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Passwords and Codenames

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
Passwords and Codenames
A defendant in the Belgian trial of Scientology denied trying to conceal computer discs during a police raid on Church offices.

Judge Yves Régimont had already established that the defendant, Englishman Martin W. occupied a post in the Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, or OSA. What he was not sure about however, was just what the OSA did.

Was it, as Martin insisted, just the external affairs wing of the Church, reaching out to other groups and dealing with legal matters as and when they arose?

The evidence in the files had suggested that the OSA was something more than that, the judge had noted: a kind of security service for the Church. Martin W. flatly denied this, and argued – as several of his fellow defendants had done before him – that the prosecution file presented a distorted picture of Scientology.

So now Judge Régimont tackled him on specifics, starting with the events of the September 30, 1999, when police raided Scientology premises in Brussels as part of their investigation.

The judge referred to an account he had among his papers, a police report on that operation. Officers had found Monsieur W. on the premises when they raided the Church of Scientology offices, and they said they had caught him trying to get rid of a computer floppy disc – or several of them – before police could seize them.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” said Martin. “I was not trying to destroy anything.”

Clearly there had been a communication breakdown: the judge had said he had tried to get rid of the discs, not destroy them. But since Martin was using the services of a court interpreter and addressing the court in English, there was certainly room for confusion.

Judge Régimont tried again. “You were trying to give them to someone.”

Certainly he was, said Martin. “I don’t see what the problem is.” What had happened was that he had been working in his office when the police arrived. An officer had walked in, he said, he hadn’t even bother to identify himself as being from the police. “He spoke to me in French and I didn’t understand what he was saying,” he added.

“He told me to go downstairs, so I took my disc and went downstairs, and I was asked then to go in for an interview.” He was ready to go, but passed on the disc to a colleague so she could continue working, he said.

Once again, the judge consulted the police report. “You tell me if the investigators are lying,” he said.

“‘The police enter to help their colleagues who are trying to carry out a search...,’” he said, referring to the document, “‘...but have trouble controlling the staff, including Monsieur W., who is trying to escape their surveillance. The police observe that he is trying to pass an object to a colleague: three computer discs.”

No, said Martin. What had happened was the police had told them to go into a room with all the other members of the Church and he had given the discs to a female colleague. (To confuse matters even further, he added, the police raid had taken place when they were in the middle of a move.)

“So the description is not correct,” said the judge.

“I’m not saying they are lying,” Martin replied. “But that is not correct.” The judge had the clerk make a written note of that, as he did any point that he thought particularly important.

Once he had done that, Martin said: “I would also add that I was not arrested. I was not informed that I should or should not do anything. I was simply asked to go for an interview at the police station.” The judge had the clerk note that too. “Perhaps we have different views on what happened,” said Martin. “But that is how I see it.”

“If you have nothing to hide, why do you use codes and code-names?” the judge asked.

But the judge was not done. “On the same line of reasoning, we get a certain number of discs. we analyse them and we realize that these discs are codé – encrypted.” (1)

Martin did not see the problem. It is normal to encode communications when you are sending them, he said.

“When the information is not particularly sensitive, what is the point?” the judge asked.

“To maintain confidentiality,” the defendant replied. “There was nothing illegal in any of it,” he added.

“Absolutely,” said the judge. “So we decode this disc and we discover, notably, a file that concerns vitamins and the potential damage that excess doses could do. That is a very sensitive piece of information for the Church.

“One of the many services given by the Church is the Purification Rundown, which involves the use of vitamins,” the judge pointed out. “Here is a document that says you need to be careful with this,” the judge noted, referring to the doses prescribed during the Rundown. (2)

He found it a little strange that the disc containing this document had been encrypted. 

“I will explain,” said Martin.

“One of my responsibilities was to see what laws were being passed in order to ensure that the churches throughout Europe complied with them. At the time, there was a European law that concerned the use of vitamins and the law said that the community would decide what were the upper safe-level limits of certain vitamins.”

He remembered very well having attached a report – or a summary of a report – on just this subject from an expert, “...so the Church would understand what was occurring. In the end, there had been no decision on what constituted a safe limit and even today, 20 years later, there was still no European legislation on the matter, he added.

In other words, Martin said, he had simply been doing part of his job, which included gathering information of interest to the Church “...to inform concerned people about what was going in”.

“You understand,” said Judge Régimont, “that when you note a certain kind of behaviour – even if you think it was misinterpreted – and you find a disc that has been coded, twice, and you find information concerning a sensitive subject, vitamins, you can understand that the investigators would ask questions about the role of OSA?

“Why does this have to stay confidential?” the judge asked – presumably referring to the report on the vitamins.

“It doesn’t have to be confidential,” said Martin, “But people hack computers ... so I didn’t want information to be stolen.”

“Do you use codenames with people?” the judge asked.

“Well, clearly I did in one instance,” Martin replied.

“Why do you do that?” the judge asked. “You reproach us (for) our interpretations, but if you have nothing to hide, why use codes and code-names?”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Martin replied. “But if I understand, you are asking why did I use a coded name? Because the person asked me not to put his name in a church document, so I respected that.”

“In one of the discs we find a request to OSA Copenhagen to pay the coded person,” the judge noted. “What is that?”

“It is a payment for the service,” Martin replied.

The judge noted that explanation, but it nevertheless struck him as strange for an organisation that talked so much about transparency to be using code names for people. “How does that look?” he asked, rhetorically. “And you say you are completely transparent.”

Pas de problème,” the judge added, in what sounded rather like a verbal shrug.

* While most of the defendants were not identified during the trial, Martin W. was one of a handle of Scientologists named in some media reports: the role he once played as a Church spokesman meant he was already a public figure. I am nevertheless adopting the same policy with all the defendants and respecting the general convention in the Belgian media, which is not to identify defendants before they have actually been convicted.

Picture: screen shot from 1 Matrix Hour Rain Code

1) It was not entirely clear what kind of encryption was used, but the impression I got in court was that this was rather more than just a simple password.

2) The Purification Rundown is a treatment devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard which involves aerobic exercise – normally running – hours in a sauna and increasingly large doses of vitamins and minerals. The charges in the indictment included the alleged illegal practice of medicine.

The Rundown has been criticised by some medical experts as potentially dangerous. What the investigators appeared to have come across then, was a document echoing some of these reservations.

#Scientology, #Trial, #Belgium

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