Cui Bono?

Brian Feeney has a bunch of interesting questions on the Stormontgate affair:

Did the PSNI and MI5 use Donaldson as an agent provocateur and, if so, to what extent?

Did they use him to feed certain files to Sinn Féin? Did they plant certain inaccurate material for him to pass on?

To what extent were they trying to steer Sinn Féin’s political agenda, its reaction to certain political developments, by passing selected information?

Another difficult question for Sinn Féin. How many more traitors in their midst? How were the police sure enough that Donaldson was going to be exposed to tell him earlier this week? Have they someone in, or senior to, the republican investigating team?

More serious questions. Did the proconsul for the time being, John Reid, know MI5 were running a spying operation against Sinn Féin? Did the director of intelligence and security at the NIO? If so, did he tell Reid? If not, why not?

If Reid knew, why did he let the police bring down the powersharing executive when there was never any chance of bringing a successful prosecution?

If he didn’t know, then the security services are running the north and deciding the fate of its political institutions.

What does it do for the odds on an executive in 2006? Who does that suit? Not nationalists.

Finally he asks who benefitted from the collapse of Stormontgate?

  • Ziznivy

    Not strictly on topic, but did anyone else wade through the barely readable interview with Bono in the Observer Music Monthly today? What a long, boring, appallingly pretentious piece of cack! Never could stand Paul Morley.

  • lurker

    Here’s a theory: the PSNI raided Stormont to recover something that would have incriminated Donaldson as an informer, communications codes or something. They had already arrested him and taken documents from his home. There is high plausibility to the SF claim that there was no practical value to the raid on Stormont in pursuance of the investigation. But Donaldson may have told them that there was something in his office that would have blown his cover and they went in for that, pretending to be furthering their search for documents.
    Another thing that may be relevant: Bill Lowry, head of special Branch was sacked shortly after the arrest of Donaldson. We were told this was because he was briefing the media, something Orde had often done himself. So, was the some other reason for the sacking of Lowry related to Donaldson’s cover having been jeopardised?

  • Betty Boo

    I wonder was was on those two floppy discs. A floppy disc as such doesn’t hold too much information. It’s alright for some word documents. At this time same digital cameras used floppies. But if you wanted a sharp 10 x 8 print from it, you only got four when I remember rightly.
    So going by the storage capacity of a floppy (3.41 Mb), what could they have contained?

  • Henry94

    One of them was said at the time to be a Windows boot disc.

    Feeney raises the issue of restoration of the institutions in 2006. I think we can forget about that. Unionists aren’t really that interested and from a republican point of view I don’t see why we should set ourselves up again.

    While the PNSI deny bringing down the institutions for political reasons they reality is that one of their agents was in a very senior position in a political party in Stormont.

    I think it is unacceptable for them to run an agent in such a position. If they don’t see that then why have the pretence of democratic institutions.

    Maybe it is time to seriously look at re-partition.

  • Shay Begorrah

    Hi Betty.

    Firstly if SF know anything about signals intelligence or computer security they would avoid having any incriminating data stored on a computer, computers are simply too easy to compromise and monitor.

    Secondy are you certain that it was floppy disks that were taken?

    If it is the case that floppy disks did need to be recoverd by spooks there are only a few convincing explanations.

    Floppy disks are not a good medium for data storage and as you know have mostly been replaced by the use of USB key ring drives (portable solid state data storage devices) which are faster, higher capacity and much more reliable.

    The main virtue of a floppy is what used to be considered its main fault, it is not a reliable medium and is easy to damage or destroy.

    Individual documents or even sets of documents are unlikely to be the target, there could be an innocent explanation for using the floppy for data transfer so its discovery would not in itself be incriminating – why would you bother recovering it?

    More likely uses for floppies are introducing viruses/worms to allow the remote monitoring of desktop computers or computer networks, perhaps by copying data to a place on the computers hard disk(s) where it can not easily be deleted and can be recoverd later or perhaps by using a network connection.

