Kevin — All eyes on the spy from the FBI

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All eyes on the spy from the FBI
by Suzanne Breen, Irish Times
Suzanne Breen reports on the sensational claims made this week by FBI agent David Rupert in the Michael McKevitt case.
It’s one of the most controversial trials in the history of the State, involving highly paid espionage, sensational allegations about paramilitary life, and two men nobody is likely to forget.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 280 lbs, David Rupert is a giant of a man. The FBI agent just about squeezes into the witness box in the Special Criminal Court. When he stands up, he towers as high as the first-floor jury box. He looked every inch the professional businessman in a range of well-cut suits and silk ties. He delivered 14 hours of evidence this week in a remarkably relaxed manner, even cracking the odd joke. All eyes were fixed on him.
By contrast, Michael McKevitt, the alleged Real IRA leader, who sits just a few feet away, melts into the courtroom background. With gold-rimmed glasses, a sharp dark suit, and a serious expression, he listens intently to proceedings and takes copious notes.
Only the prison officers on either side of him indicate he is the defendant, not a defence solicitor. The Dundalk man showed no emotion as Rupert gave evidence of his alleged terrorist involvement.
His only physical displays were to wave or blow a kiss to his wife, Bernadette Sands McKevitt, who attended every day. He is pleading not guilty to charges of membership of the IRA and directing terrorism.
When delivering his evidence, Rupert’s gaze remained firmly on the three judges. He never once looked around the court. Only at the end, when the prosecution asked him to identify McKevitt, did his eyes momentarily meet those of the defendant.
In the 1980s trials involving informers in the North, they tended to be highly-charged with pickets outside the outbursts by relatives of the accused inside.
Proceedings in the Special Criminal Court are calm. But there are complaints about the poor acoustics in the public gallery (most journalists are forced to sit there too).
Up to 20 plain-clothes FBI and Special Branch officers sit or stand in the recesses of the court. Security is tight on entering the building. A helicopter overhead signals Rupert’s arrival and departure.
In his evidence, the agent portrayed McKevitt (53) of Blackrock, Co Louth, as a smart, resourceful paramilitary leader with a wide range of contacts nationally and internationally. The court was told of a ruthless republican, determined to make the Real IRA a major threat in the 21st century, who unwittingly trusted the FBI agent.
Rupert (51) was born into a family of seven in the village of Madrid, in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. He had a religious, non-drinking Protestant upbringing. He left school at 16 and over the next three decades became involved in various businesses including haulage, insurance, construction and catering.
He moved around the US frequently. He accumulated debts, was twice declared bankrupt, and twice arrested for “bad cheques”. He was quizzed in court about the “small people” he never repaid. When asked if he was popular in certain towns, he replied: “Some (people) may have liked me and some not.” The court heard he hadn’t repaid debts even when he progressed to driving a Rolls Royce and later a De Lorean car. Defence counsel asked if he had heard it said the latter was “built by a crook and driven by a crook”.
Rupert had a fondness for women, marrying four times – he met one wife via the Internet – and enjoying several girlfriends in between. Defence counsel became confused during cross-examination and asked: “Which particular wife are you referring to?” “Number two,”replied Rupert.
He visited Ireland in the early 1990s with girlfriends who had Irish links. He became friendly with Joe O’Neill, a publican and Republican Sinn Féin member in Bundoran, Co Donegal. In 1994, he was approached by the FBI and agreed to work for them.
He later also worked for MI5. He has so far been paid $1.25 million in agent contracts and is currently recieving $12,000 a month. He insisted he was being “facetious” when he once said he was “a whore who worked for anybody”..
Once when he met Dermot Jennings, now Assistant Garda Commissioner, he had asked about payment but was told “the Garda doesn’t do that”. He was “taken aback” when just offered mileage. It would be “a £10 note” and “that wasn’t what I had in mind”.
The prosecution said he had shown remarkable bravery. Rupert insisted his espionage was motivated by “moral” reasons.
He fell in love with Ireland and its people and visited regularly.
He “went to the bars and hung out with the right people”, apparently securing remarkable access to dissident republicans.
He attended Republican Sinn Féin ardfheiseanna and Real IRA army council meetings.
He brought money from Irish-Americans and promised to investigate arms procurement for both the Continuity and Real IRA. He “liked” McKevitt on meeting him and “thought the feeling mutual”.
The alleged Real IRA leader wasn’t interested in heavy-duty weapons like AK47s. He had taken arms for “present-day warfare” – pistols, Uzi sub-machine guns, and Semtex – from the Provisionals, the court heard. His plans were allegedly ambitious. Rupert said McKevitt hoped to take the war “to the steps of Stormont, the Assembly” and the City of London. He proposed an assassination campaign against Northern police.
He talked of “cyber terrorism” and boasted of having the “best (people) in Ireland” for this at his disposal. Referring to a Real IRA rocket attack on MI6 headquarters in 2000, McKevitt said four or six such attacks a year would be “a good rate”.
When a Real IRA training camp was uncovered, McKevitt allegedly said he had six similar camps. The Real IRA was developing bomb detonation techniques involving lap-top computers linked to mobile phones and personal organisers.. Once when discussing other detonation techniques, Rupert said he raised the risk to Real IRA members of premature explosions.
McKevitt allegedly replied: “That’s why we have volunteers”.
Rupert said he had security fears when he brought encryption software from the US at the Real IRA’s request. A Real IRA electronics engineer challenged him about possible enemy decryption. Rupert said he kept his cool and bluffed but was surprised when McKevitt later told him he had been too tolerant and should have told the engineer to “f–k off”.
The court heard that the Real IRA leader allegedly complained that one of his members – Mickey Donnelly, a well-known ex-internee from Derry – had sold information about Gerry Adams’ holiday home in Donegal to a newspaper, instead of passing it on to the leadership. McKevitt allegedly said Donnelly had “violated enough army rules” to be “assassinated” but had a wife and children and shooting him would generate bad publicity.
McKevitt was interested in Iraqi sponsorship of the Real IRA. He had a female contact with Irish connections who had links with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the court heard. He allegedly arranged for Rupert to meet a Real IRA sleeper in the US. A former French Foreign legionnaire, known as “James Smith”, he was reportedly a high-calibre activist capable of assassinating British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
McKevitt allegedly said it was unfortunate his organization didn’t have “suicide bombers” to attack British naval vessels in Carlingford Lough.
Rupert said McKevitt had set up a “machine shop” to manufacture Barrett sniper rifles. He received a tip-off about a Garda raid and managed to remove the material in time. On another occasion, he heard he might soon be arrested and “spoke of travelling to the continent on the floor of a truck”.
In comparison to the Real IRA, Rupert portrayed CIRA as ineffective. He was asked to head a CIRA computer cell but the two members involved knew nothing about computers and weren’t interested in learning. It was like “building a car” and “explaining why wheels need to be round”.
The Real IRA once delivered a car bomb for CIRA to drive to a target.Three weeks later, it still hadn’t happened. When the Real IRA inquired, they were told the bomb had been “stolen”. It was never found and there were reports of an explosion on an isolated road.
The cross-examination of Rupert will continue next week. The trial is expected to last another month.