MI5 and the IRA

The historian of the Security Service ( MI5) Christopher Andrew threw out some intriguing comments about tackling the IRA at a lecture I went to last night, attended by a formidable line-up of academics and insiders. The main problem with the secret services he said, was that because they were so obsessed with secrecy, they didn’t learn from their own history – and nowhere more than in tackling Irish terrorism. The first problem was that Special Branch was set up in 1883 to deal with Fenian terrorism on the British “mainland” and kept that lead role until 1992. Everywhere else, responsibility was shared with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Branch, and turf wars broke out from time to time.

In Ireland between 1916 and 1921, said Andrew, Irish intelligence defeated us, no doubt about it, it wasn’t all Michael Collins.
Exactly the same happened in the 70s. If only MI5 had read the history of the earlier campaign they wouldn’t have made the same mistakes.
Margaret Thatcher was “very reasonable about the attempt to kill her”, but John Major “got really cross” after the IRA mortar bomb narrowly failed to kill hiom and half the cabinet in 1991.

MI5 got the lead role in 1992 ( as explained by former MI5 DG Stella Rimington in 1994.) That made all the difference.

“Then we got around to tackling the IRA.”

Not brand new intelligence this by any means, but the tone was interesting and left me in no doubt that much of the British establishment believes MI5 spiked the IRA guns. Alas, it will at least another generation before all the threads of the story are pulled together.

and of course, MI5 are with us still, more visibly and in a new role.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Did they mention Kincora Boys Home. You must be very gullible or else you think everyone else is.

  • The Devil

    What a pile of nonsense!

    Not you dear Brian but the rantings of Mr.Andrews I fear that he should be atending lectures on the subject he clearly knows very little about instead of giving them.

    Joe Fenton who did more damage to the P.I.R.A than any other previously outted informant.
    He purchased properties on their behalf before they knew they had even bought them themselves, however in the mean time he gave the keys to his handlers who kept close eyes and ears contact on the same properties, gleaning enough information to turn many many more informers as well as uncovering plots and military material.
    (Joe Fenton was pre 92)

    Alfredo Scappiticci who completely and utterly destroyed the security of all P.I.R.A ASU’s with his ability to identify any individual voluteer that his handlers wished or supply his handlers with the individual weakness that any volunteer had from gambling, women, money worries, sexual preferences, to interests and hobbies with times locations and dates.
    He could provide the particular identities of individual hitmen or bomb teams on any particular opporation that PIRA undertook.
    (Alfredo Scappiticci was pre 92)

    Northwest 1 ran down the P.I.R.A organisation in the Northwest area of a ten year period very slowly and very gradually but vey effectively.
    All new recruits and longer serving members were guided down the road of minimum military contact, eventually this gave way to minimum military training and targeting which had the long term effect of degrading the PIRA in the entire Northwest area.
    Other informant were sacrificed to protect Northwest 1 from being uncovered until the tefal could be applied.
    (Northwest 1 was pre 92)

    Northwest 2 accumulated the names and addresses of every single member of Sinn Fein, he collated how they were organised and who were the voting delegates of each cumann, Northwest 2 then divided favourable cumanns that were either controlled or docile to maximise their voting or controlled voting strength and combined agressive or uncontrolled cumans to minimise their voting block.
    I wonder does the family of the RUC man who was mown down by a car while out walking in Donegal to protect the identity of Northwest 2 feel that it was worth it?
    ( Northwest 2 was pre 92 )

    I’ll leave the Belfast cossack for another day but he was also ( pre 92 )

    So to say that the PIRA guns were spiked by MI5 from 92 on is garbage Mr. Andrews

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Sam, didn’t Birr Castle in the IRA heartland of County Offaly, play a strong part in that scandal?

  • Alex Attwood and Delores Kelly

    MI5 is Spooks Headquarters

  • Ulsters my homeland

    ‘Alex Attwood and Delores Kelly’ – Oh, what a sight for sore eyes!

  • Sam Flanagan

    Allegedly lol.
    There is “speculation” Chris Moore knows a great deal more than was in his book. He must be waiting until the characters are dead before he reveals anything.

    “Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs” what a laugh. It is Britains version of the CFR.

    What about Dunblane, knocked back for 100 years and not one MP asks why??????

