Some home truths about spying
by the editor
THE VERY nature of spying, the gathering of intelligence on opponents, whether personal, political, military or industrial, involves a peculiar mix of lies, treachery, deceit, boldness and courage.
How people feel about such activities and those who carry them out depends on their ideological persuasion and loyalties, and whether they believe a greater good can be achieved by such means.
However, as anyone who has read the novels of John Le Carré or who has even the most cursory knowledge of what state intelligence services get up to around the world, both internationally and within their own borders, will be able to tell you, everyone was at it.
They still are, and nowhere more so than in Northern Ireland, where the full range of police, military and specialist security resources were targeted at republicans following the IRA’s resumption of its armed struggle in the early 1970s.
Despite the end of this campaign, the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and the ongoing -- if faltering -- peace process, it is clear that little has changed.
This is evident from revelations about the bugging of a Sinn Fein car during sensitive negotiations in the peace process, the continuing presence of spy towers equipped with sophisticated listening equipment which monitor nationalist areas throughout the north, and frequently clumsy police attempts to recruit informers from vulnerable sections of the community.
The IRA may well be involved in intelligence gathering on one level or another, but then so is the British state and its supporters and a range of other parties involved in the conflict, not least of which are those representing the forces of loyalism and unionism.
Both have been frequent recipients of government and security leaks including, in the case of the loyalist death squads, the names addresses and photographs of nationalists and republicans.
Importantly, from the perspective of those interested in peace and justice in Ireland, even British security and intelligence sources do not believe that the IRA has any plans to resume its war.
You would hardly believe this given the media frenzy and political furore generated around allegations, as yet entirely unproven, of an IRA 'spy ring' at Stormont. Most conveniently, as with other developments, this provided a suitable backdrop against which, armed with the threat of withdrawing from the entire Good Friday process, the Ulster Unionist leader was able to test-drive his latest D-word demand -- IRA disbandment.
In a hard-hitting and perceptive contribution published in The Guardian in October, journalist and media campaigner Roy Greenslade pointed out that if republicans had spied on the government they had done so either for “political reasons or because they know that they are still under constant surveillance and are merely imitating the spooks”.
Greenslade went on to point out that the only explanation of how unionist politicians knew the exact details of the raid -- which he described as “a macabre joke, proving that the new police service is no different from the old one, making a laughing stock of fairness and equality”-- within minutes of it taking place was because they in turn had been passed the information by their contacts in the police and the Northern Ireland office.
The truth is that this sort of activity is endemic within what passes for political life in the north of Ireland and is unlikely to come to an end, or at least reach tolerable levels, until such time as peace and democracy based on full and unequivocal equality are secured and normal politics allowed to prevail.
The British government’s suspension of the Stormont assembly does nothing but hinder this process.
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