SLOVAKIA’S top anti-mafia cop, Michal Kopčík, has admitted borrowing some police surveillance equipment in early April, but denied allegations by former interior minister Vladimír Palko that he broke the law in doing so.
According to documents obtained by The Slovak Spectator, Daniel Tichý of the Special Police Operations branch, which is responsible for surveillance and wiretapping, noticed in early April that a surveillance device known as the ‘Bulldog’ had been used on six occasions from April 5-8 without authorisation. Tichý informed his superiors of the finding.
The Bulldog is a briefcase-sized device that allows the operator to locate GSM network mobile telephones with great accuracy, to within a metre. It does not allow the operator to eavesdrop on conversations on the phones it locates, but it is commonly used in combination with a separate wiretapping device, such as the Tornado. Three Bulldogs were purchased by the Interior Ministry in 2007 for approximately Sk20 million.
On May 14, former minister Palko held a press conference at which he accused Kopčík, the first vice-president of the police corps, of borrowing and using the Bulldog without the necessary court authorisation. The day before, Palko had briefed Prosecutor General Dobroslav Trnka and Military Prosecutor Mikuláš Gardecký on his allegations.
However, current Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said that the Bulldog is not classified as an information-technology device that requires a judge’s authorisation before it can be used.
Instead, he said, it is a ‘operational search’ device, which falls under other guidelines for use. “Who is more authorised than the police vice-president to use such equipment?” Kaliňák asked at a press conference following Palko’s briefer.
Kaliňák said that he had received three pieces of intelligence in March suggesting that someone was using a Bulldog to illegally wiretap politicians from the Slovak National Party of the ruling coalition. Instead of handing the case over to the police inspectorate, he said, he asked Kopčík to demonstrate to him how a Bulldog worked, so he could be sure that it was not capable of monitoring phone conversations.
“It was a serious situation. I received this information also from one of the parties in the ruling coalition, and it was important to verify it,” Kaliňák said.
However, during the weekend of April 5-6, the Bulldog was used on five occasions to locate 71 telephone numbers. During its demonstration to Kaliňák on April 8, it recorded four numbers.
Two senior police sources contacted by The Slovak Spectator said that Kopčík had broken internal ministry guidelines by borrowing the Bulldog on his own, and said that Slovak law required users to first secure court approval for each mobile apparatus they intended to monitor.
“The Bulldog is technically capable of locating mobiles on its own, but Slovak legislation makes its use conditional on the mobile number’s being approved for surveillance by a court,” said one source, who also rejected the minister’s explanation that the Bulldog was not an IT device.
“Surveillance is an IT operation, and the Bulldog is used exclusively for surveillance as a supplementary device,” he said.
“Every number that is located has to be part of an active investigation, and has to be supported with detailed operational reasons,” said another source.
The prosecutor’s office is now investigating whether Kopčík was authorised to use the Bulldog.
How to use a Bulldog
1. An investigator receives information that an internationally wanted fugitive, for example, is in Slovakia, and also learns the mobile number that the fugitive is using.
2. The investigator turns to a prosecutor, who submits a request to a judge that an order be issued approving the surveillance of the number in question.
3. With the court approval, the investigator submits a request to the Bureau of Special Police Operations for the use of the Bulldog to be approved.
4. The director of the bureau recommends the request be approved, and the police first vice-president signs it.
5. The investigator can now use the Bulldog to locate his fugitive with a technician from the Special Ops Bureau to operate the equipment.
19. May 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson