The first declassified FBI file on Noraid in the Nate Lavey cache, which I published here a few days ago, begins in June 1972 and ends in August 1973.
Almost the entire file is taken up with documents dealing with the FBI’s efforts, and those of its parent body, the Department of Justice, to show that Noraid was really a proxy of the Provisional IRA and that the group’s claim that it was primarily concerned with relieving the distress of the victims of violence in the North was bogus.
Noraid, or the Irish Northern Aid Committee (INAC), was established in April 1970, just a few months after the split in the IRA which created the Provisionals, but did not register under FARA until January 1971. Under FARA, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, groups like Noraid were obliged to reveal their true patron, or principal, and disclose financial donations and their source.
Noraid described its activity as ‘collecting good, used clothing for refugees burned or driven out of (their) homes’ and to publicise conditions ‘in the 6 Co. area of Northern Ireland’. Its foreign principal, it declared to the Justice Department, was a body called ‘the Northern Aid Committee’ (NAC), based in O’Donovan Road in north Dublin, whose officers were Joe Clarke and Des Ferguson in Dublin, Sean Keenan from Derry and Jimmy Steele from Belfast.
When Steele died he was replaced by Joe Cahill of Belfast. Keenan, Steele and Cahill were all well known IRA veterans who had each served prison time on behalf of the IRA several times.
Clarke and Ferguson were listed as Sponsors of INAC and Keenan and Cahill as Trustees; the initial officer board of INAC consisted of Michael Flannery, John Magowan and Jack McCarthy, men in their seventies who were IRA veterans of the 1919-1921 War of Independence.
Money was sent to the NAC and to An Cumann Cabrach which raised money for the families of IRA internees and sentenced prisoners. According to evidence given by Noraid to the FBI, money was raised by ‘concerts, dances, cocktail parties etc’.
The FBI investigation of INAC in these years followed growing pressure on the US government, publicly from the Irish government, more discreetly from the British, to close down Noraid because of the suspicion, echoed in a November 1972 speech in New York given by Desmond O’Malley, then Irish Justice Minister, that Noraid was helping to fund the IRA’s violence.
The FBI probe brought Noraid to the Supreme Court, where for a while Justice Thurgood Marshall suspended a federal court judgement ordering INAC to hand over its records to the FBI for inspection. Much of this first file in the Lavey cache is taken up by the report the FBI complied when eventually Noraid’s records were handed over.
A key finding of the FBI final report, which was based on records eventually handed over to the government, shows that between September 1st, 1971 to July 30, 1972 – an especially turbulent period in the Troubles encompassing internment and Bloody Sunday – Noraid sent $408,299 back to Ireland. In 2016 money that would be equivalent to nearly $2.5 million.
Not every Noraid branch or chapter was happy at the idea that their money might go to buy weapons for the Provisional IRA. For example a San Jose, Ca. chapter sent $700 to New York with the following message:
‘No monies are to be used to assist in violence’ along with a request that ‘these poor distressed families in the North (send) acknowledgement of receiving these monies’.
The letter concluded:
‘…many of our members need to be assured that we are not sending money for guns, they are strongly opposed to their monies being used in that manner.’
The file’s special value is that it contains a detailed breakdown of Noraid units across the United States in 1972, just a year or so after Noraid’s formation, and what comes across quite forcefully is that Noraid in those early days of the Northern Troubles was large and active coast-to-coast, and in many areas not usually associated with Irish-American militancy. This was surely indicative of the community’s angry mood post-internment and Bloody Sunday.
The FBI probe listed sixty-six chapters of Noraid in fifteen states: California had 9; Connecticut 3; Georgia 1; Illinois 3; Massachusetts 2; Michigan 1; Minnesota 1;, Missouri 1; New Jersey 5; New York 26; Ohio 2; Oregon 1; Pennsylvania 9; Washington 1 and Wisconsin 1.
