12 February 2006

Donaldson surveillance pulled due to costs

Sunday Life

Alan Murray
12 February 2006

A major surveillance operation on MI5 spy Denis Donaldson's home to trap the IRA's director of intelligence was abandoned - because it cost too much.

Around 40 officers attached to specialist police surveillance and bugging units were involved in the 2002 operation to ensnare veteran republican Bobby Storey.

But after four weeks of round-the-clock surveillance at Donaldson's Aitnamona Crescent home in west Belfast, the order was given to pull the plug.

One senior officer involved in the operation told Sunday Life: "It was hugely expensive.

"Eventually, a decision had to be made whether to keep it going - in the hope of catching a much bigger fish - or move in and arrest Denis, whom we knew had been working for the (Special) Branch and MI5."

Donaldson's home was staked out from the beginning of October 2002, when a satchel containing sensitive Government communications and personal details of civil servants and senior Army officers was stashed there.

Both the satchel and a laptop computer containing the personal details of 1,400 prison officers had been stored at another house in west Belfast and both had been fitted with sophisticated movement-sensitive devices which enabled them to be tracked.

Donaldson - a long-term MI5 agent - hadn't told his handlers about the IRA's Stormont spy ring, because he didn't wish to see close friends receive lengthy jail terms for handling photocopies of the stolen documents.

But when the satchel was moved to his home, he became a surveillance target for the Security Services.

It was hoped that Storey, who was regarded as the IRA's director of intelligence and was blamed for the theft of a Special Branch contacts book from Castlereagh in 2002, would visit Donaldson to review the documents and maybe move them.

But after nearly a month of surveillance, the Chief Constable agreed to terminate the costly operation and raid Donaldson's home to recover the copied documents.

Added the senior officer: "It was a worthwhile exercise, but the big fish didn't turn up and Denis copped it rather than Storey. Donaldson could've played it different, but he was protecting someone and effectively ended his career as an agent."

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