Monday, April 11, 2005

Spy in the House of God 

The Vatican's efforts to keep the conclave under wraps:
Thousands of reporters will be watching as the 115 cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel on April 18. Hackers and government informants may also be monitoring the conclave.

The temptations to spy will be immense. The papal election will likely see keen competition, notably between reformers and conservatives. It is also expected to witness a strong push for the first non-European pope.

Revelations of the proceedings could prove embarrassing to the Vatican. For instance, sensitive discussions on a papal candidate's stand on relations with Muslims or Jews, recognizing China rather than Taiwan or views on contraception would be sought after by governments or the press.

John Paul was sensitive to meddling from outside. He spent his formative years in Nazi-occupied Poland, then lived in a communist state under pervasive government spying. The Turkish gunman who shot him in 1981 was suspected of ties to the Soviets, a regime later brought down by forces the pope openly supported.

In 1996, John Paul set down rules to protect cardinals from "threats to their independence of judgment." Cell phones, electronic organizers, radios, newspapers, TVs and recorders were banned.

The ban on cell phones and personal data organizers makes sense, security experts say, since they can be hacked and used to broadcast the proceedings to a listener...

Another worry for the Vatican will be rooftop snoops with sensitive microphones. Laser microphones can pick up conversations from a quarter-mile away by recording vibrations on window glass or other hard surfaces. The Sistine Chapel has windows set near the roof.

"You focus the laser on a window or on a hard object in the room, like the glass on a picture," said a New York-based security expert with Kroll, Inc., who asked that his name not be used. "When people are talking the glass will modulate with the sound of the voice and they can recover the audio."


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