Protecting Key People

William Johnstone waxes sceptical about the credentials of some Sinn Fein leaders. William Johnstone is a Ballymoney unionist with an interest in history and politics.

Forgive a sceptical observer and pardon me for maybe stating the obvious but is it not worth considering how much in terms of time and resources has the government spent protecting key people in Sinn Fein? It goes without saying that people holding key positions in the party today have, at the very least, lived charmed lives.

Martin McGuinness, the suspected Fisherman of Spookology, has moved through life with a bulletproof aura that has prevented bullets from being fired, never mind penetrating his invisible shield. A hate figure for Loyalists throughout most of his adult life, McGuinness has been blessed with an unknown, unseen force that has prevented a hair on his greying head from being moved. His amazing prowess even protected him from lengthy imprisonment. A slap on the wrist for membership and out in time for his strawberries to have ripened. Amazing, gifted individual!

Gerry Adams competes for the title. A few brief spells in jail aside, Adams has been the great survivor. Shot by Loyalists in the 80s, his saviour became flesh in the form of undercover police who hastened to his aid. Deafening roars of collusion at the time masked the fact the Adams was under the protection of the state.

So why would the state protect McGuinness and Adams? Some stout Unionists will cry in indignation that they wouldn't and the state of course would never admit it. The naive would contend that the state would have no truck with terrorism. Like I say, only the naive would contend that .....

Legend has it that the Dynamic Duo came to prominence when they joined the Republican leadership for the ill-fated talks in the early 70s. I have often wondered if the Republican leadership asked for their inclusion at that time or were they manouvered into including them.

Let's look at the time in question ... the heady days of the early 70s. The 'troubles' were in their infancy and it was a bloody baptism of fire . There was little by way of order, there was a distant Southern leadership, sectarianism was rife and the Provos were giving it their all.

Reading accounts from that era gives the impression a gung-ho organisation that did not have a strong or cohesive leadership. Did government see something different in Adams and McGuiness ? Did these two young clean cut volunteers of a younger generation seem more appealing than the allegedly emotionally charged Twomey and the dour uncompromising MacStiofan? Did Adams and McGuiness, hailing from their respective cities, give the impression that they were men the state could deal with?

Time has proven that they were all of that. The Provos never regained the momentum of those pre-75 days. Before the 70s were out, Adams and McGuiness were more often seen in tweets and loafers as opposed to balaclavas and boots. By the early 80s, they had taken the onus from militarism to the politicization of Republicanism that saw the departure of Ivor Bell et al. By the mid 80s, the charmed alliance had attracted a clique of their like-minded that saw out the last of the Old Guard who headed off with O'Bradaigh to form Republican Sinn Fein. The movement was theirs ... almost.
The ceasefire of the mid 90s must have raised a self congratulatory chuckle from the aging securocrats who had seen this day coming 20 years beforehand. Dissenters were again purged .... exit Mickey McKevitt et al. Now, a further 20 years later, Adams is the granda figure of the Dail, all smiles and sound bites and McGuinness pats babies on the head and wrestles with political issues such as Welfare Reform and protocol required when meeting Royalty.

They probably can't be described as Informers but would it be unreasonable to refer to them as Agents of the State? The line that exists between them is a very fine one indeed ........

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

19 comments to ''Protecting Key People "

  1. A unionist stirring the Republican pot? Surely not!

    Adams was wearing body armour during the assassination attempt and the loyalist bullets were doctored to be less effective. Surely the British, if they wanted to save his life would have intercepted the Loyalists before they shot him? Yes, even if they knew of the body armour and of the ineffective bullets. Everyone loves conspiracies.

    Was Ruairi O'Bradaigh protected also? I doubt it. It is easier to say peace process Republicans were agents of the state. Because they compromised. Or capitulated if you want to see it that way.

