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How Irish suburbia became focus of Soviet spy network

When it comes to a thrilling spy story, you expect a cobbled street in Vienna, a la Harry Lime, or the bulk of the Berlin Wall looming in the background. But the Still-organ Shopping Centre as the centre of international espionage appears to be stretching things.

Yet 27 years ago, when the shopping centre in South Co Dublin was the epitome of suburban chic, it was at the heart of an international spying scandal that reverberated from the Oval Office to the Kremlin.

The then Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, has revealed for the first time the story of the secret Soviet spy network in Dublin and the 'double agent' that led to the high-profile expulsion in September 1983, of three Russian diplomats based in Dublin.

"No evidence of any kind of what is termed 'unacceptable behaviour' has been brought to me by the Irish Government," thundered Michael Sobolev, the then Chancellor of the Soviet Embassy, based in Orwell Road in Dublin, and the most senior diplomat from the USSR in Ireland.

He was commenting on the Irish Government's decision to expel Guennadi Saline, the First Secretary of the Soviet Embassy, and two other embassy staff, Viktor Lipassov and his wife Evdokia.

Saline (46), who was based in the Russian Embassy's offices in Clyde Road, Dublin 4, was thought of as the most likely candidate for the role because he attended the various party political conferences in Dublin, mixed with politicians and enjoyed a pint of Guinness with journalists in The Norseman pub, which at the time was one of the few public houses in Temple Bar.

But the only thing against the Lipassovs was that they had been on holidays in Donegal and, it was thought, had made contact with Soviet submarines which hung around off the coast at weekends trying to pick up Match of the Day on their tellys. The couple also had their car stolen in Dublin, which was considered significant. It was later found in Finglas with two bottles of vodka missing, which was normal enough at the time.

But now Dr FitzGerald throws new light on the espionage drama in his book Just Garret, which has been published by Liberties Press.

The former Taoiseach and economic commentator has revealed that the drama began in August 1983, when he had just returned from his holidays in west Cork, and the Soviet government shot down a South Korean passenger aeroplane that had mistakenly strayed into Russian airspace off the coast of Siberia.

The Irish Government came under pressure from the US State Department to expel the Russian airline Aeroflot from Shannon, where it maintained a base for planes flying between Moscow and Havana,

Cuba. When the Government refused, and continued to allow 'technical stops' for refuelling because it brought much-needed foreign currency and passengers to Shannon, "the US government was clearly annoyed" says Dr FitzGerald.

But the Government did find a way of placating Washington and taking the heat off the Shannon stopover. "Our intelligence services reported to me that several members of the small staff at the Soviet embassy had been engaged in improper activities that had involved the use of our territory for the secret transfer of information concerning the military affairs of the United States," says Dr FitzGerald in Just Garret. This was when the Government decided to expel the three Russian diplomats.

At the time the Government said it was "not normal" to give details of why a diplomat was expelled. Most of the speculation concerned connections to the IRA and other paramilitaries in the North.

But as Dr FitzGerald reveals, it had nothing to do with the North -- and it was a real international 'diplomatic incident'. Apparently, international espionage secrets were being passed in the mall of the Stillorgan Shopping Centre in South Co Dublin.

"A US marine in Helsinki had been approached by a Soviet intelligence agency, and after reporting this to the CIA, had become a double agent agreeing to hand over information -- presumably phoney -- to Soviet agents in, of all places, the Stillorgan Shopping Centre," says Dr FitzGerald.

"In the absence of Foreign Minister Peter Barry, I instructed Jim O'Keeffe, minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs, to call in the Soviet ambassador to demand the recall of two Soviet diplomats and the wife of another member of the Soviet embassy staff. This had the effect of calming American irritation at our refusal to respond to their demand in relation to Aeroflot's operations at Shannon."

Dr FitzGerald feels that the Soviets recognised they had been 'caught in the act' and "given us some marks" for resisting US demands with regard to Shannon, and so the three diplomats left Ireland and the cocktail circuit returned to normal.

Sunday Independent