[ISN] Spy technology a threat to conclave's secrecy
isn at c4i.org
Wed Apr 13 06:24:51 EDT 2005
[Just goes to show you, EVERYONE has to worry about high-tech security
headaches, even the Vatican has IT, electronic, and physical security
threats to be concerned about. - WK]
BY AIDAN LEWIS and JIM KRANE
April 12, 2005
VATICAN CITY -- Spying has gotten a lot more sophisticated since John
Paul II was elected in 1978, but the Vatican seems confident it can
protect the tradition of secrecy that will surround next week's
meeting of cardinals to name a new pope.
Computer hackers, electronic bugs and supersensitive microphones are
among the possibilities.
Vatican security members wouldn't discuss the details of any
anti-bugging measures to be used during the conclave. But Giuseppe
Mazzullo, a private detective and retired Rome police officer whose
former unit worked with the Vatican in the past, has said the Holy See
is expected to reinforce its own experts with Italian police and
private security contractors.
"The security is very strict," Mazzullo said. "For people to steal
information, it's very, very difficult if not impossible."
Thousands of reporters will be watching as the 115 cardinals gather
Monday. Hackers and government informants may also be monitoring the
Revelations of the proceedings could prove embarrassing to the
Vatican. For instance, sensitive discussions on a papal candidate's
stand on relations with Muslims or Jews, recognizing China rather than
Taiwan, or views on contraception would be sought-after by governments
and the news media.
In 1996, John Paul set rules to protect cardinals from "threats to
their independence of judgment." Cell phones, electronic organizers,
radios, newspapers, televisions and recorders were banned from
Cell phones and personal data organizers can be hacked and used to
broadcast the proceedings to a listener, security experts say.
"An eavesdropper can reach into those devices and turn on the
microphone and turn it into an eavesdropping device," said James
Atkinson, who heads a Gloucester, Mass., company that specializes in
Also, rooftop snoops with sensitive laser microphones can pick up
conversations from a quarter-mile away by recording vibrations on
window glass or other hard surfaces. The Sistine Chapel, where the
conclave will be held, has windows set near the roof.
Laser microphones can be thwarted with heavy drapes and by masking
conversations with ambient noise.
Tougher to root out are tiny transmitters or recorders as small as a
To handle those, teams acting on the pope's 1996 orders would need to
mount complex sweeps of sensitive meeting areas, taking out carpets,
poking through chair cushions, opening heating ducts and testing
electrical wiring, light bulbs and water pipes, Atkinson said.
The late pope deemed the threat to the conclave serious enough to
decree that those who break their oaths of secrecy can be cast out of
In a sign of nervousness about maintaining secrecy, the College of
Cardinals decided Saturday to halt interviews with the news media.
"They've assured us there are ways to block all communications and
conversations," Chicago Cardinal Francis George said last week.
But even with precautions, halting a spy inside the Vatican -- perhaps
an unwitting one -- is probably the toughest threat to block, experts
"Are they going to search all the cardinals to see whether someone
bugged their spectacles or crucifixes?" asked Giles Ebbut, a
surveillance expert for the London consultancy Jane's. "The
imagination can run riot."
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