British Intelligence in Ireland: The Colonial Connection

Subscribers will have noticed a few new profiles of intelligence officers on my Patreon recently, most notably Alastair Crooke of MI6, and John Deverell of MI5, both of whom contributed to a tradition of covert diplomacy that formed one strand of the roots of the Irish peace process.

It's a format that I hope shows some of the potential that can be developed in further narrative chapters of British intelligence in Ireland

One thing that struck me while researching them is how much the development of a back-channel between the British Government and the republican movement in the early 1990s coincided with the progress of Sir John Stevens' investigation into collusion between the security forces and loyalists. How far was the peace process promoted by the unravelling of a harder-edged alternative?

Another lesson was the strength of the connection between MI5 and the old Colonial Service. Director General Stella Rimington memorably described in her autobiography how intelligence officers were recruited from among the redundant British officials of newly independent colonies in the 1960s, in waves such as ‘the Malayan Mafia or the Sudan Souls’.  

‘Though some did well and rose to senior position, others did not,’ she recalled, adding that ‘some of them, far from exerting themselves, seemed to do very little at all and there was a lot of heavy drinking.'

The Malayan Mafia in particular was well-represented in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Here are a few of the colonial connections uncovered in my research so far.

  • Christopher Herbert: Director of Intelligence at HQNI 1969-1970.

Joined the Indian Civil Service in 1936. Later as an MI5 officer, he headed Security Intelligence Far East, based in Singapore.

  • David Eastwood. Director of Intelligence at HQNI 1970-72.

Served in Malaya with the Colonial Service as a district commissioner during the 'emergency' of the early 1950s.

  • Jack Morton. Author of a report on RUC Special Branch in the early 1970s. 

My friend Phil Miller has traced Morton's career from colonial India to the post-colonial security industry in Sri Lanka, and I've been able to chip in with additional details on Morton's role during the Troubles from the National Archives. Like Herbert, he was a former head of Security Intelligence Far East.

  • John Cradock – Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence in the late 1970s.

Like Eastwood, Cradock served in Malaya with the Colonial Service in the early 1950s and seems to have been involved in the implementation of the Briggs Plan.

  • Harold Doyne-Ditmass, Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence in the early 1980s. 

Served in Malaya in some capacity according to this New Yorker story. Also worked in the private security industry in Sri Lanka.

  • John Deverell, Director and Co-ordinator of Intelligence in the early 1990s.

Son of a governor of Mauritius. Served in Kenya and Fiji with the Colonial Service.

Such men often appear as no more than 'faceless securocrats' in coverage of the Troubles and wider British and Irish history. If you're interested in demystifying and shining a light on their role, please consider supporting this Patreon. In return, you'll get access to more narrative chapters and biographical profiles from British intelligence in Ireland as the draft progresses.



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