Countering Intelligence - The Individual's Level

  • Posted on: 28 June 2014

The Irish Republican Army

“Like a chain its strongest point is the weakest link, so all volunteers should regardthemselves as links within an organized chain, bearing in mind that the continuity of struggle, the object of resistance, the confidence in victory depends on the individual himself”    The Green Book


From 1969 to 1972, the organizational structure of the IRA was relatively loose and the British government counter terrorism strategy similarly unsophisticated. Beginning in 1972 and lasting until 1976, British counter insurgency capabilities improved significantly and security forces were steadily, and successfully, dismantling the IRA. British interrogators were extrapolating confessions from detainees that led to the capture of senior IRA leaders.  British forces relied in the first instance on *HUMINT resources, thus efforts were focused on the recruitment of Informers and Agents. Their recruitment techniques were efficient and British units achieved successes at different levels throughout the IRA. At the peak of the recruitment campaign between 1976 and 1987, an estimate suggests 1 in 30 active IRA members were informers. The high number of suspected informers’ executions conducted by the IRA during this period, a total of 19, lends weight to this view.

 According to the IRA Green Book the security of the organization as a whole relies on the security of the individual, thus “volunteers should and must at all times be conscious of their own security”(Horgan, 2005, 17) . The process of preparation of volunteers started with the first point of contact between them and the organization, which was recruitment. When choosing or accepting  any potential candidates to the IRA , the organization concentrated on testing the possibility of potential leakage of intelligence through the candidate, i.e. people with excessive drinking habits and “loose- talkers” were not accepted into the organization. Moreover, when volunteers were recruited, the IRA assured itself that the person was not motivated by emotionalism, sensationalism, or adventurism, clarifying that no “romance” would be found within their movement. The IRA asked potential volunteers to examine their motives fully, knowing that they would be exposed to potential and life threatening dangers. After clarifying for the volunteer the reality of what he would be involved in, he would be asked to start his first training session, and read the volunteers’ manual the “Green Book”. The most important element contained in the Green Book was the need for absolute secrecy among volunteers. Volunteers were not allowed to talk in public places, to inform their families or friends of their link to the organization, nor were they allowed to express their views on military matters, or even to be seen in demonstrations or protests.

As mentioned before, one of the most effective techniques that assisted the British forces in the collection of vital intelligence about the IRA was interrogation.  The IRA believed that the best defense in anti-interrogation techniques was “to understand the techniques as practiced by police forces” (Crouch, 2010, 111). Consequently, they started collecting intelligence on these techniques and developed their own anti-interrogation training. This training aimed at creating a strong psychological immunity towards the British interrogation techniques, through breaking down the process of interrogation, and proving the ignorance and the vulnerability of the interrogator: the Green Book states “the purpose of interrogation is to get a confession. If the interrogators knew what they were searching for there would be no need for interrogation”.

 Gaetano recalls that the IRA applied an Active Counterintelligence tactic during interrogations. Volunteers were taught to be vigilant when captured by the security force and a wide range of intelligence was gathered this way, including information relating to interrogation techniques and the identities of interrogators. Volunteers were told to memorize everything they saw or heard, such as names, faces, cars, fortifications, etc. The minute the volunteer was released, it was expected that he would be briefed on his interrogation. The analysis of the interrogations also enabled the IRA to uncover informers. The internal security units were expected to brief others on any arrested IRA members; through this brief they would rate the level of police knowledge. If classified information was clearly known by the police that would be a sign of the existence of an informer (Dillon, 1992). 

From the late 1970’s onwards, the IRA implemented a new counterintelligence strategy throughout the whole organization, including its structure, doctrine and the collective psychology of its personnel.  The main aim of this strategy was to counter British Intelligence superiority at that time. However, the new strategy provided the organization with more than that. The IRA gained new means to engage with the British forces. Its indoctrination resulted in a collective sense of confidence appearing among its personnel and this helped minimize distrust. Such changes allowed the IRA to enhance internal control which in turn created a very strong external image that portrayed the IRA as an organization with equal power to the British adversaries, if not superior to it.  In addition to this, the ability of the IRA to conduct active counterintelligence helped it provide updated intelligence to its volunteers, reminding them constantly that the British could, in fact, be defeated, a message that the IRA was determined to in spread both internally and externally.





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.