[Marxism] Behind the Donaldson case

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Jan 5 15:14:53 MST 2006

The following appeared at: http://lark.phoblacht.net/latestnews.html

Since one of Donal's tactics is to make out that any leftie in Ireland
who attacks the current course of the Provos is some kind of
petty-bourgeois who has never done anything, it should be noted that
this is the website of 'The Blanket' journal, a publication of left-wing
republicans, mainly ex-IRA members.  Unlike the current SF leadership
whom Donal worshipped, most of the comrades involved in 'The Blanket'
and its associated journal 'Fourthwrite' served lengthy prison terms for
republican activities.

Among the many articles on 'The Blanket' site worth reading is one by
Anthony MacIntyre ("Poison") at:

Anthony MacIntyre spent about 17 years in jail for IRA activities.

I think 'The Blanket' people's records also stack up more than
adequately against Donal's own modest efforts, since he seems intent on
comparing records in struggle.

Tom Luby * 23 December 2005

In an effort to minimise the damage that British agent Denis Donaldson
has wreaked on the Provisional movement, SinnFein apparatchik Jim Gibney
used a recent Irish News column to describe his former colleague turned
traitor as a mere "listening device" who never suggested an original
idea and was not close to Gerry Adams.

Donaldson, he went on, "was not part of the small group of people in the
national leadership of Sinn Fein who developed the peace process".

In other words Donaldson was on the fringe of the leadership and his
usefulness to the British lay not in steering the Provos towards peace
or whispering MI5-generated ideas into the Big Lad's ear but in picking
up the odd bits of gossip that would come his way and passing them on to
his handlers. A useful source in other words, but no Freddie Scapaticci.

Nice try, Jim, but not good enough! Common sense and a basic
understanding of spying tradecraft suggests that Donaldson was not a
"listening device" but rather a "checking device" whose job, amongst
other things, was to help confirm the accuracy of intelligence being
generated by more highly-placed agents inside the Provisionals'
decision-making bodies - very possibly in that "small group of people in
the national leadership of Sinn Fein who developed the peace process"
which is otherwise known as the Adams Think Tank.

Denis Donaldson was not, as Gibney correctly asserts, ever a member of
the Think Tank but in his position just below the Think Tank, as one of
its fixer, fetchers and carriers, he was in a perfect position to tell
his handlers about Think Tank decisions and policies that he had been
tasked, with others, to implement.

So, for example, when Donaldson was the IRA's representative in New York
his job was to carry out tasks and put in place policies and personnel,
or sideline them, as directed by the Think Tank, which had a direct say
over the Provisionals' direction in the United States. Donaldson was not
involved in formulating Think Tank policies but he could tell his
British handlers all about them and in the process confirm other
intelligence streaming into the offices of MI5 and the RUC Special

The importance of Donaldson's unmasking therefore lies not just in the
fact that he was a British spy for some two decades but that his
existence strongly suggests that there were other, more highly-placed
agents in the Provos and that these people most certainly would be able
to come up with "original" ideas, get close to Gerry Adams, whisper into
his ear and help steer the Provos towards the peace process.

It goes without saying that agencies like MI5 and the RUC/PSNI Special
Branch try to recruit multiple spies when targetting a particular branch
of their enemy's organisation and the reason for that is to remove as
much uncertainty as possible about the intelligence being passed on.

Where this is not possible the consequence is often paranoia, distrust
and division. In the 1960's the CIA's counter-intelligence division was
almost destroyed by its chief, James Jesus Angleton who came to regard
every Soviet spy working for the CIA as a potential double agent.
Angleton's problem was that the CIA had so few human agents inside the
KGB that it was unable to check the authenticity and reliability of the
assets it did have. Knowing this the KGB sent over the odd false
defector to muddy the waters and soon Angleton's counter-intelligence
division was paralysed by doubt, unable to trust any of the CIA's

Angleton's fate is the nightmare of every spy agency but for MI5 and the
RUC/PSNI Special Branch there has been no such problem with the
Provisionals. Thanks in part to the doctrine of the long war and the
fact that many IRA volunteers served more than one term of imprisonment
a large reservoir of vulnerable, potential agents was at the disposal of
the British.

The evidence that the British were able to recruit multiple agents in
whichever part of the IRA was being targetted comes from the story of
the IRA's most sensitive section, its security or counter-intelligence
department. The security department had unprecedented powers thanks to
its mandate to root out informers. It was allowed access to every part
of the IRA and investigated every operation that went wrong. No-one knew
as much about the IRA as its security department and it was therefore
the prime target for British intelligence.

There were at least two known informers inside the security department -
Brendan Davison and Freddie Scapaticci - and there are very strong
suggestions that its head was also working for the British. Whatever,
the fact is that the British had a number of well-placed agents inside
the IRA's most sensitive section, who could tell their handlers almost
everything there was to know about the IRA and lead the British to
scores of other vulnerable recruits - and the British could use each of
them to check the reliability of the others and the accuracy of their

Common sense suggests that a very similar situation probably existed
with Denis Donaldson and that apart from whatever information he was
able to pass on, his real value lay in his ability to verify and confirm
intelligence coming from other, higher sources.

It is this aspect of the affair that has made the Donaldson saga such a
nightmarish ordeal for the Adams' leadership for it could well mean that
there are other real and undiscovered "agents of influence" in the
Provisionals' upper reaches.

It was of course the job of the IRA's security department to root out
people like Donaldson but thanks to the fact that almost the entire
security department was working for MI5, the RUC/PSNI Special Branch or
British military intelligence that was never going to happen. Which
raises another question, perhaps the most important one of all. Why were
the same people allowed to run the security department for years on end?
Why weren't they replaced at regular intervals so as to minimise the
damage just in case some turned out to be British agents? Why was this
elemental rule of counter intelligence flouted?

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