Here Is That ‘MI5 Letter’ – Make Of It What You Will

Ronan McGreevy, the author of The Irish Times article on the alleged MI5 letter claiming spookish involvement in the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, has made the full text available on his Twitter feed.

You can read the letter, which runs to two pages, below.

It makes for interesting reading and as you might expect the letter produces more questions than answers, the most puzzling question being the letter’s authenticity.

Was it a genuine cri de coeur from an disillusioned spy, or a dirty trick perpetrated – perhaps by the IRA’s intelligence department – to confuse an Irish government under pressure to respond to the twelve deaths at Enniskillen with stepped up security co-operation with the British?

First of all here is the letter which runs to two pages:

The alleged agent wrote that he joined MI5 in 1976 and for the last year and a half – since May 1986, if my maths is correct – was attached to a section of the security service which specialised in infiltrating and manipulating groups like the IRA.

Michael Bettaney

He – or she (the gender of the author is not known) – adds that he knew Michael Bettaney, the MI5 agent who was convicted of spying for the Russians, and was friendly with him, although until now, he didn’t believe all that Bettaney told him about the dirty tricks that MI5 employed in Northern Ireland.

In that paragraph lies enough biographical evidence for MI5 to narrow down the number of suspects who wrote the letter, assuming that the letter was genuine.

So the first question that jumps out of the letter is this: would a trained intelligence agent reveal so much about his or her background, knowing that if his masters in MI5 acquired a copy of the letter, this detail would considerably shrink the range of suspects and greatly increase the chances of discovery?

Mary McGlinchey, with her two boys

Or are the details deliberately false, designed to send the hounds chasing after a false scent?

He – or she – had become more and more ‘disaffected’ by his unit’s work, the letter continues, and MI5’s tinkering with the Enniskillen bomb made him/her decide he/she ‘must do something’. Hence the letter.

But what was the purpose of the letter? What did the author expect Irish Foreign Affairs minister Brian Lenihan to do with it, except to think twice before conceding to Britain’s demands for better security co-operation? Therein lies a motive, perhaps, to send a bogus letter.

He – or she – then lists a series of dirty tricks that his section of MI5 had played on the IRA, but principally against the INLA.

These included continuous monitoring of arms dumps particularly in Derry, Belfast and Sligo (why Sligo?) with a view to placing tracking devices or booby traps. The MI5’s unit manipulation of the INLA took the form principally of encouraging a vicious feud during 1987. This was done, the author claimed, by playing on Dessie O’Hare’s infatuation with his wife and child, but how this was achieved is not explained. The goal of all this was to create an atmosphere in the Republic conducive to extradition and other harsh law and order measures.

He/she writes:

My disaffection started with the shooting of Mary McGlinchey in Dundalk and I became very frightened and horrified with the treatment of Dr O’Grady.

Dr O’Grady was the Dublin dentist kidnapped by Dessie O’Hare. During his kidnapping ordeal two of Dr O’Grady’s fingers were amputated and posted along with a ransom demand sent to Gardai.

Dessie O’Hare

The author of the MI5 letter does not say how, but implies that MI5 were somehow complicit in O’Hare’s activity. Nor does he/she say what part, if any, MI5 played in the death of Mary McGlinchey, wife of the INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey.

On the Enniskillen bombing, the author writes:

Our section became aware through the use of Technical surveillance of the plans by the local I.R.A. in Enniskillen. Having gained the knowledge of where and when this I.R.A. gang was going to place this bomb, (we also knew of its size and technical make-up), our section decided to change the timing device and let the explosion take place so that the I.R.A. would score an own goal and create a massive backlash against itself. Our section also calculated that in the climate of a backlash against the I.R.A., all kinds of security measures could be implemented, including Extradition.

So there is the alleged MI5 letter. Is it a genuine expression of disenchantment with MI5, or a clever hoax designed to make the Irish government think twice before implementing tougher cross-Border security measures?

I have to say that the part of the letter that most causes me to question its authenticity is the biographical detail given by the author. There are too many clues there pointing to the writer’s identity. A more careful writer would have excluded such detail or invented a false curriculum vitae to distract and confuse his or her trackers.

But then again, perhaps that is exactly what the author of this letter did. I guess we will never know.

16 responses to “Here Is That ‘MI5 Letter’ – Make Of It What You Will

  1. Interesting

  2. Arms dump associated with f hegarty found in Sligo around same time. Where there others?
    Prima facie m McGlinchy killed in inla fued
    Given m McGlinchy nexus with loughgall unit was it part of wider British strategy to give Adams space. Would not have thought possibility of mi5 involvement in m McGlinchy murder was widely circulated in 87. Suggest author of letter was informed?

  3. I think it is quite irresponsible putting up something of this nature which is clearly an attempt by the Provisionals to relieve some of the pressure following Enniskillen. Did anyone think of the families of the bereaved, and the injured?
    This ‘agent’ obviously couldn’t spell nor use English grammar. He also doesn’t seem to understand the role of a member of MI5. They didn’t/don’t do surveillance in NI. They decided to “change the timing device and let the explosion take place.” PIRA have admitted that the device was timed to go off at 1045, not sure what this ‘anonymous agent’ is claiming.
    Criticism of INLA but not of PIRA, suspicious? The Provos hated O’Hare and McGlinchey, so bring them into the context. Apparently O’Hare is a ‘pyhsicopath’ – sic.
    You have also failed to mention anon’s friend Betteney, – he couldn’t spell his friend’s name – Bettaney, and his links to PIRA, and the well exposed acts of treason.

