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MI5 spy breaks open Real IRA

Nicholas Rufford Sunday Times Apr 8

AN MI5 double agent has infiltrated the heart of the terrorist organisation behind the Omagh bombing. The spy, an American named David Rupert, has supplied detailed evidence about the Real IRA’s membership and operations. In a serious blow to the dissident republican movement, Rupert successfully posed as a wealthy benefactor to con his way to the top of the Real IRA.

The former lorry driver from Illinois was even invited to attend meetings of the Real IRA’s army council, which were bugged by gardai. Rupert is to be the key witness in the case against Michael McKevitt, the suspected leader of the Real IRA, who was arrested last month by gardai and charged with directing paramilitary operations. His evidence may also lead to the arrest of other dissidents. He is living under guard in America in a witness protection programme. He and his wife Maureen are expected to be given a new home and identities and trained in different employment skills.

The undercover operation, conducted jointly by security services in Britain, Ireland and America, marks a breakthrough in the fight against dissident republican terrorists. The Real IRA is blamed for a series of attacks on the British mainland including the planting of a bomb in a taxi outside the BBC’s London headquarters last month, and attacks on the MI6 building and Hammersmith Bridge, west London. McKevitt faces life imprisonment if convicted. He is the first person to be charged with directing terrorism under new legislation introduced in the Irish republic after a Real IRA bomb killed 29 people in Omagh in 1998. McKevitt is expected to go on trial at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. Since McKevitt’s arrest in a dawn swoop 10 days ago, gardai have hinted that they had a "secret weapon" in their case against the suspected terrorist leader. Rupert, 49, is understood to have been recruited about three years ago by FBI and MI5 officers in Chicago after he became disillusioned with the movement. He infiltrated Irish-American groups dedicated to fundraising on behalf of the families of dissident republican prisoners. In 1999 he befriended McKevitt through the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Real IRA’s political wing. He established himself as a wealthy American supporter by making a donation of £10,000. He attended meetings of the Real IRA’s army council and supplied intelligence which is understood to have allowed gardai to plant listening devices and to take surveillance pictures.

Rupert maintained close contacts over the past two years with many leading republican dissidents after emerging as a figure in the movement in about 1997. He joined the Chicago branch of the Irish Freedom Committee and became active in collecting money and rousing support. An imposing figure, he boasted that he was part- Mohawk Indian. He made regular trips to the Irish republic and spoke at dissident rallies. Details of transactions and bank accounts supplied by Rupert to his MI5 and FBI handlers are understood to have allowed authorities in America and the Irish republic to trace the source and destination of dissident republican funds and intercept them. Security services fear that the MI5 coup may prompt an attack from a Real IRA cell on the British mainland, anxious to prove that it is still functioning. A Home Office source refused to comment on the undercover operation. McKevitt’s arrest has prompted a restructuring within the dissident terrorist organisation. Several key players are awaiting trial on terrorist charges including Liam Campbell, described in court as a central figure in managing and controlling the Real IRA. Only a handful of terrorists are thought capable of taking over the leadership of the Real IRA. These include a one-time builder’s labourer from south Armagh who succeeded Campbell as director of operations. He was arrested and questioned about the Omagh bombing.



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