Agents of Influence by Dr Aaron Edwards – my view
by Philip Ingram MBE
I’m from Northern Ireland and grew up through the Troubles, I’m also a former senior officer in British Military Intelligence, who has never served in Northern Ireland formally in that role, I have served there in the mid 1980s in other roles. I think I know the place.
When I opened Dr Aaron Edwards book Agents of Influence, I was expecting lots of new stories and juicy insights exposing stories of agents in the republican movement that would leave me surprised and smiling, I started disappointed.
I was disappointed because my initial impression was that the book was a repetition of cases that had already been published elsewhere as I have read a lot of books about the Troubles and more are being published exposing the penetration of different terror groups by the Army, MI5, and the police on both sides of the border. Then it struck me, and I had one of those growing smiles inside that said to me, wow, this book is very very clever.
Whether you have served in an intelligence role in Northern Ireland or not, one thing is certain, as an intelligence officer you will have heard the stories. Stories shared furtively over a nod and a wink in the bar, or at a Regimental dinner, or whilst whiling away the hours wasted waiting for the RAF to deploy you on operations or bring you home, or in Land Rovers in operational theatres traveling long distances in complete discomfort, conversations between those who have been there in a HUMINT role, part of the unit referred to by letters only and oft confused with others, by those who want everyone to see them as a breed apart from other intelligence personnel, better, more warrior like, but they love to tell stories.
Over the years, little bits of the stories from different people add up to a better understanding of the picture, that is intelligence, and there were only a finite number of storied worth telling from Northern Ireland. The other thing about piecing the elements of the stories together, is you quickly recognise the embellished bullshit from the furtive reality. It is human nature, people like to talk and tell stories, even agent handlers.
Agents of Influence is one of the most cleverly put together telling of those stories, with the detail carefully weaved around other accounts already in the public domain, but much of it is new and the research behind it is exceptional. When that realisation hit me, this book took on a whole new meaning. Aaron Edwards has masterfully integrated stories about agents I only heard snippets of in the Bar and elsewhere, bringing them to life but without compromising them, as many are still in their communities either ‘stood down,’ effectively retired from crown service, or still active and reporting on activities, political, paramilitary and or criminal within their communities. The links between them remain strong.
His book gives a very clear understanding of the ways the different intelligence organisations worked and the often-differing priorities and the seeming lack of coordination in many cases, that I know is accurate. He describes the way those in the Republican movement who wanted a political settlement were encouraged, almost assisted and oft rewarded and how it was probable that elements of the Republican movement used the security forces, and relationships they had with them via agents of influence, to interdict those in the movement who wanted nothing but violence or refused to follow more moderate ambitions.
What is very clear from his detailed research, not just with those who ran the agents, the handlers, but many agents themselves, is the level of penetration there was across the republican movement both within their paramilitary units and their political structures. What he didn’t have to say but is clearly implied, is those individuals are still within their communities today.
There will always be a debate as to just how penetrated the republican movement was (and still is) with the Republican movement claiming much of what is in the public domain is an exaggeration. The reality is as Edwards suggests and I know, is what is in the public domain, including Edwards’s insights, is merely the tip of the iceberg. This is a fantastic read with excellent insights!
You can get the book thought Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1785373412/