Anthony McIntyre 🔖 In the wake of the death of a man, Freddie Scappaticci, who killed for both the IRA army council and the British security services, there has been something of a rekindling of public interest in spies, spooks and serial killing.


That makes it timely to revisit Agents of Influence by Aaron Edwards. The topicality has been flavoured with spice by BBC Spotlight reminding its audience of what upholding law and order meant. It was never the rule of law, merely the rule of law enforcement. The resulting interest has itself fed into a whisper pool where the same names keep floating to the surface of speculation as to who might be the next agent to be fished out.

The term agent of influence was first made known to me while in prison by Danny Morrison. Up until then I was not acquainted with it. Agents were agents, out to harm the IRA by compromising its operations and betraying its people - simple as. Morrison explained that it was a bit more complex. Some years later I would read in Peter Taylor’s Provos how it worked in practice. The recruited agents would spread ideas that their handlers wanted disseminated. Their role was not to compromise operations but to influence and facilitate the promotion of thinking ultimately in sync with British strategic preferencesHence, not easy to detect as no compromised operational trail led back to them, they could be in the game for a long time.

Leisurely perusing Peter Taylor’s Operation Chiffon this morning while doing a charity collection in town, one sentence leaped out at me which underscored the absolute futility of the IRA’s Long War. The objective of the British during the truce talks of 1975 had been to secure an ‘extremely historic moment’ which ‘finally arrived with the Good Friday Agreement.’ The truce leadership would be displaced by men who accused it of betraying the armed struggle. They opted for the long war, integral to which was the creation of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit. Members of that unit, as detailed in Spotlight, dovetailing with the actions of other spies within the IRA and Sinn Fein, helped bring the IRA back round to accepting the British state terms of 1975 for ending its campaign. 

Agents Of Influence by Aaron Edwards traces the labyrinthine paths and the tenebrous vaults onto and into which the IRA was ineluctably drawn, its campaign suffocated. The clarity emerging from the logic is simple - the Long War was the Wrong War.  

This book has a wider remit than its title would suggest. This is the second major publication by Aaron Edwards where there is a disjuncture between subject matter and title, the other being Mad Mitch's Tribal Law. Rather than being about agents of influence, what is revealed in the pages is succinctly captured in the subtitle, Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA.

For those seeking new revelations in terms of touts being outed, the book will be a disappointment. Derry republicans took the view that Edwards relied too much on the input of the since deceased Willie Carlin; that he was a pound shop tout unlike the gold standard Freddie Scappaticci, the gap between both being similar to that separating Walter Mitty from Walter Raleigh.

Yet Carlin did meet Thatcher so diminishing his role might not be the most prudent of options. One senior intelligence officer said:

The most valuable modern humanint asset is the log serving agent in place, undramatically copying documents, and drawing a regular supplementary income, as part of an apparently normal life.

Rather than serving up what it says on the tin, Aaron Edwards effectively makes agents of influence a side dish. The main meal is formed from more diverse ingredients; the array of bodies that constitute the intelligence structures and which through agent recruitment penetrated the IRA. Agents Of Influence maps the apparatuses within  the intelligence agencies which had one key overarching strategic objective in mind. 

Doubtless, there was plenty of inter-agency rivalry which still plagued the British intelligence world a full decade after Maurice Oldfield had devised a plan for more efficiently knitting the intelligence fabric together, MI5 and FRU repeatedly butting heads. By 1980, according to the Operation Banner report ‘almost all the military structures which eventually defeated PIRA were in place.' Despite the chicanes and collisions along the route, at overlord level sight was never lost of the destination: bring the IRA back to the table with nothing on offer that had not previously been on it in 1975. To this end the British facilitated the emergence of the Adams political leadership, seeing in the Sinn Fein leader and army council stalwart, a crucial asset capable of delivering an end to the IRA campaign. Whoever the shoulder at the wheel helping to make that happen would have been worth an investment by the British, including Willie Carlin.

Aaron Edwards’ narrative essentially begins with the spycraft of Maurice Oldfield. Yet this was ten years after the IRA campaign started. Prior to that the IRA had experienced infiltration. Its war crime strategy of disappearing people gives some indication of just how seriously it took the problem. The book would have benefited from a pre-Oldfield archaeological dig.

Aaron Edwards did not promise a salacious spy scandal where all would be revealed. Despite some factual flaws, Agents Of Influence is a methodical construction of a candle that helps guide the reader through the dark world of the British state intelligence ensemble in its ultimately successful war against the IRA.

Aaron Edwards, 2021, Agents of Influence: Britain's Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1785373411. 

Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.


Agents Of Influence

Anthony McIntyre 🔖 In the wake of the death of a man, Freddie Scappaticci, who killed for both the IRA army council and the British security services, there has been something of a rekindling of public interest in spies, spooks and serial killing.


