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Sunday 20 August 2017

CIA stayed silent on allegations it was involved in IRA gunrunning

US intelligence agency seemed to take a blasé approach to Ireland's neutrality in declassified letters just released, writes Nicola Anderson

British soldiers sort through a seized weapons cache in Belfast. Photo: Malcolm Stroud/Express/Getty Images
British soldiers sort through a seized weapons cache in Belfast. Photo: Malcolm Stroud/Express/Getty Images
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The CIA stayed silent on explosive allegations it was involved in gunrunning to the IRA at the height of the Troubles, declassified intelligence files reveal.

The concerns were raised in a letter to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from a congressman who warned it to "speak out vehemently" or risk other criminal and terrorist organisations "finding cover under the CIA umbrella".

Benjamin A Gilman. Photo: GETTY
Benjamin A Gilman. Photo: GETTY

It followed the November 1982 trial of five self-confessed IRA gun smugglers - including Michael Flannery, the 80-year-old founder of Noraid - found not guilty of transporting an arsenal of weapons and ammunition into Northern Ireland.

The five claimed they bought the arms from an arms dealer who was an undercover CIA agent.

The CIA, with a licence to export weapons, had aided their operation in order to monitor the flow of arms to Ireland and prevent the IRA from turning to the Soviet Union for arms, the defence claimed.

It was a defence the jury found credible - with a female juror telling press they "firmly believed" the operation could not have continued without government sanction.

Newly elected president Erskine Childers (right) with predecessor Eamonn De Valera at the all-Ireland final in Croke Park in 1973. CIA archives recall his election was ‘a mild upset’.
Newly elected president Erskine Childers (right) with predecessor Eamonn De Valera at the all-Ireland final in Croke Park in 1973. CIA archives recall his election was ‘a mild upset’.

The letter from Benjamin A Gilman to William J Casey, director of the CIA, dated November 1982, was contained along with press reports of the trial in a cache of some 13 million pages of documents declassified by the CIA and released on its website.

The move came after lengthy efforts from freedom of information campaigners and a lawsuit against the CIA which culminated in the agency finally releasing the archive which had previously only been accessible at the National Archives in Maryland.

Ireland features in some 3,000 dispatches, reports or newspaper cuttings - ranging from the intriguing to the downright bizarre.

A secret report on Ireland from April 1949 - amid the paranoia of Cold War politics - gave details on political parties, the power of the Roman Catholic church and the negligible influence of communists - with one "Dublin bookseller" considered the only communist of note in the entire country.

The CIA seemed to take a blasé, almost amused approach to Ireland's neutrality and considered us to have a crucial role to play in its own Cold War defences.

"Denial of Ireland to an enemy is an inescapable principle of United States security," it said.

Irish neutrality would "probably be tolerable" but "it could become necessary to utilise Ireland", it warned, before cosily concluding that because Ireland was already ideologically aligned with the West and "strongly Catholic and anti-Communist" would "probably not remain neutral in an East-West war".

The same report detailed Irish political parties, finding little difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, apart from "personal animosities", but found Fine Gael to be favoured by "the wealthy and conservative elements and those most friendly to the British tend to support Fine Gael".

Uri Geller bends a Spoon during his appearance at the new Maplin Electronics Shop on Jervis Street. Photo: Declan Cahill
Uri Geller bends a Spoon during his appearance at the new Maplin Electronics Shop on Jervis Street. Photo: Declan Cahill

A brief note on June 1, 1973, stated that the election of Erskine Childers, "a London-born Protestant", as president was "a mild upset".

A CIA letter from January 1975 to the National Council of Irish Americans thanks them for "sharing their thoughts" on allegations that the CIA was acting in Northern Ireland but says "it has been our general tradition not to comment - one way or the other".

A confidential report from December 1974 addresses the outlook for Dublin's presidency of the then European Community and notes "Ireland's insistence on staying out of military alliances, its long-standing Francophile biases, and its pragmatic determination to avoid contravening basic British interests".

It also rather sniffily details how "the country's most able diplomats were sent to the major European posts while J. Molloy, the non-political assistant secretary in charge of administration, was sent to Washington".

The CIA shrewdly thought of the practicalities - the difficulty of physical communication - with London being the only EC capital having frequent flights to Dublin.

"The Irish will have their hands full," it concluded.

Meanwhile, in a secret document dated March 6, 1975, the CIA turned its sights to the first threat of Brexit - the UK's referendum for the country's continued support of membership of the EC.

Negotiations between members at a meeting in Dublin "will undoubtedly be prolonged and is expected to have at least a show of cliff-hanging to enhance the chances for a favourable British vote in the pending referendum on EC membership later this year," the CIA surmised.

CIA thought the spoon-bender Uri Geller had some 'psychic powers'

CIA agents came across as slightly naive in files addressing the wonder of illusionist Uri Geller and his spoon-bending capabilities.

The CIA put Geller to the test in 1973, aided by scientists at the Stanford Research Institute.

Geller was locked in a shielded room and asked to recreate the same sketch as that drawn by an experimenter down the hall.

Geller failed several times but succeeded often enough to convince the CIA of his psychic powers.

"We consider that he has demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner," the CIA report concluded.

The agency eventually recognized Geller's tricks as the work of an illusionist.

Newspaper stories debunking Geller's claims are contained in the archive with a note saying "just in case you didn't happen to see this".

'UFO calls just dried up'

Flying saucers provided much food for thought for the CIA from the 1940s through to the early 1990s.

Most of the documents concern CIA cables reporting unsubstantiated UFO sightings in the foreign press.

A heavily redacted document said the US Forecast Centre had been "plagued" with calls about UFO sightings, which then stopped.

An unnamed individual had told the CIA that he "never gets these calls anymore and surmised that someone must have made a political decision that they were not to be sighted anymore".

Proper spy business is addressed in documents from the archive which give a German recipe for invisible ink.

Another paper tells how to open sealed letters with the application of many chemicals - and an iron.

Irish Independent

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