    However the most likely use for a floppy in a covert operation is for keeping a private key for encrypting/decrypting messages sent to or from the moles controller or for copying and stealing the keys used by SF to encrypt private documents (if the computer was physically secure and not on a network).

    Private keys (effectively passwords) for encryption are easily small enough to fit on a floppy disk and having a private key is in itself incriminating to the mole (unless everyone is using encryption those who use it mark themselves out as suspicious) so you need to be able to destroy it easilly.

    So if Donaldson had a floppy and special branch/MI5 went through trouble to retrieve it then it most likely played a roll in securing data or communications either in SF or between Donaldson and his controller.

    Lastly it is important to remember that if spooks are looking for something they will try and avoid identifying it, if multiple things are taken most will be cover for the actually valuable item which may well not have been mentioned in news reports (especially if Donaldson was the man who listed what had been stolen).

  • Comrade Stalin

    Henry, my opinion is that a public enquiry by the British government into the activities of Special Branch in this area, followed by some swift action to deal with those involved, could put us back on track towards the implementation of the GFA – what do you think ? The only difficulty I see into this is that SF seem to be resisting an enquiry.

    The British are already planning to move intelligence responsibility away from Special Branch and into MI5. It’s possible that this could set the scene for Special Branch’s disbandment.

    Blair is caught between a rock and a hard place. He can blow the lid off the intelligence gathering framework in NI, or he can scrub the Good Friday Agreement. I cannot see him throwing all the work from the past few years in the bin. He may well come to the conclusion that Special Branch is rotten and needs to go. If that was the case do you think it would placate republicans ?

  • elfinto


    How can you claim to be a republican in one breath and consider re-partition as a potential solution in the next? This defies logic. You are clearly not a republican but a wanna-be Free Stater.

  • kate

    Comrade I don’t think it has anything to do with implementing the GFA, or even scrubbing special branch. This whole business of spying on each others spies only serves to make SF look more unacceptable to unionists. Infact I would go so far as to say it will delay the institutions going up, but when or if they do go up SF will be squeaky clean. Clean from intelligence gathering, criminality and paramilitarism. That seems to be where this is leading.

  • Henry94

    Comrade Stalin

    I’m not sure what the mechanism needs to be and British enquiries into their own intelligence services are unlikely to inpire confidence. If they are going to sort it out they would do it behind the scenes.

    But where we need to get to is to a position where there are no more major surprises for anybody. We have all had bad ones and it is impossible to do business if you don’t know what’s around the corner.

    I have no doubt the DUP will be reminding people that they nearly did a deal before the Northern Bank job and had they done so Hugh Orde’s naming of the IRA woud have been a disaster for them (irrespective of its accuracy)

    Likewise republicans can’t be in government at the whim of the security services and they should not be running agents in Sinn Fein. If they think they need to then they should say so and explain why.


    Better a free state than a police state don’t you think?

  • Pete Baker


    “a public enquiry by the British government into the activities of Special Branch in this area”

    That would only be appropriate if you started from the position promoted by Sinn Féin – that the only spy-ring was a British spy-ring and that Donaldson was an agent provocateur. A version of events that Suzanne Breen deals with very well.

    More likely that, in the intelligence gathering, Donaldson was negligent, about his role in gathering intelligence, to those he had previously supplied such intelligence to.

    MI5 favoured the political response of nipping it in the bud and saying nothing.. whereas the police actually followed it through.. Public Immunity to protect Donaldson’s identity was sought, and denied by an independent judiciary – resulting in the current embarrasment of all those involved.

    An independent inquiry might result in full disclosure.. but it might not.

  • missfitz

    BAck to lurker’s original point. Why would Denis the menace need several hundred police to take 2 floopy discs out of his own office, when he could have lifted them off his own desk? That one just doesnt make sense to me. (not that much of the rest of this is making a pile of sense)

  • Interesting Kate. How do you see that happening? As CS points out, there maybe some difficulty in introducing transparency into the process after this episode. Without transparency, how can we know these things for sure?

  • elfinto


    The idea of re-partition is so ludicrous, unjust and unacceptable that I will not even ask you where you would draw the red lines on the map and who you would consign to perpetual colonial rule.