    But Republicans compromising or capitulating is a stronger message and lesson than informers or agents of the state doing so. Republicans saying Adams and Co. are agents takes away from the valuable lesson we can learn from the position we are in today. If it can happen to them everyone should learn a lesson is what you should be saying. Not making cheap jibes or if you are a unionist, stirring the pot.

  2. Simon,

    the Brits have sought to protect Adams. If not in the incident mentioned above, then in others. Despite all Gordon Kerr's lies that Brian Nelson saved lots of lives the only evidence of lives saved is in relation to Adams and Scappaticci, although for different reasons within the state strategic game plan. They seem to have regarded Adams as an asset and Scap as an agent. For that reason I do not think the argument that Adams is an agent (as presented in this piece) holds up and analysts need to be careful with their use of language in this matter. Certainly in the republican worldview "agent" has a very distinctive meaning. Mick Hall @ Organised Rage once made the point that agents of influence can be thus without actually knowing it. This shows how the definition is not singular and universal in its application. For that reason I think it wrong do dismiss WJ's point as a unionist stirring the pot. He might be but there are other explanations as to why he might make the same point.

    I disagree with both Mick and WJ, thinking that an agent is always a conscious, knowing act. An agent might agree to, say, Martin McGuinness meeting the queen because he has been instructed by his handlers to reverse his previous position. An asset (who does not realise he is considered an asset) might will make the same argument about meeting the queen. But he is hardly an agent. Being an asset does not confer culpability on the individual but being an agent most certainly does.

    Agents and assets both moved the peace process along and we might never be able to separate the two. But we should try.

  3. AM, "For that reason I think it wrong do dismiss WJ's point as a unionist stirring the pot." WJ wasn't talking about "agents of influence" but "agents of the state". In fact he described such agents as being a fine line between that and informing.

    I don't want to get bogged down in semantics again. However, it is necessary to point out the difference between such a description as "informer" and "agents of the state" which have certain connotations here in Ireland and "agents of influence" or "assets" which don't.

    Hell, anyone can be an agent of influence or an asset without consciously being so.

    Whether the British stopped Adams and McGuinness being shot or arrested to keep them at the top is pure guesswork. I think if it was true they would have to have let the rank and file British soldiers and police know as they were the ones who interacted on an everyday basis. If so, why has no shit stirrer with evidence claimed as much? I am sure some would like to.

    I suspect the British might have wanted Adams alive after Hume Adams initiative. They may have looked at him as someone they could negotiate with. Therefore being an asset in this way is not akin to being an agent of the state or anything on a grey line next to informing. It is out in the open that he negotiated an end to the conflict and decommissioning of weapons. Are all those who supported that also agents of the state? They were all certainly assets in one way or another. Whether they were protected or not doesn't have a bearing on their practical uses as agents of influence.

    Some may call them traitors. I would say that is wrong as consciously I think they did their best to get a good deal. It just demonstrates the power of partition and of numbers ie. The Unionist veto, that the deal in question wasn't great.

    The road to peace and key decisions within were definitely influenced by actual agents of the State like Donaldson and others. But to lump Adams or McGuinness in with those actual agents is missing the point.

  4. AM, they removed a limpet mine from Adams car. I highly doubt the doctored bullets story,I really wished Ingram didnt report that, it casts severe doubt on his other claims (and I dont mean his Stakeknife revelations). Even so, I dont think Republicans should argue the case of them being agents over assets, its unprovable at present, the asset implications can be just as damning too if used correctly.

  5. Simon,

    an agent of influence is an agent of the state. I think this is where the distinction has to be made between agents and something else. The way I have always used the term is very focussed: an agent consciously works for the other side whether in the role of influencing colleagues or betraying them for arrest or death. "Agent" always has that negative connotation.

    The state in most modern conflicts seek out people amongst the insurgents they can work with and keep in position. Letting the people on the ground know would sort of defeat the purpose. It is enough to remove the rivals of the people the state regard as assets and to prevent them being taken out. I am not of that school which views Adams and McGuinness as agents whether of influence or something else. I do believe they regarded them as assets. But it is important for the reasons alluded to by by Daithi for making the distinction.

