Lab Rat Stares Back at the White Coat

Tonight The Pensive Quill features a piece by guest writer Mark McGregor. Mark blogs at Hearts of Oak and Steel. This article should be of particualr interest to all who like to debate on the web.

Not being one for academia when a friend drew my attention to a seminar organised by the Centre for Research in Political Psychology at Queen's University Belfast on ‘The content and function of dissident Irish Republican discourses online' I surprisingly found the topic interesting enough to invite myself along.

The talk was given by Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln and the press blurb ‘Dissidents have gone online to advance Republican cause, research suggests’ states:

Use of the Internet by dissident Irish Republicans to disseminate ideological material shows how the movement is changing, but has largely been overlooked until now, an academic expert told a seminar in Belfast this week.

Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln presented some key findings from her research into how Republican ideals are conveyed on the web.

As someone happy to self-describe as a dissenter who has been engaged with online Republican discourse for an extended period how could I not attend? Though I must admit to immediately feeling like an experimental lab-rat released from its cage to sit on the coffee table while the scientists discuss their observations on my behaviour.

It should have been clear from Bowman-Grieve’s research background and grounding in Forensic Psychology the focus was to be very much on what she termed VDRs (Violent Dissident Republicans). She noted her research was Qualitative and while procedurally systematic, was creative and analytical. Her definition of discourse was ‘the body of communicative interaction between users’.

Bowman-Grieve throughout her talk makes references to her research into both Irish Republican ‘extremism’, right wing extremism and commenced noting research into online Republicanism has been neglected due to a focus on Islamic Fundamentalism. On that I will dissent as I’m sure research on this area is advanced but not raised publicly, perhaps taking place a few miles away from QUB at Palace Barracks?

Interestingly she claimed from her experience there is more philosophical or ideological discussion on extremist right wing than in Republican forums – a claim I’m not tempted to personally investigate.

She defines ‘violent online political extremism’ with three characteristics:
  • Refusal to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement
  • Rejection of the PSNI
  • Commitment to continued use of violence to achieve a United

Only one of her definitions involves violence and left me questioning if she is de-facto labelling non-violent Republicans who maintain the first two characteristics as ‘political extremists’?

Much of the research material inevitable comes from what is currently the largest republican discussion forum currently trading under This should come as no surprise to republicans aware of real and anecdotal evidence postings from that forum have also been used in the interview rooms of Antrim SCS and by state forces elsewhere. Other discussion forums included in the research were:
  • Irish Freedom News
  • IRSP Forum
  • Up the RA
  • Irish Republican Bulletin Board (IRBB)
  • Irish Nationalist
  • Irelands Future

There were statistics provided on membership numbers, growth, number of discussions and active users of forums over time.

She describes these websites as:
  • an 'always on' space for sharing material which supports their ideals
  • playing an educative role, particularly for ‘newbies’
  • potentially influential of ‘newbies’, contributors
  • a maintenance base

She briefly tried to define dissenters and separate out Violent Dissident Republicans, these were noted as:
  • CIRA – RSF – founded in 1986 on rejection of ‘Ballot box and armalite’ strategy
  • RIRA – 32CSM (with a credit to Bernadette Sands-McKevitt for founding) – founded 1997 on rejection of the GFA – attributed Omagh bomb.

Under factionalisation she noted two Óglaigh na hÉirean:
  • One based in Strabane
  • One National and linked to the Republican Network for Unity (the RNU Ard Fheis motion sending comradely greetings was used to illustrate)

While recognising a range of republican views exist on most forums she stated they can be used to analyse how VDR supporters interpret their political environment and violent actions. They were also noted as part of a broader online space including Facebook, blogs and other websites.

Her Thematic Analysis of online discussion suggested core themes identify VDRs and help interpret the ‘phenomena’. Identification of these Themes involved data gathering via trawling the forums to identify main players, how they related to others, and other blogs, websites etc. Some of the core themes she had identified (and illustrated with postings, blogs and statements):
  • Attaching blame (to enemies) and justifying violence
  • Identification and characterisation of enemy
  • Attitudes to terrorism
  • Statements of support/critique
  • Use of terminology

(Interestingly the only instance where a username was given for a demonstrative posting I not only recognised the username but was aware of the real identity of the person)

She suggests VDRs on web forum use several methods to connect other users & ’newbies’ to more real activity:
  • Donation (claiming the psychological value is worth more than the monetary)
  • Purchase of memorabilia (giving the user a tangible connection)
  • Encouragement to interact within virtual communities
  • Encouragement to create supportive websites/blogs
  • ‘Newbies’ are encouraged/directed to educate themselves
  • Encouragement to write letters and sign petitions

These are used to reinforce and give encouragement to engage in activity that would permit face-to-face interaction:
  • Encouragement to support prison protests
  • Encouragement to attend commemorations

She suggested there is an emphasis on creating the opportunity for face-to-face interactions to prevent sensitive disclosure online and to prevent violation of website Terms of Service and potential prosecutions.

Bowman-Grieve sees the potential for encouragement/radicalisation via these websites to work towards an end point of recruitment to real world involvement and ultimately ‘illegal’ and one must assume violent activity. However, at no point does she provide anything that approaches evidence of this being an actual occurrence - admitting the link between the real and virtual worlds is at best tenuous.

Much of the seminar hints at dark undercurrent which is never proven but is used as the basis for stating further investigation/research is required. Indeed the scare tactic is reinforced by noting an increased involvement in POW campaigns and protests. She particularly emphasised increased discussion/comment in relation to the Ardoyne riots of April 2010, suggesting research is required to investigate if online interaction can be used to gather people at specific times/places for situations that can escalate into riots. She compared this to the use of flash mobs. Again, no evidence was presented that online forum had ever been used to create such situations.

