Roy Johnston reviews Intelligence, Statecraft and International Power, Eunan O'Halpin, Robert Armstrong and Jane Ohlmeyer (eds,) Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0 7165 2841 X, €29.59 £22.50 pbk
THERE HAS been a biennial conference of Irish histrorians since 1953, and this is the proceedings of the most recent one, held in May 2005. As is the norm with such events, it is a mixed bag, with 17 contributions on a range of topics. Most of these I will touch on briefly, but in the context of the Irish Democrat a few deserve attention in some depth where they impinge on the roots of the current Northern Ireland situation.
There is a foreword by Christopher Andrew, which gives an introductory overview; in a footnote it turns out that he is the author of a 1995 book on US intelligence from Washington to Bush. He begins with an interesting reminder of the role of Joshua, who had spied out the Promised Land, and secured the fall of Jericho with the aid of an agent within, one Rahab the Harlot: '...a combined operation between the world's two oldest professions..'.
Alasdair Macdonald (Aberdeen) discusses medieval Anglo-Scottish relations. Paul Dover (Georgia) explores the role of the 'ambassador' in intelligence-gathering in Renaissance Italy. Elaine Murphy, a TCD postgraduate student, discusses the English navy and intelligence in the 1640s period.
Micheal O Siochru (Aberdeen), still in the 1640s, explores military intelligence on land, touching on the role of Owen Roe O'Neill as a supporter of a possible deal with the parliamentary forces based on religious toleration, transmitted to Cromwell in London via Monck, where it was rejected, thus nipping in the bud an early manifestation of the idea of a progressive alliance between English democracy and emergent Irish nationalism. (I recollect a play by Conor Farrington on this theme, perhaps worth resurrecting.) There also emerges evidence of differing class-based attitudes among the Irish to Cromwell's army, which successfully recruited from the 'lower orders', despite their Catholicism. It seems Lady Wilmot, Ormond's grandmother, was a parliament supporter.
Joanna Waley-Cohen, a China scholar from New York University, gave an invited paper on the Qing empire (1644-1912) and international power. This is of interest, in global historical terms, for its analysis of the interactions with the Russian and British empires, and the uses of developing military technology.
Thomas Bartlett (UCD) analyses the role of Dublin Castle intelligence in the period 1796 to 1803, which discounted the danger of a French landing, and ignored all intelligence to the contrary. It depended on freelance correspondents and had no actual agents. They failed to pick up the Emmet episode because post-1798 the Castle intelligence establishment was run down, and Pitt's spymaster Wickham was basically in a retirement job; Emmet's failure was basically due to bad planning and lack of organisation on his side.
Bernadette Whelan (Limerick) goes into the details of Irish attitudes to the civil war in the US, in a context where Union agents were actively blocking support for Confederae blockade-runners. Keith Jeffrey (Queens) outlines the career of one Henry Wilson in the planning of the early mobile episodes of the 1914 war; he had covered most of the ground previously on his bicycle, on 'vacation'. Anne Dolan (TCD) goes into the detailed background of Michael Collins's intelligence work which led to 'Bloody Sunday 1920'; Churchill it seems was critical of the competence of the agents concerned, and the effects of the episode, from the Irish angle, were mixed.
Eunan O'Halpin (TCD) covers 'Intelligence and Anglo-Irish Relations 1922-73' and this for the present writer is the main interest of the book. The author effectively demolishes the 1973 denial by the British Ambassador of the existence of espionage, made to Lynch in the context of the Crinnion-Litlejohns affair. During the 20s and 30s there was contact between Scotland Yard and the Irish Special Branch on matters relating to the Comintern. From 1932 the British were reading Irish diplomatic code. During the war MI5 and G2 collaborated on German intelligence. There was a role for John Betjeman in the spreading of anti-Axis rumours. On the whole the constructive intelligence relationship with Dublin was used by the British intelligence people as a means of keeping Churchill's hostility to Ireland within bounds.
