Who bugs the buggers?

Sometimes you have to feel a little bit sorry for the fine folk at ASIO. No matter how good their year has been, they never get to celebrate their successes or victories. Such is the nature of the intelligence profession you never let the enemy know your strong points. And then there is the annual journalists' picnic: the annual report from the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), Ian Carnell, which chronicles errors and failures of the Australian Intelligence Community.

While it makes for interesting reading (at least for some of us), many questions still remain unanswered about the activities of ASIO. Do they have a social sports team and what are they called? Does it have a mascot? And do they have a special person to deal with all of the very special people who spend their lives looking over their shoulder and complaining to their local member? And what do the wrong people talk about when they are wrongly being bugged? (The 2003/04 document reports that ASIO had three instances (the same number as the previous year) of unauthorized telephone interception due to a wrong number and wrong expiry dates.)

Just imagine you were the ASIO agent listening into a conversation which involved bugging a call to an offshored helpdesk for a major credit card company. Apart from the hours spent on hold listening to endless repeats of ambient calming muzak such as Clannad or Enya, your surveillance subject is watching TV with his phone set to speaker.

Then when the call centre staffer finally picks up, you get to listen to the fact that all the details are wrong, and the suspect is told they have to be put across to another department. More Enya, or maybe some Vangelis. Then the call centre tells him they sent the bill, he should have got it. Nope, never got it, but can't access the Web page to pay online.

Imagine the overriding temptation to just break into the conversation (not that they can do that... or can they?) and tell the credit card company to speed things up - you haven't got all day. It would be just excruciating. And then to find out it was a wrong number - words can't describe the disappointment.

The good news about all of this is that at least ASIO has to publicly fess up to their bugging mistakes on an annual basis and supposedly purges wrongly named suspects from their database. The bad news is that the call centre will be listening to the conversation too and probably also recording it.

If only all call centres had an annual report full of bugging errors. You can bet your entire Enya collection there'd be a lot more bugging mischief than goes on at ASIO.

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