East German Intelligence And Ireland, 1949-90

Title:                      East German Intelligence And Ireland, 1949-90

Author:                 Jérôme aan de Wiel

De Wiel, Jérôme aan (2015). East German Intelligence And Ireland, 1949-90: Espionage, Terrorism And Diplomacy. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press

LCCN:    2015452643

UB271.G35 D43 2015


  • This book examines in depth Ireland’s relations with a country behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, the former East Germany. It is based on extensive research undertaken in Germany and Ireland, especially in the archive of the former Stasi. The first part of the book analyses Irish-East German bilateral relations at political, diplomatic, economic and cultural levels, but as is very clear the Stasi was never too far away. The extraordinary story of the repatriation of the remains of IRA-volunteer Frank Ryan from Dresden to Dublin is related in detail. The second part of the book focuses exclusively on intelligence. It shows the activities of the HVA, the Main Directorate of Foreign Intelligence, and reveals the information obtained and the names of East German agents and sources involved. The onset of the conflict in Northern Ireland caught the attention of the HVA but also of Department HA-XXII in charge of terrorism. HA-XXII monitored the Provisional IRA and the INLA’s campaign against the British Army of the Rhine in West Germany. It obtained its information thanks to moles deep inside the West German security and intelligence services. The PIRA and the INLA’s contacts with West German terrorist groups are examined, so are Soviet and Romanian intelligence activities. This book makes an original contribution to the much neglected area of Ireland’s relations with continental European countries during the twentieth century and also Ireland’s position during the Cold War. It will be of interest to scholars, students, the general public and professionals in the field of intelligence and security. –Provided by publisher.


  • Part 1: Relations Between Ireland and East Germany — History of the relations between Ireland/Northern Ireland and the GDR — Part 2: Intelligence — Stasi history and sources — Keeping informed and spying on Ireland — Northern Ireland in the Zentralen Personendatenbank (ZPDB) — Watching the PIRA, the INLA and BAOR, 1970s-1980s.

LC Subjects

Other Subjects

  • Diplomatic relations.
  • Intelligence service.
  • Germany (East)
  • Ireland.

Date Posted:      October 26, 2017

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Review by Derek Scally[2]

This efficient, seemingly thorough trawl through old Stasi files reveals no Irish Kim Philbys–or, for that matter, little real East German interest in Ireland North or South

Sometimes dead men do tell tales, although not always the ones you’d like to hear. That’s the lesson of this engrossing study of East Berlin’s contacts with Ireland until the socialist German state vanished, in 1990.

Although the work carries the racy subtitle Espionage, Terrorism and Diplomacy, Jérôme aan de Wiel doesn’t airbrush the central dilemma of his subject: relations between East Berlin and Dublin were, frankly, not very racy at all.

But this hasn’t compelled aan de Wiel, a Dutch-French lecturer in history at University College Cork, to produce a dusty volume. Instead he frames the book using what one East German dismissed as distasteful “corpse diplomacy”: the farcical, on-again off-again efforts to repatriate the remains of the Irish republican Frank Ryan[3]. The Limerick man fought in the Spanish Civil War on the republican side and moved to Berlin in 1940, where he died of pleurisy four years later.

East Berlin’s appetite for exhuming Ryan’s remains after the war were dealt a blow when it learned of his wartime contacts with the SS. Dublin’s interest in the business was equally low, given its embrace of the Hallstein doctrine[4], which accepted the Bonn administration of the West German federal republic as Ireland’s only legitimate German partner.

This diplomatic stance, combined with limited economic ties, meant that contacts between Ireland and East Germany were kept to a minimum. Even the celebrated playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht was refused permission to visit Dublin in 1953.

After several false starts, however, the repatriation went ahead, in 1979, as a “humanitarian act” and as an East Berlin favor to the Communist Party of Ireland. And, as some in East Berlin hoped, it opened the door to diplomatic ties a year later. The Irish Embassy in The Hague was double-accredited to East Germany; East Berlin’s embassy in London took up duty for Ireland.

Given that just nine years was left on East Germany’s clock, the book shifts its focus to a study of East German interest in Ireland–which began as a low priority, aan de Wiel acknowledges, and diminished still further as time went by.

As he explains, and I can testify, the bulk of Stasi information gathering on Ireland amounts to several folders of yellowing press cuttings. The few intelligence reports that exist are less interesting for their contents, often plagiarized from books, than for their sprinkling of factual and typing errors.

