Northern Ireland

British ‘spooks’ viewed film that showed Martin McGuinness on IRA operations

The executive director of The Secret Army claims UK intelligence ‘got their hooks’ into 1972 propaganda film

An image from the film The Secret Army which shows Martin McGuinness (left) walking behind a car as it was being loaded with a huge bomb in 1972

An American academic’s 1972 film in which Martin McGuinness and other IRA members are apparently seen taking part in a bombing operation was viewed by British intelligence on its completion, according to the project’s executive director.

The claim is made in BBC NI Spotlight programme The Secret Army, which aired on Wednesday. It focuses on a propaganda film of the same name made by American author J Bowyer Bell.

The programme also speculates that Mr Bowyer Bell, who died in 2003, may have been working for the CIA during the time he spent in Ireland gathering footage for the project.

The film, extracts of which were aired previously by the BBC in 2019, remained largely unseen for almost 50 years.

The US academic, once regarded as an authority on the Provisional IRA, was given unprecedented access to the organisation’s operations and personnel, including members of its ruling army council.

US author and academic J Bowyer Bell

The film includes footage of unmasked IRA members, including the then schoolgirl Geraldine Hughes, planning and carrying out a bomb attack on Queen’s University Belfast’s sports club.

It also shows former deputy first minister Martin McGuiness, then leader of the IRA in Derry, appearing to help four other men load a bomb into the boot of a Volkswagen car.

Shot in an alleyway in the Brandywell area, the bomb was then driven to lower Shipquay Street in Derry city centre where it exploded, injuring 26 people and causing extensive damage. Mr McGuinness was also filmed handling a loaded revolver while young children look on.

BBC Spotlight journalist Darragh MacIntyre talks to a number of those involved in the film’s production and those who knew them, including the son of its director Zwy Aldouby.

One of those interviewed, former CIA deputy director Richard Kerr, speculates that Romanian-born Mr Aldouby, who was part of the Zionist terrorist group fighting the British in Palestine, was linked to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. However, the documentary is unable to substantiate the claim.

Likewise, it also claimed by Roberto Mitrotti, a former friend of Mr Bowyer Bell, that the author was paid by the CIA “for services in the abstract”.

The academic’s CV, uncovered by Mr McIntyre at Harvard University, shows he worked as a consultant for both the CIA and US Department of Defense on top secret projects. However, the entries come two years after Mr Bowyer Bell visited Ireland to make The Secret Army.

Fellow author Tim Pat Coogan, who also wrote books about the IRA, tells the programme that he believes Mr Bowyer Bell was a CIA agent.

Mr McIntyre explains how the film’s producers were told not to re-edit the final cut after it had been approved by the IRA or they “would be shot”. However, because there was no developing facility in Ireland, the reels of film were taken to London.

It was there, according to project’s executive director Leon Gildin, that British intelligence viewed the footage.

“Had they had developed it in Dublin, perhaps no one would have seen it,” he told the programme.

“By virtue of it being developed in London, that’s where British intelligence got their hooks into it.”

The reason why the film remained unseen for so long is unclear but it is suggested the Foreign Office put pressure on the US government to stop it being widely viewed.