In October of 1989 Britain’s left-leaning current affairs magazine, the New Statesman, published a four-page exclusive revealing the successful penetration of the espionage and counter-insurgency operations of the United Kingdom in western Europe by the Intelligence Department of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. Written by the investigative journalist, Duncan Campbell, the article gave an overview of a number of key documents leaked to the reporter by the insurgents detailing the activities of Britain’s Security Service (SS or MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) and several other related bodies.
At the time of the leak, (P)IRA was engaged in a sustained offensive against known or suspected British military personnel and installations in Germany and the Netherlands. Several of these operations resulted in collateral civilian casualties, including the deaths of two Australians tourists, Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose, a German national, Heidi Hazell, and the young daughter of a British soldier, Nivruti Islania. These murders, however unintended, rightly caused widespread revulsion and inflicted considerable damage to the movement’s public image on the Continent. A noticeable reduction in support and sympathy in Europe, coupled with the loss of volunteers and equipment to the German and Dutch security services, caused the campaign to peter out within eighteen months.
Below are some key extracts from Campbell’s original article, “Carry on spying – and dying?“:
“The leak of MI5 documents to the IRA is the biggest security disaster in the 20-year-war with the Provos.
Exactly one year from the moment that Douglas Hurd imposed the broadcast ban on Sinn Fein, the Republican movement has scored its biggest ever propaganda coup against the British government. The leaked documents describing British intelligence operations in West Germany – code-named WARD and SCREAM – are as catastrophic a failure of British intelligence as was Kim Philby’s defection to Moscow a generation ago.
Even before the revelations in the Sinn Fein organ, Republican News, there was mounting evidence that the IRA’s recent terror campaign in West Germany had been conducted with remarkable and unacceptable freedom from interference by British and German security and anti-terrorist units. The campaign began in March 1987 with a huge 300lb car bomb attack on Rheindahlen, home of the British Services Security Organisation (BSSO) in West Germany.
Since then, five servicemen and the West German wife of a British soldier have been killed. Until a few days ago, no-one had been arrested for any of these offences and there were no clues as to the identity of the bombers. These security failures are strong evidence that the IRA may have played the counter-intelligence game themselves – and won, by turning agents back against the British.
The IRA leak is thus the beginning of a long nightmare for BSSO, the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Cabinet Office intelligence staff. It is apparent that the files leaked to the IRA from the offices of BSSO, which is a joint MI5/Ministry of Defence organisation.
It must be assumed that the IRA has had possession of these and other documents for much of the last five years. They are likely to have been used to “turn back” the organisations and operations described against the British army and its security measures. The fact that some of those named as useful to MI6 are understood now to be alive and well and living peacefully in a large southern Irish town strongly suggests that they have won the favour and protection of the Provisionals.
The Operation WARD documents appear to have been taken from file S/16173/4 at BSSO
headquarters in Rheindahlen. BSSO liaises with MI5 in London, and with MI6 and MI5 officers at the British Embassy in Bonn. BSSO also has a major liaison branch in Cologne which works with the German security organisation, the Bundesamt fur Verfassungschutz (BfV)… There is an important BSSO branch in Berlin, where BSSO and SIS run extensive surveillance operations, including telephone-tapping.
The documents also reveal that British security organisations were able to produce no worthwhile intelligence or security information whatever. They were continually at war with each other.
No-one yet knows what other information has leaked. But many of the documents refer to “annexes” of further information, which appear to include details of the agents used in WARD and SCREAM. It is more likely that the IRA are selectively releasing information than that they only obtained parts of a complete document. So how much has actually leaked? “Until they (MI5 leak investigators) know the answer to that question,” says one experienced intelligence officer who has seen the documents, “all the Army’s current activities are at risk.” It’s worse than that. Lives are at risk too. And there is real damage to Anglo-German relations – they refer to German operations too.
It must now be assumed that every British agent, every security and intelligence operation in Germany and perhaps further afield, is at risk from the WARD disclosures and the opportunity they gave the IRA to penetrate British intelligence activities with their own double agents. With one blow, an entire British security apparatus has been turned, potentially, into what the trade normally calls a “negative asset”.
As I have noted previously, it is important to compare the reality of the Long War, the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and its British equivalents, with the myths that have been propagated since its end. Especially when it comes to the intelligence struggle waged by both sides.