Monthly Archives: January 2014

Gerard Hodgins’ Call For A Dissident Ceasefire – A Thought Or Two

Gerard Hodgins’ warning in The Guardian that advances in surveillance technology render an armed campaign like that being pursued by dissident republicans impossible in the absence of popular support and that the various dissident republican groups should therefore call a ceasefire makes complete sense. So does his implicit assumption that the dissidents are riddled with informers.

Gerard Hodgins - dissidents should call a ceasefire

Gerard Hodgins – dissidents should call a ceasefire

If anything the former IRA activist and hunger striker is probably understating the technological disadvantages that would be suffered these days by armed insurgents facing a modern, advanced state foe.

The Provisional IRA’s campaign was probably doomed by these advances long before the peace process brought it to an end. By the early 1990’s only South Armagh had withstood significant British intelligence penetration – it was the reason why all the big blockbuster bombings of London were organised from there. But one could have predicted that in a very short time the use of drones, especially miniaturized drones, would have rendered the area completely vulnerable to British domination. The British would have been able to spy at will and take out active service units whenever they wished with devastating consequences for capability and morale. With that the IRA’s war would truly have been over.

Hodgins is also right about the role of informers in this story, but this is where it all becomes complicated.

There is no doubt in my mind that in the years before the 1994 IRA ceasefire, the republican movement was hopelessly undermined by agents within its ranks. Without compromising any sources I can say with complete confidence that at this time British intelligence’s own estimate was that one in three IRA members were working for one or other branch of Britain’s spying apparatus, either MI5, British military intelligence or the RUC Special Branch.

So badly infiltrated was the IRA that one could justifiably ask the question: who was really taking the decisions, the Army Council or the British government?

Dissident groups have little reason to fear a visit from this guy.....

When British intelligence had a guy like this working for them……

...or to end up like this.

….the people who ended up like this were often not the real informers.

Common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of intelligence methods would tell you that when the IRA split in 1996 and the McKevitt faction walked out, a very large number of British agents in the mainstream IRA would have been ordered by their handlers to join the new group and when the Real IRA itself split, to spread out amongst the various sub-groups that have multiplied in number since. And once in place the agents would provide information that could lead to the recruitment of others; and like an amoeba endlessly dividing soon there would be agents everywhere inside the dissidents.

Not to have done this would have been egregious incompetence on the part of the British spymasters.

This undoubtedly means, as Hodgins suggests, that not only do the British know all there is to know about the dissidents but that they are also probably controlling them as well and deciding which directions they should take.

It is here that the issue of calling a ceasefire becomes problematic.

If, as one is entitled to believe, the British effectively control the dissident groups why don’t they just edge them towards a ceasefire and end the violence? Clearly they haven’t done that although they could. It is now nearly a decade after the St Andrew’s Agreement, over fifteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, eighteen since the Real IRA split and twenty since the first IRA ceasefire and still it hasn’t happened.

So why not? Gerard Hodgins provides one answer himself, which is that the existence of the dissidents helps Sinn Fein win votes on the basis that as long as they are kept politically strong, the Provos will act as a bulwark against returning to the bad old days, something very few Nationalists want. And dissident violence can also be a helpful distraction from the perceived disappointments and shortfalls of the peace process. Surely the British agencies, invested in the process as they are, would approve.

So strategically, it makes sense for MI5 and military intelligence (police intelligence seems to be out of the picture these days after the fall of the Special Branch) to keep the dissidents going: the policy gives Nationalists a very good reason to vote for the peaceful republicans and blocks the emergence of political opposition to the Provos, something that could be far more threatening than dissident bombs.

There is another more mundane but no less potent obstacle in the way of a ceasefire and this one exists on the dissident side of the equation. If British intelligence has penetrated these groups to anything like the extent they did with the Provos then there are an awful lot of these guys picking up a weekly pay check for doing something that is probably not all that dangerous.

In the days of the Provisional IRA, the British made sure that they had an excess of agents inside the Internal Security Unit which had the task of hunting down British spies. That way they would know if the IRA was on to any of their agents and take appropriate action, such as ensuring that someone else was blamed. They have probably done the same with the dissidents, assuming any of them have even bothered creating spycatcher units. Anyway the informer in the ranks can be pretty sure that one way or another, MI5 has his or her back.

So if you are picking up a nice sum of money for doing something that is not terribly dangerous and can often be quite exciting and you get to meet people who regard you as being important, would you want to give it all up, especially when the alternative would be living as a nobody with no money and no status in Ardoyne or Ballymurphy? I don’t think so.

