe mental impairment as a result of his death.

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Henry Sapiecha

MORE READING BELOW

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Australian NSW Police want warrantless bank data access

Police want access to banking data without judicial oversight.image www.austelagencies.com
Police want access to banking data without judicial oversight.

We are not prepared for Cybergeddon

The NSW Police Force would no longer require a judge’s sign-off to gain access to the bank statements of people they suspect are engaging in criminal conduct under a police proposal before the NSW government.

The proposal would change the status quo, which requires a magistrate or registrar of a court to sign off on a “notice to produce” before police can force banking institutions to hand over documentation, such as a suspected criminal’s bank statements.
Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis image www.austelagencies.com

Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The proposal would instead allow a senior police officer to sign off.

Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis, head of NSW Police’s Fraud and Cyber Crime Squad, revealed the proposal in a lunch interview with Fairfax Media (read the full interview here).

Detective Katsogiannis said it was being floated following the imminent trial of a new information retrieval (IR) system which would help automate some manual processes for collecting intelligence from banks.

“If we want documentation from the banks … we still need to go to a court and see a chamber magistrate to be able to get a notice to produce to get that documentation so it can be admissible as evidence in a court,” he said. “We’ve recently put a submission up to government seeking an amendment to that [so] that a commissioned officer would be able to authorise notices to produce.”

Detective Katsogiannis said the computerised system would enable officers to “go online and request banking documentation, statements, affidavits and the like” and get it “a lot quicker and more efficiently”. The next step – allowing a senior officer to sign off on access to banking information – would make it even faster.

He likened the proposal to the way telecommunications metadata – such as the time a call was made, to whom, and for how long – is sought from telcos, which requires only the sign-off a senior officer before companies, such as Telstra or Optus, divulge such information.

Asked about the NSW Police Force proposal, a spokeswoman for NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Police, Troy Grant, said it was examined last year as part of a review into the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002.

“… Changes were made to streamline the process but fell short of allowing all commissioned officers with the authority access [to] people’s bank statements,” Mr Grant said. “The review attempted to balance the needs of police to get on with the job and having appropriate safeguards of people’s personal information.”

But as the new Minister for Police, Mr Grant said he had requested a full briefing to examine “if further improvements can be made”.

NSW Police’s submission to last year’s review was never made public. Mr Grant’s spokeswoman said this was because it was provided to the review in confidence as it contained “operational matters”.

However, in the review’s final report, handed down by the NSW Department of Attorney-General and Justice, and Ministry for Police and Emergency Services, the authors paraphrased submissions made by the NSW Police Force and NSW Police Association.

The review said both entities wanted senior officers rather than parties outside the police force to be given the power to sign off on access to banking information. NSW Police stated, the report said, that this “would represent a reduction in red tape by delivering significant benefits for police in savings of resources, paperwork and unnecessary travel”.

Both parties also wanted the range of entities that have to comply with notices to produce to be expanded.

But the report did not recommend the notice to produce laws change to the extent a judge wasn’t needed, saying “it would be inappropriate for a senior member of police to be given the authority” to issue the notices.

“…There are significant privacy implications,” the report concluded

“The independent issuing authority is a necessary safeguard to ensure that civil liberties are not unnecessarily impinged upon.”

The report also shot down the possibility that notices to produce apply to other entities, such as casinos, bookmakers and currency exchanges.

David Shoebridge, a Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Council, said he had concerns.

“Bank records contain a cornucopia of personal information that should be protected from casual access by the NSW Police,” he said. “If police have a reasonable basis to believe that access to someone’s bank account details can help them solve a crime then they can already get the information by a warrant.”

When recently asked, none of the big four banks would disclose how many times they have handed over banking information.

While banking information is highly personal and can reveal spending habits, including where you shop and what time, some don’t see it as that private. Sydney-based start-up Pocketbook, for instance, has some 150,000 users who voluntarily hand over their banking information in return for a useful service that organises their spending into categories such as clothes, groceries and fuel – showing where money is being spent.

