There are two or three documents of interest in these latest two files from Nate Lavey’s archive of declassified FBI documents on Noraid. Although heavily redacted in the most interesting places, it is nonetheless apparent that the FBI’s New York office had penetrated Noraid by the mid 1980’s and was in a position to gain valuable intelligence on the group’s associations with the Provisionals in Ireland.
By 1984 there are references in the FBI files to two Noraid informers both seemingly members of branches somewhere in New York. One was known as NY T1, the other as NY T2.
The full files can be read below.
The first point of interest is a decision made by FBI headquarters on November 22nd, 1982 to authorise a full ‘FCI’ – or Foreign Counterintelligence Investigation – into Noraid which would be led by the Bureau’s New York office.
The letter (which begins on page 2 of the FBI file No 5) states:
During the past two years, the New York office has developed significant information and evidence which indicates that Noraid has been acquiring funds which have been funneled to purchase and ship arms to the Provisional IRA.
However, as an FBI report of September 1981 reported – which was published recently on this blog – the Bureau could only ‘presume’ that because of the known involvement of Noraid leaders such as Michael Flannery in gunrunning, Noraid as a whole was therefore involved in arms smuggling.
And the same report went on to say:
Just a couple of thoughts to close. Slowing the flow of contributions to NORAID would equally slow the flow of money used for guns. This of course prevents legitimate contributions from being made, a serious side effect. If money to NORAID does not go directly into gun coffers, but instead goes to Ireland which in turn frees money returned to the US for guns (which [redacted] has suggested may be the case) the FBI has no jurisdiction.
On the other hand NORAID may be only one of many conduits for gun money which may shift as often as the politics in the this struggle. Several different Irish unity groups may be the basis for the money flow. Effective work against that would involve penetrating each group separately.
The FBI’s decision to launch an FCI into Noraid’s involvement in gun-running therefore seems to be something of a stretch. Key leaders probably were involved but because they were IRA veterans whose first loyalty was to the Army Council.
The evidence from court hearings and journalistic reporting also suggests that the core of the IRA’s arms’ operations in the US took place at a distance from Noraid, not least because so many of it members were new to Irish republican politics and could not be trusted.
Some key figures in IRA weapons procurement, such as George Harrison, kept well away from Noraid and its activities. It is also known, from the recollections of Brendan Hughes for instance, that the IRA would sometimes raise funds separately from Noraid for weapons, often appealing to wealthy Irish-American individuals.
And there were other Irish republican organisations, notably Clann na nGael, much more likely to be involved in the weapons business which were not even mentioned in these FBI files.
But Noraid was the public face of the Provos in America and a constant target of British politicians and media. There is also evidence in earlier FBI files published on this blog, of pressure from the Irish government on the US administration to harden up its animus towards Noraid.
In the winter of 1982 the leaders of Britain and the US were Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan respectively and the former’s hostility towards the IRA was well known.
Is it possible that the FBI’s decision to launch an FCI into Noraid was not based on ‘significant information’ that the group was into gun-running but as a consequence of the friendly relationship between these two cold warriors?
Or did the FBI choose the option mentioned at the tail of its 1981 report, which suggested that slowing the flow of American money to Ireland, even if it was for non-violent purposes such as assisting prisoners’ families, would reduce the amount of money available to the IRA for arms purchases?
In the same month that the FBI’s headquarters ordered the FCI, a New York-based agent made an effort to penetrate Noraid and failed miserably. It was a sign of the difficulties facing the Bureau that lay ahead. But the FBI would soon score successes on the infiltration front. In the meantime this was what the FBI faced:
Within two years the FBI’s fortunes had improved to the extent that the New York office had two well-placed sources feeding the FBI information, one known as T-1, the other as T-2.
An FBI report of September 1984, based on information from both agents, dealt with Martin Galvin’s visit to Northern Ireland in August 1984 in defiance of a British order issued the previous month banning him from entering the UK.
Galvin first appeared at a rally in Derry and then on 12th August in Belfast where he appeared briefly to deliver a speech outside the Sinn Fein headquarters in Andersonstown, west Belfast.
RUC riot squad officers rushed the platform and Galvin was whisked away by Sinn Fein officials. But in the ensuing fighting between the police and IRA sympathisers, 22-year-old Sean Downes was killed when he was hit in the chest at close range by a plastic bullet fired by a policeman.
The FBI report on the matter largely dealt with responses to the event in New York, where Galvin was now hailed as a hero. It was largely based on information provided by T1 and T2 (see pages 95 and 96 of FBI File No 6):
By the following year, T1 traveled with a large Noraid delegation to Ireland for the annual internment commemorations, which included trips to Derry, Belfast and south Armagh. The August trip was always the highlight of the Noraid year, designed to raise morale – and fund-raising – as well as cementing possibly valuable links between Irish-Americans and activists in Ireland.
That year, however, thanks to T1, the FBI had a spy in the camp (see pages 114-116 of FBI File No 6). Incidentally the reference in the report to a 75-year old lawyer who addressed the Noraid visitors could be the late Kevin Agnew of Maghera, south Derry:
FBI File No 5:
FBI File No 6: