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Dublin Opinion >>
"I believe that spies, the security services, in the world generally, are becoming increasingly powerful and that our civil liberties are being eroded." Justin Keating.
This article is an attempt to put flesh on those bones. I attempt to list some of those agencies active in Ireland, to list some of the powers they can and do use to make life difficult for those that cross them and to look at some of the technology they have access to. I put in two appendices too that hopefully show the controlling role of those agencies in Irish paramilitary groups and some international comparisons to this type of intelligence agency support for 'terrorist' groups that they are ostensibly opposing. An Orwellian island in an Orwellian world!
Intelligence Agencies in Ireland
I guess I could start with MI6. It is said to have had a leading role in politics in both parts of Ireland during the early years of the troubles and it appears to have continued this role behind the scenes. (1) I have got most of these references from Phoenix magazine in Dublin, Ireland's answer to private eye and we would be very much in the dark as to these agencies if that magazine wasn't around. This is an account from the magazine of Jan 14 1994 referring to some 'close liaison' between Martin McGuiness and Michael Oatley of MI6 :
"the manager in fact of private investigators with offices in Saville Row [Kroll Associates.]. He first met McGuiness in 1972 in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea , when he was a high-flyer at MI6 headquarters in Century House. A year later he became second in command at British Secret Service (MI6) headquarters in Northern Ireland at Laneside, Craigavad.
Since then , McGuiness and Oatley have got together regularly over the years in secret, and at one time (during the 1981 hunger strike) met on an almost daily basis. More recently, Oatley and McGuinness met in Donegal in 1990. It was that meeting which sparked the ongoing peace process of the Hume-Adams talks, a Downing Street declaration, and speculation about a peace deal.
Officially, Oatley retired as a Controller (one of the highest ranks in the Secret Service) in 1991 on reaching the age of 56. However, never a man to let friendships die, he kept in regular contact with Martin - with consequences which we are now reading about.
When historians peruse British archives relating to Irish events, they may find that the codename MOUNTAIN CLIMBER keeps cropping up in connection with the Hume-Adams talks and subsequent events. MOUNTAIN CLIMBER is the house name in the Secret Service for Michael Oatley."(2)
MI6 in particular are said to be quite fond of privatising out some of their more sensitive operations to private security firms. (3) Kroll Associates is a private security firm with an incredible international reach.(4) It is called in by many governments and large corporations to get them out of whatever security problem they are faced with. For example last year Abbey National the big UK financial house had a problem in that a whistle blower was distributing a letter which detailed some 'conspiracy theory' involving their treasury department. So they called in Kroll and now they no longer have that problem. Not since the suggested source of the leak took a dive from the 5th floor balcony of their London HQ while being interviewed by Kroll.(5)
Then there is obviously MI5 which is the main agency seeking to micromanage the political life of the UK. It recruited 25 agents for example to infiltrate the very small Socialist Workers Party.(6) Tony Benn once said that if a British citizen wrote two letters to his local paper complaining about parking spaces that MI5 would open a file on him/her. (7) It is also said that they have a file on any person who goes up for local or national election.(8) Also "it is common knowledge amongst journalists that MI5 has a very close relationship with London’s Fleet Street hacks. The Security Service has at least two agents working in every major newspaper office." (9) Here is an account from the Phoenix on MI5 in the Republic:
"[Gardai] discovered an extensive MI5 operation which had been set up from London. MI5 activities in the Republic are normally run from either Belfast, covering the Border counties, or from the British Embassy - or 'station' as it is called by its agents - in Ballsbridge. Such is the scale and significance of the current operation however, that it is being run from London, with the Merrion Road station being unaware even of its existence. Areas in which the Branch have detected MI5 activity include Dublin, Limerick, Offaly, Wicklow, Meath and Galway.
Other MI5 teams that the Branch have uncovered include a couple masquerading as husband and wife who bought an expensive house in Dublin 4. Another team has operated from Stillorgan, both with employment in the Dublin area. Other operatives have been monitored working for a private security firm in the Dublin 2 area. All are described as extremely intelligent, with 'good' accents, and are usually, but not exclusively, drawn from Britain and Northern Ireland. They tend to present themselves as business people with highly qualified technical credentials, often in the computer industry.
MI5 targets in this campaign are widespread; some are obvious - ie, Sinn Fein and the IRA - while others are more alarming, according to the Branch, who believe they have targeted the business and political community. They have even forged links with some of Dublin's top criminals, a development which has caused equal consternation among the IRA and Branch alike.
In the past MI5 have successfully placed agents in the Provos, and, according to garda sources, have recruited one well-known former Sinn Fein leader in a Border county. The current operation has netted several more, including at least four direct agents now working for them inside the Provos in the South. One of their tasks is to promote divisive political issues inside Sinn Fein. The method of contact and recruitment is often unsubtle, with direct approaches being made to Provo members from people describing themselves variously as journalists offering "expenses" for assistance in researching articles about Sinn Fein. Goldhawk has possession of letters from bogus British-based media agencies offering such inducements to Dublin Republicans.
One intriguing aspect of the operation is that MI5 is not confining itself to the Provos. Anybody with political, military or commercial influence is regarded as a desirable target for their agents, and the area they have had most success in penetrating is the business community.
Most intriguing of all, however, is that MI5 have even descended to fraternising with top Dublin criminals. The Branch monitored one meeting between MI5 agents and a known drugs dealer from north County Dublin at a hotel near the airport, and believe that the drugs dealer was relaying information about IRA members. The suspicion is that the arrests of various Dublin criminals and their couriers in England has led to such contacts and the vulnerability of the criminals to such approaches. MI5 is known to engage extensively with criminals in Britain as part of their intelligence gathering activities there. Both the IRA and the Branch are especially nervous at this strange coalition between Dub crims and Brit spooks."(10)
Of course one reason to target the business community is that it could operate as a cut out mechanism in their attempts to influence Irish politics. What I mean is that they can use a business person to bribe a politician say and the hand of MI5 behind the bribe will not be readily visible. MI5 have clearly a big Irish presence and even on the appointment of Manningham Buller as the Director they recruited another 200 agents to work on Irish affairs.(11)
Then there are a number of references to the big American agencies in Ireland. The CIA is possibly the most famous of those groups and the one with the most power internationally. In the New York Times in 1977 it was reported by John Crewdson that they controlled:
"at least one newspaper in every foreign capital at any given time,” one C.I.A. man said, and those that the agency did not own outright or subsidize heavily it infiltrated with paid agents or staff officers who could have stories printed that were useful to the agency and not print those it found detrimental.
