Monday, February 20, 2006

MI5, Sinn Fein/IRA (sic) and the Intelligence War

Try separate the wood from the trees:
MI5, Sinn Fein/IRA (sic) and the intelligence war

Paul Maguire • Forum Magazine, Feb-Mar 2006

For three decades British intelligence pursued a dual
strategy vis-à-vis the provisional movement. This
parallel strategy had as its twin objectives a gradual
diminution of the [P]IRA's militarily capacity and a
concurrent strengthening of the position of those
within the provisional leadership who were pioneering
a constitutional reformist agenda. Well placed MI5
agents within both the [P]IRA and Sinn Fein (sic) were
essential for the successful attainment of these twin
objectives. The exposure of Denis Donaldson and
Freddie Scapaticci as British agents illustrates the
extent to which the higher echelons of both the
political and military wings of the provisional
movement had been infiltrated by MI5. These
revelations also undermine - in very stark terms - the
veracity of Gerry Adams' repeated assertion that the
[P]IRA is an undefeated army.

Paving the way

By the mid-1980s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness
were privately determined to guide the provisional
movement down a purely constitutional path. The 1981
election of hunger-strikers and the 1983 election of
Gerry Adams as MP for West Belfast highlighted a
previously untapped reservoir of political support
which whetted the appetite of those Adamsistas who
wished to exchange armed struggle for the ballot box.
By May 1987 Gerry Adams felt confident enough to
secretly present Charles Haughey with a 15 page
document outlining the terms for an IRA ceasefire and
the creation of "a pan-nationalist front". Although
the vast majority of IRA volunteers and a minority of
the IRA Army Council were totally unaware of this
development, it was clearly only a matter of "when"
and not "if" an IRA ceasefire would transpire.

British intelligence was wholly cognisant of these
internal shifts. However, the defeat of the IRA or the
diminution of its capacity to wage war remained its
primary objective. This would not only eradicate the
explosion of bombs on the streets of London [a
perennial concern of the successive British
governments], but also strengthen the hand of those
within the provisional movement who were promoting a
new purely political approach.

British intelligence recruited informants, imprisoned
experienced IRA activists and ambushed and executed
hardline active service units as part of its campaign
to weaken the IRA. An iron fist was brought to bear on
republican heartlands hostile to the new
Adams-McGuinness strategy. For example, the hardline
and vehemently anti-Adams IRA East Tyrone Brigade was
practically decimated by a combination of British
intelligence gathering and the deployment of the SAS.
By the early 1990s the IRA's armed campaign appeared
increasingly unproductive and inefficient. The din of
internal voices supporting the "peace strategy" grew
louder. Who among Adams' hardline opponents could
convincing argue that armed struggle remained a viable
means to deliver political progress, when all evidence
suggested otherwise?

MI5 and the [P]IRA

British intelligence was relentless and extremely
successful in infiltrating the IRA. Freddie
Scapaticci's recruitment as a British agent was a
major MI5 coup and perhaps one of the single most
important turning points in its intelligence war
against the IRA. As head of security and intelligence
Scapaticci had full access to every IRA department. No
person was better placed to provide MI5 with a
topographical survey of the IRA and a breakdown of its
personnel. Furthermore, his involvement in numerous
IRA internal inquiries would also have enabled him to
identify individual personal weaknesses among various
republican activists and provide MI5 with priceless
information that could prove useful in turning other
agents. But it would be extremely naive to think that
Scapaticci is the only senior IRA member to turn
informant. Indeed some have argued he may not even be
the agent code-named 'Stakeknife', as MI5 never
exposes an agent unless another is equally or better
placed to provide similar high grade intelligence.

Although Freddie Scappaticci and Sean O'Callaghan
[former Adjutant-General IRA Southern Command] are
perhaps two of the best known IRA apostates, there
have been other traitors of a similar or higher rank
whose names have been withheld from both the IRA rank
and file and the general public. In 1996 the IRA
uncovered another MI5 agent within its higher
echelons. John Carroll was a senior member of the IRA
Southern Command and an elected Sinn Fein councillor
in County Offaly when he was recruited by MI5. He was
exposed as a British agent after an indepth IRA
investigation into his suspicious travelling habits
and his personal finances. However, Carroll was spared
a summary execution because of the political damage it
might cause Sinn Fein and the negative impact such a
revelation might have on IRA volunteers at a sensitive
time in the peace process. The entire sordid saga was
kept well under wraps. It is believed that over the
years Carroll possessed sensitive information
concerning the IRA's "England campaign" and was
responsible for numerous operations being compromised.
However, the true extent of the damage he inflicted on
the IRA will never be established.

What is indisputable is that MI5 was singularly
successful in infiltrating the higher echelons of the
IRA. The IRA's intelligence and security department
was basically administered by British intelligence.
The IRA Executive [one of the highest IRA decision
making bodies], the Southern Command and the GHQ
Department [the body responsible for the day to day
running of the IRA] were also compromised.

By the early 1990s the lines separating sections of
the IRA hierarchy and British intelligence were most
definitely blurred. Indeed it sends a shiver down
one's spine when one considers the odds stacked
against IRA volunteers in the field. The bleakness of
this scenario is further compounded when one takes
into account the fact that a majority of the IRA
leadership was, for close on two decades, only too
prepared to accept far less than what its volunteers
were fighting, dying and being sent to prison for.
However, the fact remains that by 1994 the IRA was
thoroughly infiltrated and rendered militarily
impotent. One aspect of MI5's dual-strategy was - for
the most part - completed.

