A former republican prisoner has discovered a sophisticated listening device embedded in the ceiling of his north Belfast home.
Terry McCafferty said he made the discovery while changing bulbs in spotlights in the living room of his house in the New Lodge area. The device was built into a joist in a space been the ceiling and a bedroom floor.
Operated by wi-fi, with a battery back-up power supply, he said it had been carefully concealed and contained several small listening devices that were attached to spotlights.
The grandfather was jailed for 12 years in 2005 for his part in an IRA action. After his release from prison he became the subject of a high-profile justice campaign when the British Direct Ruler ordered his internment as he returned from honeymoon. He was released in 2010 after serving an additional 15 months behind bars.
Mr McCafferty blamed MI5 for planting the device.
“To hide it in where it was would have taken a while - it could only have been done when we weren’t at home,” he said.
“It was very well hidden and I think may have been there for around two years. I’ve reported it to my solicitor. This isn’t the first time my family have been targeted by MI5.”
Conversations obtained by MI5 through listening devices or by telephone or internet intercepts are processed by technology which can automatically recognise distinctive Irish words and accents, it emerged recently.
Documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden, published earlier this month, show that British forces have been paying almost exclusive attention to the island of Ireland in its spying agenda.
In 2009, 75% of the conversations transcribed by the British Crown agencies’ software involved NIRAD - “Northern Ireland accented speech,” according to the memo.
The use of voice-to-text technology removes the need for human monitoring of each conversation, and allows them to process tens of thousands of conversations from archives or in real-time.
In developing its data-gathering capabilities, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) had particular success in picking out words like “Craic,” “Dublin,” “Belfast,” “Derry”, “pub” and “Sean”.
However, the McCafferty family have also been subjected to more traditional forms of information-gathering. In 2011 Mr McCafferty’s wife Martine claimed she was approached by MI5 who tried to recruit her to inform against her husband by sending her an envelope stuffed with cash.