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Data Collection

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Jonny JacobsenBrussels
Data Collection
Why did three Belgian gendarmes write reports for Scientology on a notorious series of killings?

Prosecutor Christophe Caliman had confronted the defendant Martin W. with extracts of directives from Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. In them, Hubbard set out the kind of gloves off, no-holds-barred tactics he said should be used against the movement’s enemies.

Martin W. insisted he could not comment on the documents without having seen the English originals (he was addressing the court in English and needed an interpreter throughout). But he denied having operated in this kind of way during his time with Scientology’s Office for Special Affairs (OSA).

But Caliman was not done with him yet.

He wanted to quote two more of Hubbard’s policy letters that he thought relevant to Martin W.’s work with the European Office for Human Rights. One was from March 13, 1961 and talked of keeping files on friends and enemies; the other from March 15, 1977, talked about Scientology’s prowess in handling data. (1)

Martin however, was losing patience. “What is the question?” he asked.

“OSA handles data, handles personal data on friends and enemies of Scientology,” said Caliman. “And they even say they are better than the secret service,” he added, making it clear that he was quoting Hubbard.

Investigators had found a form on which Scientologists were expected to write down information on police and lawyers in Belgium and send them on to the OSA in Denmark.

Was this what Scientologists meant when they talked about gathering data? And what was the purpose of such a database?

“All I can say,” said Martin, “is if the prosecutor wants to ask me questions on things that I have not read he should have given me copies in advance. He takes things out of context, it is clear he takes things out of context. It is impossible to answer.”

“Okay,” said the prosecutor. “Independent of any text, do you, yes or no, handle personal data on friends or enemies?”

“No,” said Martin.

Caliman asked for that answer to be formally noted into the record, and Judge Régimont instructed the court clerk accordingly. Then the judge asked Martin’s lawyer, Maître Quentin Wauters, if any question on Scientology documents was going to produce the same response from the defendant. Maître Wauters could not say.

So he put the same question to Martin W., and he made it clear that he would only be able to answer once he had the documents, in their original version, in front of him. Caliman nevertheless returned to the case files.

Now he wanted to know about three Belgian gendarmes, former members of the “Diane” anti-terrorism unit, who also happened to have been Scientologists.

Among the Scientology files seized during police raids, he said, investigators had found a debriefing of these gendarmes after they had been questioned by the investigating magistrate assigned to the hunt for the Brabant killers.

The Brabant killers were a group of criminals who in the 1980s carried out a series of particularly violent robberies in Belgium. The crimes sparked all kinds of speculation as to who they might be and what their real purpose was, but they were never caught. The investigating magistrate in that case had apparently been investigating a possible link between the killings and Scientology.

Prosecutor Caliman was quick to make it clear that he never believed that the Church was connected to these crimes. But these debriefings to Scientology nevertheless constituted a violation of the gendarmes’ duty of professional secrecy. “They wrote reports to the Church on things that they were not meant to share," he said.

So was it the duty of a Scientologist to report anything that might threaten the movement, he asked? And should that duty take precedence over the laws of the land?

“One of the most basic laws of Mr. Hubbard is to not do anything illegal in your country – or anywhere,” said the defendant.

As far as he knew, said Martin, the people concerned were no longer gendarmes at the time they made their reports to Scientology. The officers had been amazed that they had been called in to be questioned on this matter, he added, “ in that context it was perfectly natural for them to contact the Church.”

So far as the prosecutor’s second question was concerned, he answered: “I think you have no understanding at all of what the ethics code of the Church is. One can compare it to canon law in the Catholic Church. Catholic canon law is far more extensive than Church of Scientology canon law.”

Just as in the Catholic Church there were certain rules and regulations that members of the Church had to follow, so there were in the Church of Scientology. But Scientology ethics should not just be seen as a series of constraints, he added. “Ethics is far more than that. I should say ethics is a great help to people: it improves lives and minds. That is what ethics is about.”

Returning to the second part of the prosecutor’s question, he added: “Does it supercede national law? No. One of the most basic laws of Mr. Hubbard is to not do anything illegal in your country – or anywhere.

“And this,” he added, “is another example for me of how the case file is slanted or angled in a certain way. The case file says I infiltrated Europol or Interpol. I met openly with them as a representative of the Church.” Reading the case files however, it was clear to him that the situation had been completely misrepresented.

