MI6 planted spies in Irish bars during Troubles

Posted By: June 27, 2014

Robert Mulhern. Irish Post ( London). June 26, 2014

UNDERCOVER British agents masqueraded as bar staff in Irish pubs across Britain to
gather information during the Troubles, security sources have suggested.

Former officers on both sides of the water claim in some cases the spies went ‘deep
undercover’, penetrating Irish communities in emigrant heartlands throughout the
1970s and 80s.

Their objective was to acquire information and leads deemed vital in the battle
against the IRA and paramilitary groups, a retired British Army senior information
officer told The Irish Post this week.

“Anywhere where there was an opportunity to interface with the Irish community we
were looking for [information on] paramilitaries on both sides,” said the source.

He confirmed that intelligence services would place agents in targeted Irish public
houses in a bid to gather information on people living in Britain who might have
been sympathetic to the IRA and may have had knowledge of IRA cells operating in and
out of Britain’s key cities.

“We were trying to get close to any group [that was involved] and the best place to
be was on the inside, sitting in with the Irish community, not sitting on the
outside,” he explained.

“When the bombings started in London there was a lot of effort to prevent cells from
building-up,” he added.

However former IRA operative, turned informer, Sean O’Callaghan, claims their
returns would have been ‘little’, as the IRA were aware of the infiltration.

“I came to England in ‘83 and not a chance would we go to a pub or into these
communities to meet. It would be the last place you would go,” he toldThe Irish

“Coming from Ireland to take part in IRA stuff you want to get away under cover, not
let the Irish police see you leave. But when you get to England you know the pub is
under surveillance and that they are trying to pick up stories.”

The assertions have been backed up by an Irish security source, who claimed: “The
best place in London to pick up stories was Irish bars; it’s where you could get
into the community.”

He added that the same counter-terrorism tactic was ‘probably going on in Ireland too’.

“You had British agents passing information, agents masquerading as staff [in some
cases] It was probably going on in Ireland too, in the Republic, agents working as
travelling salesmen, whatever.”

The British security source, who hails from the North of Ireland, claims pubs and
bars were of particular appeal to undercover agents trying to infiltrate the Irish
community in Britain.

“If you were behind the bar you had reason to make contact and Irish people are good
talkers,” he said, “particularly if you are meeting someone else with an Irish
accent — you both came from Ireland.”

“Quite often there was information coming in from organisations like MI5 and MI6
related to pubs and clubs which needed to be targeted,” he added.

“Information that there might be individuals or groups of people there who might be
sympathetic to the IRA, or something that might indicate a level of support. We then
moved in to observe these people.”

In respect of his experience, the source claimed agents with Irish accents were
specifically planted in bars, liaising with colleagues who were conducting
surveillance outside.

“The UK operatives did a lot of observation; people were needed that knew areas well
so they could move around without causing any suspicion. Others guys had roles to
try and recruit informers, Irish people who were just arrested on criminal charges —
pressure would be applied to them [to make them become informants]. “

However, O’Callaghan claims that much of the undercover efforts by British agents
were misguided.

“There was an enormous amount of resources put into it and I reckon 95 per cent of
it was for nothing,” he said.

“You’d meet a guy in WHSmith, parks, shops, libraries. You would be watching to see
if you were compromised and the other person would be doing the same. I remember
meeting [another IRA operative] in WHSmith. He walked in, stuck a book on the shelf
and then walked away. I then went and took the book off the shelf — there was
information on a slip of paper inside.”

Regarding the success of such undercover operations, the British security source
added: “I am only aware of one case throughout my service period where information
garnered led to some other people who were acquiring buildings and storing materials
to create bombs.”