A senior member of the Official IRA, who was forced to flee his Belfast home following death threats after his cover was blown last January, says he was abandoned by security services after passing information to the U.S. Secret Service and British police about the Official IRA’s involvement in counterfeiting US money.
The Official IRA and its various political wings were a Marxist offshoot of the IRA which was very powerful in influential media and other circles in Ireland during The Troubles. They ultimately believed in Neo-unionism and that the working classes in the North had to be united first.
“The Officials want to kill me. The police and the Americans have abandoned me,” the man told The Sunday Times.
He has instructed a Dublin law firm to formally seek protection from the American Secret Service. The US authorities have not yet responded.
The agent, Michael O’Brien (a pseudonym), said he joined the Official IRA in April 1970 and went on to become a leading figure in the paramilitary organization.
“The socialism of the Official IRA appealed to me. The Provos [the Provisional IRA] were utter militarists,” he said.
In May 1972, the Official IRA declared a ceasefire but did not disband. O’Brien told The Sunday Times that the Officials continued to gather intelligence on the Provisional IRA well after it had stopped attacking the British armed forces in Northern Ireland.
“We used to pass information to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on the Provos. It was all sanctioned by our GHQ,” he claimed.
After he was caught at Heathrow Airport in London with $20,00 in forged dollars in April 1996, O’Brien said he was recruited as a British agent.
“I couldn’t explain how I had the money. I had no alibi,” he said. “They checked the money out and the US Secret Service soon arrived. They basically said, ‘You have a choice: you can either go to jail for a long time or help us.’ Special Branch from Northern Ireland then arrived. I just couldn’t go back to prison so I agreed to co-operate.
“They gave me $20,000 in real dollars to replace the forgeries, which I had been passing through bureaus de change in London. I returned to Belfast and handed over the money.”
Authorities in the U.S. have repeatedly claimed the Official IRA was part of a conspiracy to circulate high-quality fake $100 bills, known as superdollars, throughout western Europe in the 1990s.
They claim the notes had been manufactured in North Korea and smuggled into Russia, before being distributed in the UK and Ireland by the remnants of the Official IRA.
O’Brien confirmed this belief. “We [the Official IRA] got involved in the counterfeiting for various reasons. It wasn’t just about making money; the plan was to undermine the US financial system by introducing fake currency. It was a political thing as well as a fundraiser,” he said.
“I personally never met the North Koreans. The only involvement I had was collecting money and laundering it. The distribution network we used was widespread. The dollars were manufactured on an industrial scale. At one stage, we printed them in Copenhagen.”
He said he provided the British and American security services with information on how the money was laundered and funneled into the banking system, as well as the identities of the North Korean and Russian officials who acted as middlemen with the Official IRA.
O’Brien also gave them details on the paramilitary grouping and its hierarchy.
“The information I gave them spanned decades. I would meet my handlers once a week. I’d use a code name to call them. A more senior officer would meet me every couple of months to assess the value of the intelligence I was providing,” he said.
In return, O’Brien was paid “much more than £100,000 (€119,000)” and trained in counter-surveillance in Ballymena, Co Antrim.
In 2005, he says the U.S. Secret Service sent him to Washington, D.C., where he gave evidence to a grand jury about the role played in the superdollar conspiracy by Seán Garland, the former president of the Workers’ Party and a former leader of the Official IRA.
“The American Secret Service brought me to a court in big black jeeps. I was then taken to a court where a prosecutor took me through my evidence. To the best of my knowledge, others were also flown to America to give evidence about superdollars in secret.
“The US authorities were fixated on Garland, whom I knew well. They just wanted a specific piece of evidence to link him to the superdollars,” said O’Brien.
The Sunday Times reports that Garland was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2005 as he was preparing to give the keynote speech at the Workers’ Party’s annual conference in Belfast. He then skipped bail. A request to extradite him to America was denied by the Supreme Court in Dublin in 2012 after a protracted legal battle.
Garland, who now lives in Co Meath, has denied being involved in the conspiracy.
O’Brien’s lawyer, Kieran Conway, has sent legal correspondence to U.S. authorities asking for help.
“My client assisted the US authorities to secure a grand jury indictment against Seán Garland of the Workers’ Party. The US government owes him a debt of gratitude,” said Conway. “The Official IRA never disbanded, and remains an armed group to this day.”