The IRA Did Have An Agent In The Dundalk Gardai

I guess very few of those who have covered the Troubles in Ireland would ever have thought the day would dawn when senior members of the Irish police force, an Garda Siochana, would commend the evidence of some of the IRA’s most ruthless killers and prefer it to the judgement of a Tribunal of Inquiry established by the Irish state.

Yet this is what happened yesterday with the release of a 33-page rebuttal of the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal, written by former Garda Chief Superintendents John O’Brien, Michael Finnegan and Michael Staunton. The three retired officers took issue with the Tribunal’s conclusion that when the IRA gunned two senior RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, to death in South Armagh in 1989 it had been assisted by a Garda mole inside Dundalk police station. Instead, the policemen assert, the IRA did it all by themselves.

The scene at Jonesboro, south Armagh and inset RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan

The scene of the 1989 IRA ambush at Jonesboro, south Armagh and inset RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan

During the eight-year long Smithwick Tribunal, a group of alleged “former” IRA members gave evidence – an arrangement organised by “an intermediary” (Fr Reid, by any chance?) – but not in the way everyone else provided testimony. The IRA members, who allegedly included the military commander on the day of the shootings, first agreed to provide a written statement describing the background to the killings and then to answer written questions in writing. Later in a private face-to-face meeting with three members of the Tribunal they gave oral evidence. But other lawyers representing interested parties were not present, did not know of these proceedings until afterwards and obviously had no opportunity to question the IRA team.

This is what the former Gardai officers write about this evidence from what they called FPIRA (Former Provisional IRA members):

Why should one believe the FPIRA account of the attack?

They are the only ones who know definitively what happened. They have cooperated with decommissioning and the location of the disappeared albeit on their terms. They are proud of the killings as this was a badge of honour to them………Prudently one has to discount their account for self serving recall but on the balance of probabilities their account has significant credibility and also they probably ceased cooperating when their contact with Smithwick was blown by the media.

Leaving aside the fact that we only have the word of others that decommissioning was actually carried out, how it was carried out and to what extent it was carried out and that there are a number of families in Ireland who might take issue with the policemen’s verdict on the IRA’s handling of the disappeared, the message from the three retired Chief Superintendents seems to be, as the Irish Times report put it, that the IRA had “no reason to lie” about having a Garda agent in Dundalk police station.

Well, I can think of one very strong motive for the IRA lying about this, just as I can see a motive for the three retired Gardai’s writing their 33-page critique of Smithwick, namely their understandable anxiety to clear their force of the stain of collusion with the terrorists they were sworn to put away in jail.

In a small number of years it is very possible that some of the people who sat on the ruling council of the organisation that killed the two RUC men, and who, given the political sensitivity of the operation, may well have reserved to themselves the giving of the final green light for the violence that day, will be sitting around a cabinet table in Dublin sharing responsibility for running the same police force they are accused of subverting.

If so, it will likely be a coalition government they join and it does not take a genius to work out that very few of that party’s potential partners in a coalition government would really want to sit at the same table as people whose military subordinates had boasted to a Tribunal of Enquiry that they and members of the force for which they now share responsibility had colluded in murder. As motives go for the IRA denying claims they had help from a Garda in the killing of Buchanan and Breen that seems pretty strong to me.

I do not know what happened on the day that the two RUC men met their end but there are two things that I do know: one is that it was not necessary for the Gardai informant to tip off the IRA on the day of the killings for him to have colluded in the deaths. Surely the crucial piece of information was that the RUC men were regular visitors to Dundalk Garda Station at all, information which the IRA claimed had come their way when the policemen were spotted by chance by one of their volunteers, but which could also have been provided from inside the station by a sympathetic policeman. One explanation is as plausible as the other. Once that basic fact was known the IRA could at its leisure have organised the ambush at a time and place of its suiting, a scenario, incidentally, that fits just as neatly with that offered by the three retired Gardai officers.

The other thing I know is that the IRA did have an agent inside the Dundalk Garda station. The Smithwick Tribunal was established largely because of allegations from Toby Harnden in his book Bandit Country – The IRA and South Armagh that a Dundalk-based Garda helped the IRA kill the two RUC men. Harnden got his information from security force sources on both sides of the Border and although he refused to give evidence to Smithwick – presumably on the laudable grounds that he would not compromise his sources – I believed him.

I believed him not just because I know him to be a reputable and ethical journalist but also because I was told the same, that a well known Dundalk Garda was in the back pocket of the IRA in South Armagh. My source was a well-placed member of the IRA whose position in the organisation was such that he was in a position to know all about the Garda agent. The details about the agent that I was given dovetail exactly with Harnden’s information.

