A secret chronicle of US-Northern Ireland relations in the 21st century is revealed in a cache of embassy cables published by the Belfast Telegraph.
Classified documents uncovered by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks detail the full extent of ongoing American involvement and concern in the region’s affairs — years after the onset of the peace process and formation of a power-sharing Executive.
The cables offer an unprecedented insight into backstage diplomacy and international relations as conducted by the superpower.
Around 1,900 sensitive dispatches — many designated confidential or secret — have been obtained, detailing years of covert analysis and scrutiny of Northern Ireland, the Republic and international matters.
It follows a three-month investigation by the Belfast Telegraph and our Dublin stablemate, the Irish Independent.
The contents of many of the cables will be the subject of a series of articles in the Telegraph and Irish Independent all this week.
Among the Northern Ireland revelations are:
All of the leaked cables were considered “classified” to keep them out of the public domain, and were sent behind firewalls of ciphers, codes and secret classifications which diplomats assumed would be secure.
Some are classified ‘SECRET/NOFORN’ or 'CONFIDENTIAL/NOFORN', meaning the contents were considered too sensitive to share with non-US citizens. Nearly all were sent direct to the State Department in Washington and the NSC, the main forum used by President Barack Obama, special advisers and senior members of the American government for key national security and foreign policy matters.
The cables provide unique insights into the long-standing relationship between successive US administrations and Northern Ireland.
America has a particularly close relationship with Belfast and Dublin, and some of the disclosures will make uncomfortable reading for diplomats and their subjects. Roughly half of the cables – dating from the Air India disaster in 1985 to Margaret Ritchie’s appointment as SDLP leader in February 2010 – originate from Dublin and Belfast, with the overwhelming majority enamating from Dublin. The rest are sourced from embassies and consulates across the globe.
All are relevant, in varying degrees, to Irish and Northern Irish domestic or foreign affairs.
Many contain medium and high-level political reporting and analysis, particularly those originating from the Belfast Consulate.
Almost all will provide new and telling insights into the politicking and horse-trading that goes on behind the closed doors of international diplomacy.
Generally the language used is diplomatic. But sometimes more colourful language appears, offering a revealing insight into how America privately views us.
In one cable, the current Consul General in Belfast, Kamala Lakhdhir, describes SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie as “wooden” and “burdened” with “an unpleasant speaking voice.”
One recurring theme is the continued involvement of the US in Northern Irish affairs.
This was particularly apparent following the murder of two soldiers outside Massereene Army barracks in March 2009.
Several cables indicate the alarm and unease which the murders sparked in Washington, and disclose how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requested detailed information on the security forces' efforts to combat terrorism.
Details of US involvement in the Republic, wider Europe and the world are also revealed. Some of the dispatches date back to the 1980s, providing a fascinating insight into the past and the often strained relationship between London and Dublin during the Troubles.
Other cables disclose how the American government is able to routinely access sensitive information through an extensive network of insider contacts.
These include briefings from organisations such as the Arms Commission and PSNI, and confidential sources ranging from Irish government ministers and high-ranking civil servants to top diplomats and EU officials.
Several contain recommendations to “strictly protect” a named individual’s identity, or information they have provided to diplomats.
The leaking of the cables has caused worldwide controversy and uncovered a series of controversies across the globe.
A huge electronic archive of more than 250,000 embassy dispatches was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier, Bradley Manning, last year and passed to WikiLeaks, although the organisation has not confirmed Mr Manning is the source of the leaks.
Mr Assange, the website’s founder, has since made the material available to leading news organisations around the world.