“as head of British intelligence, you would be derelict in your duty if you did not do everything in your power to assist that process…”

Via the Pensive Quill.  In this transcript of a discussion on Radio Free Éireann in New York, with John McDonagh (JM) and Martin Galvin (MG), veteran journalist Ed Moloney (EM) has some “stupid” questions for the leadership of Sinn Féin, British Intelligence Services, and the local media.  From the transcript

EM: There’s a whole untold story of the peace process in the latter years of the IRA’s existence in relation to the influence of British intelligence – to what extent that was exercising any sort of influence in the direction that they were taking: Were they assisting? Were they initiating? You know all these questions are quite legitimate questions in the face of the knowledge that I have learned about the level of infiltration of the IRA during the early years, up to the early years of the peace process and my understanding is that British intelligence’s own estimate of the degree of infiltration of the IRA by the early 1990’s was that one out of every three members of the IRA was working either for the Special Branch, RUC Special Branch, for British military intelligence or for MI5…

JM: …Same, the The Guards in The South.

EM: Well, leave that aside. I’m just taking about the British bit, alright, and you’re quite right – there would be a Garda influence over certainly southern sections of the IRA, the Engineering Department, QM’s department in particular. Now if that’s true, and I suspect it is true, then I think it’s legitimate to ask the question: Like who’s really running the show? Is it the IRA? Or is it the British? Or is it possible that the British are, unconsciously or consciously, who knows, assisting certain developments within the organisation, assisting it on its journey knowing that where it’s going to end up is somewhere where they could never, by themselves, achieve? The IRA delivering itself up, decommissioning its own weapons. I mean this would be like fantasy land for MI5 – you know, something that they could never achieve no matter – how much they had infiltrated the IRA – but here’s the opportunity for the IRA to do this! To what extent did they assist and help that process?

That’s one of the big, big questions. I don’t know what the answer to it is. I suspect they probably did. I mean, common sense tells me that they would have been stupid not to have done that – it would have been against their interest- knowing that there were plans and ideas within the leadership of the organisation to go down this particular road.– Wow! They’re actually going to go down that road we should give them a hand down that way. I think that’s fairly obvious. But these are things that are not being discussed in the media back in Ireland, these are forbidden subjects because they’re regarded as not being helpful to the peace process. Yet, they should be covered at this point because you know – the people who were involved are alive and the sources are there and in a few years time they won’t be there and it will be impossible to do this story.

MG: Ed, let me just make one observation and then just ask you a question just as a follow-up to what John said: Number One: Just what I told you, the first time – I’m not sure I met you but I saw you. I don’t want to mention any names – but it was at Kelly’s Cellars. I’m not sure where you were working, I think it was at Hibernia at that stage, but you were getting, I was told – I couldn’t sit there because you were getting a top-level, secret IRA briefing that no one else was getting because you were viewed as somebody who would cover Republican strategy and were trusted with that kind of briefing that other journalists were not. And you went from that to the point where no one trusts Ed Moloney just in a snap! But the thing I want to get at is: Denis Donaldson, as John mentioned, was out here for a year. He turned out to be a paid British agent. He was everything within Irish Northern Aid and Republicanism was open to him. We made numerous complaints about him; about his bona fides and who he was working for. When Hugh Feeney, as John had mentioned, came out to replace him and started to undo a lot of the damage that Denis had done all of sudden Hugh Feeney was arrested (while John was at the Irish People office) who replaced him? Oh, Lo and Behold! Denis Donaldson. Again! He had no trouble getting out of the country. And what I’ve always wondered, just building on John’s question: Do you think that he was simply working for a Sinn Féin agenda or do you think that the British government, who he was a paid agent of, was really directing him to go after certain people because of vendettas and anger and the people who had been very strongly opponents of theirs in this country?

EM: Well again, it’s one of these questions that demands to be asked but how on Earth do you get the answers? You know, one can speculate about these things and clearly you look back at what someone like Denis Donaldson was doing over here, you would be in a better position than I to judge what he did, to what extent did that help or hinder the agenda that was being developed in Belfast in terms of the peace process?

MG: Well, he did a couple of things. Number One: He undermined – shook my faith – in what we were being told from Ireland to begin with. But he deliberately tried to undermine anybody who had a very strong Republican background and credentials and tried to promote people like the Niall O’Dowds and others from the outside who had been associated with Fianna Fáil and others like that and tried to give them, through relatives of his, a greater influence in term of the organisation, in terms of Republican organisations in the United States. And he worked on that very diligently and again we were told: Ack! It’s just personality conflicts. Try and work with him. He has impeccable credentials from Ireland – no matter how many complaints that we made about him.

