Fall from grace: Former military attache guilty over bathroom camera

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thursday, 18 April 2019, 4:20p.m.
The Auckland District Court jury returned its verdict today for Alfred Keating. Photo / Jason Oxenham

One of New Zealand's highest-ranking military officers and diplomats has been found guilty of planting a covert camera in a bathroom at the Kiwi embassy in Washington DC. Sam Hurley has followed the at times bizarre and unprecedented case from the outset.

Alfred Keating stood silently as he waited for his verdict today.

Better known as Fred, he had been on trial for nearly two weeks in the Auckland District Court, charged with attempting to make an intimate visual recording of another person.

It was a hostile environment for the ex-commanding officer of the Devonport Naval Base.

"Guilty," the forewoman told the court.

Keating's shoulders suddenly slumped.

The high-ranking commodore was no longer the man who had walked into court every day wearing a sharply tailored suit and his shoulders pushed proudly back.

He had heard the word he most dreaded after being accused of planting a hidden device in a unisex bathroom on level three of New Zealand's embassy in the American capital.

The 59-year-old was at the time serving as the senior defence attache to the US.

He was the face of diplomacy, negotiating and strategy for the Defence Force (NZDF) to one of New Zealand's most important allies.

He also held full diplomatic status and immunity from prosecution by US authorities.

But Keating was not immune today as the verdict capped what has been an astonishing fall from grace for the former Assistant Chief of Navy with a decorated 40-year military career.

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Henry Steele said Keating's motivation was to covertly film his colleagues using the toilet.

"This was not an act of espionage," he said.

Steele's case largely relied on the recovered internet activity on Keating's computer, the naval officer's DNA on the hidden camera's memory card, CCTV footage and swipe card records from the diplomatic outpost.

Environmental Science and Research forensic scientist Sue Vintiner said the DNA found was "10,000 million times more likely" to belong to Keating than another person with the same DNA profile.

She said this was "extremely strong scientific support".

Steele would later ask the jury: "What does your common sense tell you?"

"His DNA is on the SD card because it is his camera and he is the one who put it in that bathroom."

When the DNA evidence was presented during the trial, Keating could be seen looking towards the jurors seemingly in an attempt to gauge their reactions.

Former commodore Alfred Keating was New Zealand's highest ranking military attache to the US. Photo / Supplied

Former commodore Alfred Keating was New Zealand's highest ranking military attache to the US. Photo / Supplied

The device was first found Jerry Navarro, a driver for diplomats at the embassy, on July 27, 2017.

He noticed what appeared to be a small black box on the floor next to the bathroom's radiator - the camera had been dislodged from hiding.

Not knowing what it was and assuming somebody had simply forgotten it, he placed the device on top of the heater.

He was also unaware the motion-sensitive camera had started filming him.

The next person to enter the bathroom was NZDF staffer Stephen Warren. However, he was immediately suspicious and put the camera in his pocket before alerting others.

After Keating became a suspect, police searched his home in late 2017.

They seized his electronics.

The internet history on Keating's laptop revealed Google searches for BrickHouse Security, the camera's brand name.

At about midnight Washington on July 25, 2017 - just two days before the device was found - the computer was used to search "Brickhouse camscura modes" and "Brickhouse camscura switch positions".

The laptop was further used to visit BrickHouse Security web pages eight times between March 25, 2017 and July 25.

BrickHouse Security computer software was also installed on Keating's computer on July 24, but suspiciously later uninstalled at 6.47pm on July 27, just hours after the device was found.

There was, however, no evidence presented in court to show Keating ever actually bought the hidden camera.

"If you're going to purchase a covert camera you might do it covertly," Steele proposed.

"Assuming, of course, Mr Keating didn't just walk into a shop and pay with cash."

Later, on September 17, 2017, the software CCleaner was searched, downloaded and installed on Keating's computer.

CCleaner is a program which can delete temporary or unwanted files.

The style of covert camera, as advertised on Amazon, which was found in the bathroom. Photo / Supplied

The style of covert camera, as advertised on Amazon, which was found in the bathroom. Photo / Supplied

The court heard from senior police digital forensic analyst Kerry Baker that some 736 files were deleted from the camera's memory card.

But 21 video files from the day the camera was discovered remained on the micro SD card.

Most of the still images recovered were associated with the video files, the court heard.

However, the first video caught a person wearing blue latex gloves positioning the camera inside the bathroom's radiator.

Unfortunately the suspect was unidentifiable.

The second video, just a minute later, purportedly showed a man using the toilet, whom was acknowledged to be Keating.

Steele was unsure why the attache might decide to use the bathroom just moments after planting a covert camera.

"Maybe it's all part of the thrill?" Steele said.

"Maybe it was to set himself up as the first victim ... Maybe he just needed to use the toilet?"

The remaining images of people using the bathroom only showed their feet after the camera fell from the heating duct. No indecent images were recovered when police seized and examined electronics belonging to Keating.

Keating's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, meanwhile argued the prosecution of his client was a "circumstantial case" and "a weak one".

"The evidence doesn't tell you who did it and it certainly doesn't tell you it was Mr Keating," he told the jury on the first day of the trial.

