Tarnac: Has the Surveillance Gone Too Far?

The Tarnac Ten have been closely surveilled. This isn't a scoop. But there's a problem: the phone taps and videos were made outside of any legal framework.

The Tarnac Affair hasn't ceased to resound. And the echoes have caused trouble for a prosecution that has already been amply attacked by the lawyers for the defense. On Wednesday, two new stones were thrown into Judge Thierry Fragnoli's pool. Two components that could weaken the entire proceedings. This, in any case, is what is hoped for by Benjamin Rosoux, Gabrille Hallez and Christophe Becker, encountered yesterday at the famous General Store in Tarnac.

1. The video surveillance of the Coupat home

Le Canard Enchaine reported this story in its Wednesday edition. It concerns the interior courtyard and the door to the building in which Julien Coupat, the supposed brain of the "ultra-Left groupuscule," lived. In the words of Jeremie Assous, one of the lawyers for the accused, "The anti-terrorist police installed this video surveillance system at the home of Julien Coupat on 15 August 2008, illegally and with contempt for the regulations contained in the Code of Penal Procedure."

The court of appeals has indeed affirmed that the "common areas" of a jointly owned property constitute a "private place," where the recording of images can only be authorized by certain judges. The order to cease [recording] was dated May 2009. Thus it came after the surveillance of the building began. Assous expects nothing less that the annulment of "all of the acts after 15 August that were part of this surveillance." He says, "We demand nothing other than jurisprudence." Yesterday evening, he and his colleagues submitted a motion that "would result in the annulment of the quasi-totality of the proceedings." Such is the importance of this element to the defense.

2. The eavesdropping in Tarnac starts in April 2008

The second revelation concerns the witnesses and certain silences, and it causes no less trouble. Benjamin Rosoux, who is a grocer, explains, "The story goes back to 4 April 2008, when my co-manager at the time [Gaetan Fussi] brought an agent from France Telecom to Ussel to verify that our line was working. Our credit card machine no longer worked. They tracked the problem back to the telephone switching station. Opening it up, the agent discovered a listening device, which he removed with authorization from his boss."

"After getting access to the dossier," he says, "one can see that the eavesdropping started well before the beginning of the first preliminary investigation, on 16 April 2008, thus outside the legal framework (...) Today we know that this kind of device is not used in the framework of the regular administrative wiretaps conducted by the federal police."

The article published in Le Canard Enchaine reveals that "the next day the technician was hauled in and accused of a professional misdemeanor for having brought his client into the switching station." Gabrille Hallez affirms that the agent in question and some of his colleagues "were pressured so that nothing of this affair leaked out" and that "the Minister of the Interior and the intelligence services directly intervened with the management of France Telecom."

Gilles Cabus, the technician in question, refuses to comment: "I have nothing to say." And the France Telecom side is hardly more loquacious. Dominique Bordas, of Limousin Poitou-Charentes, explains "telephonic interceptions are strictly regulated by the law. France Telecom has acted in conformity with the laws and its obligations as an electronic operator, and we have nothing further to say."

The problem, as the accused have emphasized, is that no verbal testimony has referred to this eavesdropping. "In the first surveillance report, there are names, references to relationships between the various people, and one doesn't know where this information comes from. This is the limit between pure intelligence, which is work in the shadows, and the work of the judicial system," Benjamin Rosoux says. Furthermore, "the most recent developments in French anti-terrorism precisely concern attempts to produce judicial intelligence, which is the hallmark of a political police force (...) At this stage, its possible that intelligence work, especially illegal things, are subcontracted to private agencies."

To back this thesis up, the lawyers [for the Tarnac Ten] have requested the dossier on the line from France Telecom. Jeremie Assous asks, "Who installed the device? On whose order? And why has France Telecom refused to turn over the information on the grounds of 'professional secrets'? It is expressly stated in their terms of service that the user of the line has the right to demand a report on its operations."

Benjamin Rosoux, Gabrielle Hallez and Christophe Becker await a response and fear that the investigation will last years, and do not doubt that the outcome will be a dismissal due to lack of evidence. "Furthermore, we would like to bring to light the things in this affair that exemplify the general practices of the French police. We aim to analyze their methods to show what 'anti-terrorism' allows," says Benjamin Rosoux, who is determined to keep the pressure on before attention shifts away from these events.

(Written by Michael Nicolas and published by La Montagne on 22 January 2010. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 26 January 2010.)

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