Overall I heard little from Bowman-Grieve to suggest the further research she is suggesting is warranted - as one questioner from the floor noted – is the online shaping the real world or the real world shaping the online? On that question Bowman-Grieve was stumped admitting she had no clear or easy answer. Until it is answered it seems as likely that discussion forum are a natural extension of republicanism into the computer age, that they are no more a radicalisation agent than a conversation in a West Belfast pub. Indeed in the absence of anything approaching empirical evidence it is surely more likely that online discourse is the offline being transplanted to the internet rather than vice-versa?

I’d suggest addressing ‘which came first the chicken or the egg’ before starting a chain of events/research that has forum owners, administrators and users labelled as somehow contributory or facilitatory to a recruitment network for VDRs.

Though, this should give any republican with an online presence pause for thought. Your activities are being researched. You are being profiled. Your psychology is being analysed. Your themes noted. In-depth review of your conversations is being considered or already in progress. Assumptions are being made. Implications are being drawn. One day an intemperate comment or a permitted posting by a Forum Administrator could result in expert witness from the field of Forensic Psychology at a trial.

When one  of the websites central to this analysis exercise is also part of ongoing questions on the very motivations of its owners perhaps it may be time to watch those comments? The one thing I’m sure of Bowman-Grieve's research is the tip of the iceberg – others are watching and their motivation is not academic.

I must also admit to some feelings of discomfort that the field of academic research seemed to be edging close to intelligence gathering/spying.

Finally, the reason for dual posting both here and on my own blog, the penultimate slide before the Q & A closer – a screen shot of The PensiveQuill. They are watching all you lot too!


  1. Mark a fascinating and well presented piece that should give bloggers and internet users lots to think about. Thanks for posting it here

  2. Mark,

    I suppose at the heart of the matter is whether we are being researched or spied on. Any discourse in the public domain is fair game for discourse analysis. But you can rest assured that the spooks as much as the researchers are analysing what is being said.

  3. Brilliant post mark, I wonder who sponsors the bold dr,s research, prehaps its that chain store cia,as a dedicated sheep shagger with a large collection of wellies I would invite her to profile my nocturnal habits,or prehaps on the other hand maybe not wouldnt want to corrupt such an open mind,maybe the good dr should profile those who use the term republican yet spend their waking moments administering british rule,now their chairman Declan Kearney wants them to learn to say sorry agents of influence how are ya getting closer to those sack cloths and ashes by the day how did the proud republican movement who gave us the likes of Bobby Sands end up with a waster like Kearney as chairman thats one hell of a long session on the couch if you ask me,anyone of half a brain would be well aware that blogs such as TPQ are monitored on a daily basis,I think what the faceless securocrats who back the likes of the double barreled named dr fear or wish is to suppress the exchange of information and ideas and ultimately the freedom of speech,qsf must be pupils of hers they have already started the project by suppressing the freedom of thought by party members, now maybe we should all say sorry to our masters for talking up about human rights for Marian Price, the unjust detention of Martin Corey, and Gerry Mc Geough sorry for talking up doc like fuck I am...

  4. Again, I'm probably a slow learner,

    Being a member of the Republican Socialist Movement, I often contribute to the RSM Forum (described in this post for some reason (way above my head), as the IRSP Forum.

    I do not see myself as a 'dissident'. I have always supported the Republican Socialist Movement and no academic from anywhere is going to make me change my politics.

    I feel like a lab rat.

  5. Mark,

    I think it is par for the course that the spooks will be scrutinising everything they can. And you are right anyone who thinks they are not being watched is taking an awful lot for granted. Internet makes discussion easier and makes censorship difficult but it also opens up space for spying. The internet is in a lot of ways the modern samizdat and it was read intensively by spooks.

    The point you make about dissenting from the SF narrative equating with VDR in world of discourse is very true but it has been like that for years. Anyone not believing the lies was automatically labelled as a supporter of Omagh.

    It is not only the spooks who spy on the net but the Shinners do a kot of it. Some might not see a lot of difference but that's another argument.

    This is a very important piece and will focus minds.

  6. Interesting read... Now at Uni academia rides in on the back of spooksville... Hop, skip & a jump from blurring boundaries & controlling/shaping young minds at Uni with propaganda/notions/paranoia. VDR's are out there & acomin to get ya's etc Makes me shudder when i recall some stuff young lads would write in a fit of justifable rage in a republican forum some years back. It slowly dawned on me the forum was a SF setup... duh!
    I have no doubt the content will be used against them if and when some chinless wonder deems it could come in handy.
    @ Rory ahaha you will be deemed a dissident. Rational thought does not figure in spooksville. And what Anthony said re SF monitoring is as real. It's a cosy wee affair this bizzo.
    For Irish republicans outside of Ireland flap your gums online and next time you go over Ireland u will reap a reality check. You will be monitored from the time u arrive to the time u leave. Just how it is. Key clue - by association...
    I dunno about leaving a footprint on the net for SF etc hopefully we can leave a turd for them to analyze/ponder/drown in.
    On a positive note i think the online discourse/information relay has created a cohesiveness/is in process of creating - the exposing of what is really going on... And that in itself is a powerful dynamic that is growing. It may well be the rebirthing/resurrecting of republicanism in a 2lst century dynamic way that spans the globe. You gotta watch out for them lab rats with their shiny yellow fangs chanting VDR VDR VDR rattlin the cages of the Thought Police. The lab rats have had a gutsful