    Therefore being an asset in this way is not akin to being an agent of the state or anything on a grey line next to informing


    It is out in the open that he negotiated an end to the conflict and decommissioning of weapons.

    How much was out in the open when it was happening? It was being dragged out in the open by people like ourselves @ The Blanket and being denied by them. That does not make them agents however.

    An agent of the influence is a traitor to whatever cause or organisation they belonged. As asset would not be.

    The road to peace and key decisions within were definitely influenced by actual agents of the State like Donaldson and others. But to lump Adams or McGuinness in with those actual agents is missing the point.

    Which suggests to me you are missing the point made by WJ, who seems to use Agents of the state about them in the way you use agents of influence (in your case not specifically about them). I think the term agents in either sense does not apply to them.

    Bear in mind on occasion the charge of being traitors against one or either man has come from within the organisation by people who are still in it.

  6. The one way we will know for sure, is if there is a likelihood of some Unity by consent, and some plausible manoeuvres in that direction. I imagine the agents names will be 'leaked' to throw Republicans into turmoil. Those cards are too valuable to be played at present, everything is proceeding to the British plan.

  7. Re: the doctored bullet scenerio. The attack on GAdams being choregraphed and stage managed is not so far fetched if you understand the methodologies as per Cilliers and Kitson. One way to instill sympathy/emotional loyalty to a leader is to have the desired leader survive a life threatening incident -which in itself affirms the leader's steadfast dedication to the cause and champion of the people. Who would dare question/challenge the leaders commitment after that?

  8. Adams was wearing body armour during the assassination attempt and the loyalist bullets were doctored to be less effective. Surely the British, if they wanted to save his life would have intercepted the Loyalists before they shot him? Yes, even if they knew of the body armour and of the ineffective bullets. Everyone loves conspiracies.

    But if they had intercepted the gunmen before the attack it could have potentially blown Brian Nelson's cover, the UDA could have realized he was an agent.

  9. It wouldnt surprise if me of spooks used stories like this as a sort of barometer of peoples receptiveness for bullshit. Doctored bullets, murders justified by koran are not islamic , if these are being lapped up, you can imagine the powers that be will wave through a freight train sh*t for something serious : oh look Greece is in trouble.......

  10. DaithiD, doctored bullets were common practice during the conflict. As was deactivation of weapons. Once an informer whether loyalist or Republican had access to an arms dump the weapons were often but not always interfered with.

    I hope you don't mind me saying this but you seem obsessed with the Islamists for some reason.

  11. I saw a piece on Balaclava Street debunking the doctored bullets theory. I'm no expert but they make a convincing argument.

  12. Simon, i think the doctored bullet theory left too much chance, and that wasnt how the secret services worked.
    I accept the thrust of your other point, I dont use the word Islamist though, I just see it as Islamic, a small but crucial point. What city do you live in Simon? On Sunday, I was going for a few Guinesses in East London, upon exiting Whitechapel tube, I was greeted with a pasting table with leaflets etc, and people handing them out, with signs all over the place "Islam is Superior, Democracy is Evil". OK, its allowed , free speech and all that. Whilst I was waiting for my missus to show up, I could hear them talking with people about the Tunisia attack. They were saying that the dead people shouldnt of been in Muslim lands, "naked" over Ramadan etc. I cant see this type of facism being acknowledged except from a few people.If i saw more truth, then I wouldnt feel compelled to point these things out.

  13. Ooops just to be clear, it was on Satuday, not Sunday.

  14. DaithiD

    "Simon, i think the doctored bullet theory left too much chance, and that wasnt how the secret services worked."

