By Jack Holland and Patrick Markey
While the FBI’s involvement in the Rosemary Nelson case is the first time the agency has become publicly engaged in an RUC investigation in Northern Ireland, the two law enforcement organizations have already established an extensive relationship in training and operations.
This year, RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan and a number of ranking officers visited the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va., for a specialized training course.
That training is part of the joint FBI-State Department Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, which trains middle- and upper-level officers from foreign police departments. This year for the first time the RUC and Ireland’s Garda Siochana trained together at the FBI’s Academy.
While no figures were provided about the number of officers who visited Quantico, trainees participated in discussions on topics such as human rights, recognition of diversity, stress management, anti-terrorism and anti-crime tactics, according to an FBI press release.
Both RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne are graduates of the FBI’s 11-week study course for police managers. They have also attended the FBI’s advanced National Executive Institute, which is described as an executive training program designed for the heads of major police forces.
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Operational links have been extensive over the last 28 years, mainly in combating the IRA’s support network in the U.S., though the nature of those operations for the most part remains a secret.
In December 1971, President Nixon and British Prime Minister Edward Heath discussed the American links to the IRA at a meeting in Bermuda. By January 1973, the FBI could list in a memo those organizations it suspected of supporting the IRA, including Irish Northern Aid, which within months had become the focus of the agency’s investigations. An FBI memo of September 1973 stated that "the Irish Problem has become a serious problem and a source of embarrassment to the United States."
The FBI’s aim was to force Noraid to register under Foreign Agents’ Registration Act as an agent of the IRA, which it finally did (under protest) in 1984.
In 1980, the FBI launched a major sting operation against the IRA’s gun-running network, and succeeded in breaking it up the following year with the arrests of George Harrison, Tom Falvey, Paddy Mullins, and Danny Gormley. Founding member of Noraid Michael Flannery, who was not part of the gun-running operation but had on one occasion provided funds, was also arrested.
The break-up of the network was seen as a major triumph for the FBI.
The FBI’s liaisons with the RUC in Northern Ireland itself have been frequent and secretive. In the late 1980s, the RUC met with FBI technical experts to consult on new surveillance techniques. In the early 1990s, the RUC’s head of countersurveillance in Northern Ireland met with FBI agents to discuss ways of countering Sinn Fein propaganda and fund-raising activities in the U.S., especially as it seemed likely that Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams would soon be allowed into the country. In the spring of 1993, the two forces discussed countermeasures that might be taken. There was a follow-up to these discussions the following year. The FBI’s attitude was described as "quite helpful" by the RUC.