So between Toby Harnden’s security force sources and my IRA sources I think we can be pretty sure that the Garda IRA mole in Dundalk police station did exist. The protestations to the contrary from the retired Garda officers are understandable but they do not add up.

Boston College Subpoenas: Press Statement In Wake of Chronicle Of Higher Education Article

Statement from Ed Moloney, Anthony McIntyre & Wilson McArthur:

Following the disclosure in the current edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education that Boston College misled ourselves and the participants in the oral history project into believing that the donor contract or agreement for interviewees had been vetted by the college’s legal advisers when it had not been, we are consulting our attorneys about the legal implications.

During the preparation of the project in 2001, the putative project director, Ed Moloney wrote to Bob O’Neill, the Burns librarian at the college outlining the possible wording for the donor agreement but asking him to run it past the college’s lawyer. O’Neill replied in an email: “I am working on the wording of the contract to be signed by the interview[ee], and I’ll run this by Tom [Hachey] and university counsel.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today that O’Neill has now admitted that he never did check with a lawyer and instead issued a contract to us that gave the interviewees complete control and ownership of the interviews until they died. Instead the contract should have warned participants that the interview could be seized by the authorities.

The article, quotes Dr O’Neill as saying: “In retrospect, that was my mistake.”

Mr Moloney commented: “We went ahead on the basis that we believed O’Neill had cleared the contract with lawyers and that it was safe for the participants to give interviews.  Had we known the true position the project would have been stillborn.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education report can be read here: http://chronicle.com/article/Secrets-from-Belfast/144059/

MI6, The Spy In The Irish Police Force, Jack Lynch And Britain – An Insight Into Ango-Irish Relations A Year After Bloody Sunday

By Ed Moloney and Bob Mitchell

The British government’s archive at Kew has, thanks to the ferreting of my colleague Bob Mitchell, produced a document that sheds fascinating light on the nature of the relationship between the British and Irish governments a year or so after Bloody Sunday, when the killing of fourteen unarmed civilians at a civil rights demonstration in Derry by the 1st Parachute Regiment pitched Anglo-Irish relations into their gravest crisis since the creation of the Irish state.

Those of us who were alive at the time can never forget the huge wave of anger and sympathy for Northern Nationalists that rolled through the South in the ensuing days. Factories and workplaces throughout the country came to a standstill as thousands of people staged impromptu strikes and marched to town centres carrying placards condemning the British. Buses and trains stopped running, Aer Lingus planes were grounded and the government recalled the London ambassador in protest.

A victim of the Paras' violence on Bloody Sunday is carried away

A victim of the Paras’ violence on Bloody Sunday is carried away

Not since partition had Southern and Northern Nationalism been so united, and not since the Anglo-Irish war of 1919-1921 had there been such anti-British fervor in Ireland, and it all culminated in a massive protest outside the British embassy in Dublin during which the building was burned to the ground. A gelignite bomb blew down the embassy’s solid Georgian door and soon petrol bombs rained through the opening. A crowd estimated at 20,000 cheered as the flames consumed the building and stopped fire engines getting near the inferno.

A huge crowd gathered outside the British embassy in Merrion Square, Dublin to protest at the Bloody Sunday killings

A huge crowd gathered outside the British embassy in Merrion Square, Dublin to protest at the Bloody Sunday killings

The Guardian reported:

“Hatred of Britain in the Republic reached fever pitch as the embassy’s interior blazed fiercely, watched by several thousand. ‘Burn, burn, burn,’ they shouted as chunks of masonry and woodwork fell blazing onto the street. They redoubled their cheering whenever they saw the fire breaking through into new parts of the building.”

Symptomatic of Nationalist anger at the slaughter was the response of the normally cautious and moderate John Hume, a leader of the pro-Irish government SDLP who said sentiment in his area was now: “It’s a united Ireland or nothing”.

But those expecting all this to be reflected in a more aggressive stand towards the British on the North by the government in Dublin, then led by Fianna Fail chief Jack Lynch, were to be disappointed. A seminal article by Eamon McCann in the Irish Times in January 2012, written to mark the 40th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, describes how, whatever the ordinary people of Ireland felt, the dominant emotion in establishment circles was nervousness at the boost all this could give to the IRA and the alarming consequences there might be for political stability in the Southern state.