  7. I think the problem for the spooks and their puppets like qsf,is that in the past republican operations like operation Harvest when run into the ground that was it finite, sin é,the state could then carry on as before,knowing full well the damage that was done to the republican cause would take generations to mend if at all ever,now with the advancement in communications like the internet,when the state has managed to suppress a popular uprising by all the devious methods at its disposal as per Kitsons "low intensity operations"and cap it all having the leadership of the republican movement support its security forces and in turn its operations like the internment of Marian Price,even if they are allowed to pay some lip service to the call for her release,when this should be the end of the "struggle" and we all move on dancing to qsf,s brit inspired tune,the bloody dissidents begin to disseminate their objections to the sellout called the gfa, in turn this ability to instantly communicate opens up the whole conversation about what went wrong before and opinions are formed through debate, this will allow a whole new breed of republican to emerge ,people with a clear objective and less reliant on ego driven individuals,the internet has the ability to become an Achilles heel and the brits and qsf know it and fear it,

  8. Mark
    Excellent Piece, and, it gives food for thought, "Who Is Watching Us"?
    As for Spooks, What Does a Spook Look Like?, it could be your Neighbor , Best Friend , Brother/Sister etc, Im sure PSF would like to know what a Spook looks like, since they have had them since day one, and still do to this very day, and, they are in the top Echelon.
    The Shinners , Psni , Special Branch , MI5/MI6 , Special Assassination Squad (SAS), The Spooks , Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve and other academics , They are all watching us. If i stated that Adams and McGuinness should have died instead of those ten Brave Hunger Strikers, would that make me a violent Dissident Republican, If it does, Then, So Be It. This is for the watchers. Up Yours.

  9. Feels like the lab rats of the old and not so old brigades will still write what they damm please- i know i make comments about a post or about a poster and i could not care if big brother or wee sammy is also reading it- anyway no point stopping now as im sure we are all marked up- Marty your fcuked- your not far behind him AM-LOL-

  10. Saint Mary Hedgehog,

    I'm still confused.The IRSM don't agree with the GFA, but don't advocate violence. Our armed wing has long ago de-commissioned and stood down.

    Anyone who wants to can monitor our online activities, they might learn something.

    I'm only wondering, is it a thought crime to oppose the Stormont regime and the status quo? If so, what does it say about democracy in this day and age?

  11. To late Mickeyboy re your comment lol she got there first ...

  12. Rory others here can answer that query alot more succinctly than me. The way things are and have been for a long time in Ireland is any hint of to quote u as follows:
    'I'm only wondering, is it a thought crime to oppose the Stormont regime and the status quo? If so, what does it say about democracy in this day and age?'
    Yes it is a total thought crime to SF SB and all the other toxic entities. But if one surrenders convictions what is left but submission to what one is convicted is wrong. So i would not compromise ones conviction but temper it with awareness of how it can be taken and shaped into 'this person is a VDR etc ad nauseum' People get banged up for thought crimes in Ireland U know it I know it we all know it... On a humorous note i would probably register as a insignificant dot on the risk factor but nevertheless we all would be profiled. Never stopped me flapping me gums nor millions of others on what is right to stand up for. Always remember the power is in the mind primarily and when u surrender your mind to filth like Adams Marty and co you have lost all cred with urself/betrayed those who are suffering now and all those who have gone before. PS for all i know u could be a spook engaging in a psych exercise of drawing out the old girl to flap her gums I personally make a point of putting my mugshot up on my blog couldnt give a brass razoo. I am probably filed under VOV Vomit on the Vatican lolol slan

  13. Mark,
    This qualitative piece by Dr Bowman-Grieve is almost as convincing as Robin Livingstones claim that, 'dissident' republicans only leave their homes after six in the evening.
    Robin's tongue in cheek analysis was clearly based on prejudice and the misplaced belief that, unlike the hoots in suits 'dissenters' lie in bed all day.
    What always amazed me about the majority of academics I have encountered is, almost all their research is underpinned by some-one elses experience and while this has produced some great studies such as Pete Townsend's massive Poverty research it is seldom backed up with empirical evidence.
    A lot of these academics have limited or abslutely no experience of their chosen topic of research.
    Soon, these arguments will progress to the stage of saying, it has been empirically proven that, any republican disagreeing with the GFA was born with a rogue gene.
    I remember replying to Robin's article and asking, in the interests of public security was there anyway we could identify these republican misfits? Did they wear glasses or have a beard perhaps. Did they smoke a pipe maybe or have extra large teeth or engage in unusual persuits i.e.tree hugging for talk sake.
    Never got a reply!

  14. Nuala maybe the bold Robertboy was talking from his own experience,from what I hear of his time as an active violent republican,he was a bit of a ham shanker...

  15. Marty,

    I have no doubt that TPQ like most other blogs are monitored. I think it would be a bad response to monitoring to go off line as they would have succeeded in censoring you. Think back to the days prior to internet use. It was very hard to get an idea out and we were always dependent on the mood of the editor of any paper we tried to go to. Once myself and another guy from jail wrote to a magazine after AP/RN suppressed our piece. We called it something like ‘The article AP/RN refused to print.’ The editor of the mag took it straight up to the SF centre without telling us. That afternoon or following morn we got a comm in from a friend working there who told us exactly what happened. I think we ended up putting it in one of the Trot publications. With the net SF cannot pursue that type of censorship policy. They might try to threaten people who write on the net but if the writers refuse to blink they will get their stuff out there. To pull out of the internet is to undermine the democratisation and exchange of ideas.

    What Mark does, quite well, is show what can happen out there. It is a serious health warning and one that should be taken as seriously as it was given.

    I am not sure you can question the intent of the researcher here. People like need to be able to research free from fear. Her methodology and conclusions might be suspect and Mark again has addressed that. It strikes me that she is researching rather than spying. However, she is helping to create a discourse and a perspective that positions republicans opposed to the Brit devised GFA in the ‘VDR’ camp. I think she needs to be challenged on her work rather than labelled a spook.

