Bombers used video cameras to spy on MI5 base
Security chiefs cut down 20 trees after discovery of hidden cameras
Dissident republicans planted spy cameras in trees at MI5’s £20m base at Palace Barracks in Northern Ireland.
The army rumbled the sophisticated Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) spying operation during a search of a clump of trees on the Old Holywood Road overlooking the rear of the barracks where MI5 has its £20m Loughside base.
It is understood four digital cameras were concealed in the trees near Redburn Country Park.
It is feared ONH, which bombed Palace Barracks in April, has used the recordings to target soldiers and build profiles on spooks working at the new spy base.
Senior security sources in London tried to play down the cameras being found, saying only that trees were cleared and a new fence erected because of concerns the wooded area could conceal gunmen.
And the PSNI would only say when asked if cameras had been found that no materials “likely to be of use to terrorists” had been found in the Redburn area since the April bomb attack.
But well placed sources in Belfast insisted the cameras were discovered and said the find was embarrassing for MI5 which employs more than 300 people at the base.
“There were four cameras hidden in the trees at the back of Palace Barracks which covered all angles of the base,” said an insider.
“That is why all the perfectly healthy trees were chopped down instead of just erecting the fence. That measure showed how concerned MI5 was by what dissidents were doing and by the atrocity they seemed to be planning.
“The cameras were battery-powered and had been there for some time, maybe months.
“They were also backed up with memory sticks.”
It is understood ONH chiefs regard the planting of the spy cams as a major success even though the equipment has now been found.
It is thought ONH members would make regular trips to Redburn Country Park to collect the memory sticks and change the batteries on the cameras.
Our source said the discovery showed ONH were becoming more dangerous. “These guys are becoming a more sophisticated paramilitary outfit,” added the insider.
“In April they exploded a car bomb at the gates of Palace Barracks, and now they are spying on MI5.
“This shows the extremely serious threat that ONH poses, they are very, very dangerous.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell expressed alarm at our revelations.
He said: “It would have very serious implications if this was the case — it’s very concerning.”
Since April's bomb attack staff at Palace Barracks have driven into the base through a revamped front entrance manned by armed Ministry of Defence police.
But the rear of the base that was damaged in the explosion is now operational again following repairs.
Following the bomb, security chiefs carried out a major security review and identified the trees where the cameras were concealed as a potential danger spot.
It was feared gunmen could also easily hide there and mount a Massereene-style gun attack on the base's sentry post and vehicles entering or leaving.
In March of last year, soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar were shot dead by gunmen at the entrance to Massereene army base in Antrim.
The gunmen had hidden in bushes opposite the base entrance so they could watch until soldiers came out to collect pizzas and then open fire on them.
Army headquarters refused to comment on the camera find, but one security source described the area where they were hidden.
“It was a densely wooded patch that was easily accessed,” he said.
“In winter time you wouldn’t see anyone moving into it from a distance, or setting up an operation to riddle the entrance in a repeat of the Massereene attack”.
Last week MI5’s Director General Jonathan Evans told the Commons’ Intelligence and Security Committee
that his organisation had not anticipated the way in which the security situation has deteriorated in Northern Ireland.
He said: “The Service has considerably more what we would call priority, that is life-threatening investigations in Northern Ireland, than we do in the rest of Great Britain.”
The recent 33 per cent increase in agents and analysts based at Loughside inside the Palace Barracks complex makes it by far the largest MI5 base outside London.
The complex is the main back-up to M15 headquarters in London.