Fairfax Media recently reported that NSW Police made 166 requests for Opal smartcard data, which doesn’t require a warrant to access.
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Henry Sapiecha

Police arrest dozens of suspects in cybercrime investigation

NIGERIAN SCAMMERS IN LINEUP FILE IMAGE www.intelagencies.com

NIGERIAN SCAMMERS FILE PIC

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Police have arrested dozens of suspects in an international investigation into a cybercrime gang that siphoned millions of euros from victims’ accounts in an identity fraud scam.

European Union justice agency Eurojust announced Wednesday that 49 suspects, most of them from Nigeria and Cameroon, were arrested a day earlier in an investigation by Italian, Spanish and Polish police supported by officers in Belgium, Britain and Georgia.

EU police agency Europol helped coordinate 58 searches during Tuesday’s operation. Eurojust says in a statement that investigations showed that cybercriminals had defrauded victims of 6 million euros ($6.8 million) and transferred it out of Europe.

The fraud involved stealing victims’ data such as usernames and passwords, in a process known as phishing, and diverting money from them and their customers.

SOME MORE CRIME STUFF IN A SISTER SITE HERE >www.crimefiles.net

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Henry Sapiecha

Judges now required to give written reasons for issuing warrants for covert surveillance

NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, centre, has introduced a procedure requiring judges to write brief reasons for granting a warrant for covert surveillance. image www.intelagencies.com

NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, centre, has introduced a procedure requiring judges to write brief reasons for granting a warrant for covert surveillance.

NSW Supreme Court judges are now required to give written reasons for issuing warrants authorising covert surveillance such as listening devices.

The recent parliamentary inquiry into the police bugging scandal revealed the extent of covert telephone intercepts of police and journalists allegedly without good reason between 1999 and 2001.

It emerged there was insufficient or no evidence of wrongdoing by many of the more than 100 police and civilians whose names appeared on warrants issued by the Supreme Court.

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas image www.intelagencies.com

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was at the centre of a NSW police bugging scandal. He accused the former police internal affairs unit of engaging in “massive wrongdoing and habitual illegal acts”. Photo: Daniel Munoz

On Tuesday the Chief Justice of NSW Tom Bathurst said he had introduced a procedure whereby judges are required to write brief reasons for granting a warrant to any state or federal agency for covert surveillance.

The written reasons will be placed in a sealed envelope alongside the documents submitted in support of the warrants.

Chief Justice Bathurst said the court is receiving an average five requests a day for warrants, usually from NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission and occasionally the Australian Federal Police.
NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst.NSW Supreme Court image www.intelagencies.com

NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst. Photo: NSW Supreme Court

Describing the revelations from the inquiry into Operation Mascot as “historical problems”, he said the decision to implement a formal written record of a judge’s reasons was “a sensible thing to do”

“It just focuses the attention, I think, of the judge without making what is already an onerous burden too onerous,” he said.

However, so long as the power to issue warrants remained with the judiciary “we rely on the judge to act responsibly in doing so”, he said, noting the suggestion of setting up an administrative body to handle the task has been raised.

Chief Justice Bathurst said aside from the inquiry, there has been “very little direct complaint” about the issuing of warrants. “There’s an awful lot of trials in which intercepted material is used and very little complaint that it has been illegally or improperly obtained,” he said.

The NSW police bugging scandal emerged from Operation Mascot, which used a corrupt former policeman, code named M5, to target allegedly corrupt police with a listening device between 1999-2001.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas was named in 35 affidavits in support of 80 bugging warrants issued, which included surveillance of members of his family. Journalist Steve Barrett was named on 52 warrants.

Mr Kaldas accused the former police internal affairs unit of engaging in “massive wrongdoing and habitual illegal acts”.

During the inquiry, a former solicitor for the Crime Commission, John Giorgiutti, highlighted the sheer volume of warrants being issued to law enforcement agencies for surveillance operations, querying whether the courts are subjecting them to sufficient scrutiny.

Greens upper house MP and former barrister David Shoebridge, said: “There is this largely pretend oversight by the Supreme Court of applications for warrants and covert surveillance … our court system cannot handle inundating waves of ex parte applications by crime agencies other than by simply rubber-stamping them.”

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Henry Sapiecha

 

Showdown looms as Ombudsman claims immunity to avoid answering questions into massive police inquiry

Standing by top cops: Premier Mike Baird.

Standing by top cops: Premier Mike Baird.

