The maternal grandfather of this writer was from an old Presbyterian family in Northern Ireland. The Presbyterian world was actively hostile to the Pope and Catholics, renounced alcohol, and was puritanical. It was part of the Protestant-Catholic struggle and shibboleth. All of this fueled The Troubles, which affected almost all residents of Northern Ireland. Thus, my great-uncle was kidnapped by a Provisional IRA unit that sought to kill him, but they mistook him for a worker and released him after a few days.
The same great-uncle was also the mayor of his hometown, Ballymena, but he had to keep it secret since the Provisionals assassinated Protestant mayors. There were many tragedies executed by both Catholic and Protestant terrorists. All of this was overcome 25 years ago with the Good Friday Agreement. I visited my great-uncle, Uncle Jim, that Easter and accompanied him to vote for the agreement.
The dynamics in The Troubles were difficult to understand, in part due to so much secrecy. Now we know that, for example, the IRA controlled its security with the Internal Security Unit. This terrorist brigade eliminated suspected traitors by torturing and executing them, instilling terror among IRA volunteers.
European societies would do well to invest more in technological intelligence to defend ourselves.
This was where British intelligence services won one of their great trophies. For 25 years, the chief of this sinister brigade was a British agent, codenamed Stakeknife. Thus, the British received crucial information and influenced which Provisionals to accuse of treachery and execute, secretly manipulating the IRA to seriously harm itself. All of this is worthy of Game of Thrones.
The British had to manage this 007 without arousing suspicion and facing impossible ethical dilemmas such as: do we save an innocent life now or keep our agent to save lives later? The enormous complexity of this human chess game was attested to when the IRA discovered that Stakeknife was a British agent and had to choose not to touch him to avoid a collapse.
Today, 30 years later, intelligence is just as complex, cruel, and important. We have seen how it has helped and perhaps saved Ukrainians by indicating where and when the Russians would attack and where to concentrate fire and attacks. The big change since the days of the IRA is technological. Consider this: today, mobile phones store all the movements and conversations of everyone. The same thing happens with organizations: all information and communication are digitized and susceptible to spying and interference.
That’s why European societies would do well to invest more in technological intelligence to defend ourselves, protect our decisions, and know what is happening in the world. A car needs both bumpers and headlights to travel in the darkness. It is also important to continue facing ethical dilemmas and responding to the old Latin question of “who will guard the guardians?”
Perhaps my grandfather and his brother left us clues about how to do it. Both left behind most of their parents’ prejudices, were never uncomfortable that my mother married a Catholic, and my Uncle Jim was a founder of the Alliance, a party of Catholics and Protestants. Both lived through World War II and The Troubles and always believed unequivocally in Western democracy, with its decision-making processes and moderation, as the best security mechanism.
Written by Marc Murtra in La Vanguardia: Cyber Defense and ‘Game of Thrones’