The FBI investigation concluded that Noraid was indeed a front for the IRA:
‘Every aspect of the INAC operation seems to make it apparent that it and its principal (NAC) are supporters of the Provisional wing of the IRA’.
And the FBI added:
‘It would seem that if it were to be ascertained that the official position of Britain and Ireland is as enunciated by Irish Minister of Justice, Desmond O’Malley and if the NAC there is branded as an IRA front an approach to interdicting the flow of funds could be made by invalidating the registration of INAC and invoking the neutrality laws of the United States.’
Irish Northern Aid stood on the brink of suppression but somehow the hand of the US government was stayed. Why and how are questions that must be answered elsewhere.
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Part Two of these FBI files (see below) opens in July 1978 and ends in November 1980 and the documents tell the story of the US government’s successful legal effort to force Noraid to register as an agent of the IRA under FARA.
While the FBI’s 1972 probe of Noraid had uncovered sufficient evidence to link the group to the IRA in Ireland and to effectively close it down, this had not happened.
Whether domestic American politics had dictated this decision, which would have been seen in Irish-America as taking Britain’s side in the Northern conflict, or the FBI had expressed a preference for keeping Noraid public and easier to surveil, the result was that Noraid survived. But it had not disappeared from the law agency’s radar.
This second FBI action against Noraid actually began in April 1977 in the early days of the Jimmy Carter administration, presumably at the urging of the outgoing Coalition government in Dublin, whose Fine Gael and Irish Labour Party leaders were virulently opposed to the Provos and had repeatedly drawn critical attention to the IRA’s support in Irish-America.
Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fail replaced the coalition in a general election in the summer of 1977 (becoming, incidentally, the last single party government in Ireland) but his administration soon showed that it would be no less hostile to the IRA.
Within a year Lynch had appointed Sean Donlon, a high-flying diplomat, Ireland’s ambassador to the US and Donlon made undermining Irish-American backing for the IRA, and encouraging support for the SDLP, the hallmark of his time in Washington. Donlon stayed in his post for over twelve years, resisting an effort by Charles Haughey to sack him for his heretical politics.
Although the British were no less hostile to the IRA’s fund-raising and political activity in the USA, both governments felt it would be counter productive for the British to take the lead in opposing the IRA in Irish-America. That role thus became almost an exclusively Irish government preserve.
Noraid’s response to the FBI/DoJ assault was to allege that the action was illegal since the charge that it was an IRA front was based on information gathered by unlawful, or ‘warrant-less’ surveillance of Noraid and its leaders, Michael Flannery, Matthew Higgins, John McGowan and four other individuals whose names are redacted in the documents.
In response, the FBI/DoJ denied that any illegal surveillance had been used and claimed that only four methods were employed to collect intelligence about Noraid, an assertion that was accepted by the court.
These were: ‘Physical surveillance of persons or places’; ‘attendance by an informant at a public meeting or gathering’; ‘attendance by an informant at a non-public meeting or gathering’; ‘interviews with or information requests upon employers, co-employees, colleges, churches, banks, neighbors etc’ and finally, ‘notation of car numbers in the vicinity of meetings or gatherings’.
That the FBI had recruited ‘informants’ inside Noraid’s ranks, and that some of these agents were active as soon as a year after the group’s formation, is more than evident in the contents of a fascinating FBI report of a Manhattan, New York, Noraid branch meeting held in August 1972 which somehow slipped through the redaction net.
(Part of the FBI report on the meeting dealt with the so-called Dallas Five, aka the Fort Worth Five, who were New Yorkers indicted in Texas on charges that they smuggled Armalite rifles to the IRA. Texas was chosen for proceedings because it had a negligible Irish population. The story of the Dallas Five, who were jailed for contempt when they refused to answer questions from a Fort Worth Grand Jury, was covered extensively in this New York Times report.)
Noraid’s membership and support had flowered in the early years of the Troubles but in the process it is clear that the FBI had managed to penetrate its ranks.
Here it is in full:
And here is the full FBI file on this episode, or at least the documents disclosed under FOIA. Enjoy: