02 January 2006

Republican ‘spies’ get PSNI tip-off

Sunday Times

Liam Clarke
January 01, 2006
The Sunday Times

UNIFORMED PSNI officers have visited the homes of at least four Belfast republicans warning them that they are suspected by the IRA of being informers and offering security advice.

The visits were made in the run-up to Christmas and even on December 25. They followed the dramatic outing of Denis Donaldson, Sinn Fein’s head of administration at Stormont, as a Special Branch agent. Donaldson was approached and warned by the PSNI in a similar manner last month.

Republicans regard the police visits as an attempt to weaken morale. There are well-founded suspicions that at least one and possibly more spies are still active within Sinn Fein’s ranks.

A party spokesman revealed yesterday that the BBC had given him the names of two well-known republicans who had allegedly been warned by the police that they were under suspicion as informers. The Sinn Fein officer said when he approached the pair, they denied it. He named them as Tom Hartley, a former Belfast city councillor, and Richard “Dickie” Glenholmes, a former IRA operations officer.

Glenholmes served 10 years in jail in Britain for attempting to spring Brian Keenan, a former IRA chief of staff, from Brixton prison using a hijacked helicopter. Glenholmes’s daughter, Eibhlin (Evelyn), is one of the IRA “on-the-run” terrorist suspects for whom Sinn Fein is seeking freedom from prosecution.

Hartley, who was general secretary of Sinn Fein from 1984 to 1991, once led protests against the RUC. He has stepped back from a frontline position in Sinn Fein in recent years.

Donaldson has admitted working as a British intelligence agent for the past 20 years. His outing and confession has sent shock waves through the republican movement and cast doubts on the judgment of the leadership that promoted him.

He is believed to be co-operating with the republican leadership, who are debriefing him in an effort to gauge the damage he did, and want help identifying other intelligence leaks. The IRA already has clues to the identities of most of the agents in Belfast from documents it stole from Special Branch headquarters.

“Every time a jeep stops rumours are going round, but nobody has come to Sinn Fein to say they have had an approach (from the police),” a party representative said. “Nobody since Denis (Donaldson) has confirmed it.”

Despite this, both a senior security source and a well-known west Belfast republican confirmed that police warnings were issued to a number of individuals whom they refused to name.

“After Donaldson they visited three or four houses,” the republican source said. “The cops gave a form which had a one-line message saying ‘We have information that republicans believe you to be an informer. For further details please contact’, or words to that effect, and giving a number in New Barnsley police station.”

The republican added that when the solicitor of one of the men who had been approached rang the number supplied, the police would not provide any more details to support their claim. “They just said ‘we have heard it’,” he said.

Issuing warnings of a security threat is now standard PSNI procedure, which is open to scrutiny by both senior officers and the police ombudsman. In recent months dozens of republicans were given similar warnings that their names and personal details were in the hands of loyalists.

A senior security source confirmed that a number of people had received warnings but refused to give details. A PSNI spokesman said: “These are questions we can’t answer, we cannot comment on the personal security of individuals.”

Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA commander in south Belfast who is now a historian, said: “At times I feel like I joined a regiment of the British Army when I thought I was joining the IRA. It is clear that there has been extensive infiltration of the IRA just as there was with the loyalists. If you think of the sheer length of the campaign, it was probably inevitable that it was going to produce this sort of thing.

“Sinn Fein will lie about it and conceal it. They will cover it up because it makes the leadership look stupid.”

In a new year statement issued yesterday, the IRA made no reference to spies in its ranks. It saluted “the discipline and commitment of IRA volunteers, particularly following the momentous decisions by the army leadership” last year.

“We remain wedded to our republican objectives and are confident they will be achieved,” the message said. “We fully support and commend everyone working for these goals, especially our comrades in Sinn Fein . . . There is an onus on all political leaders to play their part in achieving the essential political progress desired by all the people of Ireland.”

Martin Ingram, a former military intelligence officer who handled agents within the IRA, said that the Sinn Fein leaders Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams had negligently promoted British agents within the IRA over many years. The Force Research Unit, for which he worked, had been able to exploit the fact that “the republican leadership had ignored basic security procedures,” he said.

Ingram said Adams and McGuinness had allowed the IRA’s intelligence department to be controlled by a single agent, Freddie Scappaticci, for 20 years. McGuinness had promoted another agent, Frank Hegarty, who had recently joined the IRA, to a senior position in charge of weapons, against the advice of other senior IRA members.

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