Irish prime minister Jack Lynch betrayed his inner fears in a late night phone call to British prime minister, Edward Heath just hours after the guns had fallen silent in Derry. One account of the conversation quoted him saying:

“’……from reactions received from around the country at the moment it looks as if a very serious point has now been reached, and the situation could escalate. . .  my role is becoming more and more difficult, and I am very, very fearful of what is likely to happen.  I just want to tell you how gravely apprehensive I am.’”

Irish prime minister Jack Lynch

Irish prime minister Jack Lynch

The account continued:

“Lynch apologised to Heath for ringing him so late….the apology ‘set the tone for the conversation, with Lynch timidly trying to express his apprehensions while an irritated Heath blamed the marchers for the deaths and Lynch for not doing more to combat republicans.’”

In the days and weeks following Bloody Sunday the southern political mainstream mobilised against the IRA, making it clear that the Provisionals were now considered a threat to the southern as well as the northern state. Lynch’s government quickly announced plans to recruit an extra 600 policemen and warned that it might introduce special courts to try IRA members.

The British ambassador, Sir John Peck had complained that before Bloody Sunday juries would “frequently” refuse to convict IRA suspects but afterwards that it was “impossible” to secure a guilty verdict. To Peck’s satisfaction, the juryless Special Criminal Court was established in May 1972, four months later and soon began to jail IRA suspects unimpeded by the pro-nationalist perspective from the jury room.

The day after the funerals of the Bloody Sunday victims, Lynch had issued a warning to the IRA during a speech to the Irish parliament: “The institutions of this State will be upheld without fear or favour. The laws will continue to be enforced. Those who seek to usurp the functions of government will meet with no toleration.”

His Justice Minister. Des O’Malley ordered the retrial of IRA suspects acquitted on arms charges and the government’s toughening line against the IRA was endorsed by opposition parties in the Irish parliament. At the government party’s ard-fheis, or annual conference, held three weeks after Bloody Sunday, Lynch’s aides successfully prevented any motion on Bloody Sunday or the North being debated. Arrests of leading Provisionals started in March and in May, the head of Sinn Fein, Ruairi O Bradaigh and former Belfast Brigade commander, Joe Cahill were jailed.

British prime minister Ted Heath (r) meets Jack Lynch

British prime minister Ted Heath (r) meets Jack Lynch

As McCann wrote:

“The North had seemed as never before to have become a visceral reality in the South. But literally within days, alarmed at the appalling vista suddenly revealed in the mood and scale and class composition of the demonstrations, in the burning of the embassy and the strut in the step of republican paramilitaries, the main parties of nationalism emotionally and intellectually disengaged from the North and resolved to come down hard on any elements that in the name of the North dared challenge the integrity of the Southern State.”

Bloody Sunday has often been described as a prodigious boon to the IRA, which it undoubtedly was; recruitment to the organisation soared afterwards and with its ranks swollen the IRA was able to make 1972 the most violent year of the Troubles.

But it was also a turning point for the British as well, for the other consequence was that afterwards London and Dublin united against the IRA with a new determination and agreed a political strategy – support for constitutional nationalism, a power-sharing government in Belfast and a cross-Border mechanism of some sort – that not only survived the subsequent decades but emerged triumphant on Good Friday, 1998.

In the post Bloody Sunday atmosphere, MI6 launched an operation to recruit spies in the Irish police force

In the post Bloody Sunday atmosphere, MI6 launched an operation to recruit spies in the Irish police force

Given the Irish establishment’s alarm at the national mood after Bloody Sunday, it would have been surprising if  British intelligence had not concluded that this might be a propitious time to step up its activities against the IRA south of the Irish Border. After all it was now clear that the two governments were at one in their hostility to the IRA; and who in the Dublin government and security apparatus could seriously object?

And so some time in 1972, when exactly we don’t know, MI6 dispatched one of its agents, East African-born, John Wyman (36) with an address at Swan Walk in Chelsea, London to Dublin with instructions, it seems, to recruit sources inside the intelligence sections of an Garda Siochana, the Irish police force. From reports of interviews with Garda detectives later it seemed he had made several trips and had meetings with a number of “contacts” in hotels. His cover was that he was recruiting staff for a security firm based in Oxfordshire, England, which in a way was true.

A street scene in Swan Walk, Chelsea, the address given by John  Wyman. This is a screen grab from a Google maps street view.

A street scene in Swan Walk, Chelsea, the fashionable address given by John Wyman. This is a screen grab from a Google maps street view.

