The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The case of the New Zealand navy official accused of planting a spy cam in an embassy bathroom

Alfred Keating, a former Navy commodore and senior defense attache. (Michael Craig/New Zealand Herald/AP)

The hidden camera tumbled off its homemade platform onto the embassy bathroom floor, bringing down with it the career of the highest-ranking New Zealand military official in Washington, D.C.

Alfred Keating, a former navy commodore, was charged with making an intimate visual recording. Opening remarks Monday in Auckland District Court illustrated what prosecutors said was an elaborate effort to capture images of embassy staff in Washington using a unisex bathroom. He pleaded not guilty.

Henry Steele, a government prosecutor, said a person wearing blue latex gloves installed a Camscura Micro Hidden Camera in a bathroom heating duct on July 27, 2017, and images from a security camera led them to believe it was Keating.

The spying effort did not go as planned. The motion-activated camera tilted out of position and mostly recorded people’s feet, Radio NZ reported. In all, the video captured 19 images of clothed people using the bathroom in a five-hour period, court documents show.

The camera fell onto the ground later in the day and was discovered by a driver, who set it aside, documents show. Another person found the camera and alerted authorities. About 60 people worked at the embassy at the time, court documents show.

They were settling into their Airbnb. Then they found a hidden camera.

Investigators arrived from New Zealand and conducted a search. They found a thick layer of dust on a homemade platform, indicating a months-long effort to gather recordings, documents show.

An analysis of Keating’s computer found software drivers for the camera installed the same day the camera was found, along with several search results for the camera, prosecutors said.

They said DNA found on the memory card in the camera matched Keating’s sample.

Keating appeared in court last March to plead not guilty, then resigned from his post two days later, the New Zealand Herald reported, raising questions over why he was allowed to do so and not receive a trial by court-martial.

He faces up to a year and a half in prison if convicted, CNN reported. His attorney, Ron Mansfield, did not immediately return a request for comment sent Monday during Auckland’s late evening.

Last year, the court denied Keating’s request to suppress his name before the trial. Keating had said the revelation would embarrass him and make it difficult to get a job, documents show.

But the consequences extend further. There are about 14,000 personnel in New Zealand’s Defense Force, and only four of them have the Keating surname, court documents show.

One of them is Keating’s daughter. And decades of service have taught Alfred Keating at least one thing about lurking toxicity in military culture, he argued.

If his name was revealed, his daughter risked “possible harassment, victimization and punitive treatment,” court documents show.

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