After the Irish Times recently published a review of Dutch academic Jérôme aan de Wiel's book, 'East German Intelligence and Ireland; Espionage, Terrorism and Diplomacy,' a brouhaha blew up between Dan Morrison and Ed Moloney after Danny wrote in a Tweet: Moloney's history of the IRA is not backed up with evidence.
Understandably Moloney, whose book The Secret History of the Provisional IRA is mentioned in the review, took offence and blogged the article below on his website the The Broken Elbow, above it I have also reposted the Irish Times review and a copy of Danny's tweet.
What are we to make of the allegations which have been made in numerous books and newspaper article about contacts between Irish Republicans and the Foreign Intelligence Division of East Germany's Stasi. According to aan de Wiel, many of these claims are not backed up with evidence, which is hardly surprising given the secretive nature of the IRA and the east German security services.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall the Stasi foreign intelligence head Markus Wolf had enough on his plate, and the last thing he needed was to be pilloried for colluding with the IRA, remember this was before the Provisional Movement were brought in from the cold. It's inconceivable he would not have either destroyed or sent to Moscow his organisation's more 'delicate' files.
Just because Jérôme aan de Wiel did not find anything significant within the Stasi files about the IRA is not conclusive evidence that they did not once exist. Far from it in fact, the Provisionals were close to organisations the Stasi's foreign intel department supported with finance and training, thus in all probability at the very least they would have collated information about the PIRA from their contacts within these groups who may have had dealings with the Provos.
Given Wolf's organisation took a very close interest in National Liberation Movements and had 'arrangements' with a host of these groups, including the ANC and its military wing MK, and organisations affiliated to the PLO. It's almost impossible to believe their interest in events in Ireland amounted to only several folders of "yellowing press cuttings."
The more so when we consider the importance Lenin gave to the 1916 Easter Rising as a precursor of anti imperialist struggles to come. My enemy's enemy is my friend may have also come into play as the Stasi were not oblivious to the campaign the British military were waging to suppress the Provisional IRA within the north of Ireland.
If there was one thing the east German leadership were good at it was Kremlinology, indeed at times their very lives depending upon it. This enabled people like Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker not only to survive Stalin's periodic purges of the Comintern when they were residents in Moscow, but remain in the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party for decades after they returned home. Indeed the longevity of these old scoundrels is proof of their ability to read and adhere to the twist and turns of the Soviet leadership.
While they may have come to hate and despise Gorbachev as a slave does his master, they knew when push came to shove it was the Soviets who held their future in their hands.
Myself I doubt the Official IRA would have had much contact with the Stasi, not least because they may have been outsourced to Albania by the KGB, which partially embroiled the Officials in the Sino-Soviet split when almost inexplicably they chose the side of Enver Hoxha murderous regime, or so we have been led to believe. Although, one would have thought this alone might have made them of interest to the Stasi, it would almost certainly have made them persona non grata in Moscow.
As to the Provos and Moscow central, in the early days of their insurrection they were regarded by the Soviets and fraternal communist party's as being little better than green fascists. Possibly due to mis-information given to them by their contacts in the Irish CP, who had backed the wrong dog in the race when they decided to infiltrate and influence the Officials in the 1960s early 70s.
In the 1970s the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Connolly Association in England were very hostile to the PIRA. Why the latter's leadership flipped into avid supporters of the Provo leadership in the 1990s they have never felt the need to explain.
Irish Times review
Sometimes dead men do tell tales, although not always the ones you'd like to hear. That’s the lesson of this engrossing study of East Berlin’s contacts with Ireland until the socialist German state vanished, in 1990.
Although the work carries the racy subtitle Espionage, Terrorism and Diplomacy, Jérôme aan de Wiel doesn't airbrush the central dilemma of his subject: relations between East Berlin and Dublin were, frankly, not very racy at all.
But this hasn’t compelled aan de Wiel, a Dutch-French lecturer in history at University College Cork, to produce a dusty volume. Instead he frames the book using what one East German dismissed as distasteful “corpse diplomacy”: the farcical, on-again off-again efforts to repatriate the remains of the Irish republican Frank Ryan. The Limerick man fought in the Spanish Civil War on the republican side and moved to Berlin in 1940, where he died of pleurisy four years later.
East Berlin’s appetite for exhuming Ryan’s remains after the war were dealt a blow when it learned of his wartime contacts with the SS. Dublin’s interest in the business was equally low, given its embrace of the Hallstein doctrine, which accepted the Bonn administration of the West German federal republic as Ireland’s only legitimate German partner.
This diplomatic stance, combined with limited economic ties, meant that contacts between Ireland and East Germany were kept to a minimum. Even the celebrated playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht was refused permission to visit Dublin in 1953.
After several false starts, however, the repatriation went ahead, in 1979, as a “humanitarian act” and as an East Berlin favour to the Communist Party of Ireland. And, as some in East Berlin hoped, it opened the door to diplomatic ties a year later. The Irish Embassy in The Hague was double-accredited to East Germany; East Berlin’s embassy in London took up duty for Ireland.
Low intelligence priority
Given that just nine years was left on East Germany’s clock, the book shifts its focus to a study of East German interest in Ireland – which began as a low priority, aan de Wiel acknowledges, and diminished still further as time went by.
