The boys from Berlin: The MI5 officers who covered up Kincora

Recent months have seen repeated calls for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry to look at events at the Kincora Boys Home in the mid-1970s (see Spinwatch reports here and here). A key development took place last week when a former Army intelligence officer spoke publicly for the first time about MI5's role in suppressing knowledge of abuse at the home.

Liam Clarke reported:

Brian Gemmell, a former captain in military intelligence, confirmed that he had passed on information from three men – James Miller, Roy Garland and Jim McCormick – to a senior MI5 officer named Ian Cameron. All three information sources were completely opposed to the abuse and wanted it ended…

…His first move was to report it to Cameron, an MI5 veteran who was working under the cover of a political adviser in the Northern Ireland Office.

"Ian Cameron was very much a father figure to me at the time," Mr Gemmell said.

"I was in my mid-20s and he was in his early 60s. He was normally a very nice chap, but he reacted very strongly.

"He told me that MI5 did not concern itself with what homosexuals did and he ordered me to stop using an agent I had within Tara, who we had codenamed Royal Flush."

Clarke notes that Cameron was a veteran of Cold War Berlin, an aspect of his background which casts a significant light on his connections within MI5.

Before being posted to Belfast, Cameron served in a little-known unit called the British Services Security Organisationresponsible since the 1950s for the security of British forces in Germany. In 1968, a section of BSSO involved in debriefing defectors was hived off into the British Services intelligence Unit, which became an MI6 fiefdom. The remainder of the BSSO came under the leadership of an officer seconded from MI5, which had sought greater influence over the organisation for the best part of a decade.

Intelligence historian Richard Aldrich wrote of this period:

In the autumn of 1968, as part of these changes, the Chiefs of Staff had asked for the remainder of BSSO (G) to be re-organised under the command of a seconded officer from MI5 in London. By early 1969 this MI5 officer had initiated a number of reforms, most importantly an effort to beef up the Berlin Branch of BSSO (G), which involved reorganisation, more staff and better equipment particularly for interception. However, despite increased resources, the Berlin Branch found themselves struggling.  (Battleground Western Europe: Intelligence Operations in Germany and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century pp.134-135)

Aldrich does not name the MI5 officer concerned, but Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas state that it was John Jones. I do not know their source for this as I only have access to Google snippets of their book. Nevertheless, I am inclined to accept this conclusion, as it explains references to Jones that appear in Ian Cameron's correspondence from 1971.

Cameron was at that time the head of the Berlin branch of the BSSO, in which capacity he wrote to Edward Jackson, the political advisor to the British Military Government, complaining that a Russian attempt to post more diplomats in the west of the city would create an impossible task for BSSO's locally recruited surveillance operators.

Cameron made a point of copying this correspondence to John Jones, which would make sense if Jones was his immediate boss, the MI5 officer running BSSO, whose most significant reform, beefing up the Berlin branch, was Cameron's direct responsibility.

Such a close working relationship at this time is particularly intriguing in the light of the two men's later careers in MI5.

In 1972, Jones became the head of F Branch, MI5's counter-subversion wing, which was rapidly taking over from counter-espionage as MI5's highest priority.

David Leigh wrote of this era:

New names from the world of the 'industrial desk', John Jones, David Ransom, John Woodruffe began to rise to prominence. MI5 fought – and beat – MI6 for control of intelligence in Northern Ireland, under a succession of 'DCIs' on two-year tours to this new, uninhibited career posting – Ian Cameron, Jack Credock, John Parker. (The Wilson Plot, p.209).

In fact, Cameron may not have been the Director and Coordinator of Intelligence (DCI), but one of his subordinates. Numerous inquiries have given us a basic outline of MI5's structure in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The DCI was based at the Northern Ireland Office, and had representatives working with the RUC and at the Army's HQNI. Cameron, working at Lisburn, would have filled the latter role.

Agent-handling was run separately by an MI5/MI6 Irish Joint Section (IJS) reporting to London. F Branch would have been responsible for the MI5 end of the IJS, which became F8 section when MI6 dropped out completely in the mid-1980s.

Christopher Andrew states that as head of F Branch from 1972 to 1974, Jones 'showed no desire to expand the Service's role in Northern Ireland' (The Defence of the Realm, 2009, p.621).

Although Andrew would probably not acknowledge it, this picture fits all too well with Colin Wallace's account of Operation Clockwork Orange, a propaganda campaign ostensibly aimed against the IRA, but which in reality focused on domestic British counter-subversion.

According to Paul Foot's book Who Framed Colin Wallace?, Clockwork Orange was initiated by the DCI Denis Payne (1990, p.41). As Payne's representative at Lisburn, Cameron would have been well-placed to observe the dissemination of propaganda through the Army press office. The London-based MI5 officers who provided Wallace with much of this material would probably also have come from F Branch.

F Branch's Northern Ireland responsibilities had a particular focus on loyalism, because police special branches retained primacy with regard to republicanism until the 1990s. (Given the BSSO connection, it might be interesting to examine whether the British Army of the Rhine was a recruiting ground for MI5 agents within loyalism).

If Kincora housefather William McGrath had an MI5 handler as many suspect, this would probably have been an F Branch officer. Likewise the London-based MI5 officers who asked Brian Gemmell whether loyalist John McKeague could be blackmailed would probably have come from F Branch.

Given these links, MI5's stonewalling of a Kincora inquiry may have been more than the usual bureaucratic cover-up. According to Liam Clarke, RUC officers led by Superintendent George Caskey were not even allowed to meet Cameron in the 1980s:

The Caskey team were allowed to submit a series of written question to him asking why no action was taken to investigate Mr Gemmell's allegations, why Mr Gemmell was told to drop the issue of Kincora, and whether MI5 had been prepared to let the abuses continue.

The questions were never answered. We don't know if Mr Cameron even received them.

These enquiries were part of the Terry Inquiry which took place in 1982 and 1983. During that period the Director-General of MI5 was Cameron's former close colleague Sir John Jones. MI5's silence in relation to the Caskey team raises the question whether Jones did not have a profound conflict of interest.

If William McGrath was an MI5 agent between 1972 and 1974, Jones as head of F Branch would have been closer to the operational chain of responsibility than Cameron. Equally, as head of MI5's counter-subversion wing at the time of Operation Clockwork Orange, he would have had serious questions to answer if Colin Wallace's version of events had been accepted.

MI5 still refuses to face that appalling vista to this day, but given the evidence of Colin Wallace, Roy Garland, the late James Miller,  Major-General Peter Leng and now Brian Gemmell, its denials are looking thinner than ever.






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