The new book “Accidental Spy” reveals how an American informer infiltrated the Army Council of the Real Irish Republican Army (IRA) and destroyed the militant group.
A sensational new book, “Accidental Spy” by Irish journalist Sean O'Driscoll reveals how an American informer, David Rupert, infiltrated the Army Council of the Real IRA in the late 1990s and destroyed the militant group who carried out the infamous Omagh bombing, the worst tragedy of The Troubles with 31 civilians killed.
O’Driscoll has done an amazing job in unraveling the incredible tale of an upstate New York huckster who brought the Real IRA to its knees and ultimate defeat as a prized informer, one of the most valuable in the history of MI5 and the FBI.
The Real IRA and its Chief of Staff Mickey McKevitt were hell-bent on taking over from the Provisional IRA after the Good Friday Agreement and focusing on a major bombing campaign in England and in the North to destroy the peace process. it might well have happened were it not for Rupert.
For his work, he was awarded a total of $10 million dollars by the FBI and MI5 and won the FBI’s highest award for thwarting terrorism.
How Rupert infiltrated the inner sanctum of the Continuity IRA and later the Real IRA is the stuff of Hollywood. From remote Madrid, New York, near the Canadian border, he was not Irish American and was six-foot-seven weighing 350 pounds. He was married four times, underwent several bankruptcies and was wanted for tax evasion.
He relocated to St Petersburg, Florida after he went bankrupt and two marriages had failed. There he began hanging out in the Harp and Thistle Bar where he met Linda Vaughan. a political operative for the Democratic party. She ran the Florida campaign for Senator Paul Tsongas for president.
She was also a militant member of NORAID, the IRA support group and soon she and Rupert were a couple. She took him to Ireland - to Sligo and Donegal - where he met many Republican militants, most notably Joe O’Neill a hard-liner who ran a pub in Bundoran.
O'Neill was under surveillance and quickly Irish police took note of the tall, burly American who frequently visited. Soon inquiries were made to the FBI who he was.
An FBI agent named Ed Buckley came calling to Rupert by then back in Chicago and in the trucking business. He had all the damaging facts about bankruptcies and tax evasion. Rupert was advised he should become an FBI spy. He had little choice but to agree.
What seemed like a crazy scheme was concocted. Rupert would move to Ireland and buy a pub with FBI funds in Donegal, near where all the dissident IRA activity on the border was occurring. The pub would be bugged top to bottom. Rupert would report everything back. This was exactly what panned out.
Soon Rupert was the key American contact for the Continuity IRA. He made trips back and forth and came back with cash, oodles of it. He was knowledgeable about spyware and got the electronic timers that set off bombs. He was indispensable.
When the pub foundered, Rupert moved back to Chicago where he became the key American to visit for hardline Republicans from Ireland. The book tells for the first time how the agency set up a dummy truck company in Chicago’s meatpacking district and rigged up a bugging device to one of the company’s trucks so that Rupert could record any Irish Republican who sat into his cab. The bugging device was rigged to the truck’s battery, with a light on the dashboard to show when it was recording.
The Continuity IRA was inefficient and small time and soon the Real IRA, a much more serious outfit, came calling. Rupert switched allegiances and somehow struck up a completely trusting relationship with Chief of Staff Michael McKevitt and his wife Bernadette Sands, sister of Bobby.
Rupert became so trusted they invited him onto the Real IRA Army Council where Rupert used the information given to him to stave off many attacks, help identify sleeper cells in Britain and identify the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing.
He became the prime spy within the Real IRA reporting to Irish intelligence, M15, and the FBI. His investigations also uncovered a plot by the Real IRA to get state-sponsored cash and weapons from Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, like what Colonel Gaddafi of Libya had once done
Because of Rupert’s information, three members of the Real IRA ruling army council were jailed for 30 years after British intelligence set up a sting operation, pretending to be agents sent by Saddam Hussein to help the Real IRA.
In recorded conversations, the Real IRA said it needed Iraq to supply Semtex plastics explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, hundreds of pistols and very sophisticated wire-guided missiles that could be steered to their target.
By that point, Rupert, a trucker from upstate New York, had spent seven years undercover among dissident Irish republicans on both sides of the Atlantic. He was beginning to swim in dangerous waters.
The FBI wired his hotel room in Worcester, Massachusetts several times when he was meeting a Real IRA assassin awaiting instructions to kill a senior British politician, likely Tony Blair.
On the final time, as secret FBI cameras recorded it, the Real IRA “Jackal” figure brought two bags of Glock machine guns to the hotel room for transport to Ireland, along with bomb-making equipment.
Back in Ireland, Rupert and McKevitt grew closer. In emails to MI5 that O'Driscoll obtained Rupert can barely contain his excitement. MI5 was also ecstatic.
The Big Yank as he was known was a frequent visitor to McKevitt and his wife’s house in Blackrock, Co Louth, dropping off envelopes of cash and installing MI5-vetted encryption software on their computer.
Rupert was so trusted that he was asked to procure complex bomb parts from America - sometimes from newly developed video games or personal organizers only then available in the US. That took him into the Real IRA engineering department, which met in Dundalk.
At one of the engineering meetings, one of the bomb-makers became suspicious when Rupert handed them encryption software. The two of them argued loudly about the software. Others had begun to suspect that Rupert was not who he said he was. Militant supporters in America such as radio host John McDonagh and former NORAID head Martin Galvin later cited problems with Rupert who had come out of nowhere. Suspicions about Rupert grew. He began to wilt under the strain.
Eventually and in the nick of time, he was taken out of operation. McKevitt was arrested in 2001 during a major Garda (Irish police) operation and charged with directing terrorism. For the first time, during interrogation, he discovered that Rupert had been an FBI spy all along. The Real IRA was in chaos.
For McKevitt’s trial in 2003, Rupert was being kept under very tight security by the FBI, which flew him on the US Attorney General’s private jet to an RAF base in the UK and then to Ireland to give evidence against McKevitt. On the jet, an FBI agent handed out a copy of our sister publication the Irish Voice featuring Rupert’s extraordinary activities. to convince Rupert how huge his role had been
In the longest cross-examination in Irish legal history, defense barristers tried to take Rupert apart - his four marriages, his failed businesses, his attempts to set up gambling operations on international waters, his attempts at professional wrestling, even the fact that he once owned a DeLorean car.
None of it seemed to stick. The court ruled that Rupert was a “very truthful” witness and jailed McKevitt for 20 years. The Real IRA fell aprt as McKevitt called a ceasefire and a huge internal row about Ruppert and how he got access began.
Nowadays, Rupert and his wife, Maureen, live under multiple layers of FBI-created identities in the US. In 2008, there was an attempt by a Real IRA leader in Northern Ireland to obtain Rupert’s real social security number through an Irish-American sympathizer, but the PSNI alerted the FBI and Rupert bumped up his security - and his weaponry. He now lives in witness protection somewhere in the Midwest
In all, he made nearly $10m from his work for the FBI and MI5 - all because he happened to wander over to an Irish bar in Florida and meet a beautiful woman.
Sean O'Driscoll has told a remarkable story incredibly well. The ability to keep a clear and coherent narrative in such a complex story is rare indeed. O''Driscoll has written a masterpiece.
The Accidental Spy by Sean O’Driscoll is published by Mirror Books and is available in bookshops in Ireland and the UK and is available in the US through Amazon and Kindle.