Mystery over reports of bugging devices at Government House

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 12:00am

Mystery surrounds reports that listening devices were found in Government House during recent renovation work.

Sources said all government facilities, including Government House and the Central Government Offices, had been swept for bugs in August 1997, meaning any devices would have had to have been installed since then.

It is not known exactly how, when or by whom such devices could have been installed.

Reports quoting an aide of chief executive hopeful Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said yesterday bugging devices were found in the Upper Albert Road mansion, which could delay Mr Tsang's expected move into the house when he is elected.

Government House has been left vacant since former governor Chris Patten left in 1997.

'Why would anyone want to install bugging devices in an empty house and what purpose would that serve?' a source told the South China Morning Post last night.

Police and Security Bureau officials refused to comment on the reported find.

A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office said: 'Refurbishment work is under way to ensure the security, communication network, electricity supply and ventilation are suitable for use of the new chief executive as residence and office.

'The government will not comment on the security arrangements for Government House.'

David Holloway, chief operations officer of security company International Risk, said if bugging equipment had been found in the walls, it might be easy to conclude how long they had been there, based on when construction and renovation work was carried out.

He said if bugs were detected, they could be removed easily, so there should be no reason to delay the former chief secretary's move into the house.

Mr Holloway said: 'I am sure that [governor] Patten had Government House swept regularly when he was there.'

He said two kinds of listening devices could be used - one within the fabric of a building, such as the walls or ceilings, or mobile devices that could be easily removed.'Obviously, if they were in the fabric of the building, they will take longer to remove, but it's not a task that takes a very long time.' Mr Holloway said detection equipment could find bugs easily, even if they were no longer transmitting.

It is not the first time reports have emerged of bugs being found in sensitive premises. In 1998, it was reported that the People's Liberation Army had found bugs left in its new home at Prince of Wales barracks by the British.