  • kate

    Mick, after this episode, and maybe subsequent episodes and perhaps more exposure of agents deep inside Sinn Fein, when and if the institutions go up SF will be a whole different animal to what it was before. It will be cleaned out as the Ulster Unionists used to say ‘root and branch’.

  • missfitz

    Kate, I dont know about that. My fear is that some of the more subversive elements within the RM may now feel that they have been sold a pup, and that the commitment to the political process has been nothing but a British plot. Instead of having a newer, cleaner and more cohesive SF, we may end up with a more determined hard line element.

    I think that all of the added speculation about additional moles, as high up as you can go, do not help this either. As I’ve said before, the past 11 years have been a struggle within RM to bring all the players along and sell the notion of peaceful means to those who did not agree with it. I wait with bated breath to see what the next few weeks and months will bring.

    As to returning en masse to the institutions? I cant see the confidence being there in the immediate future, unless some serious transparency emerges, and that is as likely as Denis Donaldson joining the Adams family for Christmas dinner

  • Comrade Stalin

    Kate, when you say “cleaned out” what do you mean ? Of agents, or of dodgy elements ? Mick has succintly summarized the point I tried to make. How will we persuade everyone that there is transparency ? [that said, I do think it is desperation on the part of unionists to continue arguing that the spy ring operation was real. I argued myself that it probably was, but things have now certainly changed.]

    Pete, it is true about Suzanne Breen’s point .. I asked aloud in another post elsewhere, did anyone in SF know what Donaldson was doing ? Assuming that the papers discovered were actually gathered by Donaldson (Suzanne dismisses the possibility that they were planted out of hand), either Donaldson concealed it all (meaning that the two other individuals charged knew nothing) or someone sanctioned it. Any of the possible conclusions that we can come too require us either to trust the version of the story we’ve been given by Donaldson and SF, or to assume that the PSNI are innocent of any wrongdoing and that Donaldson’s story is a fabrication. This is difficult; we can hardly expect republicans to trust the word of the PSNI, any more than we can expect unionists to trust SF’s bona fides.

    The next few weeks are going to be interesting (I think I remember saying that this time last year immediately after the bank robbery news broke). Will we get news of more explusions in Sinn Fein ? Will Donaldson feel compelled to reveal more details of the work he did for his handlers ?

  • Pete Baker


    “we can hardly expect republicans to trust the word of the PSNI, any more than we can expect unionists to trust SF’s bona fides.”

    I don’t expect either to do either. But I will trust my own judgement on what I think is the most likely sequence of events.. and it doesn’t involve a grand conspiracy.

  • finn69

    I use to be anti repartion, but warming to the idea, but only from a michael colins viewpoint.
    but looking at who is shouting loudest for a public inquiry, gives a scale of who has most to lose, the DUP are loudest, than UUP, than SDLP. The DUP and UUP collapsed the assembly in 2002 and Lowry is very close to the DUP, the SDLP sit on the policing boards. These parties are now feeling the heat, to the extent that Paisley as a Privy Councillor has been refusing security briefings for the past 2 weeks, meaning that he is chosing not to know the facts, whilst calling for the facts in public. The UUP need to explain why they collapsed the assembly and the SDLP having joined the policing boards are now banjaxed with nationalists – to the extent of calling on Adams to resign because …er..the police have been spying on him. SF are keeping fairly quiet because they are sitting pretty, and more than likely writing their shopping list to Blair of things that need to be done before they re-enter stormont, think unionist demands on the IRA x10. happy days

  • Betty Boo

    Shay, thanks for the insight into the use of floppies. I original thought that there was only one disc until I read here on Slugger that there were two.

    Kate’s opinion is intriguing, but given the very harsh resistance by southern politicians to include Sinn Fein even on local level, to let them come out “smelling of roses” wouldn’t be in anyones interest I can think off.

  • Comrade Stalin

    finn69 :

    These parties are now feeling the heat, to the extent that Paisley as a Privy Councillor has been refusing security briefings for the past 2 weeks

    Can you provide a reference for this claim ?