In fact, the CIA’s influence in the international media was probably much greater than its influence in the U.S. This was because the CIA was prohibited by law from certain actions in the U.S., whereas it was relatively unrestrained outside the country." (12)
Victor Marchetti the CIA dissident showed their influence on the Italian Secret Services :
"They are trained, for example, to confront disorders and student demonstrations, to prepare dossiers, to make the best possible use of bank data and tax returns of individual citizens, etc. In other words, to watch over the population of their country with the means offered by technology. This is what I call techno-fascism." (13)
It is rumoured that concern to cover up garda CIA links is behind the delay in investigating the issue of garda collusion in the death of the RUC officers Breen and Buchanan, from Phoenix again:
"It is from here [the Dundalk garda question] that the story of CIA-Garda cooperation is likely to emerge if the man against whom allegations in relation to Breen and Buchanan is asked under oath, and in public, to recall his life and times in the Special Branch."(14)
It is presumably this CIA-Garda Special Branch connection that the magazine is referring to when it hints at garda involvement in the Equatorial Guinea coup affair.(15) Its also rumoured that many intelligence forms have gone missing that detail this corrupt relationship between the CIA and garda Special Branch. The affair includes over 100 Irish passports given to the CIA.(16)
As regards the FBI most senior officers in the gardai have been trained with them (17) This has doubtless lead to a close relationship between the two groups, there is one reference for example to a garda security audit of Shannon airport "arranged by their friends in the FBI on a nod and wink basis."(18)
There are also two British intelligence agencies which operate exclusively in Ireland North and South. One of them is called the 14th Intelligence Company, closely associated with the SAS it has about 150 members :
" The 14th Intelligence and Security company, known to it's secretive members as 'The Det' (short for Detachment, another cover name) is still part of the group of ad hoc units involved in various dirty tricks on both sides of the border. The Det's speciality is covert methods of entry, bugging and unattributable killings. Like the now better known FRU it is an "all arms" group which is British military terminology for a unit which draws members from naval, air force or army personnel." (19)
It is considered: " The oldest Dirty Tricks British army unit in the North"...."The Det was the most political formation in the British forces because of its unique chain of command and control....rested ....with the Director of Special Forces who reported direct to Downing Street."(20)
Finally there is the now famous Force Research Unit which is an outcrop of the British army's Intelligence Corps and was said to have been founded about 1979. Surely the one killing that created the most public outrage in the Republic during the troubles was the death of Tom Oliver in Omeath in 1991. But what the local people didn't at the time realise was the extent and power of these intelligence agencies behind the scenes, and the close cooperative relationship they have with all the Irish paramilitary groups.(21) What we now know is that it was one FRU agent that caught Oliver, by putting a bug in a public phone box, and another FRU agent that tortured and killed him to death.(22) Here are a few references to the FRU and its leader Colonel Kerr:
" Brigadier Kerr was head of the hush-hush Force Research Unit (FRU), an ad hoc military intelligence formation set up shortly after Mrs Thatcher's election as British premier in 1979. One of the aims of the FRU was to defeat the IRA by implementing a counter-terror strategy, ie intimidating the Catholic population into withholding support for republicanism.
Having armed them with clandestine weapons smuggled from South Africa, details of which are contained in the Stevens report, the FRU used loyalist agents to murder many non-involved nationalists, including high-profile Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane.
[General Sir Frank] Kitson has given for posterity a body of written work explaining how local agents (called indigenous forces in his magnum opus, Low Intensity Operations) had been used in Kenya, Cyprus and South Yemen to terrify rebel sympathisers.
Kerr became involved in counter-terror operations in 1972 when he joined the ad hoc covert operations group, the Military Reaction Force (MRF) as a captain, serving under the 39th Brigade commander, the then brigadier, Frank Kitson.
Later, when Mrs Thatcher personally organised British military as well as political strategy in Ireland after the IRA hunger strikes, Kerr, promoted to lieutenant colonel, took command of the counter terror group, subsequently renamed and reorganised as the Force Research Unit. Like another controversial colonel, Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame, Kerr was moving in high political circles, outside the normal military chain of command. Mrs Thatcher visited his secret unit headquarters at Lisburn (time and date noted in the unpublished bit of the Stevens report) to speak to him about his work and shake the hands of his operatives at an informal party from which other military officers, including those senior to Kerr, were excluded, according to the pseudonymous FRU non-commissioned officer, Martin Ingram. Among Tory honchos who had personal knowledge of Kerr and his secret unit were Tom King, then Northern Secretary, and Douglas Hogg, reportedly interviewed recently by Sir John Stevens about the Finucane assassination and related MRF activities.
All of this has huge implications for modern Irish history and for contemporary politics in London. In the first place, the British-inspired spin (embraced by the Dublin chattering classes and peddled by the media for 30 years) that the noble British were standing as peacekeepers between two tribal factions engaged in an incomprehensible religious war has been revealed for the myth that it is. British spies, with the approval, or possibly on the direction of at least some political leaders, were running a campaign of sectarian assassination since the days of Edward Heath, the Downing Street incumbent when the first dirty tricks unit, Kitson's MRF, was set up."
As regards domestic agencies it has been stated that Special Branch, 'controls' Garda HQ (24) and that the practises of the secret police dominate the actions of the gardai. This is seen in the use of slander for example. From the Phoenix at the time of the succession to Commissioner Byrne:
" In the conspiratorial world of political policing, anonymous tip-offs, mysterious alliances and byzantine plots are the stock-in-trade. The choice of recipients of leaks is interesting. In the normal course of events, a smear campaign against a politician or a subversive would be given verbally to a selected journalist who would run the story but this cannot be done when the smear stories are about litigatious senior garda officers. Instead, the anonymous scribes have targeted politicians and lawyers in the hope that their gossip might eventually reach ministerial ears."(25)
Most of the garda Commissioners since the 70s have come from this world of 'political policing' this is a description of former Commissioner Byrne as one example:
"Byrne's line of business has been hush-hush operators in an elite cadre of detectives who have, because of their unique security responsibilities, a particular insight into the inner workings of the state and the modus operandi of politicians." [and in reference to the US plane immobilised at Shannon:] "The deflection of criticism onto politicians, who had assumed security could be safely left to the commissioner and garda intelligence experts, has shown yet again Byrne's talent for media manipulation."(26)
It is perfectly obvious to this observer anyway that the gardai have a controlling interest in large sections of the Irish media. This is much more so than any Irish politician or party as far as I can see. For example while allowing for the genuine grief of the McCabe family you cannot help wondering if no other person had been killed as a result of the troubles in the last 10 years except Garda McCabe. Certainly the countless Catholics killed North and South at the hands of what we now know to be the British governments proxy armies don't seem to interest the Irish media very much.
It is also said RUC Special Branch was very powerful "through its control of certain sections of the media". The Phoenix specifically alleges this in regard to the local offices of the BBC and the Sunday Times.(27)
No doubt Irish politicians are very concious of this power in the hands of the secret police North and South and is careful not to cut across it. With reference to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings it is said that "Fianna Fail is scared of certain senior gardai who are most averse to public scrutiny of the force's negligence in 1974 as well as the subsequent disappearance of files on the enquiry from garda stations."(28)
Torture figures largely as well in the revelations that have emerged from Donegal and elsewhere. The three women mentioned in the McGlinchey case were all assaulted by the gardai: Adrienne repeatedly by her 'handler' ; Yvonne Devine her friend had to be hospitalised after being held in a garda station and during which time Adrienne could hear her screams from the neighbouring room; and Karen McGlinchey was assaulted by a number of men wearing balaclavas who raided her house and seized documents which were later found to be in the possession of the gardai.(29) In the McBrearty case garda White remembers hearing the screams of Frank McBrearty junior when he was detained in the garda station.(30) Roisin McConnell arrested as part of that case "claimed to have been beaten, told she would lose her infant child, forced to pray for forgiveness and subjected to psychological torture that led to her being hospitalised in a psychiatric institution. She remains deeply traumatised."(31) Even in the Abbeylara scandal it was revealed that John Carthy was also afraid of the gardai because he had been beaten up in Granard garda station.(32) The death of John O'Shea in Kerry, shortly after being released from garda custody, has also caused disquiet. (33) Meanwhile the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture is on the Irish authorities case because of "compelling evidence of brutality to prisoners."(34) In the North of course the practise of torture has been so widespread that in international military training manuals they teach the 'Ulster techniques'.(35)
Before the Mayday protests in Dublin in 2004 a number of anti war activists were followed around by Garda Special Branch as they attempted to hand out leaflets in a Dublin estate. As recorded here on indymedia :
"The scene attracted some local kids who hung around the guards as we headed off. Afterwards they caught up with us and said they had heard one of the cops saying he'd check with the council to see if they could find some by-lay against leafleting!"(36)
Of course this is no big deal but the fact is that it is symptomatic of the thinking of western intelligence and police agencies. Their instinct is to look for any state rule or regulation that they can then use to harass groups or people that they want to oppress. Clearly the point is that nobody can raise the cry of a police state or political oppression because of course the intelligence agencies stay in the background. So in any future court proceedings that those protesters would face the judges and the media are not going to entertain 'conspiracy theories' about state harassment all they will say is that the law is the law and everybody has to abide by it blah blah blah!lol. So in order to see what powers those agencies have in a western country it is more instructive to look at the kind of arbitrary laws and state powers that are out there that they can manipulate rather than looking at specific anti-dissident or anti-protester legislation.
A simple example is that the local authorities in Ireland have introduced some 'anti-litter' regulations about postering and leafleting that of course seem necessary and don't attract much disquiet in the media. But in fact have then been used in a very heavy handed fashion against protesters and small parties to such a degree that its pretty clear that that was who they were aiming the legislation at. After all with such an at times controlled and manipulated media the simple ruse of using posters is arguably the only way of getting one's point across.(37)
Driving completely legally in Ireland is well nigh impossible if all the rules and regulations are applied strictly. Regulations like car insurance are also almost impossibly expensive for some categories of driver. So for example Eoin Rice who is being harassed as a protester has been jailed repeatedly but always for alleged offences that the media and judges would not describe as interfering with free speech which is how Eoin sees it. This includes being arrested for dangerous driving while actually asleep in his car. He was arrested 10 times in 9 months in 2003 for these kind of spurious charges which frequently accompany serious beatings and the gardai are quite open with him about the real reason for these arrests and assaults :
"But seriously, officers up to the rank of Superintendant have told me quite candidly in 2003 that I will be arrested until such times as I learn to be "careful about what you say"."(38)
The laws relating to public houses and night clubs seem incredibly onerous nowadays and it would strike you as virtually impossible for an owner of such an establishment to stay in business very long unless he formed a close 'relationship' with the gardai. These include serious laws on opening hours, the age of patrons, even children accompanied by adults etc. They have been described by a former justice minister as the 'most draconian laws in europe'.(39) In fact gardai now enter public houses and will prosecute the owners for 1,500 euro if they find anybody drunk there.(40) The McBrearty and Shortt families in Donegal claim that the gardai used these kinds of laws to harass them. It was revealed a short while ago on the Late Late Show that Frank McBrearty senior believes this was caused to the two families because he and the Shortt family refused to pay protection money to the gardai.(41) Here is an account of the case by Senator Jim Higgins of FG :
"The tribunal may be called the Morris tribunal but to the ordinary citizen and in the public's perception it is the McBrearty tribunal. It is about the manner in which the State deliberately set out to accuse Frank McBrearty junior and his cousin, Mark McConnell, of a murder they never committed. It is about the State's vendetta against them and their licensed premises by bringing more than 160 liquor licensing charges against them, hauling them before court after court only to have each charge subsequently withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions but, as a consequence, wrecking their business. It is about the emotional trauma and torture visited by the State on an innocent family which has been left with psychological scars that will never be erased. It is about the truth and whether the State, having wrongfully slandered, victimised and destroyed the McBrearty family, is now prepared to grant them the level of legal representation to which they are clearly and constitutionally entitled in order to establish who was responsible for what happened and the reason such a despicable and evil plot was contrived and persisted with."(42)
Of course one of the points to be made in general about charges made against ordinary people is that unless they are very wealthy they aren't likely to be able to afford to keep up legal proceedings against a state body and in these circumstances probably will never find justice.(43) This is exemplified by the story of those that have taken court cases against the gardai. Phoenix magazine revealed in March this year that there are some 750 cases pending against the gardai in the High Courts and Circuit Courts alleging things like "wrongful arrest, harassment, and personal injuries resulting from garda assaults against civilians"(44). Of the cases settled so far this year no admission of liability was conceded and the compensation awards ranged from 250 euro to 6,000 euro. On the other hand there are also c.1,500 civil actions being taken by members of the gardai against the state alleging things like 'personal trauma' incurred while on duty. The average payout there is running this year at 65,000 euro per garda.
The McBrearty case also highlights the heavy use of slander by the intelligence agencies. In that case Garda Special Branch even went to the trouble of getting leaflets printed to be distributed in the local area slandering that family.(45)
The tax system is clearly another arm of the state that can be used against dissidents. It doesn't help either if the general public are conditioned to react with horror when even a minor lapse of the hugely complex tax laws are committed by someone. For example Michael Lowry was drummed out of Fine Gael very fast on the grounds that he had not declared in tax improvements that had been made to his house by builders working for Ben Dunne who owed him money as part of Lowry's refrigeration business. He disputed the value that Ben Dunne placed on those improvements and in the meantime he obviously felt he shouldn't declare it in tax until such time as a proper figure for the work done was agreed. Bear in mind that some people spend many years trying to understand Irish tax law which gets more complex every year and not every small business man should be assumed to know all the ins and outs of it. It seems to me not that amazing a decision on Lowry's part. Just before his downfall over this tax thing Michael Lowry felt he was under surveillance by some parties who were concerned to stop his attempts at rooting out corruption in the semi-state sector.(46)
Now we have very draconian laws on tax collection implemented by the Criminal Assets Bureau who basically have the power to take every penny off you and then compel you to go to court to try to prove your innocence in accounting for how you earned the money. In theory this was only supposed to be used on big drug dealers but in fact the CAB have been involved in most of the major political controversies of the last few years. They scrutinised the affairs of people like the farmer blamed for bringing in the Foot and Mouth(47) disease to Louth and Ray Burke and neither seem to meet the definition of the wealthy drug smugglers that everybody thought would be the only targets of the CAB. In the case of George Redmond the CAB intervened and held him for a while refusing the Flood Tribunal access to his documents which were only handed over eventually "after a rather bitter struggle" by the Tribunal against the CAB.(48) The Kelly family in Limerick clearly feel that the CAB work in concert with garda harassment.(49)
The CAB was introduced in the wake of the Veronica Guerin murder which was attributed to a cannabis drug smuggling gang led by John Gilligan. The national media at the time just hours after the killing were clearly fingering Gilligan presumably on the basis of garda reports. Now it transpires that Gilligan and the other supposed leading players in the murder have been acquitted of the killing. They have though faced long jail sentences for other offences: Gilligan got 20 years for cannabis smuggling and has also been sentenced to another 5 years for supposedly threatening prison officers and Paul Ward got 12 years for his part in a riot in Mountjoy which was much longer than any other person involved in the riot. Meanwhile informed commentary, including writings by Veronica's brother Jimmy, seem to point to Charles Bowden as the assassin. He is a former top Irish army marksman who received a secret lucrative deal from the Department of Justice for his part in the killing.(50) There are also numerous reports of various figures involved being informants or agents of the gardai. In fact Jimmy Guerin has stated that John Gilligan was working with the gardai during the time when he allegedly became one of Ireland's largest cannabis dealers.(51) So anyway the six million dollar question is who did then kill Veronica Guerin ? Presumably she was getting too close to understanding how the drug trade in Ireland really works. Whomever were involved had to be powerful enough to direct the media to follow the Gilligan red herring and doubtless were also in a position to assist Charles Bowden.
The drug trade in general is another example of draconian legislation that could be used to blackmail people facing drugs charges. That blackmail is used by the gardai has been established by Karen McGlinchy who has pointed out that a garda under oath at the Morris tribunal admitted that they used the threat of a conviction to pressurise Adrienne McGlinchy (52) while Martin Ingram in his book has stated that blackmail of this sort is the stock in trade of the RUC Special Branch.(53) Michael Tanner who was recently convicted for 15 years for trading cannabis has claimed "he was set up by the gardai ".(54) Somebody has been leaking some really interesting information on this subject to the Phoenix:
"Indeed, there have been many signs that a cosy relationship exists between particular detectives and clever criminals.
The upper crust of the drugs world claim that certain gardai operate what is known as the TOS (Three-in-One System). This allows a drug- or cigarette-smuggling informant to run two loads in without interference, while the third is seized by agreement. This is a simple explanation of what is a complex and variable arrangement where "controlled shipments" are allowed into the State in return for intelligence. The dangers for corruption in this secret-deal system are obvious, but it remains in place despite [Assistant Commissioner Gerry] Hickey's new rules. The only threat to it so far has been vigilant Customs officers who are not in on the scheme - and who occasionally stumble on "controlled" importations, with embarrassing results for gardai -............
Some TOS gougers went on to greater rewards in 2004.....[goes on to describe two big drug importers in Spain with close and continuing garda links.] "(55)
There are further details on this in Phoenix Sept 13 2002 where it is described how a former senior IRA man now in Amsterdam imports large amounts of drugs into Ireland, through Wexford, drawing on a close relationship with the gardai and who makes arrangements for the latter to seize a small proportion of the shipments and prosecute "only one or two small time operators" to make them look good. It works the same as the Spanish operation according to the Phoenix.(56) Declan Griffin who was shot dead in a contract style killing in 2003 had won a court case showing that drugs he was found with at Dublin airport were imported with the full assistance of the garda authorities. Journalists who tried to figure out this drug-garda connection have been threatened with jail if they don't hand over notes they made about the case and customs officers found their files on the subject went missing.(57) Sean Dunne who has gone missing in Spain in 2004 is described by Phoenix as being a similar case. Information that the CAB had on him "regularly got into the wrong hands" presumably the magazine means the information was used by the potential assassins that shot him 7 times in Ratoath Co.Meath.(58)
In any case returning to my theme of arbitrary state powers there is also the planning laws and building regulations which again are severely enforced especially in the rural ring around Dublin. In fact many small businesses or local people trying to build housing feel it is impossible to get planning permission unless they cosy up to some 'golden circle' that seem to have no such problems. If they aren't on this inside track they are treated to endless 'bureaucratic' delays and harassment. For example a common reason for refusing permission is to claim that the local road is in too bad a repair to support the extra traffic of a house. The local road of course would also be under the management of the council who then refuse to repair it !(59) In the media the powers that be like to characterise these problems as been caused by environmentalists like An Taisce but in fact only a minuscule number of planning applications are objected by that body or by any other party on environmental grounds. Here is Dr. Ciaran Parker talking about this in Cavan:
"As for the majority of people around here, they are far from bad; they are often just afraid. They are horrified at what happens. This fear has been deliberately engendered by the 'powerful' people, the ones who make decisions, through whose greasy, grubby little hands money passes. These people are miserable cowards, but the 'good people' around here know that if they object they run the risk of being victimised. If they apply for planning permission it will be turned down, or delayed while a litany of technicalities are satisfied. They may well be visited by the Fire Officer, and officials will examine the obligatory notices in person and in microscopic detail."(60)
Incredible as it seems it appears even that the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell is himself being faced with what looks like politically inspired harassment of this type with respect to his holiday home in Roscommon. It is supposed to have been built two metres lower than proposed and for that aberration a poorer person, building the house on a high mortgage for example, could easily be bankrupted.(61) We get a running commentary in Phoenix about the gardai harassing McDowell because of some pretty minor changes he is thinking of introducing. Meaning the gardai it is stated that:
"McDowell is no-one's fool when it comes to knowing how and by whom the media has been manipulated."(62)
"His [McDowell's] unpopularity with some sections of the media has been exploited ruthlessly by the hidden hands in the Phoenix Park who have been quick to leak information which shows him an autocrat and a man driven by personal ambition. His bruising row with a tabloid-Garda Siochana alliance....."(63)
There are plenty of other arbitrary state laws and regulations that can be rolled out to hit people if necessary. Health and Safety legislation seems to be used against some businesses in a very arbitrary fashion for example. Even fire regulations could be used. A leaked document prepared by a police intelligence unit in England dedicated to 'monitoring' New Age travellers and rave party goers made the claim that "fire services were useful in producing prohibition notices".(64) Which means doubtless that the police were secretly working behind the scenes in getting the 'fire services' to issue those notices. One activist arrested before the Mayday protests in Dublin 2004 was arrested on a charge of trespassing. That charge is so arbitrary the gardai in court never even presented evidence from the property owner. In fact they didn't even know who was the property owner.(65) More protesters arrested at that time were falsely charged with loitering and being drunk and disorderly.(66)
The new ASBO laws now in force in the North and soon to be so down here are also incredibly arbitrary and of course are used against political 'undesirables'.(67) The ASBO is granted under civil law so normal criminal standards of proof are not necessary but if you break the Order, and 40 per cent of people affected do, then you go to jail as a criminal. It is this legal mousetrap effect that has led to so many people being jailed under this legislation :
"Asbos also deny people the right to have a jury hear the evidence and decide on guilt or innocence. They also allow hearsay or gossip to be given in evidence. In these circumstances the police know that the local magistrate is likely to grant an order. Only 3% of applications for Asbos have been refused. The result is imprisonment for votes. It is a national scandal that as a result of Asbos 10 young people a week are being jailed, and that beggars and prostitutes are being imprisoned even though begging and prostitution are non-imprisonable offences." (68)
Family law is another area where there is an array of incredibly arbitrary state powers which are exercised in Ireland in conditions of great secrecy. There is plenty of evidence that this has fostered an atmosphere of false allegations and legal abuses that the parties cannot remedy because they are prevented from suing their legal representatives due to the in camera rule.(69) In the US the family courts have been used against dissidents. The CIA whistle blower Michael Riconosciuto was threatened with this when he revealed details of CIA corruption, from his affidavit:
"Videnieks [of the US Justice Department] forecasted an immediate and favorable resolution of a protracted child custody dispute being prosecuted against my wife by her former husband, if I were to decide not to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee investigation."(70)
It is also reported that some bizarre twists of family law were used against Rodney Stich to curtail his dissident activities.(71) It has been alleged as well that Mark Harris has been jailed for family law offences (seeing his children etc) because he campaigned against injustices in the English courts.(72)
There is one fascinating example from the farming community of the power of some state bodies. Farmers frustrated at the fact that so much of the EU money goes to line the pockets of an oligopoly in the food processing industry demanded that the powers and resources of the Competition Authority be improved to tackle the situation.(73) So the government obliged giving extra powers and manpower to that body. Then in a classic Orwellian manoeuvre the Authority turned around and used those powers against the farmers. Now every time the farmers protest at the low income they get in dairy (74) or beef (75) or cereals (76) the Competition Authority turns up to harass them, demanding photographs of people on the protests and threatening to or taking prosecutions against them. The theory is that the farmers in protesting are gathering together in an anti-competitive manner to influence prices. This is despite the fact that those arrested would represent a tiny percentage of the overall market in that produce and are only protesting in the same way that trade unions seek higher wages.(77) Meanwhile the investigation into the processing industry seems to have been forgotten. Except by the farmers who are reading in their papers about leading members of the Irish meat processing industry describing how in their opinion one person has taken secret measures to attain a monopoly in that trade.(78)
Use of Modern Technology
It is clear that the way people use modern technology has greatly expanded the power of these agencies. Where a few years ago people used cash now a lot of transactions are by credit card and this obviously provides a whole raft of data that the agencies can use. The information required of tax and social welfare authorities also expands all the time and that can also be combined to provide quite a picture of a person.
Similarly as people do research on the internet as opposed to in libraries the capacity to monitor a persons research greatly increases. It is reported by Alain Lallemand in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that as part of the Echelon network the western agencies monitor all internet traffic at the main internet exchanges.(79) Note that some people would say that monitoring all internet traffic in this way is impractical because of the huge computer power needed but I beg to differ when the way this is probably accomplished is considered. There is no requirement to store the actual data that would travel across the exchanges, as web page requests for example, all you need to do is store the IP numbers and details of who is requesting a given webpage on a given date. The data actually on the webpage can always be looked up again later by those agencies using a comprehensive web archive like www.archive.org which in all probability they use. So in other words they are only storing web addresses and corresponding IP numbers of people who read the pages not the raw data and this can be stored as something like a simple flat text file which of course requires very little computer space. In so far as the contents of emails are unique (meaning they are probably capable of screening out spam and forwarded emails very successfully) they would have to be stored but again until the recent advent of broadband they were usually not very large and I think it is within the scope of echelon to cache them in their entirety.
One problem would have been internet voice calls which would clearly be unique to each conversation and could potentially be large files possibly even scattered over a number of exchanges and it is interesting that the capability of using the internet this way has been around for ages but only in the last few years has it been given any publicity which may be a valuable time delay for the agencies to get in place monitoring facilities for this traffic.
One final serious problem would be the matching of IP addresses (which are kinda the phone numbers used for all internet transactions) to actual people which presents many problems bearing in mind that normal dial up users are often given a separate randomly chosen IP address for every online session. There are two points I would make here.
First of all clearly Echelon has access to phone data as well as internet data so this combined with information in the IP address could tell them a lot. What I mean by this is take for example a hypothetical bucksheen called Peader O'Clancy going on the internet in some smallish town like Dungarvan and posting some risqué political stuff on the net using one of the ISPs that allocate random IP addresses. So if the intelligence agencies using Echelon wish to trace the internet packets they are watching on the internet back to a specific person the first clue they have is the detail thrown up by a reverse DNS lookup of the IP numbers which would show something like 22-ju-987.dungarvan.core.eircom.net. As you can see in practise the address itself will narrow things down to quite a small area. Of course the agencies also know the time
the specific internet traffic flowed and the ISP used which is given also in the IP address. So using the phone log data from the phone companies it will show so many people who called into the ISP dial up number and were still connected to that number in the Dungarvan area at that particular time.(80) This clearly narrows their search quite a lot and in practise I'm sure if Peadar is one of these 'pinko liberal' types they hate so much then probably they know all about him and will recognise his name from any small list that would be thrown up by such a search. But there is another point and that is the question of to what degree they cache the actual content of all phone calls which I will discuss in a minute. If the agencies can call up in some form the actual phone call then they can probably use an automated way of pulling out of the tapes of the phone call the details of an internet login session and specifically the numbers for the downloaded dynamically allocated IP address. They could do this for each of the phone calls in the Dungarvan list mentioned until they narrow down poor old Peadar who had thought he was safe using an anonymous ID in his web posts!
The second point is the question of the relationship between the ISPs and the intelligence agencies. I have assumed above that the ISPs are independent and value the privacy of their customers but in fact there is a lot of legislation or arm twisting out there which makes it probable that the various agencies and the ISPs have a close relationship. In the UK it was revealed in the Sunday Times that all UK ISP's have had to install a special hardwire link to MI5 headquarters.(81) They hardly go to that trouble without also putting in place some measures which allow MI5 to match the IP numbers to given users.
As mentioned above the main programme which coordinates the monitoring of telecommunications traffic for the big western powers is known as Echelon. It is well known that all international phone calls are routinely intercepted by that network using facilities like the NSA plant at Menwith Hill in England and also GCHQ in Cheltenham near London. The main route by which a lot of this traffic is intercepted is via satellites that are run for NSA by the huge Maryland agency known as the National Reconnaissance Office. All this is very well known but I don't think the full implications of the kind of technology they are using are properly appreciated by most people. Take for example the question of satellite monitoring of phone calls. I suspect a lot of people think then that that refers to satellite calls either made from satellite phones or international calls routed over satellites. They monitor those calls as well but the fact is that they monitor via satellite the ordinary landline calls of many countries. This is done because a lot of those calls in all countries travel across microwave relay links which are line of sight towers that the phone companies use to bounce calls around the country because of their convenience not requiring as they do any landline cables. What happens is that the signal that is directed by microwave at a receiving tower continues on after that into space and there the NSA can position a satellite and pick up the telephone conversations.(82) Eircom do use microwave relays to route internal landline voice calls in Ireland.(83) Furthermore all the Irish and international mobile phone companies use microwaves to bounce mobile calls between their masts. So depending on the architecture of the eircom network it is at least possible that Echelon monitors all Irish internal and international landline and most definitely mobile phone calls. The western agencies have also developed since the 70s the capacity to tap into underwater telephone cables.(84)
Another issue when you look at the technology available is the question of whether they store copies of the calls they intercept. In fact if you agree that these agencies can do anything they want behind all their secrecy and that they would use whatever technology is available to the fullest extent possible then you can come to some startling conclusions. It strikes me that probably they store copies of all conversations that they intercept which could easily be all voice calls on the island of Ireland and keep the copies for as long as they like. The NSA for example has no legal restrictions on doing this: "information on US persons ....cannot be kept longer than a year, information on foreign citizens can be held eternally." (85) The real question is can they do it technologically bearing in mind that they have of course access to data storage technology at least somewhat more advanced that currently available to ordinary computer users.(86) So possibly they are using now the type of technology that IBM announced as theoretical in 2002 (87) and exhibited in 2005.(88)
This is the technology to store a terrabyte of data on a chip the size of a postage stamp. A terrabyte could store about 130,000 hours of telephone conversations.(89) Bear in mind that the NSA computer capacity is not calculated by numbers of computers but rather by the acreage of the computer space and in the 60s it was 5 and a half acres and was reported to be doubling every decade form there.(90)
So incredible as it seems it is technologically, and for them morally, feasible that they keep copies of every single telephone conversation held over the last few years on the island of Ireland. Anybody who would hold data on that scale would clearly have enormous power to use that information to blackmail people and to anticipate the actions of political opposition groups etc. And be under no illusions people that is certainly what those organisations use that information for.(91) As the New Statesman reported in 1988 with respect to a US Congressional investigation into Echelon :
""Since then, investigators have subpoenaed other witnesses and asked them to provide the complete plans and manuals of the ECHELON system and related projects. The plans and blueprints are said to show that targeting of US political figures would not occur by accident, but was designed into the system from the start." (92)
The real power of it of course is that they can retrospectively trawl through a persons past life before he or she came to the attention of those agencies.
It is well known as well that the telephone conversations are put through automated speech to text recognition systems and this has been done at least since the early 80s. (93) Similarly voice recognition is used and it appears they had that technology since about 1979. This means they can track a particular person by flagging his unique voice pattern as he tries to speak on any phone on any platform that they are monitoring. This is from Margaret Newsham an NSA dissident living in Texas:
"As early as 1979 we could track a specific person and zoom in on his phone conversation while he was communicating."(94)
So all those movies that have the principals using call boxes to avoid detection are a bit mute when it comes to the technology available to the NSA and GCHQ.
Phoenix magazine when it described Echelon not long ago referred to a system called Enternet meaning the deployment of new technology that allows the agencies to interfere with the computers of people using the internet.(95) Presumably in cooperation with some large software companies they provide a kind of global hacking capability to the NSA and GCHQ et al :
"But ECHELON now has an "active" component which allows NSA or GCHQ analysts to covertly "hack" into information on the hard disks of computers linked into any telecommunications system, including the Internet."
Microsoft for example were discovered some time ago to have a close working relationship with NSA.(96) This came about because Microsoft felt it was illegal for them to export out of the US technology that could potentially be used as encryption that the US couldn't break. The question is how far does this legal pressure and the secret relationship it fostered go in terms of their products. Note as well the way in which Microsoft go to considerable lengths to hide from the user the extent to which their software caches key personal data.(97) This presumably is done under pressure from law enforcement bodies that are then supplied with all the information necessary to get access to the data later. Some of the main suppliers of anti-virus and internet security software also have remarkable holes in their security scans ostensibly because the software that they deliberately fail to detect is made by the same company as the anti-virus software. An employee of one of those companies claimed once that it was done under pressure from the US government but he quickly felt the need to retract that claim.(98)
It is even possible that the story of modern snail mail mimics that of email with a huge state apparatus of secret police using automated systems to hoover up any compromising information that they can glean from the post. Both the UK and the US have a tremendous legacy of secretly spying on any dissident activity of their citizens by reading their mail. In the UK this was revealed in the Spycatcher book where for the first time a shocked UK public found out that MI5 had offices in all the regional sorting centres where they monitored all the mail in a very widescale fashion.(99) The CIA have had the capacity for some time to read mail without opening it and have deployed this technology in the past on a large scale in the US. :(100)
"In the 1960's and early 1970's, large numbers of American dissidents, including those who challenged the condition of racial minorities and those who opposed the war in Vietnam, were specifically targeted for mail opening by both agencies [FBI and CIA]. In one program, selection of mail on the basis of "personal taste" by agents untrained in foreign intelligence objectives resulted in the interception and opening of the mail of Senators, Congressmen, journalists, businessmen, and even a Presidential candidate."
The above is from the final report of the Church committee of the US Senate April 23 1976. It refers specifically to widespread 'warrantless' mail opening.
"Despite the stated purpose of the programs, numerous domestic dissidents, including peace and civil rights activists, were specifically targeted for mail opening."(101)
In any case the point is that now the Royal Mail in the UK is using handwriting recognition software supplied by Lockheed Martin(102) a company described as the leading supplier of "monitoring equipment to the espionage agencies" in the US.(103) An Post in Ireland is also using handwriting recognition to some degree and the extent to which these developments have anything to do with monitoring by intelligence agencies is something that we can only speculate on.(104)
But there is one flaw in all this that I think I should address. Western intelligence agencies clearly have access to a vast array of data on any person they want to target but the downside is that they may have access to more information than they could possibly absorb. So its all well and fine having 160,000 hours of phone conversations on a stamp sized chip but listening to all that or even reading it as an automated transcript is clearly going to be beyond the manpower that most agencies could deploy. Some would say that this then drastically limits the practical impact of this technology in the actions of western intelligence agencies. Fair enough but here are a couple of thoughts that should be borne in mind.
The first is that the amount of manpower that you can see governments in the west deploying against their dissident citizens can be surprisingly high. During the protests in the summer of 2004 for example some would say that the amount of gardai deployed on expensive overtime to over police a few harmless protesters worked out at about 3 to 1. That's 3 gardai for every protester in case you were wondering was it the other way around. Clearly if that is mimicked in the shadowy world of the intelligence agencies monitoring these protesters then they could successfully plough through most of this mountain of surveillance data.
The second point is that faced with this mountain of information the intelligence agencies have no doubt invested a lot of time in developing computer systems to analyse the data automatically and show up the interesting information only. For example describing the situation north of the border:
"In Northern Ireland, over the past 30 years, British intelligence was overwhelmed with information. It developed "knowledge management" software to handle the raw material from Operation Vengeful - the Big Brother network which produced a vast daily flow of facts on vehicle and personal movements from overt and covert observation posts, CCTV cameras, vehicle check-points and house raids. "(105)
The question is what does that particular software look like and what does it do exactly. At a simple level we have the Echelon system of flagging particular keywords used in any telephone conversation fax or email and which seems problematic and ineffectual.(106) Its not surprising to discover for example that one Canadian housewife went onto a terrorist watch list when she described on the telephone once how her son had 'bombed' in a performance in the school play !(107)
But I'm sure as these type of systems have been refined they could now work very powerfully. So imagine for example a computerised system that was set to detect the interests and level of knowledge of a particular target using without human intervention intercepted telephone conversations of that person. You can see that it could flag the use of unusual words for example that could accurately build up a picture of their subject. So anybody can talk about insomnia on the phone but if words like ciracadian rhythms are present then the software could identify the subject as having medical knowledge or interest. This could extend into every area like football where if in conversations a person is using the names of particular little known players all the time then he/she could be flagged as a football nut etc etc So these robotic systems can no doubt be very accurate and useful. This might also be combined with psychologically modelling and profiling that the UK and US agencies are so fond of.
Furthermore the range of information could be deployed in a few simple effective displays that could help a lot. Take credit card information for example. Recordered there is the time and location of the person using the credit card as is the data from cash machines which also are reported to store video of the person taking out money. Imagine if they had permanent geographic information of the location of the cash machines combined with the location of at least some of the businesses that took the money on the credit card then they could throw up on a screen a map of where a person was at a given time going back as far as they had the bank data for. Unusual patterns of interest would be easy to discover from that. I don't personally know to what extent closed circuit video data from the many cameras run by the gardai around Ireland are stored or linked together but obviously there is great scope here as well for some combined mapping and visualisation on a large scale.
Maybe we should take another hypothetical to see how this kind of information can be used e.g. the mayday protests of 2004 . It seems likely that as the protesters gathered on the Navan Road the signals from their mobile phones were noted. Then as they dispersed the gardai possibly tracked the same phones as they moved away from the protest and took the opportunity of a time when the signal was isolated enough to identify it from other signals to get the specific identity of the person using the phone by stopping their car on a routine traffic issue or whatever. Then they can use the historic information from the phone signal to see where they came from to the protests, listen to the historic cache of phone calls from that phone as I speculate and definitely they could monitor a cache of text messages to build up a profile of that person. Furthermore by looking at the pattern of how the phone signals group together before and after the protest you can clearly see who is normally hangs out with who etc. So with only one specific piece of surveillance data you can tell quite a lot quite quickly. The degree that this data is routinely used by even the smaller western intelligence agencies can be seen from the Times of 1997 which quotes this from Sonntags Zeitung of Zurich in the context of stating that Swiss police have been secretly tracking mobile phone users through the telephone companies:
"Swisscom [the state-owned telephone company] has stored data on the movements of more than a million mobile phone users and can call up the location of all its mobile subscribers down to a few hundred metres and going back at least half a year," the paper reports, adding:"When it has to, it can exactly reconstruct, down to the minute, who met whom, where and for how long for a confidential tte--tte." (108)
But this is in fact only the beginning of understanding the degree of surveillance that can be done using a mobile phone which is about the only product that has been heavily subsidised for sale in Ireland and the UK. Mobile phones can be silently turned on when the user has turned it off and then used to locate the user or to pick up sound in the vicinity of the phone. Yes folks believe it or not mobile phones can be silently activated as bugging devices, that is they can be turned on any time anywhere to record and transmit conversations picked up around the phone. The only way to stop it is to disable the phone by e.g. taking out the battery. As described turning it off makes no difference. To clarify this is not just conversations made with the phone we are talking about bugging people who have the phone on them but aren't using it in a telephone conversation. This is all digital mobile phones using the GSM protocols not phones tampered with beforehand. It is reported that they are turned on by any party that can transmit to the phone special activation codes that are secretly built into the GSM network protocols. One small US intelligence agency in Columbia did this for example by transmitting to mobile phones from small aircraft silently circling in the sky thousands of feet above the phone. Centra Spike is the name of a US agency that works directly for the Pentagon and is here described working in Columbia:
"There was another nifty secret feature to Centra Spike's capability. So long as their target left the battery in his cell phone, Centra Spike could remotely turn it on whenever they wished. Without triggering the phone's light or beeper, the phone could be activated so that it emitted a low-intensity signal, enough for the unit to get a fix on its general location. They would activate the phone briefly when their target was most likely sleeping, then move the plane into position to monitor any calls he might make when he awoke."(109)
From the BBC:
"But today's spies are also able to convert conventional phones into bugs without the owners' knowledge.
Mobiles communicate with their base station on a frequency separate from the one used for talking. If you have details of the frequencies and encryption codes being used you can listen in to what is being said in the immediate vicinity of any phone in the network.
According to some reports, intelligence services do not even need to obtain permission from the networks to get their hands on the codes.
So provided it is switched on, a mobile sitting on the desk of a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug."(110)
In fact this idea of using phones as secret bugging devices of the areas the phone is located in has a long and interesting history back in the good old landline or POTS era. The story starts with this guy in New York who invented a bug in the mid60s that could be placed in a phone. At the time one of the great aims of people developing bugging devices was to get ones that didn't need batteries so the beauty of this bug was that it drew power from the telephone line and so it could be used indefinitely. Hence some called it the infinity bug. But it had other features that made it unique. To understand how it worked think about an average phone sitting in a kitchen say. Obviously if anybody receives a call and leaves the phone off the hook by putting the receiver down on a table e.g. then the person at the other end of the phoneline can hear everything going on in the room. But it transpires that the difference between a phone being on and off hook like this relies on some small and easily tampered with components. So the inventor rigged the phone in order that when a call would come through his little device would activate first and if it noted a particular signal at the beginning of the call then it would stop the ringer activating and instead silently put the phone off hook and so allow the caller to listen to sounds in the room. Since the activating signal had to come in the normal way as a sound over the phone network the inventor used a distinctive sound not usually heard in a conversation. He rigged it that his bug would respond to a blast from an harmonica that the caller would give just after he dialled the n