Independent socialist TD Clare Daly today questioned Fine Gael’s Minister for Defence Simon Coveney about leaked emails between Irish Defence Forces and notorious Italian surveillance company Hacking Team.
Back in July, a massive cache of documents released online showed the Irish Defence Forces in talks with the firm, dubbed “Corporate Enemies of the Internet” and “digital era mercenaries” by Reporters Without Borders, over a three year period. Following an article about the leak appearing on Krank.ie, a spokesperson for the Defence Forces stressed that they did not purchase any services from the company but was unable to comment about the leaked emails or the intent behind discussions.
Screenshots of an email client were uploaded to social networks today, claiming to show Irish officials engaging with Hacking Team from 2012 to May of 2015. Images purporting to be from account manager Massimiliano Luppi’s inbox feature messages stating Irish Defence Forces were interested in acquiring software and or services from the company.
Further emails revealed more declarations from Irish Defence Forces that they were interested in products and hosted the group in Ireland. A Garda Inspector was also listed by Hacking Team as a contact after a conference in Prague in 2014.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Clare Daly asked the Minister for Defence why Defence Forces personnel were in contact with Hacking Team, the extent of their contact and who authorised their inquiries.
Minister Coveney responded with answers similar to those given by the Defence Forces in July, stating that “it is not appropriate, for operational security reasons, to divulge the details of how these capabilities are developed and maintained. I can confirm, however, that no services were purchased by the Defence Forces from the company in question.”
“The fact that nothing was purchased misses the key point. Why would the Irish Defence Forces deal with a company that has a very dubious international reputation?
This company was named in 2012 by Reporters Without Borders as one of the corporate enemies of the Internet. It has been accused by the Citizen Lab, a digital rights group, of human rights abuses, of using and transferring software that was used to repress minority and dissident groups, journalists and so on in Africa and the Middle East. Their clients include European countries, the FBI, the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. These are the clients this company deals with.
The Minister is telling us it was to do with developing and maintaining operational capabilities, but he is not giving us any details. No matter what the Government is buying, why it would go to a company like that is beyond me and the Minister could tell us more.”
Minister Coveney said that he was sure he could tell Deputy Daly more but “there are some things I do not tell her in respect of intelligence. Anybody who understands how intelligence works would understand that.”
“Despite what Deputy Daly is trying to portray, we are not doing business with this company. This company is, by the way, doing business all over the world, with many European and western countries, as well as some of the countries Deputy Daly has referred to. Presumably it is out there in the market, selling its services, its products and its technology. We have decided not to purchase from it. That decision was made by the Defence Forces. However, the responsibility of the intelligence element of defence is to make sure people like me and others who have to make decisions in respect of security questions are properly informed. That is as much as I am willing to say in terms of the broader responsibilities relating to intelligence. On the company concerned, we are not doing business with it.”
When asked for further details from Deputy Daly, Minister Coveney dismissed them as “irrelevant” and said that the Defence Forces are obligated to “make sure they are aware of all the equipment that is out there and how it works and to ensure that we have the best technology available to do a job we need to do.”
Speaking to Krank.ie, Deputy Daly said that Minister Coveney had not answered the multiple questions raised by the email leaks and was hiding behind “national security”.
“The exposure of the contact between the Irish Defence Forces & Hacking Team raises many questions which were not answered by Minister Coveney. The fact that no purchase took place is not the issue. The leaked emails revealed serious contact, referencing a number of meetings. This wasn’t a passing inquiry. Why would our army be looking at the type of surveillance equipment that Hacking Team are involved with? Who’s idea was it? What level of authority sanctioned it? Hiding behind national security is a cop out & we have every intention of continuing our inquires”
[Image: Irish Defence Forces]