The investigation which followed the discovery of the camera, Mansfield said, was "inept and incomplete" with "significant holes and deficiencies".

He criticised the DNA evidence and said the chances of contamination were high after the camera was "picked up and carted through to the ambassador's office" by several people without gloves before it was eventually sent to New Zealand for forensic testing.

"That level of incompetence sadly wouldn't even have been shown in Dad's Army," he said.

Mansfield also accused embassy staffer and Keating's driver Mike Waller of being the guilty man.

Waller had in 2014 bought a camera which was identical to that found in the bathroom.

He said it was used in an effort to catch a petty cash thief at the embassy.

The amateur photographer, who has taken pictures of former United States President Barack Obama, denied the notion he was responsible for the toilet camera.

However, the former New Zealand Air Force's attache to the US, Wayne Morris, told the court he had noticed a black box in the same bathroom some months prior to its July discovery.

The now wing commander said he saw a side panel on the radiator missing and inside was what appeared to be an electronic device. However, he dismissed his curiosity, believing the black box to be just a heat-control unit.

Alfred Keating resigned from the Defence Force just two days after he pleaded not guilty last year. Photo / Michael Craig

Alfred Keating resigned from the Defence Force just two days after he pleaded not guilty last year. Photo / Michael Craig

Before the trial began, Keating said the allegation had "already tarnished my personal and professional reputation".

The Herald first reported the charge against him last March.

Keating felt he was wrongly charged and the victim of a horrible coincidence.

He pleaded not guilty that month and just two days later resigned from his NZDF post.

In a statement earlier provided to the Herald Keating said he was "very disappointed to find myself caught up in this incident".

"I certainly intend to clear my name and expect this will be achieved in time," he said.

Keating did not talk to journalists outside court after he was found guilty today.

Keating was also worried about how the allegation, when it became public last year, would affect his daughter.

She was serving with the navy abroad at the time and concerns were held about her being bullied by other servicemen and women.

The Herald also revealed the Government and Minister of Defence Ron Mark were briefed by the NZDF in 2017 of the police investigation at the embassy.

Questions were later raised by a high-ranking NZDF Herald source as to why then Chief of Defence, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, had accepted Keating's resignation.

The Chief of Defence has the power to keep servicemen and women in uniform, pending the outcome of a court martial.

The two men are not related.

"Keating was holding the senior defence appointment in the capital of the country we expect to come to our aid in the event of global hostilities. It potentially risks the bilateral trust, so critical between both allies," the Herald's source said.

"The punishment from court martials are generally more draconian than those in the civil courts, for good reason."

Kiwi authorities retain criminal jurisdiction over any offence committed in the US by someone with diplomatic immunity such as Keating.

New Zealand's Ambassador to the US at the time of the incident was Tim Groser.

During the trial it was revealed that an urgent top-brass meeting of Kiwi diplomats in DC was held in his office.

At the meeting was also Detective Inspector Neil Hallett, the senior police liaison officer in Washington, and senior staffer Angela Woodham, who was responsible for the embassy's security.

It was in that meeting that Hallett took possession of the covert device before the police investigation began, the court heard.

Keating's trial also became one of just a few court hearings in New Zealand's legal history to be held - in part - behind locked doors for national security reasons.

Judge Ronayne warned the jurors about some of the classified evidence they would hear.

He said it was "terribly important" that no sensitive material or court documents were taken home by the jurors and nothing was discussed outside of the jury room.

A secret witness' identity was also suppressed by the judge for national security reasons.

Keating's military career was long and distinguished.

He first joined the navy in January 1976 and was posted onboard HMNZS Otago, according to his NZDF service records.

In 1982, he was selected for advanced technical and professional education which he completed while stationed with HMNZS Tamaki, the Auckland Institute of Technology and the British maritime warfare school HMS Collingwood.

He was commissioned as an officer in May 1987 and was posted to the United Kingdom to study systems engineering at the Royal Naval Engineering College Manadon.

He returned to New Zealand in 1989, before taking part in more operational deployments from 1993 to 1995.

Keating was later the operational trials officer for the Anzac first of class tests during the introduction into service of Australian and Kiwi frigates HMAS Anzac and HMNZS Te Kaha.

Commodore Alfred Keating, pictured at the New Zealand embassy in Washington DC. Photo / Supplied

Commodore Alfred Keating, pictured at the New Zealand embassy in Washington DC. Photo / Supplied

In 1999, he moved into maritime headquarters before being promoted to commander in February 2001.

From July 2003 until December 2006, Keating served as New Zealand's naval attache and senior technical officer for the navy to the US.

Upon returning to Aotearoa in January 2007 he was promoted again and assigned to NZDF headquarters in Wellington as the Assistant Chief of Navy before finally taking up the role as the top military attache to the US in Washington.

Keating also represented New Zealand at a United Nations convention on the law of the sea in 2017.

At a High Court hearing last year when Keating's name suppression was lifted the former naval officer said he had turned down consulting work due to the allegation and is now retired.

He will be sentenced in June and faces up to 18 months' imprisonment.


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