    On Declan Kearney’s point about saying ‘sorry’, where activists think they were wrong it is fine to say sorry. But it is not going to be a genuine exercise. How do you say sorry for something you deny doing - like the killing of Joe O’Connor, the killing of Joanne Mathers, or the Kingsmill massacre? And the place it is heading for is ultimately Adams apologising on behalf of republicans for the IRA campaign which he had no involvement in, always sought to stop and eventually did through the peace process.

  16. Anthony Declan Kearney states that "republicans need to learn to say sorry"agents of influence says the old head,why do republicans need to learn the word sorry,surely the so called leadership should be the ones saying sorry to those who gave so much in terms of lives lost freedom, injury and lives destroyed all because they believed the crap that came from the mouths of people like Adams and Mc Guinness.Kearny to me is a suited arrogant bastard well positioned as chairman of qsf, now I wonder who helped him get to where he is today, bet it wasnt his record of "coalface activities".

  17. Powerful response Anthony and one that would be hard to argue with even if the old head wasnt full of the effects of the falling down water, Marks post was first class and indeed it would be foolish to think otherwise, my problem with the good dr is that she seems to be pushing a one sided version of the position we republicans find ourselves in today, the range of forces that the state has in its arsenal is awesome,she kind of reminds me of research that the CIA sponsored into brainwashing,after many red neck boys who had been captured in the Korean war who appeared on tv condemning the war the CIA used a quack called Cameron to research and try out all sorts of mind control on patients in mental facilities that they sponsored in USA,Canada,and England,in the USA they actually were involved in setting up acid houses and supplying kids with all sorts of drugs,when I hear of people like the good dr Bowman -Grieve I tend to think of Kitson and his "low intensity operations" and we must remember that these will be continually upgraded,hence the use of seminars of the likes Mark tells us about.I for one would be interested in seeing just who funds the good dr,s research,

  18. Marty,

    ‘this ability to instantly communicate opens up the whole conversation about what went wrong before and opinions are formed through debate.’

    I think that is a key point. I think it is one reason governments are worried about the internet. People can get the analysis out immediately. I think that is why The Blanket was such a popular outlet, taking 15,000 hits a day if memory serves me well. SF could put out the guff and it could be instantly challenged by a range of opinion. Without the net that simply would not have been possible.

  19. The Academic's analysis is limited to only those who actually post anything and what they write. I occasionally check frequent visitor ip addresses to their location, for instance the Quille has a wide readership of people who do not post comments and are dispersed from Washington to London. Here are a few examples of what I mean; this Ip is Queens University Based --This Ip is the House of Parliament --and this is Belfast civil service With a bit of analysis over months one can get a pattern of the same IP address popping up and for how long they visit, and where they might go next.

  20. My last post was a bit rushed and my point is that the internet holds no secrets and so the "Lab Rat Stares Back at the White Coat" well, actually anyone can be both at the same time. With google earth view I have traced right back to private dwellings, or what cafe someone has been in with their blackberry. Therefore even the spooks can be spooked.

    Next time on a webforum take a look at how many people post in certain topics and compare that to how many viewed it. There is a whole world of information the Centre for Research in Political Psychology at Queen's University Belfast has not even tapped into and the anonymus gungho pensioners posting as teenagers on webforums are not a reliable source of info.

  21. Tiarna interesting a cara and as usual very informative,
    Anthony before the Blanket I for one felt like I was the only one out of tune,like the catholic version of limbo I think,the Blanket opened up the fact that this wasnt so and therefore like others give us the scope to address our concerns at just where the republican movement was heading,I would bet the qsf sellout would have been complete if it were not for the net and the likes of the Blanket,which in turn helps to highlight the injustices,such as the internment of Marian Price ,Martin Corey ,Gerry McGeough etc,that is why the state may have to try and barr people from using the net ,come to think of it the muslim cleric recently released from gaol has had a barring order like that served on him ,knowledge is the key and they know that, but so do we......

  22. Saint?MaryHedgehog

    The thought police are very much with us with or without the internet. I recall Thought Traffic Control refusing to clear my thoughts for take off!


    That is the crux of the problem. It is very much regarded as a thought crime to oppose the GFA. Look at Gerry McGeough. It is an attempt to close down democratic space.


    Good to see you about. Was beginning to think the thought police had got to you!

  23. In the age of information on demand, we enter into a mutual agreement with internet service providers and other third party sponsors every time we click on a licensing terms and agreement of usage most people casually click without reading what exactly they are agreeing to. Mainly out of expediency as few want to read long legal jargon.
    It is a mutual trade off we get access to the internet and they by our own consent track our personal usage mostly for marketing purposes.

    The lecture seems lopsided focusing only on republicans and ignoring loyalist websites. It should not be of any great surprise given the technology involved that big brother, now has an even bigger brother monitoring anything it deems antigovernment.
    Nothing to be alarmed over as nothing is private on the internet and even less private on mobile phones.
    What is alarming is how well the internet provides the authorities with a gauge as in the case of Marian Price and their experimental interment of her.
    There is not much in the way of very public condemnation of her treatment so they can judge by the lack of support and leave her to rot.
    If the interest in her case grows on the internet to a boiling point of outrage demanding her release then the authorities would find a way to release her.
    So monitoring can be both a good and evil.
    Information is power this does not just apply to the established order as ordinary people can provide and educate people via the internet rather than we just being force-feed the states version of events.
    A greater danger to a free democratic society is silence so I would not fear bigger brother as technology grows bigger brother would have a bigger brother.
    Lectures like this are hinting at we are watching you so be silent what a shock they have been watching us before the internet back when the internet was bin lids and whistles.

    Paranoia is a two way street and perhaps if the established system has its way they would be more than happy to silence opinions that don’t agree with them by finding ridiculous charges such as those leveled against Mirian Price.

  24. I would agree with much of what Tain Bo hits upon. Dr Bowman-Grieve's research is very narrowly focused while at same time incorporating voluminous unknown variances; in short the Seminar was merely a talking shop about her personal opinion and premature conclusions about who frequents republican networks.

