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Informers everywhere


Mick Hall • 18 July 2004

As of late the media seems to be full of articles about informers/agents of influence that have penetrated the Provisional IRA, supposedly at all levels. The most prominent to be exposed so far being the informer the British code named Stakeknife. Before this, although on the loyalist side, there was Brian Nelson, an ex British soldier who was encouraged to infiltrate the UDA, becoming its intelligence chief with murderous consequences. As the man named as Stakeknife, Freddie Scappiticci was a very senior member of PIRA security department; this meant that the British at one time controlled those at the top of both the largest Republican and loyalist organisations intelligence and security departments. If one considers this and the murder and mayhem these two agents were sanctioned to do by their British handlers, or decided to carry out off their own backs, it brings state collusion onto a totally new level.

Those reading the current crop of stories could be forgiven for believing that touts were a peculiarly Irish phenomenon, whilst the Irish have had their fair share of such people, this is only to be expected, they have after all been struggling for the last 800 years, often against enormous odds to fully liberate their country from under what the majority still see as unjust occupation. With Britain's political experience, wealth and guile it is hardly surprising they have been able to corrupt the odd few Irish men and women along the way.

No, the Irish have no need to beat themselves up over the comparatively small numbers of their race who have succumbed and become informers for their nation's tormentors. For such people are prevalent in all countries which have passed through the humiliating and soul-destroying experience of foreign occupation. Not least in Britain itself when William the Conquerors golden coins crossed the palms of many an Englishman for services rendered, as elsewhere it was often the case that the wealthier the local the more willing they were to be corrupted.

A fine example of how base the human spirit can become is the film Le Chagrin et la pitié 1971. (The Sorrow and the Pity) by Marcel Ophuls which covers the years during World War Two of the Nazi occupation of the French city of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding countryside, a town close to Vichy and located in the Auvergne region that was home to much Resistance activity. In the film we meet those who collaborated as well as resisted. As always the former did so for a host of reasons, whilst the majority of people, as in most places caught in similar situations, at first just wanted life to go on without violence intruding into their lives and did their best to survive, but gradually they realise that to do so is an impossibility and they are forced to take sides more openly. The overwhelming majority choose to side, if only silently with those who oppose the occupier. But there are always individuals who are too short sighted, greedy, stupid, frightened or demoralised and who end up supporting the powers that be and by so doing bringing down disaster on their family, friends, neighbours and more often than not their own heads.

Historically, governments have a long history of recruiting informers/agents of influence via their intelligence agencies throughout the world. This was true within Ireland long before the post 1969 troubles. It seems pretty certain that Parnell's one time right hand man Tim Healy who went on to become Governor-General of the Irish Free State was throughout much of his political life, what today would be called an 'agent of influence' of the British State. A number of incidents point to this. Born in Bantry, County Cork, Healy worked as a parliamentary correspondent for The Nation newspaper before becoming Member of Parliament (Westminster) for Wexford in 1880. Initially a passionate supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell, he supposedly became disenchanted with his leader and all but abandoned him in his hour of need. During the O'Shea divorce controversy, when it was revealed that the party leader had been having a lengthy relationship with the wife of a fellow MP and was the father of some of her children, Healy became his sternest and most outspoken critic despite having known about the relationship for years and in the process, all but destroyed his former master. When Parnell asked his colleagues at one party meeting 'who is the master of the party,' Healy famously retorted with another question, "Aye, but who is the mistress of the party?"

After this he gradually disappeared to the wings of Irish Nationalism; however when the Irish Free State was established the British, it is said by putting pressure on W.T. Cosgrave who in turn proposed Healy as the First Governor General of the new state. An important position because all Free State government papers went across the GG desk. Normally British State Papers are released after 30 years or on the death of those mentioned in them, however those concerning Mr Healy have not been released to this day. One does not have to be a paranoid witch-finder to conclude that in all probability Healy was a long term British asset.

Recruiting such people was of course not confined to the British. One of the more pleasant outcomes of the 1917 Russian Revolution was the Tzar's security service archive was captured intact. Thus from it one can learn much about how security services operate. Prior to the Russian revolution and the over-throw of the Tzar, his secret service the Okhrana recruited a long list of informers within Lenin's Bolshevik Party. The most prominent of these was named Roman Malinovsky; he took a prominent role in organising workers during the 1905 revolution. However, due to this activity he had become well known to the police and in November 1909, he was arrested and expelled from St. Petersburg.

Malinovsky went to Moscow but in May 1910, he was arrested once again. It was while he was in prison he agreed to become an undercover agent for the Okhrana and for 100 rubles a month Malinovsky supplied reports on Bolshevik members, locations of party meetings and storage places for illegal literature.

In 1912 Lenin suggested that Malinovsky should join the Bolshevik Central Committee. Lenin also advocated that Malinovsky should be a Bolshevik candidate for the Russian Duma (Parliament). Lenin rejected objections from Martov and others who claimed Malinovsky was a police spy, claiming they were his main political opponents and only claimed Malinovsky was an informer to damage Lenin and his Party faction. After being elected to the Duma in October 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies (MPs). Thus the leader of the Bolshevik Members of Parliament was a Tsarist State asset.

In 1914 rumours again began to circulate that Malinovsky was a spy working for the Okhrana. The Bolsheviks carried out another investigation into Malinovsky and concluded that his "political honesty" was not in doubt. On the outbreak of the WW1, Malinovsky resigned from the parliament and joined the Tzars Army. He was wounded and captured by the Germans in 1915 and spent the rest of the conflict in a prisoner of war camp.

After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917 they signed a peace treaty with the Germans that brought their involvement in the Great War to an end. Malinovsky, like millions of other Russian prisoners of war, was released and returned home, reporting to the Bolshevik Party headquarters, presumably believing he could return to at least some of the duties the war interrupted him from. What he had overlooked was that on taking power the Bolsheviks had captured intact the Okhrana files and were able to read all about his role as an informer. Surely he must have had some idea that this might have happened and, considering the knowledge he had about Lenin’s Bolsheviks, he would have been welcomed by the security services of Germany or after their defeat, Britain or France. Yet he chose to return home and bluff it out. This does seem to be a common trait amongst many informers when they are first exposed; Mr Scappiticci seems to have behaved in a similar manner. After a brief trial Malinovsky was found guilty and executed.

Another example that came into the public light after the Russian Revolution of the Okhrana running an agent of influence/tout within the Russian revolutionary movement was Yevno Philovich Azev. His case has similarities with those prominent examples in Ireland I mentioned at the beginning of this piece as he too became engaged in the armed struggle. He was born in 1869 and on reaching adulthood became a petty criminal to make ends meet and had to flee Russian for fear of being arrested, ending up in Karlsruhe, Germany. Prior to this he had played a minor political role. He had signed a manifesto that found its way into the hands of the Ochrana. He attended the Karlsruhe Polytechnic at which there were also many other Russian students, some of whom supported left wing organisations such as the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Short of money and sensing an opportunity, Azev wrote a letter to the Ochrana back in Russia offering to spy on these students for a fee. The Okhrana replied to his offer by hiring him. Thus he was what these days would be described as a walk-in. In 1893 he became a paid agent of the Ochrana on, at first, fifty rubles a month.

He quickly graduated from spying on his fellow students and sending gossip, which amounted to little more than tittle-tattle back to his Okhrana handler in Russia, to becoming, at their suggestion, a member of the Union of Socialist Revolutionaries Abroad and an agent provocateur. He soon ingratiated himself with USRA leaders who endorsed him wholeheartedly and selected him to be the group's chief emissary. Azev was sent by the USRA throughout Europe and into Russia to maintain contact with the party's leaders at home and abroad. He was able to send detailed reports on these radicals to the Okhrana back in Russia, whose head, Zubatov, believed that Azev was made in his own image, an individual who would sacrifice anyone for a price. Since Zubatov could afford to pay more money than any other source, Azev would forever be in his pocket and could be used effectively more and more as an agent provocateur. Azev looked at everything from the point of view of personal gain, Zubatov once wrote, and worked for the government not out of conviction but for the sake of personal profit. In 1901, Azev was given funds and moved to Moscow where the Okhrana’s chief Zubatov obtained a job for him as an engineer at the GEC.

