Friday, 16 August 2013

Under Heavy Manners

This may be where I part company with Adam Curtis. Yes, espionage and counter-espionage is a game of shadows. Sometimes there may not be anything lurking there at all. There undoubtedly was a group of hard right paranoiacs in Mi5 who lost the plot in 1970s; I suspect they never really understood the Soviet Union very well.

But in Ireland (and against the left and the trade unions) the security services were not chasing anyone's tail. They understood the 'threat' all too well, and had it under surveillance, infiltrated, and neutralized by the late-1980s. And many people - guilty, compromised or innocent - were killed.

Shooting of Bernadette Devlin

Surveillance operations in South Armagh



Phil Knight said...

The unspoken truth though is that the IRA, NUM, SWP etc. were all full of people whose ultimate allegiance was to the British state, and were easy to turn.

They just didn't realise their allegiance (to the civil religion, ultimately) until they actually had to take real action against it.

Joe Gormley, who led the '72 miners strike, then spied on Scargill for Special Branch, is the paradigm example of this kind of character schism.

This is why I take the piss out of people like Shane MacGowan, Christy Moore etc. The loudest Irish Republicans are the classic "deep Brits".

William said...

Hmmm. Get the Joe Gormley example, but you mean Adams and McGuiness, deep down, didn't really want to break with the UK?

Phil Knight said...

Well, there have been rumours about McGuinness in particular for years - not that I'm qualified to pass judgement on them.

But the vast penetration of the IRA, TUC, Radical Left didn't rely only, or even mainly, on infiltration - more often than not disaffected members of these groups came to the security services.

What is intriguing in hindsight is how little counter-infiltation seems to have gone on. I'm quite surprised that the IRA didn't have any moles in the security services. Unless they were so good, we just don't know about them yet.....

William said...

Did you see this when it came? It was pretty good.

Phil Knight said...

Is that the Peter Taylor doco? If so, yes I did. It's good stuff, but even Taylor has been accused of being too close to the establishment, and not prodding too deeply (or being downright deceptive).

There was a good article in one of the Sunday papers a few years ago detailing how the security services picked up IRA informants. One method was to send a known IRA member a "prize" from a magazine that was a free holiday in Spain or somewhere.

When they claimed the prize and took the holiday, an English couple would befriend them in the hotel, and have their pictures taken with them. When they got back to NI, they would be picked up by Special Branch, told that the English couple were a pair of agents known to the IRA's internal security, and that if they didn't turn informant, the pictures would be sent to their IRA superiors.

Even committed freedom fighters can't resist a knocked-off holiday. Said it all to me, really.

Paul Hebron said...

It's pretty remarkable how as an event and as history Northern Ireland's sort of receded from the public imagination. There was complex stuff about at the time dealing with the conflict, but I can only think of a few things recently (that Bobby Sands biopic, Shadow Dancer).

Moving off the topic of Northern Ireland, what's not often commented is that what the security service mostly does today is act as the role of information broker. Obviously GCHQ has a lot of muscle in this regard, but Mark Curtis's book Secret Affairs shows how 5/6 rather than fighting Islamists are supporting them, building them up, and then handing them over to the Americans, Pakistanis, etc. From the stuff Edward Snowden released you can see how what the security services are really up to. Personally I have a suspicion that the security services aren't really that crucial or important, but that the sneaky stuff is all going on at the Foreign Office like it always has done.

Paul Hebron said...

One more thing:

A story that Adam Curtis misses out of this doc on mind control/suggestion The Trap is the part the British security services played road-testing a lot of these techniques on detainees. The American side of the story is much more well known, a bit more cinematic maybe with those echoes of the Manchurian Candidate.

Phil Knight said...

Well, a point that George Hansen makes in "The Trickster & The Paranormal" is that secret services are in the business of deception, and any organisation that is set up to deceive cannot do anything else but go rogue.

It's a crucial point to understand about these organisations - they are not built on a solid ground of truth, and so they can only manufacture, and become immersed in, a nebulous web of paranoia.

Hansen's book is mandatory reading btw., for anyone who wants to understand how our "reality" is constructed.