We know the name of only one of his contacts, 38-year old detective Patrick Crinnion (his name was sometimes spelled Crinion in contemporary reports), a registry clerk with C3, a specialist counter terrorism group that is part of the Special Branch, based at Garda headquarters in Phoenix Park. Crinnion was an ideal source for a group like MI6 because his job in C3’s archive gave him access to a treasure trove of intelligence documents.

There was a great irony here. During the Anglo-Irish war, IRA leader Michael Collins was given access by police sympathisers to the British intelligence archive in Dublin Castle; some fifty years later MI6 had, courtesy of a sympathetic policeman, gained similar entreé to the Irish government’s intelligence repository.

Whether Wyman had recruited other spies in the Irish governmental system to work for MI6 is not known but it certainly seems possible; both his interrogators and the Irish government suspected he had. He was arrested in late December 1972 at the West County Hotel in Chapelizod, west Dublin where he had arrived by car and was waiting in the hotel car park, as if to meet someone. He was staying in an hotel miles away in the south of the city, the Burlington, where he had made an arrangement to meet Crinnion later on the night he was arrested, so the trip to the West County raises obvious questions.

Exactly how the Irish police got on to Wyman was never explained. When he was arrested he was told it was because he was suspected of belonging to a proscribed organisation; but MI6 was not banned in Ireland. Citing this as a cause for his arrest might have been a ploy by the Irish police but it does raise the interesting possibility that Wyman was also meeting IRA members who had been under Garda Special Branch surveillance and had himself come under suspicion. The West County hotel was, because of its convenience to those travelling into Dublin from the west of Ireland, favoured by republicans as a meeting place; the hotel was where IRA dissidents met in 1986 after a split in the Gerry Adams-led Sinn Fein over dropping abstentionism to form Republican Sinn Fein.

Gardai evidence given later in court suggested that they did not know about Crinnion before Wyman’s arrest although this could have been a subterfuge to hide methods or sources. The Irish police claimed they got on to him when they searched Wyman’s hotel room and found an unsigned note, apparently pushed under the door, re-arranging that night’s meeting with Wyman for the following evening.

Wyman

Detectives waited in Wyman’s room for the MI6 man’s mysterious visitor the following night and arrested Crinnion when he turned up. When Crinnion and his captors reached the hotel’s ground floor, he tried to flee to his car but got only 40 yards when he was brought to the ground and taken to the Bridewell for questioning. A search of his vehicle led to the discovery of ten documents hidden under the carpet behind the passenger seat and more documents, all from C3’s files, were found at his home in Kilmacud.

Although Wyman initially maintained to his Garda interrogators that he was an English businessman visiting Ireland to vet potential employees, he soon admitted that he was “an agent of a British Minister” and told one Special Branch detective that he and they were “in the same line” of work. A notebook in his possession indicated that he was especially interested in finding the source of rocket launchers that had come into the IRA’s hands. For his part, Crinnion said he had met Wyman six times but later reduced this to three.

So, an intelligence agent from a supposedly friendly neighbour and ally had been caught red-handed suborning an officer in a sensitive counter terrorist police unit who had been induced to hand over valuable documents to a foreign government; to add to this, the agent responsible had very possibly recruited other spies elsewhere in the Irish government.

In such circumstances most governments on the receiving end of such flagrant espionage would react with controlled outrage. It might be going too far for one ally to expel another’s diplomats, as happened regularly between the Soviet Union and Western powers at this time – and since they were bitter ideological foes that was to be expected – but few governments could allow such a thing to pass by without a considered and proportionate response.

That, at least initially, appeared to be the Irish government’s posture on the matter, according to an intriguing document recently unearthed at Kew. The document is a three page account of a thirty minute meeting about “the Wyman incident” between Robert Armstrong, the principal private secretary to the then British prime minister Ted Heath and the Irish ambassador to London, Dr Donal O’Sullivan on December 23rd, 1972, just five days after Wyman’s arrest. The document, which is erroneously headed 23 December 1973 but further down gives the correct year, 1972, is marked “Message No 3” and was addressed to Heath at Chequers and marked “Top Secret and Personal”.

Robert Armstrong, Heath principal private sceretary

Robert Armstrong, Heath’s principal private sceretary

Britain’s ambassador to Dublin at this time was Foreign Office veteran Sir John Peck who was himself no stranger to the byzantine world of intelligence. In the 1950’s Peck had helped turn the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department (IRD) into an anti-Soviet black propaganda agency which fed material via sympathetic journalists to the BBC World Service and Third World media outlets. In the early 1970’s the IRD was very active in Northern Ireland funneling anti-IRA propaganda to the media, paralleling the work of the British Army’s Information Policy Unit then staffed by the likes of Colin Wallace.

Around December 20th, 1972, two days after John Wyman’s arrest, the Irish Foreign Minister, Dr Patrick Hillery met Sir John Peck in Dublin to discuss the matter who then reported back to Downing Street. After reading Peck’s report, Ted Heath had called in the Irish ambassador to tell him of his concerns arising from that meeting; the ambassador had then travelled to Dublin to report Heath’s unease to Jack Lynch and on December 23rd he arrived back in Downing Street to tell Robert Armstrong the result of his meeting with the Irish premier.

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time of 'the Wyman incident', Dr Patrick Hillery

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time of ‘the Wyman incident’, Dr Patrick Hillery

At the heart of British concerns was a comment from Hillery to Peck that the discovery of an MI6 agent at work in Dublin meant that relations between the two countries were now “back to square one”. The remark, implying Ireland’s loss of trust in the British, indicated a level of anger in official Irish circles at the affair that the detached observer might not consider inappropriate. But it soon became clear that Dr Hillery was speaking only for himself, not his prime minister. Jack Lynch’s priority was still the same as the British: the defeat of the IRA.

And so the Irish prime minister denied outright that Hillery had ever said such a thing even though, as Armstrong noted, Peck’s report “had specifically quoted” exactly the same words, “back to square one”; but O’Sullivan maintained that Lynch’s record of the Peck-Hillery encounter made no mention at all of the phrase, and he added:

“….Mr Lynch had asked him to assure the prime minister that there was no question of this on his side. He did not wish the present level of relationships to be impaired in any way. The Irish government had welcomed the British government’s agreement to discuss the Irish dimension and the Council of Ireland and hoped that nothing would interfere with that situation.”

And so in a single paragraph we can see expressed the Irish government’s priority in the wake of Bloody Sunday: the agreement of political structures that would help isolate and defeat the Provisionals. That was what mattered in Dublin and to underscore how important it was to the Irish state that friendly relations with the British be maintained, the ambassador even offered, on the day before Christmas Eve, to travel all the way from Downing Street in central London to the Buckinghamshire countryside to deliver Lynch’s message in person to Ted Heath at Chequers should Heath wish it. He was politely declined.

The Irish ambassador had further reassurances from Lynch to deliver to Downing Street. Asked by Armstrong whether the Wyman incident might imperil cross-Border security co-operation, Dr O’Sullivan gave this assurance: “There was no intention or desire that these contacts should be in any way impaired:, adding: “….Mr Lynch was very anxious that his own relationship with the prime minister should not in any way suffer as a result of this incident.”

It is clear from Armstrong’s account that the Irish government was as concerned about “the public relations” downside of the affair as anything else. The phrase “public relations” appears three times in Armstrong’s account of the Irish ambassador’s concerns and it is evident by the repeated use of the phrase that the Irish side was concerned that the IRA could exploit Wyman’s arrest for propaganda purposes. While MI6 had infiltrated the Irish police and may have recruited other, unknown agents, causing untold damage to the integrity of the state’s security apparatus, the fact that the IRA might enjoy a public relations fest appeared to be of greater import in Dublin.

And although there was evidence from the interrogation of the MI6 agent and his Garda spy about “others who might be involved”, the Irish side also seemed more exercised by the fact that the information passed to Wyman by Crinnion was not exclusively concerned with the IRA; some of the material found in Crinnion’s car, O’Sullivan complained, were C3 documents “unrelated to the IRA” that had not yet been seen by the Minister of Justice. Had Crinnion’s documents dealt only with the IRA, the Irish government, it appeared, might not have been so concerned.

Strikingly, nowhere in Armstrong’s account does the Irish ambassador seek an assurance on Jack Lynch’s behalf that the British will desist from any further intelligence operations on Irish soil. Rather much of the remaining conversation between Robert Armstrong and Ambassador O’Sullivan touched upon the legal treatment Britain’s MI6 agent might receive in Ireland.

While the ambassador told Armstrong that the Irish government could not interfere in the working of the justice system, he went on to hint that it might do exactly that, as Armstrong explained in his message to Heath:

“I have not included in the note the two points which were for your eyes only:

“For public relations reasons his (O’Sullivan’s) government would have to oppose bail; but the strength with which they would do so was another matter.

“You had expressed concern about the effects of a long sentence. He (O’Sullivan) had the impression that this was unlikely; indeed he said there might be no sentence at all.”

Wyman and Crinnion appeared at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in January and February 1973 and were charged under the Official Secrets Act with passing secret information prejudicial to the safety or preservation of the State, charges that brought up to seven years imprisonment.

