AUSSIES BUG PNG GOVERNMENT PHONES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Sept. 10) – Covert spy gadgets have been installed on Telikom PNG-owned switch stations in Port Moresby to "monitor" telephone lines belonging to core government departments.

Credible local and overseas intelligence sources have confirmed to the Post-Courier a rash of "communication blackouts" that hit Port Moresby early last month was caused by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) setting up a possible bugging system.

They said the equipment, which comes in the form of a snakehead device with a 1m chip, was installed at the telephone exchanges in the national capital to track conversations on telephone lines belonging to the departments of the Prime Minister, Treasury, Auditor-General, Attorney-General and Telikom. It is understood preparations to set up such a device in the country got underway about four months ago.

Senior official from the Australian High Commission Matt Anderson said in an e-mail message last night that it was a long-standing policy of the Australian Government that it does not comment on intelligence and security matters relating to other countries. He said Australia and PNG had a strong and open relationship, which reflected the two countries’ close historical and geographic ties.

"Our partnership with PNG involves close political interaction and co-operation, including through our jointly developed Enhanced Co-operation Program," Mr Anderson said.

"Around 200 Australian police and 64 officials will work alongside their PNG counterparts in the PNG Government."

Regional security experts have viewed Papua New Guinea as a "weak link" in the fight against terrorism due to its perceived tag as a "failed state" — and together with the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu — are described as an "arc of instability" which could serve as havens which terrorists could operate from to launch attacks on Australia.

While trying to downplay criticisms here and abroad of the Australian government-funded Enhanced Co-operation Program (ECP) being an "intervention", Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Sir Rabbie Namaliu has publicly stated on many occasions that the fight against terrorism required cooperation and intelligence sharing and that some countries needed the help of more developed countries with resources to spare in terrorism-related issues like people smuggling, drug trafficking, gun running and money laundering.

This revelation comes amid the fatal car-bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta yesterday that resulted in six deaths and more than 20 injured.

About 200 Australian police officers and 64 officials are being deployed to work with Papua New Guineans in the areas of justice, public sector management, border security and transport under the five-year $A900 million (K2 billion) ECP.

Telikom in early August placed advertisements in the country’s two daily newspapers telling its customers that they would continue to experience "minor congestions" after it upgraded its Boroko telephone exchange.

But a Telikom official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was a ploy to cover up the technical work the Australian security officers and AFP were doing to install the device.

The installation of the eavesdropping device has been confirmed by a number of Government officials including a senior officer and security officials from the Department of the Prime Minister and the NEC (National Executive Council) and Treasury.

While bugging telephones could be in breach of section 49 of the Constitution relating to Right to Privacy, the Government through the AFP as per the enacted legislation on the ECP could bug telephones if State security was at stake — such as that posed by terrorism-related concerns.

September 10, 2004

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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