Declassified FBI Files on Noraid, 1986 – Part Two, A Battalion Of Spies

I know that a lot of my readers, especially here in the United States, have enjoyed reading the series of articles on declassified FBI files on Noraid which were kindly donated to thebrokenelbow.com by telejournalist, Nate Lavey, who had sought them via an FOIA request from the DoJ in Washington.

Although heavily redacted, the files have nonetheless shed considerable light on the FBI’s attempts to penetrate and monitor the activities of American supporters of the Provisional movement during some of the most violent years of the Troubles.

My apologies then for the overlong interval between the last article on the files, which covered the year 1986, and featured an interesting British background paper on Noraid. The delay was caused entirely by the pressure of a lot of events and stories that demanded my immediate attention.

I now intend to resume coverage in this post of the 1986 FBI file, although part of it includes the early months of 1987; later this week I will write up the two files for 1987. More stories will follow when I open the later files.

The second part of the 1986 FBI file (which overlaps into 1987) tells us that by this stage of the agency’s surveillance of Noraid it was cultivating more and better sources of information inside the support group.

This section of the file suggests the FBI had up to six and maybe seven spies in or near Noraid – in Chicago, Detroit and New York – providing intelligence good enough to warrant an agency warning that any attempt to launch investigations as a result could endanger the source. That probably means the source would be blown as soon it became known to Noraid that certain activity had attracted official attention; in turn that could mean the source was very well placed.

The first spy, someone in New York, makes an appearance on January 20th, 1987 in a report from the FBI’s New York office to the Director’s office in Washington DC. Classified ‘Secret’ the report, which is completely redacted, is described as ‘a summary of significant information’.

It appears on page 37 of this file and ends with a health warning on the next page which reads:

‘NO OVERT ACTIVITY OR INVESTIGATION SHOULD BE CONDUCTED ON THE BASIS OF THIS INFORMATION THAT WOULD COMPROMISE THIS SOURCE OF CONTINUING VALUE’.

Three pages on, on page 40, a spy in or near Noraid in Detroit, Michigan makes an appearance in a report from the local FBI office to the Director’s office in Washington. This is dated January 27th, 1987.

The source is offering information to the FBI about a possible visit to the United States of Provisional IRA members and while his or her name appears in the original report, it is redacted in the FOIA version which adds:

‘X is the confidential source in the LHM (Letterhead memorandum). This asset will be contacted periodically for dates of possible travel of (unnamed IRA vistors to the US)’.

Two pages further on and another New York FBI office report to Washington appears  which is entirely redacted but dated January 27th, 1987. It adds at the bottom:

This information is provided for the information of recipients and it is requested that the this information not be utilized to initiate any over investigation which might compromise (name redacted) a sensitive source of continuing value.

One page on, in a report dated February 13th, the New York office again reports to Washington about information from a ‘sensitive source’ and asks that no investigation be launched which might compromise the source, whose name is again redacted. Judging by the size of the redaction, this might be the same source quoted on January 27th.

The rest of the report is redacted.

Two pages on, and five days later, the New York office is reporting information from an apparently different source, at least judging by the size of the redacted name. Again the rest of the report, two pages long, is completely redacted and the same health warning is included.

Five days later, on February 23rd 1987, the New York office is again reporting to Washington on the basis of a Noraid source about sentiment towards Republican Sinn Fein, which was formed in the wake of the split over dropping abstentionism in the Dail the previous autumn.

The origin was:

‘…a confidential source of known reliability of continuing value…’

April 2nd, 1987 sees another report from ‘a source of continuing value’ from the New York office to Washington but there are no clues as to whether this is a new source or an existing one.

On April 1st, 1987 a Noraid source in Detroit whose name is redacted but described as ‘reliable’, gives information, passed on to Washington, about:

‘(Redacted) Alleged Activities With The Irish Northern Aid Committee And The Sinn Fein’

On April 28th, 1987 another message is sent to Washington from the FBI office in New York, apparently concerning Joe Cahill, the source again being someone whose name is redacted but described as being of ‘continuing value’.

On May 26th, 1987, the same source, judging by the size of the redaction, is the source of another report from New York to Washington, the subject and the text both redacted in full.

On July 23rd, 1987 the Detroit office of the FBI sent a report to Washington on the tour and speeches in the US of Martha McClelland, a Sinn Fein activist from Derry, whose activities were reported to the agency by an informer code-named DE T-1, described as being ‘of proven reliability’. DE T-1 reported that the hall in Detroit used by Mc McClelland ‘is the site for many pro-Communist political rallies’. This is on page 78 of the FBI report.

On pages 82 to 87, in a lengthy report dated August 13th, 1987 the Chicago office supplied FBI headquarters with a detailed run down of Noraid in the city which the report says was headed by ALEX MURPHY. The report, which is redacted in parts, describes Murphy as a friend of Joe Cahill and goes into some detail about his role in the Chicago Noraid and the activities of family members.

The FBI source for the report is described as having ‘furnished reliable information in the past’.

A dispassionate observer would surely conclude from all this that by the mid to late 1980’s Noraid had a significant informer problem, at least in New York, Chicago and Detroit.

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