Wyman2

The pair did not get bail, as the ambassador hinted they might, and they were held in isolation for their own safety at Mountjoy jail in north Dublin. But, as Dr O’Sullivan had apparently predicted, neither man would serve a single day in jail for their crime; in fact they were acquitted of the most serious charge thanks to an extraordinary move by Ireland’s Attorney-General, Colm Condon, the son of a former Fianna Fail Senator.

The entire trial was held in secret, in camera, and reporters were banned from the courtroom. Newspaper accounts were sparse and repetitive and nothing that transpired during the trial was made publicly known. Despite this cloak of secrecy, Condon refused to allow the judges to see the documents at the heart of the case, the C3 papers which had been found in Crinnion’s car. Since the documents would prove one way or another whether the security of the Irish state had been threatened by their disclosure to the British, the judges, deprived of critical evidence, had little option except to acquit both men.

Condon had the power himself to admit the documents, the judges would have read them in secret and none of their contents would ever be made public. But the decision to conceal the documents, made by a political ally of Lynch and his predecessor Sean Lemass, ensured that the MI6 agent would be acquitted and the Irish government spared an embarrassing conflict with the British just a few days before the terms were agreed for political talks on the North’s future, talks that would include the Council of Ireland, the institution which Lynch’s government believed would undermine support for the IRA.

A British White Paper on the future of Northern Ireland accepted that the irish dimension, in practce a Council of Ireland, would be on the agenda for political talks. Securing this pledge lay behind Lynch's reluctance to confront Britain over MI6's espionage in Ireland.

A British White Paper on the future of Northern Ireland, published within days of the acquittal of John Wyman and Patrick Crinnion, accepted that the Irish dimension, in practice a Council of Ireland, would be on the agenda for political talks. Securing this pledge lay behind Lynch’s reluctance to confront Britain over MI6’s espionage in Ireland.

A week or so later, Wyman and Crinnion were tried on lesser charges of communicating information about Garda operations and on these they were found guilty and sentenced to six months jail. This trial was held in public and although basic facts about the case became known in consequence, C3’s documents were kept secret. Since they had already served three months on bail and qualified for remission both men were immediately released and left Ireland for Britain, with Crinnion’s lawyer bitterly complaining that his client could never set foot in his native country again.

Here is the Armstrong message to Ted Heath followed by an intriguing postscript:

Nearly four years after the arrests of John Wyman and Patrick Crinnion and their trials, a six paragraph story appeared in the Irish Times which showed that “the Wyman incident”, as the two governments called it, was still reverberating strongly through the Irish police force.

The story appeared on October 26th, 1976 and was by-lined ‘Irish Times Reporter’:

“If…..”, The Classic, Must-Watch Lindsay Anderson Movie

I have been looking for “If…” for some time, without success, as an antidote to the deadening Downtown Abbey view of the world, where servants reside contentedly downstairs, happy with their place in the world serving their masters and mistresses upstairs.

This 1968 movie by Lindsay Anderson captures the rebellious, never-to-be-repeated mood of the late 1960’s, a moment in human history when the powerful seemed and were so very vulnerable. It is when you realise how close they came to losing it all that you understand the vengefulness of the Thatcher-Reagan, neo-liberal counter punch that came just eleven years later.

Anyway “If….” was hiding in plain view, on YouTube. Here it is. Enjoy, it’s a great movie which, amongst other things, made a deserved star out of Malcolm McDowell.

British Cabinet Account Of 1972 IRA Ceasefire Talks

By Ed Moloney and Bob Mitchell

Thanks to some good detective work at the national archives at Kew, where the British government’s records are stored, my colleague Bob Mitchell unearthed this previously unseen account of the July 1972 talks between the IRA leadership and a British government delegation headed by William Whitelaw, then the NI Secretary.

The talks were the ill-fated culmination of a bi-lateral truce between the IRA and the British forces which began on June 26th, 1972 and they took place at a house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea owned by then government minister Paul Channon on Friday, July 7th. Although an agreement was reached to meet again on July 14th, the ceasefire broke down two days later in a violent confrontation between British troops and the IRA in the Lenadoon district of West Belfast over the rehousing of Catholic refugees.

The document is an account of the talks given to then prime minister Ted Heath by Whitelaw and Northern Ireland Office official Philip Woodfield, who had earlier met Gerry Adams and Daithi O Connail to arrange details of the ceasefire, and was written up by the personal private secretary of the prime minister Robert Armstrong, who later became Cabinet Secretary when Margaret Thatcher was premier. It was written on the same day the encounter took place and is marked ‘Secret and Personal’, suggesting the distribution of the file may have been limited to a select few cabinet members or even just to Edward Heath.

