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VEIL OF SECRECY

The Vatican is on guard for security breaches during the conclave to select a new pope.

The 115 cardinals entrusted with choosing a new pope will enter the Sistine Chapel next week with the conviction that all eyes will be watching them.

But the cardinals also will have to worry about ears -- surveillance technology that could pose the greatest challenge ever to the hallowed tradition of secrecy shrouding the conclave in which a new pope is elected.

This time the gathering, steeped in mystery that dates to medieval times, will feature 21st-century safeguards against electronic spying. Pagers, cellphones, laptop computers and other gadgets will be banned. Security teams will sweep for bugs. And the Vatican will be on alert for long-range microphones outside.

Asked about the Vatican's ability to thwart high-tech eavesdropping, Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, governor of Vatican City, said: "I think our security for the Vatican city-state is pretty good."

Security measures for the conclave follow directives laid out by Pope John Paul 11 in 1996. The late pope rose to prominence in Poland during the Cold War and forged a modern, media-savvy papacy. As a result, he was well aware of the hard-nosed political realities of technology and espionage. He knew that governments, the media or others might be tempted to spy on the conclave.

He reinforced his high-tech security plan with a time-honored punishment: excommunication.

Nonetheless, the pope designed an election process that offers new comforts and freedom of movement for participants. Rather than being cooped up in monastic quarters next to the Sistine Chapel as in the past, the cardinals will reside in a new hotel-like building. They will shuttle in buses to daily sessions at the Sistine Chapel and will be allowed to stroll on the Vatican grounds.

Security duties at the Vatican are divided between the pope's Swiss Guards and special details of the Italian national police and paramilitary Carabinieri.

The Vatican has a small team of experts, including former Italian police, for sensitive internal security tasks.

During decades fighting the Mafia and terrorism, Italian law enforcement has developed strong expertise with wiretaps and other forms of surveillance. In recent years, Italian anti-terrorism investigators have impressed European colleagues with their capacity for planting minute listening devices anywhere.

Asked about strategies for eavesdropping on the conclave, a veteran Italian anti-terrorism investigator said his top concern would be tiny bugging devices that are readily available in both the private and public sectors. A traitor on the inside could try to slip a bug or bugs into the target areas, he said.

The Vatican has at least two security experts who will conduct electronic sweeps of the chapel, the residence and other areas before the cardinals sequester themselves, said an Italian journalist.

Despite talk about powerful surveillance tools, "human intelligence" should not be underestimated, experts said. Church officials have tried to keep to a minimum the number of waiters, bus drivers, cleaners and other personnel at the conclave, choosing longtime Vatican employees, screening them thoroughly and swearing them to secrecy.

Vatican employees take an oath of secrecy. Page A3.

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