A showdown between the NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour and a parliamentary committee is set for Tuesday, with Mr Barbour claiming public interest immunity to avoid answering questions on secret details of his massive inquiry into police.

A test of wills is likely, with politicans insisting they have the right to demand answers from Mr Barbour, who was issued a summons to appear.

“The upper house has had consistent and repeated advice that claims for public interest immunity do not defeat the powers of Parliament,” said the committee’s deputy chairman, Greens MP David Shoebridge.

“Clearly these are matters that are appropriate to consider, but they do not limit the committees powers to seek answers

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s appearance has meanwhile been delayed until Wednesday, to allow him to view allegations made in a confidential submission by former commander of internal affairs Malcolm Brammer.

Mr Barbour wrote to the committee last week, warning any evidence he gave “has significant potential to be corrosive of confidence in my report”.

Operation Prospect had generated 1 million pages of information, 70 hearing days, examined 2322 pages of affadavits paragraph by paragraph, and would provide a final report to parliament in June, Mr Barbour said.

“I have reached no conclusions and made no findings about the alleged conduct,” he wrote.

The parliamentary inquiry could tip off people who are yet to be approached, he claimed.

His letter revealed Commissioner Scipione’s conduct has come under investigation, and has been the subject of private hearings, after allegations he improperly interfered in an investigation, and had made misleading media statements.

Mr Barbour said he wanted to clear up public misconceptions, and said a mistake on an affidavit wasn’t of itself a criminal act, it needed to be wilfully false. He flagged he is considering whether “criminal charges of this nature will be made”.

Right to silence: NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour.

Right to silence: NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour.

On Friday, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn denied she was responsible, as team leader, for incorrect affidavits being used to obtain warrants for listening devices without evidence.

Mr Barbour’s letter acknowledged the harrowing mental health toll among police caused by the bugging operation and prolonged investigations.

Some witnesses suffer “severe mental health problems” and became “very distressed by having to give evidence”.

At least eight witnesses had a mental health condition. Four witnesses provided medical reports indicating they were too unwell to give evidence, of whom two were excused.

Of the two forced to give evidence, one was excused mid-hearing when they began “experiencing difficulties”, while the other was later excused from further attendance.

Mr Barbour said it was legitimate for his office to investigate the leaking of 20,000 pages of confidential police material, including 61 separate documents, some of which were given to the media.

He wrote that unlike whistleblowers who approached his office directly, these persons wouldn’t be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

Premier Mike Baird said on Saturday “some of the events we have seen are disturbing” but he would “wait until we get all the facts on the table”.

Police minister Stuart Ayres said: “There’s no doubt that having the senior echelons of the NSW police force play out disputes on TV screens is not comfortable for anyone.”

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Henry Sapiecha

Secret police taskforce followed journalist: Inquiry targets bugging, whistleblowing and covers-ups

"Completely gobsmacked": Journalist Neil Mercer.

“Completely gobsmacked”: Journalist Neil Mercer. Photo: Daniel Munoz

As the state’s top police officer prepares to take the stand at a sensational police bugging inquiry next week, questions have emerged about his possible role in a shadowy taskforce set up with the intention of spying on a journalist.

On September 9, 2012, Fairfax reporter Neil Mercer published explosive details in The Sun-Herald about Strike Force Emblems, a long-buried internal police report into Operation Mascot, an anti-corruption surveillance exercise that controversially involved the secret bugging of more than 100 police officers and civilians on the back of suspect warrants and allegations.

It can now be revealed that nine days after the story was published, the force’s professional standards command launched Strike Force Jooriland to monitor the veteran reporter and hunt down the police whistleblower leaking critical information to him.

When NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione appears before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be grilled on how the operation came to be approved.

Mercer had remained oblivious to Jooriland until last Friday when he appeared as a witness before the inquiry.

“I am completely gobsmacked,” he said on Saturday, adding: “You’re exposing allegations of serious wrongdoing and criminal offences. Their response is, let’s shoot the messenger and then screw the whistleblower.”

MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy also expressed alarm, stating: “The professionalism of a journalist and the ethical responsibility to protect confidential sources needs to be respected at all times, regardless of the type of inquiry.”