    Tain Bo also highlights a very important phenomenon of the 'Twitter Revolution'. Not only MI5 but all political parties or lobby groups would be alert to higher than usual flutters on the internet on any given subject matter. The danger of these flutters are that the most valid cases can fall victim to or be manipulated by the use of popularity causes or an inability to utilize networks.

    Good case studies on the effectiveness of the internet would be on (1) the Boston Collage Action where the need to maintain public interest involves striking a balance with what can be disclosed outside of the Court proceedings. And (2) Sinn Fein's discomfort over what has been consistent and plausible account of the 1981 Hunger Strike by Richard O'Raw.

    Psychological analysis is useless if not based upon actual established facts. Dr Bowman-Grieve's let me be the first to post this on the internet but you find a meeting tomorrow night to be far more informative of Violent Republican thinking; come to St James Road tomorrow at 7pm --use the back door and make sure no one follows you.

  25. Nuala,

    Did you even get your letter in never mind a response to it?


    I agree that the research concentrates on one dimension but I wonder if that makes it biased or manipulative. A narrow focus often explains more than an ambitious overarching approach. I think the research methodology is less wrong than the findings. I think Mark tackled these issues. This research is the type of thing academics do without necessarily having an overtly partisan motive. They try to carve out un-mined areas and then go in for a dig. Often hubris kicks in and the importance overstated. Everybody thinks their own kids are great – the neighbours might not agree. Same with research.

    I think we need to look at what research produces and tests it against other forms of knowledge. I also think a greater problem than research carried out is the research that is prohibited.

    The Blanket was a legitimate exercise yet it was hated by SF. It merely asked the questions that should have been allowed to have been asked from within the movement. I think one of its pluses was that it did help break down that sense of isolation that leadership tired to create.


    ‘The Academic's analysis is limited to only those who actually post anything and what they write ... and the anonymous gungho pensioners posting as teenagers on web forums are not a reliable source of info.’
    Good point. The same could be said to apply to researchers examining the samizdat. It is useful to get a grasp of the full range of opportunities that exist to be exploited. Mark’s article helps show that. There is no doubt that what a researcher in this field can do a spook can do likewise.

  26. Mackers,
    Yes he printed it. I have to tell the truth on Robin he printed almost all of letters although sometimes it was as the result of weeks of ear ache.
    Any personal correspondence I had with him, I always found him to be very even-handed considering the fact he is editor of a Sinn Fein paper.

  27. Marty,

    I was having a yarn last night about the statement by DK and it seems to have annoyed a lot of people. A guy said to me next thing we will see shall be an apology for ever having staged an uprising against the British. I think the issue is more complex. Republicans need to be able to say sorry. That does not rule out anything you said about the leadership. They have a very big sorry to say and it needs to be said to the people they shafted in their own ranks as much as to others they hurt outside the ranks. But they won’t. No reason for others to follow suit.

    My view of what they are doing now is that it is a simple paving of the way for further abandonment of positions once deemed important. And for no reason other than sheer opportunism. There will be a time when they will denounce the IRA campaign while claiming they were never part of it. The hunger strikers will be brave but misguided. We know the tune. It has been hummed so many times.

    I see nothing at all to give rise to a bad aura around DK. I think we need to avoid treating with suspicion everyone who disagrees with us. I don’t think there is any good reason for him saying what he has but I certainly don’t feel it is because of the type of agenda that you consider. Martina Anderson comes out with stuff that sounds absolutely off the wall. But we hardly view her as an agent of influence for all of that. Group think in authoritarian organisations is a powerful tool that we underestimate at great cost.

    The point that I have been trying to make throughout is that it is most likely among people who push British ideas that the agents of influence are to be found. It doesn’t mean that all those pushing such ideas or who believe in them are agents of influence. It is a very tricky area. Many people have simply bought into the full blown reformist agenda for a variety of reasons which can’t be dismissed as sinister.

    Ticking the boxes and working for Box are not always the same thing!

  28. Stinks to the hills of the work of agents of influence to me Anthony,Anderson is a british agent after all she takes their money like the rest of the motley crew. if Kearny is just firing the bullets someonelse loaded well I think this puts him in the frame.anyone swallowing this sorry shit is living in the land of nod,you are right in saying that apologies are needed all round where we have hurt each other,but what we ie,the people on the streets have done pales into insignificance compared to the dirty deeds of those leaders in all the opposing sides.I,m only fucking sorry that we ever listened to those bastards in the first place.

  29. Tiarna

    I would view the lecture as psychological theatrics a little scare mongering aimed at republicans considering the lecture makes no distinction between passive republicans and militant republicans.
    This is misleading as passive republicans who post usually send a message that militancy is a lost cause this would provide the reader young or older with an educated reasoning as to why militant republicanism is futile.
    I would have preferred to read a more comprehensive study as the subject is interesting but this is categorically to narrow and confined to personal opinion rather than any objective study.

    I do not visit any of the sites listed in the article so have no idea if there is any chatter on the subject. I may be off the mark but I would assume different sites might be in competition rather than cooperation.

    You do highlight how effective the internet can be as you noted the BC case and the Hunger Strike narratives as examples neither would have seen the light of day without the internet.
    I wonder would Dr. Bowman classify this as passive aggressive republicanism?

    “Dr Bowman-Grieve's let me be the first to post this on the internet but you find a meeting tomorrow night to be far more informative of Violent Republican thinking; come to St James Road tomorrow at 7pm --use the back door and make sure no one follows you.”

    A prime example of what is information as opposed to what is misinformation.