As he explains, and I can testify, the bulk of Stasi information gathering on Ireland amounts to several folders of yellowing press cuttings. The few intelligence reports that exist are less interesting for their contents, often plagiarised from books, than for their sprinkling of factual and typing errors.
As aan de Wiel relates, Stasi moles at EEC institutions and the Belgian foreign ministry provided information on events in Northern Ireland, although again of a limited quantity and quality. The files reveal no evidence of an Irish Kim Philby selling secrets to East Berlin.
Despite – or rather because of – this lack of revelations, aan de Wiel’s study has a value on two levels. First, he provides an intelligent and timely corrective to competing narratives on the Stasi that have emerged since the East German secret police was wound up, a quarter century ago.
One narrative, egged on by the entertaining Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, presents the Stasi as a pitiless, bloodless bureaucracy, where all-seeing agents with unlimited resources ruined people’s lives.
Another narrative, spun by the foreign intelligence head Markus Wolf and swallowed by many beyond East Germany, presented the Stasi as a secret service like any other. This is also a distortion, given the Stasi’s cruel policy of zersetzen – grinding down ordinary citizens to achieve arbitrary ends, without Stasi officers having to worry about the legal ramifications of their actions.
Given its limitations, the Stasi was an effective intelligence service. But, wielding his academic shears expertly, aan de Wiel trims the service down to size and strips it of lingering mystique. Which leads to the second achievement of his book: what he didn’t find in the 6,000 pages of Stasi files on Ireland, namely evidence that East Berlin had anything more than an observer’s interest in Northern Ireland affairs.
The author does a good job of putting in context contacts of the IRA, both Provisional and Official, with Moscow. He also details how East Berlin monitored the Provisional IRA and INLA campaigns against British army bases in West Germany. But what of the shadowy contacts between Belfast and East Berlin that pop up in many standard works on the Troubles? According to aan de Wiel, many of these works, such as Ed Moloney’s history of the IRA, make claims that are not backed up with evidence.
Was there anything more than provincial vanity to the claims the Stasi saw itself obliged to support a republican campaign against British imperialism? The author says that “not a single sheet proves or even hints that the Stasi assisted the OIRA, PIRA or INLA by providing either finance or armament”.
That puts the ball back in the court of many journalists, historians and writers in Northern Ireland to produce the evidence that their IRA-Stasi claims are more than wishful thinking.
By Derek Scally, Berlin Correspondent of Irish Times.
Ed Moloney was not slow to take up Derek Scally's challenge, probably spurred on when Danny post this Tweet:
Danny was excited over a review in the Irish Times of a recently published academic tome examining the relations between the East German intelligence service, the Stasi and Ireland between the foundation of the GDR in 1949 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. The book, published by Manchester University Press, was written by Jerome aan de Wiel and retails for an eye-watering £63.
The book is based on an examination of some 6,000 documents – what Mr aan de Wiel terms ‘surviving’ documents – retrieved from the Stasi’s files in East Berlin.
The reviewer, one Derek Scally, had this to write inter alia, much to Danny’s glee:
The comment angered me, needless to say, but it was also puzzling. As the friend who alerted me to the Morrison comment pointed out I never made any connections at all between the IRA and the Stasi in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ (not ‘a history of the IRA’ as Scally called it).
I wrote to the publisher to complain and received back a very polite email containing a copy of a message the author had sent to the publisher in response to my complaint. It began, tellingly:
I have never said anything about Ed Moloney, and in fact was very careful about what I wrote.
And he quoted the relevant passage from his book:
In his impressive history of the IRA, Ed Moloney writes that PIRA (Provisional IRA) member Brian Keenan was said to have contacts with the East bloc, especially with the Stasi, but that concrete evidence to support this is not forthcoming. Keenan was often described as the tough Marxist within the IRA. As Moloney points out it was in fact the OIRA (Official IRA) that got support from the Soviet Union and the East bloc.
It is in fact the supposed links between the Stasi and the Officials which Mr aan de Wiel says is not supported by those ‘surviving’ Stasi papers; nothing to do with the Provisionals at all. But in his eagerness to take a swipe at myself the bold Danny either didn’t check or didn't care. I suspect the latter.
Even so, Mr aan de Wiel adds an important qualification:
An important point must be emphasised though. This is not to say that it is absolutely certain that the Stasi did not do it, (i.e. supply the Officials with guns etc) but based on the evidence of the surviving written material it simply cannot be proved.
I would add my own qualification, based on my knowledge of said Officials, and that is to explore further the meaning of the word ‘surviving’ as in ‘surviving documents’.
Or, to put it another way, I would dearly like to get a glimpse at the airline manifests of incoming passengers at the airports in Berlin in the days immediately following the fall of the Wall, especially those whose airport of origin was either Dublin or Belfast and whose addresses were either in Gardner Place or the lower Falls Road, especially Cyprus Street.
Manchester University Press’ helpful commissioning editor, Tony Mason had this to say in his email to me:
From what Jerome has said below and from my reading of the relevant passages, this strikes me as incorrect quoting from the book by Derek Scally in his review in The Irish Times rather than anything wrong that Jerome has said. We may ask Jerome to ask The Irish Times to print a correction to this.
I don't know if Mr aan de Wiel asked for a correction, but I did. Here it is: