Avid readers of this blog, and there are some, will doubtless remember that I promised to return to Jerome aan de Wiel’s fascinating new book on the Stasi’s Irish activities, ‘East German Intelligence and Ireland, 1949-90’*, with some more interesting revelations culled from between its covers.
Alas, the recent PSNI/PPS and Boston College-led assault on the UVF part of the oral history archive meant I was otherwise occupied for a time and am only now able to return to the subject. For that please accept my apologies.
There are a number of stories of special interest in aan de Wiel’s book which I hope to deal with in time but for the following tale I am indebted to Liam O’Rourke who tipped me off to this gem.
Some of my older readers will remember that 1988 was a memorable year for many Troubles-related events, political and paramilitary. The Hume-Adams dialogue, a cover for Irish government contact with the Provos, began in January that year, but the IRA also launched its much truncated, post-Eksund offensive against the British with bomb and gun attacks in Britain and mainland Europe. March saw the Gibraltar shootings of three IRA members by the SAS and May witnessed the deaths of three RAF personnel killed by the IRA in the Netherlands. Inbetween there was a bomb attack on a British Army barracks in London.
We will probably never know if these were the sparks for the Stasi’s action but 1988 was the year in which the East German intelligence agency decided it was time to recruit an agent in the IRA, alongside a slew of agents in other European, Arab and international terrorist groups.
According to aan de Wiel, the decision to branch out in this way was taken some time in the 1980’s by the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke. The head of the Stasi’s foreign intelligence wing, the legendary Marcus Wolf, later said that Mielke’s decision to recruit agents in foreign terrorist groups was taken so that they could be used as “behind-the-lines guerrilla forces for sabotage against the West”, a decision he didn’t exactly endorse.
By the late 1980’s the Stasi had agents, or “inoffiziellen Mitarbeiter” – literally “unofficial employees” or “IMB’s” or plain informers – in the Abu Nidal-led Palestinian Fatah group (6 IMB’s), the ‘Carlos the Jackal’ group (5), the PLO (5), the Japanese Red Army (3) and ETA with two IMB’s. In 1988, the Stasi’s terrorism section, known as HA-XXII, was ordered to recruit agents in the IRA and succeeded in persuading one to work for them.
What exactly that agent’s brief was or how successful an informer he or she was – and especially his or her name – remains unknown. But since the GDR ceased to exist by 1990 the presumption has to be that the agent’s value was minimal. Even so, this was an intriguing development which demonstrated, inter alia, just how deeply and widely the IRA had been penetrated, i.e. how open to being seduced its members increasingly were. The long war, it seems, had a downside.
aan de Wiel says the Stasi made no distinction between the two IRA’s, Official or Provisional so the agent could have been a member of either. But common sense suggests that if the East Germans wanted someone to cause mischief or “sabotage against the West”, then the Provos would have been the better target. The Stasi and the East German Communist Party presumably had enough lines into the Officials and the Workers Party as it was.
Here then is the page in his book which deals with this episode:
We do not know but perhaps this section of aan de Wiel’s book (p. 284) gives a clue:
“On 31 August 1990, the East German State Committee for the Dissolution of the former MfS (Stasi) handed over the hostile target file (Feinobjektakte) on the PIRA to the Zollkriminalamt (ZKA, West German customs investigation bureau). What this file contained is anybody’s guess. Indeed, apart from a covering letter indicating the handing over of the file and a few blank sheets, one of them containing the Stasi’s registration number for the PIRA, XV 5414/85, there was nothing else. The file should be in the possession of the ZKA. It is unlikely that it will be made available for researchers soon as German security services have not released files to date.”
The odds are that the name of the IMB was contained in that file. And as Liam O’Rourke commented, it is just as likely that the name was passed on to the British, giving them another agent in the IRA to add to the burgeoning list of informers working for one or other branches of the British intelligence machine. But who knows?