By Ray O’Hanlon
The CIA’s working brief does not include keeping tabs on U.S. citizens on U.S. soil — that’s the theory. But keeping an eye on Americans abroad is par for the course. Just ask rep. Pete King. Back in August 1981, King, who had just been appointed to fill the vacant job of Nassau County comptroller, traveled to Belfast to contribute to the plastic bullets debate. According to King, he had no sooner returned to Long Island when he was summoned to the office of Nassau County Republican leader Joe Margiotta. As King recalls, the meeting was cordial but had a very specific edge to it. Margiotta had received a phone call from William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Casey was a Nassau County native who clearly still had some time for affairs on the home turf. Margiotta relayed Casey’s deep concern to King regarding some of the individuals King had met during his North visit.
King had clearly been under surveillance while doing the rounds — of both communities, it must be said — in the wee sod. King was told by Margiotta that Casey took the view that some of the contacts he had made in Belfast were "dangerous people" and that meeting with them was not in the greater interests of the GOP, particularly with local elections looming. King recalls that Casey’s warning, as relayed through Margiotta, was on the lines that the budding politician simply didn’t know what kind of people he was dealing with.
King, of course, took no heed, and went on to win election as comptroller that November. That was then and this is now. Some of the "dangerous people" in Belfast are by now well etched into King’s Christmas card list. Not a few are presumably on Bill Clinton’s.
Casey was exceptionally pro-British despite his pronounced Irish-American Catholic background. In his 1987 book on the CIA, "Veil, The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987," Bob Woodward described Casey as a "certified Anglophile." At one point, the book contains this account of a meeting in early 1981 between outgoing CIA Director Stansfield Turner and Casey, President Reagan’s nominee to succeed him: "Turner had felt the White House was always too anxious to please the British . . . and he had worried that the CIA was sharing too much sensitive intelligence with the leaky MI-6, the British foreign-intelligence service. The British had a virtual intelligence stranglehold on the United States, Turner felt, and were receiving too much. Casey said he liked the British. What else?"
No wonder Pete King’s adventures by the Lagan came in for such close scrutiny later that year.
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All is chummy again in Dublin between her majesty’s diplomats and the emissaries of Uncle Sam. At least this is the view of the new British ambassador to Ireland, Ivor Roberts. Roberts told the Sunday Business Post in a recent interview that relations between the two embassies "couldn’t be any closer or better" and that recently appointed U.S. ambassador Mike Sullivan was "an absolutely ace bloke."
This sounds very much in contrast to the distinctly strained relations during the Jean Kennedy Smith years. Not that JKS was out to spoil the fun in Ballsbridge for the hell of it. Relations between the U.S. and British governments were being strained at all levels in the early days of the peace process and arguably the biggest rift of all was between two U.S. diplomatic camps, the embassies in Dublin and London. Still, a little peace and quiet in Dublin 4 is no harm at all.
Sullivan, meanwhile, is impressing his Irish hosts, "IF" understands. Apparently the man from Wyoming is very tuned into the subtleties of the triangular relationship between Dublin, London and Washington, a relationship that itself is running relatively smoothly these days with all three governments more or less singing off the same sheet with regard to the wee North. Sullivan, "IF" has been told, is a sharp individual who absorbs information well and asks particularly good and probing questions. Ace bloke indeed.
Meanwhile, the Roberts SBP interview threw up one particularly fascinating line. Interviewer Frank Connolly was following up on a British newspaper report that named Roberts as a onetime British spy. Roberts emphatically denied this and retorted thus: "That all British diplomats are by definition spies is pure crap." Rather undiplomatic but certainly to the point. But who ever said that "all" British diplomats were spies. What a silly notion indeed.
‘Tis the trade stupid!
Bord Fáilte Chief Executive John Dully appears to be holding out the hatchet to the travel trade, the idea being that both the tourist board and the trade bury the thing, though not in each other’s heads. Relations between travel agents, not least U.S. ones, and B.F. have been strained in recent times.
Readers will recall that things got down and nasty earlier this year with travel agents in the U.S. taking legal action against B.F. and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board over the operations of a Kerry-based company, Fexco, that functions as a dispenser of travel information and tour operator for potential visitors from Britain and Europe. U.S.-based agents and tour operators were fearful that they might be bypassed if Fexco were allowed to extend its operations to the U.S. They took an action in the High Court in Dublin, which is now due for a hearing at the end of July.
The U.S. litigants might be somewhat reassured by an interview Dully recently gave to the Irish Times in which he said that B.F. had to be customer-driven and that the customers in question came in only one form: the trade.
"This will come as music to the ears of the trade which, not that long ago, believed Bord Fáilte considered them to be an inconvenient nuisance," wrote the I.T.’s Jim Dunne.
The report stated that Dully wants his people to get around more and meet with tour operators and travel agents in overseas markets. This presumably includes the U.S. Dully is expecting tourist numbers from the U.S. to exceed B.F.’s targeted 6 percent increase this year.
"I’ll be surprised if we don’t do 8," he said. And all this even as B.F. and its U.S. "customers" are heading for the courts. Perhaps Dully has something up his sleeve — other than the number of a good barrister.