an effort to minimise the damage that British agent
Denis Donaldson has wreaked on the Provisional movement,
SinnFein apparatchik Jim Gibney used a recent Irish
News column to describe his former colleague
turned traitor as a mere "listening device"
who never suggested an original idea and was not
close to Gerry Adams.
he went on, "was not part of the small group
of people in the national leadership of Sinn Fein
who developed the peace process".
other words Donaldson was on the fringe of the leadership
and his usefulness to the British lay not in steering
the Provos towards peace or whispering MI5-generated
ideas into the Big Lad's ear but in picking up the
odd bits of gossip that would come his way and passing
them on to his handlers. A useful source in other
words, but no Freddie Scapaticci.
try, Jim, but not good enough! Common sense and
a basic understanding of spying tradecraft suggests
that Donaldson was not a "listening device"
but rather a "checking device" whose job,
amongst other things, was to help confirm the accuracy
of intelligence being generated by more highly-placed
agents inside the Provisionals' decision-making
bodies - very possibly in that "small group
of people in the national leadership of Sinn Fein
who developed the peace process" which is otherwise
known as the Adams Think Tank.
Donaldson was not, as Gibney correctly asserts,
ever a member of the Think Tank but in his position
just below the Think Tank, as one of its fixer,
fetchers and carriers, he was in a perfect position
to tell his handlers about Think Tank decisions
and policies that he had been tasked, with others,
for example, when Donaldson was the IRA's representative
in New York his job was to carry out tasks and put
in place policies and personnel, or sideline them,
as directed by the Think Tank, which had a direct
say over the Provisionals' direction in the United
States. Donaldson was not involved in formulating
Think Tank policies but he could tell his British
handlers all about them and in the process confirm
other intelligence streaming into the offices of
MI5 and the RUC Special Branch.
importance of Donaldson's unmasking therefore lies
not just in the fact that he was a British spy for
some two decades but that his existence strongly
suggests that there were other, more highly-placed
agents in the Provos and that these people most
certainly would be able to come up with "original"
ideas, get close to Gerry Adams, whisper into his
ear and help steer the Provos towards the peace
goes without saying that agencies like MI5 and the
RUC/PSNI Special Branch try to recruit multiple
spies when targetting a particular branch of their
enemy's organisation and the reason for that is
to remove as much uncertainty as possible about
the intelligence being passed on.
this is not possible the consequence is often paranoia,
distrust and division. In the 1960's the CIA's counter-intelligence
division was almost destroyed by its chief, James
Jesus Angleton who came to regard every Soviet spy
working for the CIA as a potential double agent.
Angleton's problem was that the CIA had so few human
agents inside the KGB that it was unable to check
the authenticity and reliability of the assets it
did have. Knowing this the KGB sent over the odd
false defector to muddy the waters and soon Angleton's
counter-intelligence division was paralysed by doubt,
unable to trust any of the CIA's agents.
fate is the nightmare of every spy agency but for
MI5 and the RUC/PSNI Special Branch there has been
no such problem with the Provisionals. Thanks in
part to the doctrine of the long war and the fact
that many IRA volunteers served more than one term
of imprisonment a large reservoir of vulnerable,
potential agents was at the disposal of the British.
evidence that the British were able to recruit multiple
agents in whichever part of the IRA was being targetted
comes from the story of the IRA's most sensitive
section, its security or counter-intelligence department.
The security department had unprecedented powers
thanks to its mandate to root out informers. It
was allowed access to every part of the IRA and
investigated every operation that went wrong. No-one
knew as much about the IRA as its security department
and it was therefore the prime target for British
were at least two known informers inside the security
department - Brendan Davison and Freddie Scapaticci
- and there are very strong suggestions that its
head was also working for the British. Whatever,
the fact is that the British had a number of well-placed
agents inside the IRA's most sensitive section,
who could tell their handlers almost everything
there was to know about the IRA and lead the British
to scores of other vulnerable recruits - and the
British could use each of them to check the reliability
of the others and the accuracy of their information.
sense suggests that a very similar situation probably
existed with Denis Donaldson and that apart from
whatever information he was able to pass on, his
real value lay in his ability to verify and confirm
intelligence coming from other, higher sources.
is this aspect of the affair that has made the Donaldson
saga such a nightmarish ordeal for the Adams' leadership
for it could well mean that there are other real
and undiscovered "agents of influence"
in the Provisionals' upper reaches.
was of course the job of the IRA's security department
to root out people like Donaldson but thanks to
the fact that almost the entire security department
was working for MI5, the RUC/PSNI Special Branch
or British military intelligence that was never
going to happen. Which raises another question,
perhaps the most important one of all. Why were
the same people allowed to run the security department
for years on end? Why weren't they replaced at regular
intervals so as to minimise the damage just in case
some turned out to be British agents? Why was this
elemental rule of counter intelligence flouted?