In 2003, Michael McKevitt, one time head of the Real IRA, was convicted in the Republic of Ireland for “membership of an illegal organisation” (the Real IRA) and “directing terrorism”. He received a substantial prison term: 20 years. Despite various appeals and attempts to have his convictions overturned, he has failed. How he came to be convicted is told in The Accidental Spy, and was largely the work of one man, David Rupert, an informant who infiltrated the Real IRA under the direction of the American FBI and Britain’s MI5.

This is, in fact, the second book to look at the downfall of Michael McKevitt and the war against the Real IRA. The first book to explore this story was a now out-of-print title, Black Operations, by the journalists John Mooney and Michael O’Toole. This earlier title, while relying on Rupert’s testimony, also looked at the wider context of the Irish and British state’s attempts to crush the Real IRA. The Accidental Spy, meanwhile, is much more focused on Rupert. The author, Sean O’Driscoll, managed to make contact with him despite the fact that he is currently in witness protection, his life at risk from Irish Republicans’ wrath. This is not to say that O’Driscoll doesn’t tell Rupert’s story in context, he does, just that this is much more the story of Rupert and how this American trucker came to infiltrate, and almost single-handedly, bring down a terrorist group.

Rupert was at first a reluctant agent. After businesses had gone bust and two marriages had failed he began drinking in an Irish bar in Florida where he had moved to. He quickly became friends with a woman who was a member of NORAID, the IRA supporting organisation in the United States who lobbies for the group and raises funds for them. Through her, he was introduced to other Republicans and soon was on friendly terms with some with dubious contacts. It was then that the FBI came calling. They advised Rupert to work for them, compelled him to really, laying out all they knew about him – the failed businesses and marriages, etc. After some arm-twisting, Rupert agreed, but he soon took to the task with gusto.

Rupert was and is a big man, both in size and personality, and it wasn’t long before he had inveigled himself within the circles of more and more senior people within the movement. Soon he moved to Ireland, buying a pub with FBI funds and it was here that he quickly became a central figure in the cause, meeting and befriending McKevitt. The FBI introduced Rupert to MI5 and together the two organisations ran him and directed him until he in effect brought down the leadership of the real IRA.

The Accidental Spy and the tale it tells is reminiscent of other books which tell the story of agents and informants recruited amongst terror groups. A good example is Agent Storm, which tells the story of Morton Storm, a Danish former biker gang member who after converting to Islam joined al Qaeda before being recruited by intelligence services to spy on the group. Morton Storm and David Rupert are alike in many ways: both to a lesser or greater extent had fallen off the tracks and had CVs that were troubled, and both are evidence that the police and intelligence services sometimes have to get their hands dirty and work with people who are far from whiter than white in order to infiltrate and bring down organised crime gangs and terror groups.

The Accidental Spy is a great book and a story grippingly told. This is a real insight into dissident Republicanism, one man’s extraordinary recruitment as an agent in the heart of a terror group, and a window into the methods the police and intelligence services use to tackle some of the gravest threats our societies face.

James Pierson 5/5

The Accidental Spy by Sean O’Driscoll
Mirror Books 9781912624348 pbk May 2019