MI5 and Sinn Fein (sic)

While weakening or defeating the IRA remained its
primary objective, MI5 did not ignore or dismiss
developments within Sinn Fein. MI5 monitored all
internal political discussions and even contributed to
those debates through well-placed agents and thereby
influenced the political trajectory of the movement.
It is a well document fact that the Adams-McGuinness
leadership is surrounded by a "revolutionary
think-tank" comprised of current or former IRA
volunteers and veteran Sinn Fein members. If it had
been previously suggested that some of these prominent
republicans were British agents, Sinn Fein spin
doctors would have treated the accusation with
contempt. But not any more. The image of a smug Denis
Donaldson flanked on the steps of Stormont by Adams
and McGuinness, while both party leaders hailed his
virtue and innocence, rests absurdly alongside the
spectacle of the Sinn Fein president, only seventy-two
hours later, informing a party press conference that
their head of administration in Stormont was expelled
for unsuspected treason stretching over a 20 year

Donaldson shed crocodile tears for the "suffering and
pain" his actions have caused over a twenty year
period. As is the case with Scapaticci, O'Callaghan
and Carroll, we will never know how many people he
dispatched to an early grave or consigned to a grey
prison cell. Sinn Fein attempted to diminish
Donaldson's importance in the public mind. But what
cannot be denied is that Donaldson was part of the
Adams-McGuinness "think tank" and that he was a
stalwart defender not only of that leadership but also
the peace process - a position entirely consistent
with his secret life as a MI5 operative. Donaldson
also participated in all major strategic debates
within the provisionals over the previous two decades.
He reorganised the Sinn Fein US support network, where
he replaced traditional republicans with loyal
Adamsistas. Donaldson was also a key aid during the
negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement. What
an invaluable asset he must have been for his MI5
handlers? We know Sinn Fein was operating a spy-ring
at Stormont, as thousands of documents were uncovered.
But was this a subterfuge? Was Donaldson's "handlers"
feeding bogus intelligence to the Sinn Fein
leadership, thus swaying opinion and influencing
sensitive political decisions? Obviously British
intelligence was well aware of the party's negotiating
bottom line long before negotiations commenced.

But just as Scapaticci was not the only senior MI5
informant within the IRA, it is naive to imagine that
Donaldson is the only senior British agent within Sinn
Fein. Speculation concerning key MI5 agents at the
heart of the Adams-McGuinness leadership has reached
fever pitch over recent weeks. Recently the PSNI
Special Branch has attempted to exacerbate these
rumours by visiting numerous prominent Belfast
provisionals in the company of a flotilla of
landrovers and furniture removal vans. Such is the
level of internal paranoia, key Sinn Fein
apparatchiks, such as Jim Gibney, have publicly urged
party members "to remain calm and to hold their heads
high". Gerry Adams has stated that he believes further
prominent provisionals may be exposed as MI5 agents at
a future date. Upon what information is this opinion
based? Has the Sinn Fein president any evidence of MI5
agents among his party leadership, which he has been
reluctant to disclose lest it lower party morale?

Only a fool could believe that the Sinn Fein
leadership has not been heavily infiltrated by MI5. In
fact, since the early 1990s, a section of the IRA has
held a longstanding suspicion regarding the bona fides
of some prominent Sinn Fein members. In 1994 the
spotlight of distrust fell upon the prominent Sinn
Fein negotiator, Mitchell McLaughlin, after the IRA
received reports that McLaughlin was engaged in
unauthorised and protracted contact with a senior
British civil servant in Whitehall. At a sensitive
time in the peace process, the IRA leadership chose
not to abduct McLaughlin in order to avoid adverse
media publicity and lower party morale. Instead he was
invited to attend a meeting with several IRA members
on the grounds that they wished to interview him about
certain matters in Derry. The IRA investigators
detained and interrogated McLaughlin for a significant
period of time. However, the IRA leadership was later
informed that the outcome of the internal
investigation was "inconclusive".

Unlikely partners?

The Sinn Fein leadership may denounce the Scapaticcis
and Donaldsons of this world. But I would argue that
they lack the moral authority to do so. Where lies the
difference between a republican turned British agent
and a republican turned Minister of the Crown? Both
are employed by, and receive payment from, the British
state. Both function to preserve and administer
British rule in Ireland. Both are morally and
politically repugnant, albeit to varying degrees.

In the final analysis few can deny that the outcome of
the Adams-McGuinness "peace strategy" mirrored MI5's
longstanding objectives towards the IRA. MI5 and the
Adams-McGuinness leadership gradually sought a
termination of the armed campaign in favour of an
exclusively democratic approach. MI5 guarded British
sovereignty over the North and upheld the continued
existence of the northern state within the "United
Kingdom" - a constitutional reality which the Sinn
Fein/IRA leadership has now embraced. So just as it is
reasonable to ask where lies the dividing line between
certain senior members of the Provisional IRA and
British intelligence, is it not just as reasonable to
ask where lies the dividing line between the
Adams-McGuinness "peace strategy" and British
intelligence's favoured solution for militant Irish
republicanism? If you have the stomach, try and
separate the wood from the trees.


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