EM: Well then, you see, that’s the sort of situation in which you would have the suspicion that his handlers were directing him to behave in a way which is going to help the agenda that had been developed back in Belfast. Clearly. And it makes sense. I mean you know if you were in charge of MI5 and you knew that this peace process was being developed at a certain level inside the IRA and you knew – and of course they did know by that stage there was so much that was going on that they could not but know – and that you knew that the end result of that would be things like Sinn Féin accepting the Principle of Consent, ie, that there would be no united Ireland until the Unionists say so, that the IRA would be basically wound down, that it will stop its attacks against the British, that maybe even it would be possible to decommissioning their weapons you would be, as head of British intelligence, you would be derelict in your duty if you did not do everything in your power to assist that process which meant that your handling of informers would be not just about putting people in [gaol] – in fact it may be the quite the opposite of that, it may be keeping some people out of [gaol] – it would instead be assisting the political direction that these people were intent on going down – you know? [added emphasis throughout]

Read the whole thing.

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  • It was also matter to whom MG was complaining. Given that the IRA/SF structures now appear to have been riddled with ‘informants’ it might not be any wonder the complaints fell on deaf ears?

  • Newton Emerson

    Galvin says all this like it’s a bad thing.

  • Thomas Barber

    Newton do you seriously believe that its a good thing that 1 in every 3 PIRA members were working for British intelligence. How many deaths were the PIRA supposedly responsible for and exactly who were the terrorists.

    Those 1 in every 3 PIRA members who worked for British intelligence, were they terrorists ?

  • Newton Emerson

    I think Galvin is objecting here to both the means and the end.

  • Thomas Barber

    I know what Galvin is saying. Im wondering how you could defend 1 in 3 members of the PIRA being British agents as a good thing when we know how the media and the British government portrays the PIRA as being one big murder machine.

  • Newton Emerson

    You don’t seem to know what I’m saying though, which is that people opposed to the aims of the peace process aren’t really in a position to lecture us on its means.

  • Thomas Barber

    Your avoiding the question Newton. Can all those murders carried out by British agents be justified or be defined as a neccessary evil in order to achieve what we have now ?

  • aquifer

    A state security service redirects armed subversives towards electoral means of achieving their aims.

    Of course they do.

  • Brendan Heading

    I think it’s pretty obvious that Newton’s pointing out that infiltrating the IRA and using whatever means necessary to wean them off violence is a good idea. Galvin and the other INAC nutters are true conflict junkies – always happy to talk up war from the safety of shores 3000 miles away.

  • Thomas Barber

    I know what Newton is saying but that still doesn’t answer my question Brendan.

  • Brendan Heading

    Why should he ? It has nothing to do with his point. Nobody is justifying murders being carried out as a necessary evil.

  • chrisjones2

    Being on the losing side is always difficult

  • Thomas Barber

    “Galvin says all this like it’s a bad thing”

    Seems pretty obvious what he’s saying.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I can’t speak for Newton but I personally find this unproblematic. Infiltrating the IRA was and is a good thing. Long may it continue, assuming of course the IRA wants to keep going, which it seems to. Sorry, have I missed something, how could you be unhappy with the state turning a large number of IRA members into informers?

    Must admit I smile a bit when I read this kind of thing you see from time to time, that if the state has any success in infiltrating terrorist groups, it makes the state guilty of the terrorism they commit. Think the logic through – should the state therefore NOT infiltrate terrorist groups? What would you have police / intelligence services do against terror cells, exactly?

  • Anglo-Irish

    Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.

  • Barneyt

    I suppose if you didnt go along with some of the deeds, it would seriously impair your ability to infiltrate. Sitting in a pub in dungarees singing Danny Boy doesnt always cut it.

  • Barneyt

    ah ha…so if the Brits were on both sides…..they beat themselves…sorry lost to themselves…wait a minute….

  • Thomas Barber

    Well of course you would fiind the murder of innocent people by agent provocateurs paid to do so by the British government supposedly in order to stop murder as unproblematic but im pretty sure all of the families of the victims would find it problematic.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I didn’t say I found murder unproblematic, I said I found the choice of ‘to run informers or not to run informers’ unproblematic. The big picture is that we need to frustrate and ultimately stop terrorist organisations – running informers within them is a sine qua non of doing that.

  • Reader

    We don’t have a time machine to run things differently. If we had; you could address yourself to the families of people who would have died in the last 40 years if there had not been informers and agents in the terrorist groups.
    Do you not remember the way things used to be? It’s much, much, better now.

  • Thomas Barber

    Unfortunetly Reader you have no way of proving what you say but I can point you to lots of factual evidence where informers/agents were allowed to murder at will and the victims were not informed that their lives were in danger even though the RUC and British intelligence were aware that their lives were in danger. Whats wrong with ensuring that informers/agents act within the law or act on information supplied by informers/agents that someones life is in danger by informing them of that threat or thwarting the murder/s.

  • Thomas Barber

    Thats the point MU hundreds upon hundreds of people murdered by people who were agents of the state. Sacrificed in order to gain tactical advantage and supported by people like yourself.

    All those informers/agents who murdered people with the knowledge and approval of the RUC/British intelligence, in lots of cases using weapons supplied by the RUC or British intelligence. Were those same informers/agents terrorists ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, I cannot begin to imagine how any responsible government that is aware of its intelligence services activities could ever begin to sanction something like Kincora. And in a situation where a handler is cognisant of an agent committing a murder, where does the line actually come down between the concept of saving innocent life as the argument of why such infiltration is necessary, and the necessity of letting an agent take innocent life to ensure their credibility. I fully agree that there is a problem in how a clandestine organisation may be countered, but when the methods of the state are reduced to the same level with those they are supposed to be protecting their citizens from, I cannot feel that the argument that they are “mandated” continues to carry any weight.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    unrealistic, no?

