Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A "classic clean-up operation"

Before we get into asking some questions here, on the issue of the microphones in Ms.Couillard's home and on the Bernier resignation, let's review the media accounts about the microphone(s) that Ms. Couillard alleges were placed in her home.

Last night, CanWest reported:
Also during the interview Couillard said experts examined her home and determined her home was under surveillance and the activities within the four walls were being tape recorded. She said she had her home checked after her burglar alarm behaved oddly and she was told a microphone had been placed in the boxspring of her bed.

"They didn't find any taperecorder but they found places where a microphone had been in the boxspring of my bed," she said, recounting how the electronic eavesdropping experts had shown her the staple marks and the tear left in her boxspring.
The National Post adds:
Ms. Couillard also revealed that experts have determined her home was under surveillance. She said she had her home checked after her burglar alarm behaved oddly and discovered a microphone had been placed near her bed.

She said she was told a professional cleanup operation had probably entered her home after the publicity erupted over her past ties to bikers.
The Globe's version:
Obviously shaken, Ms. Couillard said she recently learned her bed had been fitted with a microphone. Ms. Couillard said she had her house checked by experts after she came back from a supper with a friend and found that her alarm system had been disarmed. The experts, she said, found clear marks that a microphone had been tacked to her bed, and removed in a “classic clean-up operation.”

“I can only look at what has happened to me, and feel that I'm in the Twilight Zone,” she said.
Aren't we all at this point, aren't we all. This is Canadian politics, after all, we don't hear such tales on a regular basis.

The Canadian Press report zeroes in on the timing more particularly:

However, Couillard said she had her home professionally swept for listening devices in the last three weeks as the controversy raged around her.

"They had a kind of a smirk and they said, 'well, ma'am, this is a classic cleanup operation," she said of the sweeping crew. "He said, 'Ma'am, the evidence that we found, those microphones were taken out very recently."

She said her home alarm had been tripped recently.

"He said, 'Whoever put them there didn't want you to find any microphones for you to have proof that you were under surveillance'."

"Apparently, there were some (listening devices) in the boxspring of the mattress in my bedroom," she said in the interview.

Swept in the last three weeks and the verdict is that "recently" the clean-up occurred.

The Star:
She also said that on May 9, she went out for dinner with a friend and returned home to find that her home alarm was deactivated. Couillard then hired a security expert who discovered evidence there had been a hidden microphone in the boxspring of her bed. (emphasis added throughout)
Combine all of this information with the timing of the documents left by Mr. Bernier at her home in mid-April. And the public airing of the Bernier-Couillard relationship in the media in early May. Connecting any dots?

First of all, having seen part of the interview, let's accept that Ms. Couillard had experts come in and tell her what they did. She gave a national press televised interview. She has consulted with legal counsel on the classified documentation she turned over to Foreign Affairs and was careful in her words not to disclose what those materials were. Her counsel likely would have warned her as to the content of this interview. If she were lying about the microphones, it would be pretty easy to debunk. Who were her experts, will they back up her statements, etc. In any event, it's possible to verify that information. So let's accept that it is indeed the case that her place was bugged.

So who did it and when? Those are the interesting questions. On the who question, there are four possibilities that come to mind.

One: a criminal organization of some variety, in Quebec. A possibility given her former ties to individuals in biker gangs, as recently as 2005. It has been reported that a former significant other owed money to a gang and later committed suicide. Do biker gangs and/or criminal organizations conduct such professional surveillance or have the patience for it? Would they contract it out? Would they do this once they learned of her dating the Foreign Affairs Minister?

Two: a police organization in Quebec. It's been reported that Ms. Couillard and a former significant other were "burst in on" by an anti-biker crime squad in 1995. Would a similar bug have been used by a Quebec squad? Seems remote. Her last reported relationship with a person with criminal ties was in 2005.

Three: a foreign government. Mr. Bernier was one of the top ministers in the country with classified information in his possession. And he wasn't exactly careful.

Four: our government. Mr. Bernier left classified documents in her home in mid-April, the reports tell us. Their relationship became public in early May. Who had a motive, in the recent time frame, to find out about the goings on in Ms. Couillard's home and perhaps about the presence of classified documents and discussions? After all, the CP told us Ms. Couillard took quite an interest in Mr. Bernier's work.

Since we don't know a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the Harper government - unless someone wants to spill on this - we can surmise that at the time Ms. Couillard's former ties became public, in early May, the shit hit the fan. Despite all the "none of our business" talk, it was likely a lot of people's business behind closed doors. One of the first things that Mr. Harper would have done, given how competent we all know he reportedly is, was to ask his Minister, "Minister, were there any breaches of security?" To which we can only guess what the response was. And secondly, a sweep of documents likely would have been done to determine whether Mr. Bernier could account for everything he should have in his possession. In this scenario, it likely would have been uncovered that yes, things were missing. Might someone have wanted to find out where those items were?

Needless to say, unanswered questions at this point abound. What steps did Mr. Harper take when he learned of the Bernier-Couillard relationship, whenever that might have been, to perform a security check. Has Mr. Harper or any of his staff exercised oversight over Mr. Bernier to determine the possibility of security breaches, at any point, and to what extent. What did Mr. Bernier inform others as to the likelihood of a security breach? Was he upfront about the documents left in mid-April or did he only act when a television interview/and/or news about Ms. Couillard seeking out the media surfaced on May 16th? Did Mr. Harper know about the documents left in Ms. Couillard's home prior to yesterday? Here's the relevant part of Mr. Harper's statement yesterday:
Last night, Maxime Bernier became aware that he had left classified government documents at a private residence earlier this spring. I became aware of this security breach late this afternoon.
Just Sunday night Bernier became aware? And Harper only became aware yesterday? On that latter point, if Harper only became aware yesterday, then it's his incompetence people need to be asking questions about. Even if Mr. Harper only became aware of Ms. Couillard's past relationships in early May - and that's a highly unbelievable supposition given the uproar over the attention she attracted at Rideau Hall when Bernier was sworn in - he should have been taking the appropriate steps and asking questions about security of classified information then. Not yesterday. Mr. Harper's reputation is not of being a laggard in any respect. It's hard to believe the account from yesterday in this respect.

And if Ms. Couillard's home was bugged, for how long? Who has this information on tape and what are they doing with it?