  30. AM

    While username 'Dan Breen' always posts 'sensible' comments, quotes(samizdat) Connolly appropriately and occasionally cheers on a hardline anti-GFA position the spook can rule him out as a Troll on account of his IP address being the Rangers Supporters Club on the Shankill Road; Dr Bowman-Grieve would never know that information.

    Tain BO

    I have visited one (popular)forum mentioned and I found the language course at times and attitudes can be that of regular football hooliganism. I noticed that a subforum deals with 'exchange' of music and software (a ready means for recruiting informers for pirating copyright material). I do not credit Violent dissidents with much intelligence but would be surprised if they are recruiting from this kind of venue, of false bravado, hype and exaggerated loyalty. A well known phenomenon of webforums is that behind usernames people say things that they don't really believe or mean but use it to vent or threaten.

    You correctly picked up what I meant on where a more reliable line on contemporary republican thinking might be found.

    Even on bloggs like this it is often difficult to ascertain which posters 'know' anything about being in jail for example, or, those simply mimicking what they have heard from someone else.

  31. Tain Bo

    ‘The lecture seems lopsided focusing only on republicans and ignoring loyalist websites.’

    This is not an unfair but rather a standard technique of research. I think it would be problematic only if the researcher tried to block research into loyalists or pretended that the research was all inclusive. I don’t think that her research has to go outside republicanism in order to be authenticated. Was there enough material there for her to draw the conclusions that she did? I think Mark made very accurate observations about that. Tiarna has introduced some very plausible qualifications also.

    ‘Information is power this does not just apply to the established order as ordinary people can provide and educate people via the internet rather than we just being force-feed the states version of events. A greater danger to a free democratic society is silence.’

    This seems a very solid observation.

  32. Nuala,

    evenhanded was the last thing I found him to be. From clearing Scap to screaming at dissenting views. But I did admire his stand (short lived I accept) against the Adams regime that had done nothing for West Belfast. It took a lot to come out with that statement

  33. Mackers,
    Initially when I wrote to the Andersonstown News I found it an absolute nightmare to get anything printed, then when it was printed it was usually no longer topical.
    I remember responding to a letter about a programme based on the Maze escape. The author bragged that, 'all those involved in the Maze were now in government and dissenters should take that on board.'
    I replied, it was one of many many escapes and attempted escapes however none of the other escapes ever get coverage because those involved are now the so-called dissenters.
    They would not print it. So I contacted Robin and pointed out to him that, since I had written my unprinted letter Briege Brownlee has had four letter printed in that space of time and that she had actually two printed in one edition.
    I told him I was going to place an official complaint but firstly I was giving him the opportunity to answer.
    The only time I had big issues after that was during the exchange with Spike Murray. His letter were printed automatically and mine would be weeks after which then made them sound decidely out of step.
    In hindsight though and considering that Sinn Fein run the paper I have to say Robin was more even handed than the dictates probally allowed. I remember people actaully stopping me and saying, 'I can't believe you got that printed'

  34. "It took a lot to come out with that statement" yeah like 10 pints of dutch courage.and when he sobered up he returned to normal mode i.e. a grovelling git..

  35. Marty,

    I think this is where the case slips. If everybody is labelled an agent of influence then the term has no meaning. It is just something to be stuck on anybody within SF and the evidence of their guilt is that they are in SF. While it might serve as a put down, it devalues any analytical usefulness or understanding.
    A lot of people are sorry they ever listened to a word came out of their mouths.
    tiarna has left a new comment on your post "Lab Rat Stares Back at the
    White Coat":


    That’s a good point but how sure can anyone be that Dr Bowman-Grieve is not able to differentiate between the Rangers Supporters Club and somebody else?

    A more pertinent point is where you refer to the net bravado that finds expression on the web. Hot air, a lot of it.

  36. I wouldnt suggest that everyone in qsf is an agent of influence Anthony, qsf is a top down party where the sheep blindly go where the dogs in the top send them.Jonathan Powell said in his book Great Hatred Little Room,"that the british government lavished attention on sf on account of its ability to influence those in control of the guns"and he wrote the Bearded ones Ard Feis address,so really the brits only needed a few well placed agents and job done,and what makes the whole thing laughable if it were not so sad is that they were handed the whole republican movement and the inla on a plate,

  37. Marty,

    The apology ruined everything Robin said in his original critique. That said, apparently Robin was in Scotland when the apology was issued on the orders of Mairtin. And I believe the pressure they brought to bear on him was enormous. While no fan of Robin’s I tried to understand his predicament.

  38. AM

    "That’s a good point but how sure can anyone be that Dr Bowman-Grieve is not able to differentiate between the Rangers Supporters Club and somebody else?"

    How many people can access your, or my, IP address from this blogg alone? Dr Bowman-Grieve probably cannot. And the same would be true for any of the other sites she sourced for her research. The IP address is only one part of verifying who might be posting or visiting any website. There is a wealth of information that can be gathered. Unlike the Dr I am an Electronic Engineering postgraduate and hold Industry Certification in Networking technology. The Spooks employ professional hackers, and can gain access to databases the average mortal cannot. Beyond networking it can even be predicted when two people meet simply from the movement of their mobile phones.

    Could someone in the Rangers Supporters Club fool Republicans on the internet? Stakeknife and Donaldson fooled people for decades face to face.

  39. Anthony,

    I am not opposed to any research or the methods used by researchers. Saying that the research when made public is up for scrutiny although the subject matter is interesting, I still view it as lopsided mainly as it is a study in progress.

    There are many qualifying circumstances unaddressed in the study.

