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New report into Omagh attack

category national | crime and justice | opinion/analysis author Sunday September 08, 2013 21:38author by I.Green Report this post to the editors

The British and Irish governments are facing fresh demands for a new inquiry into their police and intelligence agencies including the involvement of the FBI in the withholding vital information on the Omagh bombing. One of the most disturbing pieces of information to emerge refers to an e-mail sent between David Rupert and his MI5/FBI handlers which warned of a bomb attack in Omagh.

No one will welcome an inquiry more than the family of Michael McKevitt. They believe that such an inquiry would exonerate him and will expose what many people already believe that he was framed from the outset. Ironically when one looks at the Dublin trial and later the civil case the evidence used against him was far from convincing. During the 2003 trial the only evidence was given by David Rupert a paid informer working for MI5 and the FBI whose activities are now being questioned by the Omagh families. Subsequently the transcripts from the Dublin trial were used as the sole evidence in the Omagh civil case. In the summing up of the civil case Mr Justice Morgan conceded that “the MI5/FBI informant David Rupert had lied to Dublin’s Special Criminal Court and was financially motivated”. This comment from Mr Justice Morgan is clearly in conflict with how he allowed Rupert’s evidence from the Dublin trial to be used in the civil case.

The April 1998 e-mail is not something new as it was highlighted in 2003 during McKevitt’s trial. The defence team questioned that particular e-mail by asking what was Rupert’s knowledge and involvement in the bomb attack on the town. Indeed there are on-going suggestions that Rupert was observed in Omagh town days before the bomb attack, a point which appears to be forgotten somewhere along the way. It should also be noted that after the attack Rupert was whisked off out of the country by his MI5 handlers fearing arrest, this detail is also contained in the e-mails and although it has always been of considerable significance it is not mentioned in the ‘new report’. Too many questions on Rupert’s activity in Ireland throughout that period remain unanswered and although many questions were raised on his activities during the McKevitt trial the conviction appears to have been the main objective.

The ‘new report’ makes one interesting observation on Rupert on his activities in Ireland. The families say that they have documented evidence to show that MI5 urged him to offer intelligence to the Continuity IRA about British army and police bases in Northern Ireland, which he did. Posing as American tourists awe-struck by the security installations, Rupert and his wife would stop at border crossing points such as Aughnacloy and take pictures and videos of themselves at the border crossings. According to the Omagh Self Help and Support group new intelligence files indicate that Rupert was also aiding the IRA by sending materials from the US with the full knowledge of his FBI handlers. The fact that Rupert was involved in such activities, one can only assume that it was in his interest to accuse someone else and deflect from his own involvement in terrorism and his knowledge of the Omagh attack.

During the Omagh civil case Rupert refused to give evidence by video link from the US fearing extensive cross-examination by McKevitt's legal team. It was felt at the time that he was acting on advice from the FBI and this development suggested that they were fearful of something more sinister emerging during any cross-examination. Another unanswered but interesting question is that of Michael Gallagher’s meeting with the FBI and David Rupert in the US, prior to McKevitt's arrest in 2001. If all questions are to be answered then Mr Gallagher should also come clean on that and other clandestine meetings which he attended.

Although the families have indicated that they will go to Court if no inquiry is forthcoming it is doubtful if the authorities (British and Irish) will give consent for such an inquiry, to do so would open up issues which may create more embarrassment for the authorities and may also expose a wider FBI involvement in the case. Outlandish as it may appear, the US involvement surrounding the events in the Omagh attack should not be underestimated and it would certainly need further examination.

A very interesting development emerged during the Omagh inquest when Michael Mansfield QC [representing the victim’s families] asked RUC Assistant Chief Constable Eric Anderson if the British state possessed any satellite information which facilitated the monitoring of the Vauxhall Cavalier prior to the bombing. Anderson confirmed the car contained a tracking device which enabled a US satellite to pinpoint the car’s movements and exact location on the day of the bombing. US intelligence also conveyed this surveillance data to MI5, yet MI5 decided not to relay the information to RUC officers on the ground.

The families are well aware that much of the undisclosed material surrounding the bomb attack will point the finger straight towards the security services, their knowledge of events prior to the attack and their lack of cooperation with the police (RUC) in the area. There are also separate reports of the involvement of informers who it is believed alerted their handlers prior to the attack and this information was also concealed from the RUC in the area.