    Can anyone list a good reason why an enquiry should not go ahead ? I cannot think of any reason why SF would oppose one other than that they have something more to hide.

  • Pete Baker


    You are right that the opposition to an independent inquiry is a difficult position to maintain. But the problem that any inquiry would face would be that if, and it’s a big if, Donaldson co-operated and told all that he knew.. in the version of events that I think more likely to have occured.. then SF would repeat their claim that he was an agent provocateur..

    Back to square one. I prefer to rely on my own assessment, and form my opinion accordingly, while insisting on as many public statements from as many people and groups who will provide them. And assess them when, or if, they are provided.

  • Henry94


    What could it achieve? Who would tell the truth and who would believe it? This is not a legal problem. It’s a political one. There was a hugh effort put into the process and the Agreement by everybody but we are further than ever from a solution.

    We have got ourselves into a position where the restoration of the executive is impossible.

    The only urgency for 2006 was Tony Blair’s legacy and he doesn’t deserve it so let’s wait for the next guy and use the time to consider our options.

    For republicans the next general election in the south should be the focus of our energies. Not begging the DUP to let us back into the spy-trap.

  • Pete Baker

    “For republicans the next general election in the south should be the focus of our energies.”

    Ay, there’s the rub, Henry.

  • Moderate Unionist

    Agreed. The most damaging aspect of this affair is that it will harden the RM’s attitude to the Assembly. In order to proceed, the policing issue will have to be satisfactorily addressed. Do recent events make this more or less difficult?

    You can argue it both ways, the obvious one, and the alternative which suggests that if you want a proper police force that doesn’t spy on you, then you need it under local (Assembly) control.

    As for a public enquiry, I wouldn’t have much confidence in any outcome.

    I think this will delay the return of the Assembly and may have scuppered it altogether.

  • missfitz

    MU, I find myself in agreement with you on most of those points, although I wouldnt be betting too much money on anything at the moment.

    I have always argued that the best way to secure a verifiable police force is by joining it and moving the agenda forward by being part of it. The opposing argument from RM has always been that unitl all traces of SB were removed they could have no part of the PSNI. I never really believed them, or the depth of mistrust they had until now.

    How can one satisfactorily address policing? I agree with Henry when he states the obvious: a public inquiry will not compel anyone to tell the truth. An internal investigation on the lines of Stevens may be the only way to have an impartial but knowledgeable investigation into what happened, unless theres a wee fire in an office.

    I would be quite pessimistic about an Assembly at the moment and wonder is it time for a leap of faith in other directions?

  • Moderate Unionist

    My worry is that we will run out of time. It is clear that Westminster was intending to apply economic pressure to make us all see sense. The longer it takes to get an Assembly up and running the worse it will get.

    In furtherance of this grand strategy, I could see Westminster introducing OTR legislation in return for an RM statement on policing and a clean bill of health from the IMC. Throw in some meaningless concessions to the DUP and you could have seen the Assembly back and running by say Sept 05.

    However, this strategy seems to be unravelling, the OTR legislation will prove difficult to deliver and now the RM will have difficulty with policing. It really might be the end of the road for the GFA. Blair will handover to Brown in 2007 and who knows what an election in the South will do to the political landscape.

    A complete rethink will take years. What is your “leap of faith in other directions”?

  • missfitz

    I cant say I have a blueprint ready for a leap of faith, but I agree 100% with your assesment, indeed down to how I thought it would play out next year.

    We are left almost back at the starting blocks, (well not quite as we have seen quite a lot of progress in terms of retributive violence.)

    Where can we go from here? In the past few years, I have come a long way in my personal understanding of Unionism, and the psyche that drives it. Devolution was not acceptable in 1920, nor was it so in 2002, so it may not be a viable way forward.

    A United Ireland is not an acceptable or viable choice for unionism on the island of Ireland, and I can see that now. It is not right to propose that option when it is so completely against the grain for so many people.

    We know that direct rule is not going to be acceptable in the long term for republicans and will allow the possible fomentation of violent methodology once more.

    I think that we are going to have to look at a joint structure, dare I say it? joint sovereignty.

    I can honestly see no other acceptable way forward for the long term. It couldnt please everyone, but it might please more than other options.

    I am not an expert on these matters, nor is this a position that I know much about, so I am sure that there will be many detractors. However, from where I am sitting, I dont know what other road could be followed

  • Moderate Unionist

    Well if nothing else at least you and I have agreed on a number of things. So all is not lost!

    I strongly support a local Assembly. I am flexible on the composition of this body but I believe that it should have real authority and responsibilities and it should include people who are committed to the rule of law and want to work within the agreed constitutional framework for the benefit of all the citizens of Northern Ireland.

    However, the majority of people on both sides of the divide are actually quite comfortable with things as they are. They don’t have to make decisions, if they create a big enough fuss they get government funds and it beats working for a living.

    Unless the economic environment deteriorates significantly I see no change, and even then there will be no new initiatives until there is a change of personnel in a number of political parties.

    We may have to go through a period of pain, in order to get a genuine settlement. Not a pleasant thought.

  • Dualta

    Henry64 wrote:

    [i]For republicans the next general election in the south should be the focus of our energies. [/i]

    Henry, winning the trust of Protestants and their support for an all-island nation is where Republican energies should be focussed. Nothing matters as much.

  • Crataegus


    Of course we need an inquiry. This affair has caused so much damage and leaves so many loose ends how would you start to put Humpty together again without one?

    As for who gains, has anyone gained out of this? I think better to ask who is responsible for I am not sure that what has transpired was what was intended. So who gains may not be the intended beneficiary.

  • heck


    Repartition is the worst of all possible outcomes. The foundation of the GFA was that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom until 50%+1 decided otherwise. British, Irish, republican and unionist bought into that. Discussion of repartition will tear up that consensus and could lead us back to a republican armed struggle.

    Might I suggest that within that basic consensus there is room for maneuver? What is wrong with the idea of joint British/Irish control of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Warrants for searches and arrests would have to be approved by a joint panel of Irish and British appointed judges; the police oversight board would have be appointed 1/3 by the SOS, 1/3 by the Irish government, and 1/3 by northern Ireland political parties: the chief constable would be appointed by both governments, would report fully to both and would resign if he/she lost the confidence of either government; and any intelligence activities that did not have the blessing and knowledge of both governments would be deemed illegal and those involved subject to prosecution. The prosecution service and judiciary would be appointed 50% by the Irish government and 50 % by the British.

    As things stand now I cannot see Republicans supporting the police and joining police boards. In fact I cannot see how the SDLP can remain on these boards and maintain electoral credibility. There is no going back and the PSNI is not sufficiently different from the discredited RUC. I think this is the only way to work towards a police force that all will support.

  • PaddyReilly

    Among the documents seized from the Princess’s of Wales’s butler which the Police alleged had been stolen by him from her was a Christmas card to all her staff. Hilarious! If you receive a Xmas card from royalty, always send it back immediately, otherwise you’ve stolen it. Equally, in this case, they are trying to buttress a weak case by bringing in all sorts of documents which may be legitimately held.

    The point is, there is no actual crime of spying. Crimes are things such as breaking and entering, theft, and obtaining documents which may be of use to terrorists. If there are no plausible, active terrorist organisations to which any party might be passing a particular document, then this charge must fail. We can assume that Sinn Féin/MI5 would not be passing a list of NI Prison Officers’ addresses to Al-Qaeda.

    That Sinn Féin/MI5 should be keeping stuff on their opponents is not surprising, I’m sure the Conservative Party do the same.

    Equally Police Forces/Security Agencies are only doing their job by watching people so there is no actual ‘spying’ here either.

    However, I note that there is one very unusual circumstance about the RUC and its successor the PSNI. It is contrary to practice in the UK and many other countries to allow a policeman to serve in his own province. It’s bound to lead to corruption. A better arrangement would be a PSNI recruited on a 50/50 basis from the Gardaí Síochána and English Police Forces.

  • Henry94


    You are probably right. It was not so much a proposal as an expression of frustration.