    One of the main factors being virtual recruiting even though there may be an indirect possibility it is highly unlikely that people are recruited through forums. I am unaware of any cases that have established this as fact rather than supposition.
    I would assume knowledgeable militants would be more perceptive and highly aware of electronic footprints and probably display a more cautious disciplined use of the virtual world. That is not to say they are not subject to higher surveillance as they like the rest of us would be unaware of what highly advanced spyware attached to their computer is and no matter what antivirus program you run it would remain undetected.
    It does hint at the possibility but fails to make any distinction between actual militants and those in the cheering section.
    The only common thread these forums share is the label “dissident republicans” I would assume given the number of sites and the different groups there would be little cooperation and more competition as in “I am Spartacus” or in these cases “we are the true republicans.”
    It fails to address to what extent these forums cooperate yet does allocate different factions to the corresponding forums this would imply competition.

    The study is unsure of simple statistical facts regarding how many people post. How many people visit these forums? In addition, judging by Tiarna’s description of the one forum the dialogue is more rhetoric and residual propaganda confirmed in the study. What are the established numbers of crossover visitors posting on more than one of the sites?

    The intelligence world permits these sites as they gain an insight to the ebb and flow a simple way of tracking numbers and low-grade information. Which may not sound like much but low-grade information is gateway to higher quality information. Given that this is a psychological study rather than a technological one the intelligence community would put both to great use. The psychological profile or virtual profile is unique as a fingerprint this enables the intelligence community to pin- point the more vulnerable user for potential recruitment… continued.

  40. ...
    In addition, as Tiarna points out who is indeed who as without a doubt outside the virtual world agents of very strong influence where well placed physically in positions of control within the PRM.
    The same would apply to the virtual world wherein virtual agents would remain undetected so whilst these sites may seem invulnerable in that false sense of privacy in the virtual world they are more than likely heavily infiltrated and definitely not as the study suggests a virtual danger to any alarming extent.

    Considering agents of influence would have no problem infiltrating and recruiting people in the virtual world, this enables them to conduct the same practice that changed the PRM. The study fails to mention that counter insurgency is more powerful better equipped and have years of proven experience in their methods. It is not as if the computer just magically appeared in the last decade. Regardless of what perceived threat these sites may have they can be easily quashed.

    I can understand the link she is trying to establish. Though her study narrowed to what she calls VDRs there is nothing new or surprising about it.
    Perhaps the only shock value it holds for some is the fact that Bigger Brother is watching this may well spook people who were or are unaware that the internet is an open book of information but that is their job and they do it efficiently.
    The study seems to glance over the same old story even though it states a new wave of dissidents and the sites rely heavily upon imagery and videos. Without actual statistics, the study leaves us blind as to how much actual support and casual support these sites have. Do they get more hits during times of tension and does interest dwindle when all is quiet.

    It would be questionably as to who or what they would be recruiting but again it makes no distinction between virtual stone throwers and any actual radical republican. This would lead me to believe that the study is just stuffing for the greater implications of virtual global terrorism where more advanced radical groups use the internet in a more sophisticated manner.
    These sites and even the Quill are an asset to the intelligence community and not a liability if they were detrimental they would be shut down.

  41. Tiarna,

    you raise some very clear observations it is interesting that the one (popular) forum you mention has a sub-forum.
    That might imply that there is something more than political agitation going on a little financial entrepreneurial business of internet piracy that definitely does not fall under the banner of political activity.
    One can only speculate if the finance gathered is used for other purposes or is it some very savvy way for the site owners to line their pockets?

  42. Tain Bo

    The subforum is an offtopic sort of area where members can chitchat or exchange download links and whatever --no purchases take place and it is not necessarily with the site owners approval. Much of it is likely goodwill among contributors. That it is illicit copyright material exposes downloaders to the same forms of bribe and manipulation as joyriders or shoplifters.

    Bowman-Grieve's concerns for young men being recruited is most likely displaced; Spooks are more likely the recruiters than dissidents but that truth might never be known.

  43. Tiarna,

    my apology on my misinterpretation of the sub-forum easily done on my part as I am blind in one eye and the other is not so great, I completely agree with your qualified points.
    You are correct on illicit trading as that makes the buyers easy prey for manipulation and eventually recruitment as a tradeoff.

    “Bowman-Grieve's concerns for young men being recruited is most likely displaced; Spooks are more likely the recruiters than dissidents but that truth might never be known.”

    That sums it up, as spooks on the internet are as common as program glitches.

  44. So according to this hypothesis, to be a VDR you must meet three criteria;

    Refusal to sign up to the Good Friday Agreement

    Rejection of the PSNI

    Commitment to continued use of violence to achieve a United Ireland

    Jim Allisters dancing pretty close to that fire.

    Enjoyable piece Mark. Whilst I know that whatever is said online now is open to scrutiny and even prosecution; this academic approach to the subject is maybe beggining to form new dangerous new parameters.

  45. Tomás Gorman,

    A + B = C is what the study states or there is no such thing as passive dissident republicans by virtue of her over simplistic formula.
    Rejecting (A) the GFA and rejecting (B) the PSNI considered passive aggressive tendencies, which invariably can only lead to (C) a continuation of violent resistance.
    Considering the study primarily focuses upon the term VDRs it may indicate or be a reference to the potential these sites hold as breeding grounds for what she terms new wave dissidents.
    As for what new parameters such studies may set in the virtual world will eventually become apparent.
    It would not be much of s stretch for the established order to make no distinction between physically holding up a statement as in the case of Mirian Price and electronically holding up a statement.
    However, if this were the case the legal complexities would be no walk in the park.
    It is the virtual global community so an aggressive agitator could be anywhere in the world.
    The lecture fails to address how much traffic is actually local as opposed to global.
    The lecture deals with the psychological makeup of users, which is confined and subjective unless the Dr. actually conducted in-depth interviews with a section of these site users it becomes a guess rather than an unbiased assessment.

    In a sense, it becomes funny, as virtual stone throwers would probably refrain from virtual stone throwing once they leave the relative privacy and security of their home.

    You do raise a valid point on parameters, which could range from censorship to prosecution.

