The disclosure of the “Stormont Spy Ring”, that is still rocking Northern Ireland, has quietly touched off a multi-pronged manhunt in Britain, Northern Ireland, Eire, Cyprus, Lebanon and northern Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that the targets of the search are Irish, Palestinian, Cypriot, Greek, Lebanese and Iraqi agents or go-betweens, who may have bought or mediated the transfer of security secrets that members of the IRA spy ring stole before it was smashed on October 5, in a police-security raid of the IRA’s political wing’s office in Stormont Castle, home of Ulster democracy.
The raid led to the breakdown of the province’s fragile interim power-sharing agreement between Unionists and the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein.
It also brought a vast haul of thousands of secret documents purloined by the IRA spy network, largely for sale or barter with foreign terrorist groups with whom Irish republican extremists have been long associated. The spies got hold of transcripts of confidential telephone conversations on secure lines between Tony Blair and President Bush, sending them to Belfast by means of ring members that included British civil servants and Irish Catholic politicians.
Their activities were not confined to top-secret briefing materials laid before Blair on the political and military situation in Northern Ireland. They also went after intelligence memos and encrypted messages passing between the British and American leaders in their exchanges on military and intelligence preparations for the Afghan War, the campaign against Iraq, the post-Taliban situation in Kabul and highly sensitive data pertaining to the global war on terror, including anti-al Qaeda tactics.
The recovered documents cover a period running from April 1, 2000, five months before the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, up until October 4, 2002. The Irish spy ring therefore operated undisturbed for 30 months at least, up until the security-police raid in Stormont.
Immediately after the police raid, the British prime minister made a grim report to President Bush who, thereupon, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, sent a special CIA team to London for an initial independent assessment of the damage to American security interests. Our sources add that last week’s London trip by the American Homeland Minister, Tom Ridge, was also connected with the affair. It came on the heels of several discreet rounds of inquiries by the CIA director George Tenet in London, Belfast and Dublin.
The most urgent purpose of the parallel probes is to track down the recipients of the secret documents. It has been established, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, that some reached interested parties in the Middle East. Thus far, two such parties have been identified as Palestinian agents based in Cyprus and Lebanon and Greek Cypriot agents who work the region. Both groups have longstanding ties both with the IRA and with Lebanese and Palestinians associated with Iraq and al Qaeda operatives in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf.
Our intelligence experts note that, if indeed these sensitive papers are shown to have reached Iraqi or al Qaeda hands, it will mean that elements of America’s most secret war plans have been compromised. US security authorities fear the IRA ring has blown to Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda agents and supporters data on US war plans against Saddam Hussein and on undercover operations still afloat against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
Denis Donaldson, Sinn Fein’s chief administrator has been charged with five counts of possessing documents useful to terrorists in carrying out acts of violence. Fiona Ferrelly, a republican community worker, faces two similar charges. William Mackessy faces two charges of aiding terrorists while working at the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast.
Those three arrests are just the beginning. The IRA is suspected of running a network of spies in many areas of government, some in unobtrusive jobs as clerks, clerks and chauffeurs. British and American agents need to lay hands on many more informants in and outside Ireland and the UK to be able to evaluate the amount of damage wrought by the Stormont Ring.