  • Buile Suibhne

    Not Birr Castle but Glenveagh Castle when owned by the Tabasco heir McIlhenny once described by andy Warhol as glamorous. Look at paedophillic images in one of the bathrooms. Why did McIhenny quickly offload the castle to the state in 1982? Was Sir Maurice Oldfield involved??? If so was this on behalf of MI5 or was that a ‘solo run’ given his ‘similar’ interests to McIlhenny!

  • Northwest 42

    Here we go the internet spooks are back, with more misinformation and dissent sowing. More new handle names like butterknife and J118. How many of you boys and girls are sitting in spook HQ trolling this stuff.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    [i]”Why did McIhenny quickly offload the castle to the state in 1982? Was Sir Maurice Oldfield involved??? If so was this on behalf of MI5 or was that a ‘solo run’ given his ‘similar’ interests to McIlhenny!”[/i]

    Buile, do you think the IRA would have allowed MI5 to operate so openly in their patch?

  • bootman

    “the IRA heartland of County Offaly”

  • interested

    Northwest 42,
    The dead RUC man is recorded fact it is checkable.
    Fenton and Scap are recorded fact and the brief description of their activities seem to be fairly balls on acurate.
    NW1 and NW2 may or may not be….. only time will tell

  • Dave

    The Devil, MI5 was the agency that cleared the political path for the Shinners (mainly by allowing the doves within the IRA to [ironically] whack the hawks) thereby neutralising them as a paramilitary group and converting them from a position of being anti-state to pro-state (wherein they would no longer be any concern of MI5). Ed Moloney has more detail on how this was facilitated. I assume that is what Andrew is referring to. This, of course, doesn’t fit comfortably with the Shinner narrative of the nature, causes and solution to the ‘troubles’ but the reality is that they were raped by British Intelligence and those within the IRA who were controlled by those forces.

  • Batallion

    ““the IRA heartland of County Offaly”
    WTF? ”

    WTF indeed

    Should read the IRA heartland of King’s County

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    “attended by a formidable line-up of academics and insiders”. Formidable according to whom? Why formidable? And “insiders”? You mean spooks? Did they identify themselves to you? Did you assume that people *looked* like they were involved? And what was impressive about the tone? Did he *sound* like he knew what he was on about? Dear God – would you like to buy some magic beans from me?

    You do realise that the NI judiciary, Hutton included, believe they ended the conflict with the heavy sentences for IRA activity?
    The UFF think they did it by “terrorising the terrorists”.

    The point being, caller, that all of the above guesswork, mistakes and deliberate lies remain just that. Try not to be too wide-eyed with wonder at the next conference, eh?

  • Andrew’s has been a creature of SIS for decades, indeed he built his own career on the back of being an MI6 agent of influence, (as Oleg Gordievsky publisist) he should be judged in much the same way civilized people judge Scap, i e as part of the problem.

    The British intelligence service should be abolished as they simply muddy the water, act illegally, confuse and frighten the politicians and over the last forty years have been wrong on all the big issues of the day. Not least on Ireland where instead of encouraging the politicians to make the hard choice, and either withdraw completely, or turn the problem over to the UN, they were allowed to murder, bribe, and blackmail to get us to the place where we are today, ie an undemocratic stitch up which in the end will satisfy no body but those with their snouts in the English tax payers trough

    Brian mentions heavy weight academics being at the meeting, why any serious academic would waste a summer evening listening to this SIS creature is beyond me.

    Oh, I have failed to mention the security services are engaged in what for us ordinary Joes would be considered criminal activities on a daily bases, covering up corruption at BAE, or being Tony Blair’s bag man when he committed international war crimes. But then as I have said they are above the law, what a country?

    Brian, men are judged by the company they keep. hope you had a good shower when you got home.

  • Dave

    Sure, Billie, and when you end up in a place where others wanted you to be but that is a 180 degree turn from your original destination, don’t worry yourself about whether you or others controlled your journey.

  • Steve

    How long before the oo takes credit for neutralizing the PIRA by not marching at drumcree

    Kind of reminds me of the other day when the whacko in Israel went mad with the bulldozer three seperate palestinian organisations took credit for it

  • The Devil


    The point I was making was the Security Services of the state ( MI5, MI6, Special Branch, Signals, SAS, RUC, RIR/UDR ) had the PIRA trussed up like a turkey, in turn that meant the only avenue open to them was Sinn Fein, which was well and truely STUFFED…..

