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Vatican takes steps to deter snoopers

April 15, 2005

ROME: The Vatican will have taken every step to stop supertech devices from eavesdropping on voting in the Sistine Chapel’s first conclave of the 21st century, one of Italy’s top anti-espionage experts said on Thursday

Vatican officials will have set up an operation led by top micro-technical engineers to sweep the Renaissance confines of the Sistine Chapel where the conclave to find a successor to Pope John Paul starts on Monday, super sleuth Miriam Ponzi said

But what about eavesdropping from outside? Italian media have speculated that the most determined could point hugely powerful antenna from a rooftop at the Sistine Chapel and pick up the sounds inside

“I don’t think, I know it’s possible,” said Ponzi, whose father, private investigator Tom Ponzi, was Italy’s real-life version of Britain’s Sherlock Holmes or Belgium’s Hercule Poirot

Asked if she believed the Vatican will have set up some sort of static umbrella to prevent the secrecy of the conclave being breached, Ponzi said: “I think they have tried everything”

A team of micro-technicians will have gone through every area the cardinals will use, including the Sistine Chapel, the hotel built in the Vatican grounds where they will sleep and eat, and corridors where they will walk

Anti-bugging machines vibrate when they approach a potential listening device

Experts will have checked doors, windows, paintings and especially energy sources such as lamps, sockets, telephone points, fax machines and photocopiers

“They must have looked everywhere where there is energy,” Ponzi said from her fifth floor suite of offices overlooking Rome’s smart Via Veneto

“Bugs need energy

” For years, the secrecy of the conclave could be assured simply by stationing Swiss Guards on the great doors of the 16th century Sistine Chapel

But now the Vatican, with all its ancient ritual, has to be smarter than the most sophisticated in the arts of micro-technology

“Everything is now possible with the Global Positioning System,” Ponzi said

Cameras can hone in through a window and read someone’s lips from huge distances

The windows of the Sistine Chapel will be screened, but listening devices can now work from a distance to monitor communications within a room without a microphone or transmitter being installed

Telephones and computers can now be targeted to act as bugging devices without anyone going near them

All will have been removed from areas used in the conclave

Some of the most complex eavesdropping devices, however, use a laser beam aimed at a room which are almost impossible to detect

Some models can be bought on the Internet for as little as $200.—Reuters