  46. Nuala,

    They are a SF paper and as such there is a control freak mentality there. You always have to swim against the tide to get heard. They once told me and Tommy Gorman there was no right to reply. At points it would have facilitated a discussion but was never comfortable doing it. I suppose when the assistant editor picketed our house that summed the outfit up.

    Then we need only look at the way Robin was treated by SF when he made a comment after the killing of Frank McGreevy. So it is a controlled paper and the people who control it don’t like dissent.


    There would seem to be an abnormally high level of penetration. And many would have been agents of influence. But the fact remains that the bulk were not agents of any sort. The Brits had enough to win them the war.


    My knowledge of technology would be nowhere near as good as your own. I fumble my way thru the keyboard like most others. So it is always good to have a different view that opens up the expanse of the web.

  47. Tain Bo,

    ‘it makes no distinction between virtual stone throwers and any actual radical republican.’

    This is a crucial point that is overlooked.

    ‘These sites and even the Quill are an asset to the intelligence community and not a liability if they were detrimental they would be shut down.’

    I don’t think it is so simple. I think they can serve as both but it is not just a simple matter of closing them down. Opposition just does not exist with the approval of the state. At the same time we know that anything that can be put to use by the Intelligence community will be.

    ‘spooks on the internet are as common as program glitches.'

    Something to be always kept in mind.

  48. Anthony,

    I agree to a point but for the sake of argument let’s say website A was an established recruiting ground for VDRs. A random number of these recruits go on to commit violent acts and eventually are charged and sentenced.
    That would normally be the end of the story but say a disgruntled investigator decided to leak the information to the media as to the point of origin of the random number of (virtual) VDRs. The journalist does the homework and exposes the facts about website A. Condemnation would rain down like Thor’s hammer and the government would have a lot of explaining to do as to why they let these virtual recruits engage in violent actions.
    Obviously in that scenario Website A would be shutdown and investigated.
    The intelligence community would lose a reliable source of information and would have a difficult time defending their practice.
    Long story short I assume politicians would demand tougher laws governing sites like website A.
    It would be a very risky gamble for a government as a scenario along these lines (depending on its scale) would have the potential to topple said government.

    For most of us point click and go users we tend to be unaware that we are in a virtual community and like any community it has the good, bad and ugly. We have the virtual police force, virtual laws, virtual criminals and we remain generally unaware of all the information sent and received. Much like the TV and remote control we don’t care how it works as long as it works.
    We use antivirus software to protect and lull us into a false sense of security and anonymity as that program can identify “known” problems and intrusions.
    From my limited understanding that amounts to going on holiday and locking the front and back doors but leaving all the windows open I have tried to read and understand the inner workings of the internet but admit I would have better luck breathing underwater.

  49. Anthony,

    "It is absolutely unacceptable for officers to engage in racist and sectarian language, and far less to exchange that in the form of texts to each other," she told a news conference.

    It seems like the virtual VDRs are not alone, as the virtual PSNI seem to enjoy the instant power of violent language.
    I am just curious is DCC Judith Gillespie hinting that they should be more discreet when using modern technology.
    Also curious as to what Dr Bowman Grieves would make of this behavior.

  50. Mark,

    Thanks for that info on the upcoming publication this month. Keep us posted on it.


    The first two hardly qualify for a VDR. People are perfectly entitled to withhold support from the PSNI and the GFA without having the label violent tagged onto them. That is an attempt to police dissenting thought rather than dissident force. Tain Bo made some good points on this, showing how it didn’t add up.
    Tain Bo,

    Yet I wonder. The idea that texting jokes should become a punishable offence seems OTT. People get these things all the time, find them funny and pass them on.

  51. 'On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog' Peter Steiner, cartoon in The New Yorker, July 5, 1993

  52. Anthony,

    the dog cartoon is simply profound.

    As for jokes being over the top I am sure that day will arrive when the PC brigade, the god squad and the powers that be decide what is and what is not offensive.

    As for the cops, texting acting the maggot they probably went overboard it was just interesting as it highlights the watchers are watching everybody.

  53. Tain Bo,

    just came across this a minute ago!

    'My favorite thing about the Internet is that you get to go into the private world of real creeps without having to smell them' - Penn Jillette, in a Compuserve chat

  54. Anthony,

    there is a lot to be said in one line and that one nails it but I am sure somewhere some genius is working on a program to bring smell to the net.
    Made wonder what his sidekick would have to say.
    Too funny.

  55. The Academic's analysis is limited to only those who actually post anything and what they write. I occasionally check frequent visitor ip addresses to their location,


    Checking someone's IP and geo-locating it means nothing. Hiding your IP, changing it (same as your MAC addy) can be done with a few clicks..Which means checking their IP can give a false location. Or simply use Freenet or a good VNP to cover your butt. To check a buisness web site or Queens, Stormont etc and the type of servers , adresses etc. All you have to do is download and install a Firefox add on called passive recon

    Personally it's more important to goto your router settings and DISABLE the wps function and change your WPA default password to something else (longer the better and use upper & lower case, numbers and symbols)..

    All Virgin media default passwords for example are lowercase and 8 letters, Talk-Talk's default for example is uppercase and numbers. There are countless wordlists available for anyone to download that are tailor made to crack WPA's. While it wont stop spooks spying (they'll use tools such as wireshark or some other piece of reverse engineering tool/software (pentesting)). It will help prevent your nosey neighbour from downloading illegally on your IP...And prevent them from spying on you.

    If I felt like it I can very easily find out the WPA password of any router within range and simply read all of my neighbours emails, documents etc they have stored on their PC (basically take control of their routers, PC's etc)..I'd simply use a Linux based piece of software such as Reaver,WPScrack, Wifite to find my neigbours WPA password.....If the WPS feature is disabled it's harder to find the password...