David Rupert infiltrated the Real IRA, the group behind the 1998 Omagh bomb atrocity, for the FBI and MI5.

Rupert, whose story is contained in the book "The Accidental Spy" by Sean O’Driscoll, gave his first TV interview this week to BBC Spotlight.

A US truck driver who spied on the Real IRA says the security service MI5 did not want its leader arrested. David Rupert’s evidence was used in 2003 to prosecute Michael McKevitt for directing terrorism. Here's @Jen_O_Leary: pic.twitter.com/Vsw4LiegIa

— BBC Newsline (@bbcnewsline) March 21, 2023

His undercover evidence was used in 2003 to prosecute Michael McKevitt, the leader of the Real IRA, for directing terrorism.

But Rupert told BBC Spotlight that MI5 didn’t want to prosecute McKevitt. They were more intent on continuing to gather intelligence about the Real IRA as they already had a spy inside the organization.

“MI5 wanted to keep it going forever,” said Rupert. “It was more important to MI5 to have a thumb on the pulse than it is to go arrest a couple of people and prosecute them.”

But the FBI, primarily an evidence-gathering organization and his main employers, won the argument and McKevitt was prosecuted in Dublin’s Special Criminal Court in 2003 and received 20 years for directing the activities of the Real IRA.

Spotlight put Rupert’s claim that spy bosses did not want to arrest McKevitt to MI5, but they did not respond.

Rupert recounted how he was recruited when he ran a trucking company in Chicago. He had made visits to Ireland and befriended Joe O'Neill, a hardline Irish republican who ran a pub in Bundoran, Co Donegal.

When an FBI agent arrived at his Chicago office in the summer of 1994, the subject of Ireland and O'Neill was raised.

With President Bill Clinton heavily invested in the peace process, the White House needed to know from their own spies on the ground if breakaway republicans were likely to fill a vacuum.

So the FBI paid for Rupert’s trips to Ireland and eventually, he and his wife Maureen moved to Ireland to run a pub in Co Leitrim, financed by the FBI.

Rupert said, “The value was it allowed me to become ingrained in the IRA population and to become accepted.”

By early 1997, the couple was no longer running the pub but the FBI's investment in the trucker-turned-spy had paid off. By that stage, Rupert was working for both the FBI and MI5.

He befriended McKevitt who at one meeting told him the Real IRA intended targeting directly “something like troops or London center financial district.” 

In early 2001, in a top-secret meeting in Dublin, Rupert made a detailed statement to the gardai who were building a case to prosecute McKevitt.

Rupert went on to face the Real IRA leader in court.

“I was just doing a job,” he said. “And doing a job that I viewed as doing for good to stop them…killing people.”

*This column first appeared in the March 22 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.