That makes it timely to revisit Agents of Influence by Aaron Edwards. The topicality has been flavoured with spice by BBC Spotlight reminding its audience of what upholding law and order meant. It was never the rule of law, merely the rule of law enforcement. The resulting interest has itself fed into a whisper pool where the same names keep floating to the surface of speculation as to who might be the next agent to be fished out.

The term agent of influence was first made known to me while in prison by Danny Morrison. Up until then I was not acquainted with it. Agents were agents, out to harm the IRA by compromising its operations and betraying its people - simple as. Morrison explained that it was a bit more complex. Some years later I would read in Peter Taylor’s Provos how it worked in practice. The recruited agents would spread ideas that their handlers wanted disseminated. Their role was not to compromise operations but to influence and facilitate the promotion of thinking ultimately in sync with British strategic preferencesHence, not easy to detect as no compromised operational trail led back to them, they could be in the game for a long time.

Leisurely perusing Peter Taylor’s Operation Chiffon this morning while doing a charity collection in town, one sentence leaped out at me which underscored the absolute futility of the IRA’s Long War. The objective of the British during the truce talks of 1975 had been to secure an ‘extremely historic moment’ which ‘finally arrived with the Good Friday Agreement.’ The truce leadership would be displaced by men who accused it of betraying the armed struggle. They opted for the long war, integral to which was the creation of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit. Members of that unit, as detailed in Spotlight, dovetailing with the actions of other spies within the IRA and Sinn Fein, helped bring the IRA back round to accepting the British state terms of 1975 for ending its campaign. 

Agents Of Influence by Aaron Edwards traces the labyrinthine paths and the tenebrous vaults onto and into which the IRA was ineluctably drawn, its campaign suffocated. The clarity emerging from the logic is simple - the Long War was the Wrong War.  

This book has a wider remit than its title would suggest. This is the second major publication by Aaron Edwards where there is a disjuncture between subject matter and title, the other being Mad Mitch's Tribal Law. Rather than being about agents of influence, what is revealed in the pages is succinctly captured in the subtitle, Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA.

For those seeking new revelations in terms of touts being outed, the book will be a disappointment. Derry republicans took the view that Edwards relied too much on the input of the since deceased Willie Carlin; that he was a pound shop tout unlike the gold standard Freddie Scappaticci, the gap between both being similar to that separating Walter Mitty from Walter Raleigh.

Yet Carlin did meet Thatcher so diminishing his role might not be the most prudent of options. One senior intelligence officer said:

The most valuable modern humanint asset is the log serving agent in place, undramatically copying documents, and drawing a regular supplementary income, as part of an apparently normal life.

Rather than serving up what it says on the tin, Aaron Edwards effectively makes agents of influence a side dish. The main meal is formed from more diverse ingredients; the array of bodies that constitute the intelligence structures and which through agent recruitment penetrated the IRA. Agents Of Influence maps the apparatuses within  the intelligence agencies which had one key overarching strategic objective in mind. 

Doubtless, there was plenty of inter-agency rivalry which still plagued the British intelligence world a full decade after Maurice Oldfield had devised a plan for more efficiently knitting the intelligence fabric together, MI5 and FRU repeatedly butting heads. By 1980, according to the Operation Banner report ‘almost all the military structures which eventually defeated PIRA were in place.' Despite the chicanes and collisions along the route, at overlord level sight was never lost of the destination: bring the IRA back to the table with nothing on offer that had not previously been on it in 1975. To this end the British facilitated the emergence of the Adams political leadership, seeing in the Sinn Fein leader and army council stalwart, a crucial asset capable of delivering an end to the IRA campaign. Whoever the shoulder at the wheel helping to make that happen would have been worth an investment by the British, including Willie Carlin.

Aaron Edwards’ narrative essentially begins with the spycraft of Maurice Oldfield. Yet this was ten years after the IRA campaign started. Prior to that the IRA had experienced infiltration. Its war crime strategy of disappearing people gives some indication of just how seriously it took the problem. The book would have benefited from a pre-Oldfield archaeological dig.

Aaron Edwards did not promise a salacious spy scandal where all would be revealed. Despite some factual flaws, Agents Of Influence is a methodical construction of a candle that helps guide the reader through the dark world of the British state intelligence ensemble in its ultimately successful war against the IRA.

Aaron Edwards, 2021, Agents of Influence: Britain's Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1785373411. 

Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.


3 comments:

  1. "The resulting interest has itself fed into a whisper pool where the same names keep floating to the surface of speculation as to who might be the next agent to be fished out."

    If it looks like a duck?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would say the standard advice to agents would be to endeavor to surround yourself with questionable individuals in order that they can be thrown under the bus if the need arises in order to protect the agent. For eg frank Hegarty should never have been permitted to join the PIRA after his earlier activities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MickO

      That wouldn't have been difficult in the Provos!

      Delete