    With no accountability they do nothing but take chances -they took a chance that Jean Charles de Menezes was a muslim terrorist... They took a chance packing too many intel people into a chinook ....they took a chance giving Brian Nelson access to intel files... They do not always aim for pricision or surgery -thump and hope for the best gets results too.

    Simon is right they 'jarked' guns, bullets, explosives and detonators all the time.

  15. DaithiD, I wasn't arguing they doctored the bullets knowing the same bullets would be used on Adams. I was arguing that they came from a stash that was interfered with generally and it was pure luck they were used in the attack. There is a little common ground on that point at least.

    My whole argument was that the security forces weren't involved in protecting Adams. Hence the phrase "even if" they knew the doctored bullets were going to be used. I was emphasising the fanciful nature of the premise that every facet of the assassination attempt was choreographed.

    Thanks for the link Peter. I was unaware of much of that. I don't know how I missed the Ombudsman report.

  16. Simon,I think the accusation in the Ingram book was that It was done specifically for the Adams attempt. Additionally, it was a story he was relaying second hand, he had no direct involvement in it. You don't think they were involved in protecting Adams though ? Why did they remove a limpet mine from his car? They tipped off MMG about Stones initial assassination attempt prior to Miltown too. There is reasonable differences of opinion though, it's an opaque area.
    Christy ( I hope you are well) , I know about bugging and causing malfunction in weapons in general, I don't contest that. Read Peters article about the nature of their interference though, it was to guarantee a result. It's all fascinating stuff though, in a murky sort of way.

  17. DaithiD, I don't believe he was being protected from the top down. If they allowed the limpet mine to remain it would have been another act of collusion. However, the security forces didn't always opt for collusion when they had a choice. There was a lot of it going on but it wasn't happening at every instance.

    The one thing that puzzled me about Peter's link is why did the English police force use forensics to test if the bullets were indeed doctored if doctoring wasn't possible at all?

    Surely they wouldnt have bothered if they were skilled enough to know what the Americans apparently knew. And if they weren't skilled enough how can we place any weight on their findings?

    Even if doctoring bullets made them more lethal as was explained in Peter's link and did indeed ricochet round the body that still doesn't rule it out of general practice. It reads like the American tests occurred after the Adams attempt so if the US were yet to find out perhaps the British were unaware also, at the time, it made them more lethal.

    The article is contradictory saying on the one hand removing the powder would make them no less effective and on the other saying it would make the guns jam.

  18. Even were we to know nothing of the details, it would make great strategic sense for the British to protect leaders who are going to deliver what the British broadly want in any country they are fighting in. Why wouldn't they?: not just the British but any state battling insurgents. Who but a fool does not seek to protect what they consider to be their assets? The term asset is of course relative to something else in these contexts and the advantages might even be regarded as marginal. But out of such thinking are tactics devised.

    The GFA was a brilliant outcome from the British point of view. It was so poor from a republican perspective that Jim Gibney openly at a discussion on the Whiterock Road told his audience that from a republican perspective the GFA had one place - the bin. However, he argued, it had merits from a nationalist perspective and that SF could work it.

    In all of this the Brits working to protect what they regard as an asset is hardly surprising: it does not mean the asset intends to be an asset, sees himself as an asset. He might just view a situation as fluid and where a confluence of interest occurs and in which each component has to work the strategic terrain to its advantage.

    Language like traitors might not add much to the discussion but McGuinness opted to waive any protection from the term when he used it himself while in the company of the leader of the British police in Ireland and the leader of political unionism in Ireland.

  19. DaithiD

    Now I'm with you... even with un-doctored bullets we have often heard of guns jamming so if the recoil action is dependent upon the amount of gas from a spent bullet to drive the reload mechanism then a jamb should have been certain if they were doctored. That makes sense. Though I still believe that the Brits knew what was going to happen and very likely were involved -even if they tried loyalists can't keep their mouths shut -the number of times I sat in cells under the courts and heard loyalists call to each other from other cells and name names of those still on the outside and what they were up to was astonishing.


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