    This was all done and dusted pre 92 and some would argue pre 81 so Mr. Andrews is still wrong in his observations

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Dave: I’m not on any journey with any one. And I don’t have a destination in mind.

    I’m just commenting on the substance – or lack of it – in the original post and some of the follow-up comments. Do keep up.

  • earnan

    from all i have read on british intelligence knowing about and keeping surveillance on PIRA members, not to mention having so many informers, I’m surprised they were able to pull off capers like the brighton bombing, the canary wharf, the baltic exchange, etc.

  • Steve

    LOL and sure they must have been jholding open the vault door at the northern bank

  • UFB

    So Castlereagh really was done by the Brits.

  • Reader

    Mick Hall: Not least on Ireland where instead of encouraging the politicians to make the hard choice, and either withdraw completely, or turn the problem over to the UN…
    Now who is muddying the waters? Their methods were always going to be unacceptable to you while their aims were. Many of the Security services’ fiercest detractors wouldn’t mind if they would “murder, bribe, and blackmail”, so long as they did it for a United Ireland.
    Separate your distaste for their aims and methods into two compartments, and you might be able to have a dialogue with non-chuckies about MI5 methods. Until then, they were the good guys making occasional bad choices…

  • doctor

    “from all i have read on british intelligence knowing about and keeping surveillance on PIRA members, not to mention having so many informers, I’m surprised they were able to pull off capers like the brighton bombing, the canary wharf, the baltic exchange, etc.”

    I’ve often thought the same thing; if British intelligence was such the unqualified success some of these recent accounts make it out to be, I’d hate to see what would have happened (and for how much longer) if they actually made the occasional mistake. Given that some people are now retroactively proclaiming MI5 “victory” practically going back to the Easter Rising, I’m not sure it’s a model of efficiency for the Troubles to have continued as long as it did.

    Obviously the IRA and all other paramilitary groups were infiltrated and often foiled, but I’ve had trouble blindly accepting the vast machiavellian plots some people put forward about British intelligence “controlling” these groups lock, stock, and barrel, even the loyalist groups. Part of it is just people choosing to believe it to suit their personal political biases; the republican allegations about loyalists being british puppets so they can pretend that loyalist opinion doesn’t count, and now anti-republicans who get their jollies thinking that every last provo was a secret british agent.

    I’m waiting for the sunday tabloid article where unnamed sources claim that all ten hunger strikers were british agents involved in a an ingenious plot to force republicans into politics.

  • Sam Flanagan

    No one is claiming “every loyalist” or “every republican” was a Brit agent. Just key figures in key positions at key times.

    I think it best if both “loyalist/unionist” and “republican/nationalist” face up to the unpleasant truth Brit intel has been making fools of us all for many years.

    It is now best if we ALL find a way to extract OUR revenge!

  • Garibaldy

    Didn’t Douglas Hurd say that contrary to being reasonable about Brighton, Maggie wanted to bomb west Belfast as a whole, and that she got the TV ban as a way to placate her?


    Agreed Sam,

    There is NO doubt that Smileys People have had their hands on the controls for a long time WHICH, if you are visiting a cemetary every week to weep over the grave of a murdered relative, MUST make you VERY angry and VERY bitter. From the early 1990’s Britain was effectively controlling ALL paramilitary groups and had compromised most of their members BUT still allowed them to murder at will. They COMPLETELY ran ALL Loyalist groups and have been driving and TOTALLY controlling Sinn Fein’s political strategy for well over a decade. The British State holds much responsibility for the deep grief that the McCord’s, McIlwaines, Rosemary Nelson’s family, Pat Finucane’s and countless others carry to this day. They cannot be allowed to hide behind ‘National Security’ or ‘State Interest’. Remember what Thatcher said “crime IS crime IS crime……there is NO thing as political crime….it is crime”. It’s just a pity she NEVER gave these instructions to her ‘boys’ in the British Security services. Britain is as guilty as ANY Republican or Loyalist grouping BUT Unionist politicians haven’t the guts or honesty to admit it. This would expose the lie that Britain was the honest broker but the fact is that many members of the RUC/British Army/UDR & RIR were allowed to die by the State. That is irrefutable. While there is NO doubt that paramiltaries took the Queens shilling as informers it would be interesting some day to know just how many Unionist politicians were on the Spooks payroll too. This I think is one of the major reasons many Unionists are reluctant to agree to Truth & Reconciliation Commissions & Public Inquiries OR even discuss State Collusion. It just might be too close to home and uncomfortable for those with things still to hide.