The document confirms that while the British were prepared to be flexible over the timing of troop withdrawals and an amnesty for IRA prisoners – these were “negotiable”, Armstrong wrote – the issue of Irish national self-determination, or “Declaration of Intent” as the document described it, proved to be the breaking point. The IRA delegation’s leader, Sean MacStiofain demanded the British recognise the right of all the Irish people to determine the future of Ireland.

But as Armstrong put the British side: “It was difficult to see how the IRA leaders could accept any reformulation of  the Declaration of Intent which preserved the British Government’s commitment not to alter the status of Northern Ireland except in accordance with the will of the majority of people of Northern Ireland.” In the face of this disagreement Armstrong’s colleague Philip Woodfield predicted the IRA would resume violence “forthwith”, which they did within 48 hours.

The British would have to wait some 26 years, until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, before an IRA leadership was prepared to take the step outlined by Armstrong. Ironically two of the IRA’s six-man delegation at Cheyne Walk, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would be to the fore in crafting that shift in republican ideology. The document shows that on the crucial issue of Irish self-determination it was not the British who eventually blinked.

Other interesting aspects of the document are: the exchange between the IRA leaders, principally Sean MacStiofain, the Chief of Staff  – who was “very much in charge” according to Armstrong – and the Whitelaw delegation was tape-recorded. Whether this was done openly or secretly and without the knowledge of the IRA delegation is not recorded. Transcripts of the recording, Armstrong wrote, would be made available to Heath by the Monday morning.

Armstrong’s account makes it very clear that the British knew that they were talking at Cheyne Walk with the IRA leadership and the document listed the members of the group’s delegation. This included one “Mr Adams”; the British did however appear to have trouble understanding the Northern accent. Gerry Adams’ then close friend and colleague on the staff of the Belfast Brigade is described as “Mr Bell (or Barl)”. His name was in fact Ivor Bell.

Why Metadata Matters

Anyone following the ongoing Edward Snowden saga about National Security Agency/GCHQ surveillance of us all will surely have come across the term ‘metadata’. But how many of us really know how it works and why the American and British spy agencies collect it?

Metadata is simply a record of behaviour. Who you phone or email and when and where you shop and what you buy are recorded and the results analysed by computers for interesting patterns.

Those of us used to traditional surveillance methods, especially those who lived through the Troubles in Ireland, wonder why the spies prefer this sort of data rather than recording and listening to our phone calls or reading our emails. That’s how we lived through the years of violence in Belfast, careful about what we said on the phone but less so about who we phoned.

Well the answer simply is that the spooks haven’t stopped doing that, they’ve just become more clever and discerning about whose calls or emails to intercept and they use metadata to help them.

Say for instance GCHQ is monitoring Gerry Adams’ phone in 1986, which they almost certainly did as a matter of routine. He starts to get phone calls from Fr Alec Reid who in turn is phoning the Cardinal in Armagh, Charles Haughey’s office in Dublin, a Northern Ireland Office official in London and an ecumenical Protestant cleric in south Belfast. The Cardinal phones Rome to speak to a special papal advisor who in turn phones Charles Haughey’s office which in turn phones Fr Reid, John Hume, the Church of Ireland primate and the ecumenical cleric and they all in turn phone each other. All the time Reid is phoning Adams who calls him and inbetween is putting in lengthy calls to Ted Howell, his close friend and advisor, who these days masquerades as a teddy bear on Twitter. Howell in turn phones Niall O’Dowd, Bill Flynn and Pat Doherty at their offices in New York and they in turn phone Adams, the US State Department and the White House.

You don’t have to be tapping each of these phones to know that something is going on, although the British probably were anyway and if they weren’t the Americans were. What was happening here was how the prelude to the real start of the peace process might have looked like and the British, thanks to GCHQ’s surveillance, would know that if they hadn’t already, they better put taps on all these lines and monitor the email accounts and traveling habits of all those involved. That’s the value of metadata.

Below, courtesy of consortiumnews.com, a great investigative site, is a YouTube video presented by a couple of bright and articulate young MIT graduate students, which explains the full potential of metadata collection in a way that I could not even attempt. It is well worth watching.

I also recommend that you study your own email metadata, which you can via this link the two researchers have provided. Here it is, although I warn you it can be disconcerting: immersion.media.mit.edu.