Martin was referring to references to meetings he had had with the secretary general of Interpol and the director of Europol.

“Infiltration” was perhaps putting it a bit strongly, Caliman objected.

“That is what is in the case file,” Maître Wauters replied.

“It is ridiculous, honestly!” said Martin. Of course they had held talks with Interpol, and Interpol had eventually accepted that the reports about Scientology were false. “How can you put this in the files without considering this? I have been through almost 20 years of this!”

By now, his voice was shaking with emotion. Finally, after some three hours on the stand, the strain was beginning to show.

The prosecutor pointed out that in fact, it had been the investigating magistrate who had put this in the files.

“Last question,” he said. He was interested in Martin’s work as legal liaison with the Church of Scientology International and local units of the Church, including the one in Belgium.

Around 2000, perhaps in 1999, he had submitted an initial report in which he said that according to the advice he had received there was no problem over the issue of data protection and privacy, that they could go ahead. And yet the reports he had received from experts had said that on the contrary, Belgian law was stricter than other European countries in this area.

So if he understood the question, said Martin, the prosecutor wanted to know if he had, in his briefings to the other parts of the Church, included a detailed explanation of the advice he had received.

Yes, said the prosecutor. “What did this information say, and did you pass it on to the Belgian Church?”

The fact Scientology had consulted experts on the data protection and privacy laws showed the good faith of the Church, said the defendant.

“Of course,” he said. “It is in the report. I can’t not have mentioned it if it was in the report.”

“What I have read,” said Caliman, “is that there was a major problem because Belgian law was stricter than other legislation.”

“Yes, it was clear that this particular expert had a certain perspective on the law,” said Martin. “And that was why it was important to the local church of Scientology to consult their experts – and I am almost certain that they did that.”

Caliman referred to another document from the Scientology files. This one suggested that Martin had not been happy with this warning from “this so-called expert” as he had put it. This person had suggested Scientology might be better moving out of Belgium to avoid violating its strict privacy laws.

But this was irrelevant, said Martin. “This was really a project for the Belgian Church to implement. I don’t know the details of what they did in this regard. Whatever that expert said, he said,” Martin added – but that didn’t mean that another expert hadn’t said something else.

The prosecutor consulted the files. There had indeed been another expert. but Martin appeared to have been unhappy that no one appeared to be able to offer a solution to their problem.

“So when Monsieur W. [Martin] says the law was respected, my – partial – interpretation is that when an expert says you would be better off in another country; and another raises questions about Pre-Clear Files and Monsieur W. says, ‘For me, there is no problem,’ – what does he have to say about this. Is it it a poor interpretation on my part?” (2)

“I think so,” said Martin. “But I will cut this short. Whatever the experts said is what they said. It was not the final application of what was finally done regarding the data protection laws.

“And furthermore, I think this is a great example of how the Church is trying to find a solution to the data protection laws, because it is trying to respect the law.”

Caliman was not having that. His charge against the Church of Scientology was not that it had failed to inform itself of the relevant law, but that having done so, it failed to take the appropriate action.

Martin insisted that the Church had respected the law. “I don’t have the details, but the Church will provide them.” But obviously, they had consulted the experts for their opinion. (3)

Judge Régimont reminded him that it would be the court that would decide whether Scientology had violated the law in this area or whether, as the defendant was arguing, everything was in order. “It is as simple as that.”

“I accept that completely,” said Martin. “The only thing that I would add is that it showed the good faith of the Church.”

And with that his questioning was over. He had been on the stand since a little after 9:00 am; more than three hours.

* 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.

Palais de Justice de Bruxelles, la salle des pas perdus” by Ch. Brissa under a Creative Commons licence.

1) The two policy letters the prosecutor mentioned are the following: "Department of Official Affairs" (March 13, 1961); and “Evaluation: The Situation” (March 15, 1977).

2) Preclear files contain the notes taken by Scientology’s auditors, or counsellors, during their auditing sessions with other Scientologists. Their contents often contain deeply personal information which is why their contents were relevant to Belgium’s strict privacy and data protection laws.

3) Later in the trial, during the defence legal arguments, they brought in an expert in the Dutch data protection laws who argued at length, and in great detail, that in fact Scientology had not violated those laws. You can see Professor Jos Dumortier’s arguments in this thread of tweets from the day.

#Scientology, #Belgium, #trial