Belfast Telegraph

American behind film of Martin McGuinness with bomb 'was suspected CIA agent'

John Bowyer Bell
John Bowyer Bell
Ex-Noraid publicity chief Martin Galvin
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The US academic who filmed Martin McGuinness loading a bomb into a car and showing children guns was suspected of working for the CIA by some republicans.

Several veteran IRA members declined to be interviewed by John Bowyer Bell when he was in Ireland, the Belfast Telegraph has been told.

And former Noraid publicity director Martin Galvin last night said he had received a "cautionary warning" about him.

Mr Bowyer Bell's 1972 film, The Secret Army, was found by a BBC researcher. Clips from it will be shown in tonight's documentary, Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History.

It includes footage of IRA men planning and carrying out a bomb attack on Queen's University Belfast and attempts to shoot down helicopters. The IRA allowed Mr Bowyer's 'Secret Army crew' to film attacks that were carried out by its members who weren't wearing masks.

Mr Bowyer Bell said he had interviewed 1,000 IRA members over 20 years for books he had written about the organisation.

But some veteran members, wary of the terrorism expert, declined to be interviewed, and doubts were aired about him in the US. Mr Galvin said: "When I became Noraid publicity director around 1978, I was seeking to build a list of contacts in order to support the H-Block blanketmen. I suggested going to Bowyer Bell but Mike Flannery (Noraid founder) told me there was a suspicion that Bowyer Bell might be linked to the CIA.

"He pointed out that elements of his CV fitted such a profile.

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Ex-Noraid publicity chief Martin Galvin

"Bowyer Bell had done consulting with a lot of government agencies in New York and was investigative author on a number of international conflicts and other things that fitted a CIA profile and raised concerns."

Mr Galvin stressed that "no evidence" had been offered to him about Mr Bowyer Bell. "It was a purely cautionary warning," he said.

"I didn't ask Mike Flannery for any more information or inquire further, I just didn't contact Bowyer Bell. I didn't know him at all but viewed his work as very positive and very sympathetic to republicans."

Mr Bowyer Bell was a native New Yorker who considered a career as a professional artist before becoming an academic.

He was fascinated by global conflicts and said he arrived in Ireland "to discover the IRA" in 1965.

"I found out that the only way you would get to know the IRA is to go meet them. You couldn't find them in libraries or books," he said in a 1993 Booknotes interview.

When asked what Irish people thought of him, he stated: "Well, having spent 30 years associated with the IRA, they don't know quite what to make of me because, technically, I'm an academic. I associate with gunmen. No one is sure whether I'm smuggling arms, representing the IRA or what I say I am, which is an author."

He continued: "The thing about dealing with what most Americans would call terrorists is that, after you know them a long time, they become people with wives and jobs and they go home and they wait around between shooting people and talk to me.

"They are not quite as easy to define as a cardboard character if you've known them for 20 or 30 years and you know their children and even their grandchildren in some cases.

"To a degree I've spent my adult life in Ireland talking to people who possess the absolute truth and smell of cordite."

The academic spoke of being present during an IRA attack in Andersonstown. "The lads fired two or three times and foolishly enough I had gone along," he recalled.

"They knew which way to run and I didn't. And once you get shot at, several things happen. You gain 800 pounds and move very slowly."

Mr Bowyer Bell was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and founded a consultancy, the International Analysis Centre, whose clients included the US State Department, the Department of Justice, the CIA, and TV networks.

Mr Bowyer Bell's second wife, Norah Browne, was from Co Kerry. His paintings were displayed in galleries in New York and Dublin.

He died in 2003 aged 71.

An An Phoblacht obituary recalled 'Bo' "holding court, often in the bar and lobby of Dublin's Central Hotel". It said his books stood out in comparison to the "tawdry ramblings of informers, disgruntled British agents and journalistic rush jobs".

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