Major mistakes were also made since the bombing by some members of the families who allowed their judgment to be clouded after the British government agreed to finance the civil case for them. They now realise that their cooperation with the British security services (MI5) instead of pursuing their own independent case has cost them dearly in the long term. In total, to date all they have achieved was a witch hunt, which concluded with a less than convincing civil case and on their own admission they now realise that the truth did not emerge. It appears that vengeance overtook the search for truth and now 15 years later they are further back than they were in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

One glaring weakness in the report reveals that it relies heavily on hundreds of e-mails exchanged between David Rupert – who was the state prosecution witness in the McKevitt trial and his MI5/FBI handlers. Although one particular e-mail dated April 1998 sent by Rupert to his handlers revealed that Omagh town was a potential bomb target. However, the authenticity of the e-mails was questioned during the trial in 2003, and it led to their withdrawal by the prosecution after it emerged that they contained multiple contradictory and unreliable details. According to legal sources, had the e-mails been submitted as evidence the trial would have collapsed and Michael McKevitt would have walked free.

Other information in the report revealed how police in the Omagh area received three pieces of evidence, one from an anonymous tip-off and two separate informants, this could also have assisted in preventing the bombing if they had been brought together in time. According to the report there are serious allegations made against MI5 and FBI for withholding information from the police, but there are also allegations against the police on both sides of the border for withholding information from each other. The wide sweeping allegations throughout the report leaves one to draw only one conclusion, that the responsibility for the mess-ups rests clearly between both the Irish and British authorities. Whether it was deliberate or not is another story, some will say that it was, others will say that it was just a mess-up.

Disturbing omissions from the civil case included the lack of cooperation from state witnesses including the police (RUC) who refused to participate or cooperate in the case. The senior police officer (RUC) who led the Omagh investigation was accused of stealing police files relating to the bomb investigation, bizarrely this wasn’t queried by the judge in the civil case. The British Security Services personnel including MI5 operatives refused to cooperate and withheld relevant information on the bombing.

Some of the more accurate aspects of the reports say:

* a senior member of the Gardai who held the rank of Assistant Commissioner failed to pass vital intelligence to his counterparts in the North, information that dissident republicans were trying to obtain a vehicle for a bomb attack.
* that there is evidence to back claims that the car carrying the bomb to Omagh had a tracking device attached and was monitored with the help of the FBI; although this has been denied by the FBI the report suggests that they have proof which widens the FBI’s involvement the case.
* The e-mail sent between Rupert to his MI5/FBI handlers in April 1998 revealed that Omagh was being targeted for a bomb attack. Information from that particular e-mail was in possession of MI5 the FBI and a senior member of the Gardaí, it was never passed to the police in the North, according to the report.
The report points out that there is concrete evidence that, on the day of the attack GCHQ was monitoring a phone number being used by the bombers. This information came into the public domain through two panorama programmes but more significantly a family spokesperson said that the evidence in the report is stronger than the detail contained in the TV programmes.

Throughout all the failures and the lack of cooperation between the police and international security services (MI5/FBI) one mush ask, what was the motivation for withholding such vital intelligence reports? Did they want to protect the identity of its agents at all costs? Yes, it certainly appears that they did. Although the families are reluctant to lay any portion of blame with the authorities, the lack of cooperation alone means that they must take some responsibility.

It should be pointed out that following each of those claims, a report by Sir Peter Gibson concluded that the attack on Omagh could not have been prevented. It was one of a number of inquiries which examined issues including the sharing of evidence, the role of police in the south, and a review of what intelligence was picked up by GCHQ. However, the families disagree and suggest that this report was a smokescreen to deflect from state neglect in the case and they are demanding a public inquiry.
Timeline: The search for truth
- 11 April 1998: e-mail sent to MI5/FBI handlers referring to bomb attack on Omagh
- August 1998: Sightings of David Rupert in Omagh days prior to the bombing.
- 15 August 1998: Blast rips through Omagh, killing 29 people after a series of contradictory warnings.
- 16 August 1998: Rupert whisked out of Ireland to London by his MI5 handlers.
- September 1998: Rupert travelled to Cayman Islands to deposit finances.
- October 2000: Panorama broadcasts names of four men connected with the bombing. (Michael McKevitt was not one of those named).
- November 2001: Rupert was approached to give evidence against McKevitt. He was told by the FBI/MI5 what the charges against McKevitt would be – directing of an illegal organisation and membership. This was two months before Rupert came to Ireland to make his statement to the Gardaí against McKevitt and four months before McKevitt was arrested. Rupert’s response was, “tell me what to do, make it worth my while and as long as the benefit overrides risk in my view it will be done to the best of my ability.”
- December 2001: Report by ombudsman criticises police inquiry and says key intelligence was not passed to inquiry team.
- January 9th, 2001: David Rupert made a statement to the Gardaí in Dublin.
- March 2001: Michael McKevitt is arrested
- August 2003: Michael McKevitt convicted of directing terrorism and jailed in charges unrelated to the Omagh attack.
- September 2008: Panorama reports agencies monitored phones of suspected bombers.
- January 2009: Sir Peter Gibson inquiry says the attack could not have been prevented.
- August 2013: Families call for new public inquiry.

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