Still so many unanswered questions about the biggest security breach of the Troubles
Northern Ireland is a place where conspiracy theories abound. The suggestion that an IRA break-in at police headquarters was allowed to happen in order to protect a high-level republican agent isn’t far-fetched.
After all, evidence is mounting that lives were sacrificed here in order to protect State agents.
So, allowing a burglary to go ahead would hardly be beyond the Pale for these guys.
Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire says his investigators found no evidence of this. Mr Maguire’s robustness in holding the State to account — adopting a similar style to that of his predecessor Nuala O’Loan — means there is little reason to doubt his conclusion.
Yet many unanswered questions remain about the Castlereagh break-in.
Just after 10pm on St Patrick’s Day in 2002 a car drew up at the complex.
The three men inside produced Army identification to the guard and were waved through.
Dressed in smart suits, they waltzed into the building where they made their way to Room 220, the office which informers phoned to make contact with their handlers.
The officer on duty was punched, a hood was placed over his head, his mouth was taped and he was tied to a chair.
The trio left with documents containing the codenames of agents, details on Special Branch officers, and other information relating to ongoing operations.
The raid, which rocked the peace process, was meticulously planned and executed.
It was masterminded by the IRA’s director of intelligence who, two years later, would successfully plot the Northern Bank robbery. It was the biggest security breach in the history of the conflict — the prison equivalent being the Maze escape 19 years earlier in 1983.
But, unlike the latter, this wasn’t just a PR coup.
Indeed, the Provos have never publicly admitted responsibility.
This was about gaining intelligence.
The documents were moved across the border for decryption. How successful the IRA was in doing that, only it knows. The fact that the Provos’ war had ended meant nobody lost their lives as a result of any secrets exposed by the raid.
Police suspected that American Larry Zaitschek, who had been a chef in Castlereagh, had helped the IRA team.
Detectives discovered he was associated with Denis Donaldson, Sinn Fein’s chief Stormont administrator, who was later unmasked as a British agent.
In October 2002 police raided Sinn Fein’s offices and discovered a spy ring at the heart of government.
The case against Zaitschek was dropped in 2009.
Known as ‘Larry the Chef’, the American now runs a restaurant in Co Louth.