As Mercer was left to nervously dwell on the nature – and extent – of the surveillance, biggest questions surround the broader roles in the bugging affair played by Commissioner Scipione and NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn – who at one stage was an acting commander of the special crime and internal affairs unit (SCIA).

“We can’t comment on matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman,” said a police spokesman when asked who had triggered the hunt.

On Friday, the inquiry heard explosive allegations about a mass cover-up that blanketed the police corruption investigation, Operation Mascot, which ran between 1999-2001.

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was a central target of the surveillance operation, which he testified had ruined the careers of many officers and triggered a suicide.

Ms Burn had been a senior officer within the operation which at one stage, was commanded by current Commissioner Scipione. The hearing heard that some affidavits presented to NSW Supreme Court judges had contained no information to justify surveillance, and some content was false. It emerged that during the operation, Ms Burn’s unit had secured a warrant to bug Mr Kaldas and his family – despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.

Against the wishes of the NSW government, the inquiry was established last year in response to complaints about the amount of time taken by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to investigate the scandal. On Friday, Mr Kaldas launched a scathing attack on Mr Barbour, about his treatment. “We, the police, could not treat criminals this way and neither should we,” he said.

Mercer had earlier published details of the secret Emblems report which showed Ms Burn had come under investigation, following a string of complaints relating to the investigation. While the report stated there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her, it noted inquiries into those complaints had hit a wall after access to crucial documents and witnesses was repeatedly denied. It was also revealed that in November 2001, Commissioner Scipione, then commander of SCIA, had been warned some officers within the branch were concerned about the legality of the telephone taps and the release of “fictitious information” to gain listening devices. The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.
OOO

Henry Sapiecha

Top cop Nick Kaldas claims ‘massive wrongdoing’ and cover-up in police bugging of his children scandal

Subject of 'intense electronic and other surveillance': Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas, far right.

Deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas has accused an internal affairs unit formerly run by two of NSW’s most senior officers – Commissioner Andrew Scipione and his deputy, Catherine Burn – of “massive wrongdoing and habitual illegal acts” in relation to a covert bugging operation more than a decade ago.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining the operation, codenamed Mascot, Mr Kaldas also sensationally claims illegal activities by the police Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA) unit were “sanctioned and covered up” by the Police Integrity Commission.

Mr Kaldas was one of more than 100 police and civilians bugged by Operation Mascot between 1999-2001.

Mr Scipione was commander of SCIA  at the time, while Ms Burn was head of the team which ran Operation Mascot.

The operation exploded into controversy when it emerged at least one journalist and police not under suspicion of wrongdoing were among those whose names appeared on covert surveillance warrants issued by the Supreme Court.

An internal police operation, Strike Force Emblems, was launched into Operation Mascot in 2003. Its report has never been released, although details have been previously revealed by Fairfax Media.

In his submission Mr Kaldas says documents submitted to the committee show “a level of intense electronic and other surveillance [was] … carried out on every part of my life, home and work, including my ex-wife and children, and was clearly unjustified but in the end yielded not one allegation to be put to me at the end of the operation”.

The submission was published on Thursday morning, as the parliamentary inquiry began hearings into a two-year investigation by the NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour into Strike Force Emblems.

Mr Kaldas and Ms Burn are due to give evidence on Friday. Mr Scipione and Mr Barbour are scheduled to appear on Tuesday.

In her submission to the inquiry, Ms Burn strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Ms Burn denies she directed internal affairs police “to use illegal warrants to secretly record conversations of my rivals in the police force”, in particular Mr Kaldas, when she did not suspect him of wrongdoing.

Ms Burn also denied directing use of illegal warrants to bug Mr Kaldas “as part of a personal vendetta”.

The inquiry – which is opposed by the NSW government, was established in response to concerns about the time being taken for Mr Barbour to complete his investigations and the nature of his inquiries.

Earlier on Thursday, committee chairman Robert Borsak accused NSW attorney-general Brad Hazzard of seeking to “bribe” him into withdrawing from the inquiry, which the government opposes.

The inquiry heard from Channel Seven journalist Steve Barrett, whose name appeared on one of the bugging warrants.

Barrett said he was mystified as to why he appeared on the warrant but suggested that either Supreme Court judges had been “duped” or “no one checked”.

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Henry Sapiecha