Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA


Aaron Edwards

April 2021

Explosive revelations about the hidden agendas of leading republicans Martin McGuinness, Joe Haughey, John Joe Magee and Freddie Scappaticci. New insights into the spymasters behind the scenes, as well as the capture of the M60 Gang, targeted killings in Derry, Loughgall and Gibraltar, secret talks between the IRA and the British Government.



Recruited by British Intelligence to infiltrate the IRA and Sinn Féin during the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, they were ‘agents of influence’. With codenames like INFLICTION, STAKEKNIFE, 3007 and CAROL, these spies played a pivotal role in the fight against Irish republicanism. Now, for the first time, some of these agents have emerged from the shadows to tell their compelling stories. Agents of Influence takes you behind the scenes of the secret intelligence war which helped bring the IRA’s armed struggle to an end.

Historian Aaron Edwards, the critically acclaimed author of UVF: Behind the Mask, explains how the IRA was penetrated by British agents, with explosive new revelations about the hidden agendas of prominent republicans like Martin McGuinness and Freddie Scappaticci and lesser-known ones like Joe Haughey and John Joe Magee. Bringing to light recently declassified TOP SECRET documents and the firsthand testimonies of agents and their handlers, Edwards reveals how British Intelligence gained extraordinary access to the IRA’s inner circle and manipulated them into engaging with the peace process.

With new insights into the spy masters behind the scenes, their strategies and tactics, and Britain’s international intelligence network in Northern Ireland, Europe, and beyond, Agents of Influence offers a rare and shocking glimpse into the clandestine world of secret agents, British intelligence strategy and the betrayal at the heart of militant Irish republicanism during the vicious decades of the Troubles.


Dramatis Personae


Prologue: In the Zone

  1. The War against Terrorism
  2. Inside the Stormont KGB
  3. Operation ARTICHOKE
  4. The Oldfield System
  5. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
  6. The Derry Falange
  7. An Honourable Cause
  8. Project 3702
  9. A Soldier’s Mentality
  10. Championing the Bullet and Ballot Box
  11. Fighting Britain in her own Home
  12. The McGuinness Half Hour
  13. The Frank Murray Show
  14. Agents Within
  15. The Man in the Arena
  16. The Button Job
  17. Gripping the IRA
  18. Fools Handling Fools
  19. Not an Absolute Science
  20. ‘The madness was so real you could touch it’
  21. A 3D War

Epilogue: Collecting People

Provisional IRA Structures (circa 1980s)

British Intelligence Structures (circa 1980s)

About The Author
Aaron Edwards is a Senior Lecturer in Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including Mad Mitch’s Tribal Law: Aden and the End of Empire (2014) and UVF: Behind the Mask (2017). His work has featured in The Irish Times, Belfast Telegraph, Belfast News Letter and The Irish News.

Praise for Agents of Influence

‘Mainstream republicans and some academics have disputed what impact agents and informers actually had on the IRA’s capacity to carry on its campaign. Edwards’s valuable research does reveal important intelligence failures, and the turf wars between Special Branch, the army and MI5… Edwards’s thesis is not that the IRA was infiltrated and betrayed into defeat; its campaign could have continued with diminishing effects for some years. Rather it is that the intelligence war played a decisive role in strengthening those in the IRA leadership who wanted a ceasefire.’
Professor Henry Patterson, The Sunday Times

‘Edwards sheds some new light on the activities of “agents of influence” – individuals described by MI5 as “unsung heroes … subject to control and direction”. He describes in some detail activities and claims of prominent IRA individuals, including members of the IRA’s internal security unit, its “nutting squad”, and the relationship between Willie Carlin, MI5’s spy within Sinn Féin, and Martin McGuinness as the former IRA commander made his journey to his election as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. The author rightly points to the destructive rivalry between the different intelligence-gathering agencies of the British security state — the RUC’s special branch, the army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) and MI5.′
Richard Norton-Taylor, Declassified

Agents of Influence is a forensically detailed account of Britain’s intelligence operation in Northern Ireland, from 1979 when prime minister Margaret Thatcher made it a top priority. to 1997 when the fighting effectively stopped. Edwards, a Belfast-born historian, has made excellent use of recently declassified British government files on the subject. Most impressively, he has also got personal testimony from three MI5 moles… Agents of Influence skilfully untangles the complex web of spooks who flitted between British security, the Northern Ireland Office, the army and the RUC … One of Edwards’s most striking discoveries is that on at least two occasions, Special Branch actually saved Gerry Adams from being assassinated by loyalist gunmen. The British were apparently afraid that Adams would be replaced by someone more extreme and less receptive to a democratic solution … Until recently, it was possible to buy a T-shirt from Sinn Féin’s online shop with the slogan “IRA – Undefeated Army”. This coolly factual and important piece of research suggests that the truth is much more complex.’
Andrew Lynch, Sunday Business Post

‘Edwards, in this seminal work, has done much to shine a light into this clandestine and often unsavoury world of conflicted loyalties…Edwards is also careful to guide the reader through the often-convoluted evolution and development of the British Intelligence effort and highlights how one of the biggest impediments in this “War in the Shadows” was interservice rivalry that took years de-conflict and hone into an integrated and coordinated system that critically was key to the containment of PIRA.’
Dr Rory Finnegan, An Cosantóir

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