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British espionage, cover ups and collusion – 30 years of a tangled web.
Eamonn McCann, 13 Jun 2003
The SDLP and Sinn Fein have demanded that the Dublin Government take a tough line with Tony Blair over the activities of British spies in Ireland. Bertie Ahern has agreed to do his best. Answering a question from Joe Higgins in the Dail, however, in the week after the Steak Knife/Scappaticci revelations, Ahern sighed that he had frequently pressed Blair on this very issue but had never gotten satisfaction.
This was itself an unsatisfactory answer. The record shows that Fianna Fail in government has consistently collaborated with the British intelligence services in their Irish adventures and even covered up their criminal activities.
Writing in the Sunday Tribune last month – using documents recently obtained from the Public Records Office in Kew by British-Irish Rights Watch – I described the response of the Government led by Jack Lynch (pictured) in the early 1970s to the subversion of the Irish State by a British espionage operation.
On December 21, 1972, a MI6 officer operating under the name “John Wyman” was arrested in a hotel in Dublin in the act of receiving a dossier of documents from garda sergeant Patrick Crinnion, private secretary to the head of the Special Branch, Chief Superintendent John P. Fleming. The Irish Government assessed the material as being “of a critical nature.”
The incident came at a tense time in Anglo-Irish relations, at the close of the worst year of the Troubles and just three weeks after two people had been killed and more than a hundred injured in bomb blasts in Dublin. The bomb attacks came as the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, described by Justice Minister Des O’Malley as “draconian”, was being debated in the Dail: opposition to the measure instantly collapsed. It was widely speculated that British intelligence agents had had a hand in the attack. Now, a British agent had been captured in an act of subversion against the Irish State.
Two days later, Lynch told British Premier Edward Heath that the incident need have no effect on relations between the two countries.
In a document dated December 23rd and marked “Top Secret and Personal”, Heath’s private secretary, Robert Armstrong, recorded a meeting at Downing Street with the Irish ambassador to Britain, Donal O’Sullivan. It told that, “For public relations reasons his (O’Sullivan’s) Government would have to oppose bail (for Wyman): but the strength with which they would do so was another matter.” As for the possibility of a lengthy jail sentence: “He had the impression that this was unlikely: indeed he said there might be no sentences at all.”
At the Special Criminal Court on the following February 27 Wyman and Crinnion were each sentenced to three months and immediately released. Neither has surfaced publicly since.
Armstrong added that “Mr. Lynch was very anxious that his own relationship with the Prime Minister should not in any way suffer as a result of this incident.”
Spool on three decades to October last year and another case at the Special Criminal Court.
Dundalk man Michael McKevitt, charged with membership of the (Real) IRA and with directing terrorism, was seeking production of documents which he hoped would undermine the credibility of the key witness against him, an American called David Rupert who, it is not denied by any party to the case, was working in Ireland for both the FBI and MI5.
McKevitt failed in the action. His trial is set to go ahead this month. However, it emerged during the October hearing that he wasn’t alone in worrying about Rupert’s credibility.
On the second day of the action, McKevitt’s lawyers questioned a British Government barrister, Simon Dennison QC, about a document produced in February 2001 by MI5 referring to a problematical telephone conversation between a unnamed MI5 officer and Garda Assistant Commissioner Dermot Jennings. The conversation had concerned copies of e-mails which might have to be entered in evidence at McKevitt’s trial, between the witness Rupert and his intelligence handlers. The problem was that in one of the e-mails Rupert was recorded alleging that Jennings had shown himself indifferent to terrorist acts in the North. The e-mail predated Omagh. But to put this allegation into the public arena in the controversial aftermath of the atrocity, and in the context of a trial in which Omagh was sure to be on everybody’s mind, would be extremely damaging to Jennings and to the Southern security forces generally.
One passage in the MI5 document read: “I told Jennings that it might help me to understand what we are trying to do regarding e-mails if I read to him an extract of one of them sent in 1998. I then read the extract which alleged Jennings expressing indifference to terrorism in NI and only being interested in illegal activity ROI (Republic of Ireland). Jennings was shocked. He expostulated that the statement was untrue and that he would never have said any such thing. I responded that the problem was that the allegation was there in the e-mail and we now had to decide what to do about it. If the Defence got hold of it and Jennings denied the report’s veracity, that would make Rupert an untrustworthy source. Jennings urged that the report would be removed. I said I felt strongly this was a matter of liaison sensitivity that justified redaction.” (Redaction means to edit or censor.)
On the face of it, here we have a very senior Garda officer discussing with a member of a foreign intelligence service whether and in what form relevant evidence might be presented to a trial touching on the security of the Republic. The document was revealed on October 9 last. An afternoon spent trawling through the Irish newspapers of the days following yielded not a single editorial comment, much less expression of outrage or alarm.
But that’s not the heart of it. The sharp point is that the document was dated February 8, 2001 – before McKevitt was arrested, much less charged. That is, MI5 was pro-actively helping to get the evidence into shape prior to the Irish authorities moving in on their target.
On the third day of the hearing, a FBI officer called Krupkowski was being cross-examined about a schedule of documents referring to meetings between Rupert and his handlers. At one point, a Garda Detective Superintendant O’Sullivan brought a folder into the court and handed it to the witness. Krupkowski referred to the folder but didn’t quote from it. A discussion ensued about how this material had come to be in the possession of the Gardai. O’Sullivan was called to explain.
“The documents...were in the possession of the BSS (British Security Service, MI5) in a room at the back of the court and they are at all times controlled by these people. I merely brought them from that room to the Court, my Lords… I handed one of them to the witness without ever examining or looking what the contents were.”
So, MI5 operators were stationed in a room off the court holding documents which might be required by an FBI officer in the witness box, and a senior Garda detective was on hand to act as a runner between MI5 and the FBI, apparently on the proviso that he wouldn’t try to sneak a glance at what he was carrying.
Nothing in coverage of the hearing suggested concern at this strange sequence of events in an Irish court.
Ahern says that he shares in the widespread anxiety about collusion by British intelligence agents with subversive and criminal elements in Ireland. But this doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the Irish State, with the support of Fianna Fail in government, from colluding with the same British agencies over a period of 30 years.