As aan de Wiel relates, Stasi moles at EEC institutions and the Belgian foreign ministry provided information on events in Northern Ireland, although again of a limited quantity and quality. The files reveal no evidence of an Irish Kim Philby selling secrets to East Berlin.

Despite–or rather because of–this lack of revelations, aan de Wiel’s study has a value on two levels. First, he provides an intelligent and timely corrective to competing narratives on the Stasi that have emerged since the East German secret police was wound up, a quarter century ago.

One narrative, egged on by the entertaining Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, presents the Stasi as a pitiless, bloodless bureaucracy, where all-seeing agents with unlimited resources ruined people’s lives.

Another narrative, spun by the foreign intelligence head Markus Wolf and swallowed by many beyond East Germany, presented the Stasi as a secret service like any other. This is also a distortion, given the Stasi’s cruel policy of zersetzen[5]–grinding down ordinary citizens to achieve arbitrary ends, without Stasi officers having to worry about the legal ramifications of their actions.

Given its limitations, the Stasi was an effective intelligence service. But, wielding his academic shears expertly, aan de Wiel trims the service down to size and strips it of lingering mystique. Which leads to the second achievement of his book: what he didn’t find in the 6,000 pages of Stasi files on Ireland, namely evidence that East Berlin had anything more than an observer’s interest in Northern Ireland affairs.

The author does a good job of putting in context contacts of the IRA, both Provisional and Official, with Moscow. He also details how East Berlin monitored the Provisional IRA and INLA campaigns against British army bases in West Germany. But what of the shadowy contacts between Belfast and East Berlin that pop up in many standard works on the Troubles? According to aan de Wiel, many of these works, such as Ed Moloney’s history of the IRA, make claims that are not backed up with evidence.

Was there anything more than provincial vanity to the claims the Stasi saw itself obliged to support a republican campaign against British imperialism? The author says that “not a single sheet proves or even hints that the Stasi assisted the OIRA [Official Irish Republican Army], PIRA [Provisional Irish Republican Army], or INLA [Irish National Liberation Army] by providing either finance or armament”.

That puts the ball back in the court of many journalists, historians and writers in Northern Ireland to produce the evidence that their IRA-Stasi claims are more than wishful thinking.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Derek Scally, “Review: East German Intelligence and Ireland 1949-90,” The Irish Times (January 18, 2015). Accessed at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/review-east-german-intelligence-and-ireland-1949-90-1.2068841 . Derek Scally is Berlin Correspondent

[3] [FLW] Frank Ryan (died June 1944) was an Irish politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist. He first came to prominence as an Irish republican activist at University College Dublin and fought for the Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War. Ryan fell under the influence of Peadar O’Donnell; an advocate of Marxist-Leninism within Irish republicanism; which saw him break with the IRA and become involved with founding of a new political organization known as the Republican Congress and editing the newspaper associated with it; An Phoblacht. Along with others, Ryan participated in the Spanish Civil War on the Popular Front side, fighting for the Comintern-organized International Brigades (retroactively known as the Connolly Column). After being captured by pro-Nationalist Italians, he was sentenced to death but later granted an “escape” by Franco personally. He was released into the hands of the Abwehr (military intelligence of Germany) and transported to Berlin. Ryan spent the rest of World War II until his 1944 death working as an IRA-Abwehr go-between on operations such as Dove, Whale and Sea Eagle.

[4] [FLW] The Hallstein Doctrine, named after Walter Hallstein, was a key doctrine in the foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1955-1970. As usually presented, it prescribed that the Federal Republic would not establish or maintain diplomatic relations with any state that recognized the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

[5] [FLW] Zersetzung (German; variously translated as decomposition, corrosion, undermining, biodegradation or dissolution) is a psychological warfare technique that was first used by Nazi Germany as part of the accusation Wehrkraftzersetzung against political opponents (which typically resulted in death penalties). Decades later, during the Honecker era, the Stasi used the accusation Zersetzung to silence political opponents by repression. The “measures of Zersetzung”, defined in the framework of a directive on police procedures in 1976, were used in the context of so-called “operational procedures” (in German Operative Vorgänge or OV). They replaced the overt terror of the Ulbricht era. The practice of repression in Zersetzung comprised extensive and secret methods of control and psychological manipulation, including personal relationships of the target, for which the Stasi relied on its network of informal collaborators,[2] (in German inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or IM), the State’s power over institutions, and on operational psychology. Using targeted psychological attacks the Stasi tried to deprive a dissident of any chance of a “hostile action”. The use of Zersetzung is well documented due to numerous Stasi files published after East Germany’s Wende. Several thousands or up to 10,000 individuals are estimated to have become victims.

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