Countering Intelligence - The Organizational & Operational Levels
The Irish Republican Army
“Before we go on the offensive politically or militarily we take the greatest defensive precautions possible to ensure success.”
The Green Book
As a result of the improvement of British counter intelligence capabilities in the late 60's, the IRA adopted an organizational structure that became tight and compartmentalized. From 1978 the numbers of arrests of IRA members had dropped dramatically, and those who were captured revealed less, or no information, to their interrogators. It was clear that the IRA’s counterintelligence strategy had become a dominant part of its day to day modus operandi.
The counterintelligence doctrine of the IRA reinforced rationality in the decision making process of the organization. Choices were made on the basis of the expected outcomes. That is, adopting a rational choice approach when an action, whether military or otherwise, should be proceeded with or not. The notion of taking a defensive position before undertaking offensive military or political actions became embedded in IRA thinking.
According to the U.S. Marine Corps (2007),counterintelligence activity can be measured under two categories.
First is passive counterintelligence measures (PCI) is usually implemented in order to deny a hostile intelligence body from having access to ones information, personnel, communications or operations, and thus it is characterized as a defensive counter intelligence action.
The second is active counterintelligence measures (ACI)is concerned with analyzing the tactics and strategy of a hostile intelligence body in order to be able to predict, disrupt and manipulate their actions to secure an advantage. The IRA adopted several methods under its ACI strategy, such as covert surveillance and the use of double agents.
The first step that was taken by the IRA to counter British success was to rebuild the organizational structure that the British forces were familiar with. Up to this point the IRA was constructed of large groups of people, organized in a militarized system of battalions and companies, where every company contained up to thirty people. With such large numbers of people being in contact with each other, any informer or volunteer who confessed when arrested, was able to identify a large number of IRA personnel (Berti, 2013). Since the objective of this change was to achieve a high level of secrecy, the new structure was based on a cell system, where the number of volunteers in each cell was relatively small. This new formation was very effective, as it limited the access of the security services to the majority of IRA volunteers, limited the efficiency of their interrogation methods and significantly cut the losses in case of any security breach (Coogan, 2002).
Another operational measure was the creation of an Internal Security Unit, known as the “the nutting squad” (Nugent, 2005, 113). Gaining a reputation of absolute ruthlessness, the Unit became the main pillar of the IRA secrecy strategy, as it had been functioning as the principal disciplinary body that investigated internal breaches. The Unit was able to spread fear among volunteers, which maintained internal control and served to deter informers. In order to maintain legitimacy and resilience among the Nationalist community, and IRA personnel, the Unit preformed according to specific procedures that kept them from engaging in uncontrolled violence. Gaetano (2009), stated that informers that were discovered by any IRA members would not be convicted unless there was evidence that proved cooperation with the enemy forces. In the case that evidence existed, the informer would be executed, and the evidence would be submitted to the informer’s family and the broader Nationalist community. This protocol was aimed at intimidating without alienating.
Benedetta Berti (2013). Armed Political Organizations from conflict to integration. Maryland: John Hopkins University press.
Burian Nugent (2005). Orwellian Ireland. Meath: Brian Nugent Co.
John Horgan (2005). The Psychology of Terrorism. New York: Routledge.
Cameron I. Crouch (2010). Managing Terrorism and Insurgency. New York: Routledge.
Gaetano Joe Ilardi (2009). “Irish Republican Army Counterintelligence”,
International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 23:1, 1-26, DOI:
Martin Dillon (1992), Killer in Clowntown: Joe Doherty, the IRA, and the Special Relationship. London: Arrow Books.
NATO (2004) - NATO Glossary of terms and definitions.AAP-6 (2004)
U.S Marine Corps (2007) Counterintelligence. New York: Cosimo reports.
The Green Book: First published in 1950 formed the basis of a series of lectures delivered to new recruits: Green Book can be found in Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA, pp. 679–712.
Tim Pat Coogan (2002), The IRA. New York: Palgrave.