  • Sam Flanagan

    How many Unionists on the spooks payroll;

    I feel it is safe to assume all the ones who are wanting public enquiries stopped most certainly are.

    Why do they not even want the Murder of Robert Bradford looked into?

    The large scale collapse of the DUP ecexutive is very suspicious. Supposedly men with many years grounding in strong Biblical doctrine meekly gave assent to Paisleys youturn. It just does not fit!

    I hold the position the ordinary unionist on the street is not opposed to a publicly enquiry into the activities of Mark Haddock. It is the politicos who fear where it is going to lead.


    Sam, I also think it suits certain senior Republicans to let things lie. They too have secrets that if exposed would undermine and completely expose the ‘struggle’, the Hunger Strikes especially. It increasingly looks like they were offered a deal that was rejected and 10 men were allowed to die. Republicans who were in the H-Blocks then are now confirming this. There is NO doubt that most of the ordinary Unionist & Nationalist people were treated like mushrooms for the past 40 years. We were kept in the dark and fed shit. We were stoked up to hate each other by sinister people and forces that behind the scenes were lining their own pockets and following their own agenda. Hopefully if there is an afterlife and hell all these conniving two faced bastards will burn for eternity.

  • Sam Flanagan


    “We were kept in the dark and fed s..t. We were stoked up to hate each other by sinister people and forces that behind the scenes were lining their own pockets and following their own agenda. Hopefully if there is an afterlife and hell all these conniving two faced bastards will burn for eternity. ”

    There definitely is a Hell.
    N.Ireland people are a very strange people, “HATE” is what we do best.

    If that hatred ever becomes united and focused upon “the sinster people and forces behind the scenes,” they will be in big,big trouble.

    Isaiah 61:2 and the day of vengence of our God;

  • Here is my take on Professor Andrew just when Anglo-Russian affairs started spinning out of control because of Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination, and SIS became the leader of the new Cold War against the ex-Soviets:


    Andrew is hoping to reinvent himself by going back to his MI5 roots in the hope that everyone will then forget all the shit he wrote during the interim.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Very interesting THF

    Christohper Andrew is one of “them” the same as Harry Hopkins was one of “them.”

    “Harry Hopkins” his intrigues were torpedoed by
    George Smedley Butler.

  • No, Sam Flanagan, I wouldn’t compare Andrew with Hopkins.

    Andrew’s official position has been to clean up the performance of the Anglo-American intelligence community at any cost, especially its failure to spot Peter Wright, Romano Prodi, Alister Watson et al. as Soviet spies, while Harry Hopkins was so desirous of seeing the Axis powers defeated that he was willing to start a preventive war against Japan, and to allow Soviet agents do whatever they deemed necessary to win the war, even if it helped their spying.

    At this point, Andrew is by far the bigger threat, preventing the public from learning just how bad his employers are.

  • Sam Flanagan

    You are a dummy

  • cynic

    Ah… while posting elsewhere on Slugger today I wondered where all the trolls had gone. What a feeding frenzy.

    Do they let you all out on the Twelth each year while your wardens are away walking?

    It was all none of our fault. Yes it was all the Brits controlling everything as part of a dastradly plot that has been running since at least 1798. They are using a satellite stationed over Cullybackey to control the whole country. Better get some of those foil helmets on before they get you too.

    The overall aim was to ……..er…….er…….
    and that’s why they done it.

    And that Ian Paisley is really a robot – a fiendish part of the plot.

  • Rewind

    There is talk here as if the British government were in a war with the IRA that they could have lost. I don’t think this is the case. Like Al Queda the IRA’s demands were simply undeliverable. The consequences for everyone of a united Ireland without consent would simply be so much worse than anything the IRA could muster really, never mind the immorality of it, and I don’t think that the government ever seriously considered it as an option. The end result was inevitable. The process was one of simply getting the Republican movement to wise up and stop being silly.