Azev was now in the heart of revolutionary activity in Russia. To the radicals, he continued to preach the same crusade: terrorism and assassination. A small minority of extreme revolutionaries embraced his beliefs and he soon became one of the leaders of the group's Battle Organisation, a paramilitary section of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), which was devoted to terrorism, bank robbery, and murder. Azev actually organised several bank robberies, which were in reality carefully staged by the Okhrana itself. Zubatov gave his approval and in return Azev kept the stolen cash and arranged for the perpetrators or some hapless individual to be arrested for carrying out the robberies. When these arrests were made, Azev told his fellow members of the Battle Organisation (SRs) that they had been betrayed by none other than their chief, Gershuni. He then proceeded to denounce the same Gershuni to the Okhrana who duly arrested him in Kiev. The grateful but thoroughly duped radicals then promoted Azev to the leadership of the SRs Battle Organisation.

From this position he carefully selected which radicals to betray to the secret police. These were revolutionaries who either challenged his authority or might learn of his liaison with the Okhrana. To cement the belief the revolutionaries had in him he actively planned the assassinations of many government leaders, including Nicolai Bogolepov, Russia's Minister of Education who, on February 27, 1901, was shot and killed by a student who was indirectly under Azev's control. Azev then denounced the killer to the secret police.

He later organised the assassination of the Tzars hated Minister of the Interior Plehve. Bombs were hurled under Plehve’s carriage in a St. Petersburg street, and he was blown to pieces. After which Azev helpfully gave the Okhranas the names of those involved in the assassination, bar himself of course; they were quickly rounded up and executed.

Many of Azev's scheduled assassinations were purposely designed to fail so that he could expose the plotters to the security services. Other times he would make sure that the bombs used in attacks would not go off and the culprits apprehended. When this was brought to his attention by a few of his revolutionary associates, he is said to have declared that he was betrayed on every side, that the bomb makers were inept and he then called for bigger and better bombs.

Then what all informers must dread happened. In the middle of 1905, a member of the revolutionary council of the SR’s received an anonymous letter. It denounced Azev as a police spy. They convened a secret tribunal with Azev attending. He coolly sat before several judges who sifted what evidence there was to convict him. His advocates, of whom there were many, argued that the accusation was ridiculous. How could a man who had so brilliantly designed and executed the bold assassination of the hated Plehve be a police spy? The charges were dismissed and he went back to his intrigues but with less confidence that he could overcome the next threat of exposure

A fellow member of the SRs, Vladimir Burtzev had long suspected Azev of being a police spy. He quietly investigated his background, movements and, especially, the source of this wealth. Moreover, he was able to contact a retired police official who admitted that Azev was the Okhrana’s top informant. Burtzev put his evidence before a tribunal of the SRs in Paris in December 1908. Azev actually appeared to defend himself. When asked if he had met the head of the Okhrana on a certain night in St. Petersburg, he confidently provided a bill from a Warsaw hotel for that night. The tribunal was adjourned and Azev was asked to return the next day but realising the hotel bill would be revealed as a forgery he never did so, neither returning to Paris nor to Russia.

In the years before World War I it is said Azev wandered about Europe, living comfortably on the proceeds of his spying efforts. Burtzev, who finally exposed him, met him by accident in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1912. At that time, Azev sat on a park bench for a few minutes with the very man he knew would report their encounter and send revolutionary assassins after him, ever the intriguer, reproaching Burtzev, Azev said: "Had you not exposed my relationship with the Okhrana, I would have been able to assassinate the Tzar. You destroyed your own work and that of many others." With that he stood up and disappeared into a crowd. Yevno Azev died on April 24, 1918; he was buried at Wilmersdorf Cemetery, Germany. It is said his loyal mistress was his only mourner: then again......






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

4 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Tommy Gorman, Radical Thought
Anthony McIntyre

The UnHung Hero
Dolours Price

State Republicans and Totalitarian States
Kathleen O Halloran

Informers Everywhere
Mick Hall

Now Here's A Political Platform
Fred A Wilcox

Political Theatre
Danielle Ni Dhighe

Energy Crisis in Argentina, FTAA Goes One Game Up
Víctor Ego Ducrot and Martín Waserman
translated by Toni Solo

30 July 2004

Summertime and the living is easy...
Eamon Sweeney

The Strip
Anthony McIntyre

The Provisionals: A Repeat of History
Liam O Comain

Free Seamus Doherty
Martin Mulholland, IRPWA

Sartre Review
Liam O Ruairc

Bollix: Barriers and Borders
Matthew Kavanah



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