The post-war scene was dominated by anti-communism and the cold war. The British Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had no concern with Ireland before 1969, apart from a brief encounter in 1966 when they were taken for a ride by the RUC about an alleged IRA threat, which of course was non-existent; nothing happened, so they claimed credit for forstalling it!
There is a curious reference in the JIC record in this context to '..communist influence in the IRA... a professor at Trinity College who had a communist record..' but we are not told who he was, though the author says he knows, in a footnote. Why make a mystery of this? The person concerned has since been a respected minister in the South African government, who had spoken at the meeting which set up the NI Civil Rights Association. This ANC link seems however to have misled the military intelligence, who appear incorrectly as a consequence to have attributed a military aspect to the Marxist influence on the IRA. The latter, being largely mine, was totally political; the military influence lurking in the undergrowth with MacStiofain was right-wing elitist, rooted in his earlier EOKA contacts.
Then in June 1968 it seems the Ambassador Sir Andrew Gilchrist was placed under increased Garda protection. (This suggests that Irish intelligence had wind of proto-provisionalism in the republican woodwork, at a time when the leadership was actively pursuing a politicisation programme via the civil rights movement in the north.)
Gilchrist's contacts on the Irish network were General Collins-Powell (Collins' nephew was a prime contact during the Emergency), David Neligan (head of Special Branch) and Erskine Childers (then a minister in the government). Reports by Gilchrist to the JIC stessed the IRA move to the left, and identified the 'potential for disorder in the North' as being the IRA, Paisleyite ultra-Protestants and Trotshyite infiltration of the civil rights movement. The picture however is far from clear, as the papers of the Ulster Working Group, and its successor the Ulster Current Intelligence Group during this period remain closed, due no doubt to the ongoing 'dirty tricks' activity partially exposed by Stalker and others.
Gilchrist departed in March 1970, apparently in discredit with Whitehall; he had, it seems, evaluated the Haughey-Blaney-Boland episode by analogy with the Greek Colonels 'coup d'etat', which was perceptive, given the links between Mac Stiofain and EOKA. He was succeeded by John Peck, who apparently was unaware of the Crinnion-Littlejohns affair. This period is awash with unanswered questions, and dominated by the political effects of internal tensions in Fianna Fail.
A full elucidation of what happened in the 1970s remains to be done; it will require collaborative insights, not only as regards military but also political intelligence, from all relevant stakeholders. O'Halpin's contribution is to be welcomed as a starting point, but is far from definitive.
The remaining papers are not primarily of Irish interest, though interesting in their own right. We have Rose Mary Sheldon (Lexington VA) on the analogies between Trajan's Parthian adventure in 113 and Bush's Iraq adventure in 2003: the key lesson of both is of course that it is not enough to overrun a country, you have to arrange to rule it afterwards.
Kate O'Malley (Royal Irish Academy) writes on Indian political intelligence in the period leading up to the 1939 war; there were some Irish republican links. There is an obsession with the Comintern, but alas no insight into Jinnah and British influence on the partition process that led to Pakistan; this has been analysed in detail by Nehru's biographer MJ Akbar (Viking 1988). This again illustrates the danger of treating military intelligence in isolation from political.
Geoffrey Roberts writes on Stalin's intelligence and how he ignored it when it showed the danger of German invasion, and finally Robert McNamara, a Dublin civil servant with Maynooth connections, deals with British covert action against Nasser.
I am inclined to question the utility of this publication; it looks at a variety of problem domains from the rather blinkered and error-prone aspect of military intelligence, rather than at a single problem domain from a variety of clear perspectives, including political, economic, cultural, religious.
This also illustrates an ongoing problem with conference proceedings. To my mind it would make more sense to publish them as website hypertexts, and ensure that each paper is hotlinked into related papers elsewhere. The art of effective scholarly use of the Web remains to be developed in the humanities; it is beginning to be effective in the sciences.
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Copyright © 2007 Roy Johnston