Friday, December 28, 2007

Ex Trinity student was CIA's Irish link, records show

I'd file this one under "not really news". So there was a CIA man in London in 1955 receiving communications from the Irish government. What about the dozens of operatives actually in the country at that time?

Not really, I'm just kidding, but it reminding me of something...

I'm not sure if it was an urban myth or not, but I've heard plenty of stories about "the local CIA man" down the years, normally in the pub. The way "the local CIA man" character is described is as follows:-

  • Doesn't do a normal day job, or has some minor job that couldn't fill a person's time
  • Collects news paper clippings and fliers and posters about local or national events, societies, meetings, etc.
  • Sends said clippings to a post office box in Dublin or London every couple of weeks
  • Goes to meet some guy in Dublin once a year
  • Receives a cheque in the post every month
  • Goes to the pub (often "this very pub") for a knees up when the cheque arrives
  • Can't be bothered keeping the whole thing a secret but if you are a Garda or someone like that he'll deny it

I guess the appeal of this mythological character is that he (always male) is so plausible. If I wanted to keep tabs on every possible political or cultural movement in the world prior to the Internet and a global PSTN, and I had organisation skills and budget though finite man-power, and it was common knowledge I was doing it anyway, this is exactly how I would go about it. I could have a couple of dozen such characters in each country and of course they themselves would have no way of knowing who they really worked for. Working for the CIA would be politically acceptable in Ireland at the time, and the best cover for a "handler" of any kind to use, but telling them they worked for the Kremlin or MI5 or the Mossad would not have gone down so well.

The story has several appealing elements - "the lazy bum gets lucky", "sticking it to the man", etc. also it might be taken as a comment on one paticular Irish notion of secrecy, namely that secrets should be between the locals and the authorities, not between locals themselves, the "us and them" mentality. Also the core plausability and it's stark contrast with 007 movies would add to the entertainment value.

Usually though the main purpose of recounting this myth is as a lead in to the "Murphy the Spy" joke. I'll have to tell you that one in person...