  4. There have been long standing rumours of others “stirring the pot” so to speak when it comes to the INLA feud (in the Holland/McDonald book, one member suggests that a prominent Provo from North Belfast was responsible), but I think the various contradictions within the INLA (socialism vs petty thuggery etc) were bound to lead to a feud one day regardless of outsider involvement.

  5. The author of the letter describes him or herself in the first paragraph as an “agent of MI5” (i.e. as a “source” or “informant”, https://www.mi5.gov.uk/agent-faqs) and not (as they presumably intended) an “officer” (i.e. someone employed by the agency, a spook).

    This is a very common error in terminology. It doesn’t seem plausible that an actual bona fide officer would make this kind of mistake does it?

    To my eyes it reads like an attempt to influence the Irish government, at a time when there was real risk of meaningful cooperation by the republic.

    • From the FAQ on the MI5.gov site :

      ‘An agent, or Covert Human Intelligence Source, is someone who works for us to obtain secret intelligence. They’re one of our most important sources of intelligence. Agents are not employed by MI5 and there is no formal application process to become an agent.

      Although our members of staff are often erroneously described as “agents”, we refer to them as officers. Vacancies for new officers are publicly advertised through this website – see Careers for more information on what jobs are currently available and how you can apply for them.’

      • And here is what the oxford english dictionary says: agent
        NOUN

        1A person who acts on behalf of another person or group.
        ‘in the event of illness, a durable power of attorney enabled her nephew to act as her agent’
        More example sentencesSynonyms
        1.1 A person who manages business, financial, or contractual matters for an actor, performer, writer, etc.
        ‘his agent was able to negotiate a long-term contract’
        More example sentences
        1.2 A person or company that provides a particular service, typically one that involves organizing transactions between two other parties.
        ‘speak to your letting agent about refurbishing the property’
        More example sentencesSynonyms
        1.3 A person who works secretly to obtain information for a government or other official body.
        ‘a trained intelligence agent’
        More example sentencesSynonyms
        2A person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect.
        ‘universities are usually liberal communities that often view themselves as agents of social change’
        More example sentencesSynonyms
        2.1 A substance that brings about a chemical or physical effect or causes a chemical reaction.
        ‘there is an urgent need for new antimicrobial agents to combat infections’
        ‘the bleaching agent used is hydrogen peroxide’
        More example sentences
        2.2Grammar The doer of an action, typically expressed as the subject of an active verb or in a by phrase with a passive verb.
        Example sentencesSynonyms
        2.3Computing An independently operating Internet program, typically one that performs background tasks such as information retrieval or processing on behalf of a user or other program.

      • But in the context of MI5 it has a very domain specific meaning. He claims to be an “MI5 agent”. Anyone with any familiarity would wince at that.

      • On second reading I see what you mean… who knows.

  6. I think the jury is going to be deliberating this verdict for some time to come. What intrigues me about the letter is that it was written so soon after the Enniskillen bomb, six days or so later when controversy about the nature of the detonation device was still raging, if my memory serves me. If this was an IRA counter intelligence operation, it was devised and executed with considerable speed. Some may find that hard to believe but such an idea is not inconceivable. On the other hand an MI5 officer with an already troubled conscience might be expected to react in such a way within that sort of timespan. I don’t think that the fact that the INLA scene was already turbulent and brimming with the threat of inernecine violence detracts from the claims made in the letter; in fact this may make the claims more credible since MI5 would calculate that the chances of causing mayhem inside the INLA, with appropriate angry reaction from the govt in Dublin, were all the stronger in the circumstances. What we don’t know is how Dublin reacted to the letter. Did officials share it with the DoJ and the Gardai Special Branch and if so, did those agencies consult the British? One hardly thinks so. So what did they do? Nor do we know if there was any follow up. There certainly was no offer to meet by the letter writer, which is strange. But then again would you, as a mutinous MI5 man/woman, trust your life with officials who you had no more reason to trust than your own colleagues. At the very least you could not be sure what reception you would get.

    • Does six days seem all that unreasonable? The depth of feeling must have been pretty apparent to the IRA almost immediately following Enniskillen, and from there it must have been obvious that some sort of proportional negative response by the Irish government was potentially imminent? (The author of the letter mentions Extradition and the Extradition Bill twice — an issue it seems preoccupying the author’s mind).

      Beyond that, Eksund or no Eksund, presumably the IRA had a supply of paper, envelopes and type writers to hand, and, as the author made sure to detail, the letter was posted from Dublin — no need to arrange to have it mailed from Britain.

      Six days seems more than a reasonable time frame does it not? It’s also possible that it was mailed not by the IRA, but by a supporter.

      Then again, who knows? Interesting letter whatever the provenance.

  7. Here is how Wikipedia begins its article on James Bond: ‘The James Bond series focuses on a fictional British Secret Service agent created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short-story collections.’

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