The IRFU has slammed as “fictionalised” claims that they employed a former British military intelligence officer to search for bugs they thought were planted inside their Dublin headquarters.
The Guardian are reporting that a new book by Seán Hartnett, the pseudonym of a former army spy, claims to reveal the extent of the fear within the IRFU over the Irish media’s ability to report on dressing room rows and plans to replace managers in the 2000s.
In the book, Client Confidential, Hartnett says the IRFU asked him to warn members of its board that he would use specialist tracking devices to discover if any of them were covertly recording meetings with their mobile phones.
This happened allegedly in the wake of the internal squabbles that surrounded the sport following the much-fancied Ireland’s failure to advance to the knockout stages of the 2007 World Cup in France.
An IRFU spokesman has claimed that Hartnett “fictionalised” their dealings with a reputable and credible risk assessment company. The IRFU employed a company RMI to “conduct a wide ranging risk assessment of the then newly occupied IRFU headquarters building, IT systems, hotel accommodation, meeting facilities being used by the Irish team and IRFU.”
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Hartnett’s allegations, though, make for compelling reading. At the time he was employed by the IRFU, the author had just moved from a secret counter-terrorism army unit in Northern Ireland into a private industrial espionage business in the Republic.
He also claimed he was asked to brief the newly appointed Irish head coach Declan Kidney. “Officially, the briefing was to inform them of dangers involving information security. Unofficially, it was to tell him that not all his enemies were outside the walls of the IRFU HQ.”
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) March 19, 2019
Hartnett wrote that he was brought in to investigate leaks after the contents of a post-mortem meeting about the 2007 World Cup, which took place in 2008 at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, were reported “almost word for word” by the Irish media. He concluded the leak at the hotel was probably the result of recordings on a mobile phone.
Hartnett claimed that Phillip Browne, chief executive of the IRFU, was so concerned the meeting had been bugged he eventually called upon Hartnett to search for listening devices as well as deploying other devices to search for possible covert mobile phone recordings in their headquarters.
Hartnett says he then tested security by easily breaking into their HQ in Dublin’s Ballsbridge through taking an employee’s electronic pass card and then returning to the building via its underground car park. The former counter-terrorist operative says from there he was able to walk straight into the IRFU’s CEO’s office and rifle through Browne’s files.
“From there I moved to a room next door where player information, including salaries, was openly on display. I now knew how much Paul O’Connell was earning. As I walked around the building that morning, picking up information as I went, not one single person asked who I was or what I was doing.”
— IAP | Merrion Press (@IAP_MERRION) March 16, 2019
After issuing his security report, Hartnett says he addressed IRFU board members, telling them that the next press leak would be fully investigated. “Before this meeting began, I carried out a full sweep of this room… if anyone so much as turns on a mobile phone, I’ll know about it.”
He claims the looks he got from Irish rugby bosses were “less than pleasant; in fact, they were downright hostile”.
Spying became a pre-tournament discussion before the 2019 Six Nations got underway, with some coaches claiming their training sessions had been watched in the past.
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