    Yes, anti-terrorism intelligence work involves those kind of choices. But that’s just how it is, I can’t see any other way and if anyone else can, I’m yet to hear it.

    I’m not giving them carte blanche, of course not. But agents working within terrorist organisations, upon whose work our lives depend, need to be credible or there is no point in running them – they’d no sooner start passing information than they’d be taken out by the terrorists. And that happens.

    If we don’t run them, then the terrorists have a free hand and the state is guilty of not doing what it can to protect the public. That is simply not an acceptable outcome.

    The intelligence services have a duty to the public to at least try to get inside terrorist organisations. People would be shocked if we turned around and told them, sorry, not possible, the state would rather stand and watch you get blown up now, tomorrow and next year, than risk getting its hands dirty with undercover work. I expect more of the state personally.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    you need to look at individual cases to make a call on that last question, it will differ. But are you saying the state shouldn’t try to infiltrate terrorist organisations? What policing / intelligence approach would you implement in its place?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The problem is when it is actually put into practice. As I’d suggested above, where is the line drawn? You say “I’m not giving them carte blanche, of course not.”, but our government, certainly their agencies, are seemingly being given carte blanche when something like Kincora can happen. Or when fore-knowledge of the murder of ordinary citizens is not acted upon because it would pin point the source.

    There is only one reason for the agency of a government to be doing this, and that is, as you say, the duty of a government to defend its citizens. When the government is conniving at the sexual abuse of its citizens, and blocking enquiries into this seemingly because such an enquiry would reveal the extent of this complicity, or when it has permitted the death of citizens as “cover” for a source, then the very grounds that are used to justify this kind of intelligence activity are entirely undermined. You speak of it being unacceptable for citizens that “the state would rather stand and watch you get blown up now”, but the state actually was doing this when it did not act on knowledge of what would happen given by its agents, and with Kincora it was apparently directing targeted black operations that involved the abuse of minors.

    You have replied with broad abstract principals, but these things can only be evaluated when they are experienced in peoples lives. Where can the actual line drawn? Oh, such a question is rhetorical, I know, as such things require actual situations against which to be judged, but with the state being entirely “realistic” (in the Felix Dzerzhinsky sense) in such cases, seemingly considering that anything is acceptable that achieves their goals, I really cannot find what they are doing in any way acceptable myself. It’s one thing to assume that intelligence operations that include the abuse of minors is somehow acceptable in order that many others in our society may have less dangerous lives, but if you are one of those actually being abused, what then?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Whatever means”…..Kincora?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brendan, I’m confused, “Nobody is justifying murders” but then “carried out as a necessary evil”?

    If it were “necessary” then surely you are saying it was “justified”. So the state is mandated to “kill” me in order to “protect me from being killed”? I’m developing vertigo trying to grasp this logic.

  • Thomas Barber

    Are you avoiding the question MU ?

    Was Martin Mc Gartland, Freddie Scappaticci or all those other agents employed by the RUC or British intelligence that were murdered by Scap, were they all terrorists ?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No, just saying it comes down to the individual. From the little I know of the terrorists who have turned informer, I’d still call the vast bulk of them ‘terrorists’ overall, for what it’s worth – though it’s purely a semantic question what label we give them. Reality is, they are in a different category from other terrorists when they start informing. But as still in a terrorist organisation and involved in terrorist acts, terrorists. An agent dropped in from the outside (like in Harry’s Game, if you remember that book / tv series) I probably wouldn’t call a terrorist while he/she is undercover – linguistically it feels different to me. But as I say it’s more of a language issue than a real substantive issue really.

    If you then say, oh look the state is therefore carrying out terrorism, well no – the state is (and I hope it is still doing it and that every civilised state is doing it) using terrorists against their own/former organisations. I have no problem with that at all, because you simply have to do it if you want to undermine and frustrate terrorism.

    If one doesn’t think terrorism is all that bad, though, like most Republicans, I guess one would have the comfort of allowing oneself to be outraged by the state taking such action against it. But it’s only a position you can really take if you’re not that keen on anti-terrorist policing and intelligence.

  • Thomas Barber

    So what your saying MU without really admitting is that people like Martin McGartland, who like many others was encouraged to join the IRA or the other various potpourri of paramilitary groups involved in the past conflict were not terrorists, even though they took part in terrorist acts including murdering hundreds upon hundreds of innocent people.

    Are you for real ?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    how do you get that from what I wrote? Really, i’m not going to repeat it just because you can’t be bothered reading it fully. Try again. And in summary, I said I would still regard many of those turned as terrorists, though in a different moral category than those who had not turned, and most of all I said that it came down to the individual case as to what designation I would give someone in that situation. So spare us the faux outrage, you’re outraged at something I didn’t say, but you did and then attributed to me. Kind of funny 🙂