Now - tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of reports of a sensational attempt by the Allies to force Ireland to expel all diplomats from Japan, Germany and Italy. According to historian T.Ryle Dwyer, this led to ‘the greatest distortion of Irish foreign policy since the foundation of the state.’
The lead up to the letter and its aftermath is a complex tale of intrigue, deception and double-dealing which includes at least one larger than life character and many others who preferred to remain in the shadows.
Historians T.Ryle Dwyer and Michael Kennedy (Royal Irish Academy) discussed the fallout on the programme.
Who Was David Gray?
David Gray became US Ambassador to Ireland in 1940. His memoir, written at the age of 89, was published by the Royal Irish Academy. It is a patchwork of top-secret documents, letters to Roosevelt and extracts from his diary.
Gray was born in New York in 1870 and was a journalist and playwright before joining the military and entering politics. He was not well disposed to Irish republicanism. He came to hold Irish society in contempt and despised de Valera, believing that certain Irish officials were collaborating with the Nazis to achieve a British defeat and a 32-county republic. This extract is from 1940. He writes:
"The Taoiseach’s office (pronounced popularly ‘tee shack’) and surroundings were all as they had been so often described by interviewers. He himself was the tall, gaunt figure with the suggestion of Lincoln, and ironically in the corner stood the O’Connor bronze statue of Lincoln which John McCormack, the singer, had given to the Irish government. The office was bare, the flat-topped desk was bare and Mr de Valera was dressed in his invariable black clerical-looking suit with black string tie.
He was always neat and his linen was always fresh. His grave eye trouble excited sympathy. It was said that he suffered from glaucoma. From time to time he removed his spectacles and put his hands over his eyes, and from time to time he showed the appealing smile that I had heard about and the suggestion of his peculiar charm. Why Mr de Valera replied to my English speech in Irish was a question not difficult to answer. Both languages are sanctioned by the new Constitution, but Mr de Valera and his Separatist group were anxious to impress on the outside world that English is only an unfortunate and temporary makeshift and that Irish is the true and natural tongue of the nation, though today only one person in six speaks it. Very few Irish politicians speak Irish except as American High School students learn to ‘speak’ French, but they usually begin their speeches with a paragraph in Irish, which they have memorised, and then continue in English. It is the badge of being ‘Irish’ Irish, like the Gaelicisation of proper names."
The German Ambassador
"Herr Hempel – the German minister to Ireland – had a charming house and garden at Blackrock, a suburb on Dublin harbour. His chancery was an ugly, modern red brick house in Northumberland Road. It was here that I called upon him. Herr Dr Hempel received us with great courtesy. He was somewhat over-civil and did not ring true. He spoke fluent English with little accent. I was conscious of being ill at ease. Hempel might be doing his duty as he saw it but he was serving a Führer whose hands were red with the blood of Jews, Poles and Norwegians, on whose conscience was the annihilation of Austria and Czechoslovakia. I was naive enough at seventy to be shocked by these things.
We exchanged pleasant commonplaces. I was not to re-enter the German legation at 58 Northumberland Road till I took possession of it in the name of the United Nations at the end of the war and found the wires of a radio sending set and other interesting items. The Irish government had seen to it that we did not gain admittance until the files had been destroyed.
Collaboration with the Germans
Mr de Valera’s conviction that Hitler would win the war was stupid in view of the opportunities he enjoyed for obtaining authoritative information as to what was going on in the United States. It was doubtless due to the fact that he knew few if any Americans, only ‘Irish in America’. As a matter of fact he himself never told me that Hitler would win, though he scoffed at the suggestion that the United States would become involved. But his deputy Joe Walshe told me. Further, Mr Walshe was confident that at the worst, Hitler would not lose. Cardinal MacRory told me that Hitler would win. Count Plunkett, the patriarch of the IRA, expressed the same opinion. We know from the German papers that one of Mr de Valera’s generals was collaborating with Hempel. Belief in German victory was in the Dublin air. At the end of the war a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, ‘Paddy’ Doyle, a very ‘decent’ man, said to me ‘You know, at the beginning we were all sure Germany was going to win’."
A Yankee in De Valera’s Ireland: The Memoir of David Gray is edited by Paul Bew.
Irish Diplomats on continent used as American spies
by Ryle Dwyer
Today (21 February) marks the 70th anniversary of the American Note demanding the expulsion of Axis diplomats from Ireland on the grounds that they supposedly posed a threat to the forthcoming Allied invasion of Europe. The whole thing was responsible for one of the greatest distortions in Irish history.
The note really had nothing to do with security; it was deliberate ploy to generate the impression that the Taoiseach Eamon de Valera was indifferent to the plight of British and American servicemen. Consequently, the true nature of this country’s wartime policy has been seriously distorted ever since.
In 1970 when I began research on a doctoral dissertation on Irish neutrality, J. Russell Forgan, the deputy director for Europe of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the wartime forerunner of the CIA—assured me that there was extensive secret co-operation between the Irish and the OSS. “The Irish worked with us on intelligence and security matters almost as if they were our allies,” he wrote. “They have never received the credit due them.”
“I doubt that in the last year of the war there was an Axis spy in Ireland that the Irish and ourselves did not know about.” Forgan added. “Most of them were ‘doubled’. By that I mean that they worked for us and sent their so-called superiors news, which we fed them. In that respect there were very helpful to our cause.”
Colonel Dan Bryan, the head of Irish Military Intelligence (G2), suggested this was an exaggeration. “Forgan is wrong,” Bryan stated. “There were no double agents in Ireland.”
The German Minister and his staff in Dublin were effectively being used as virtual double agents, though they did not realize it. All of the German agents sent to Ireland as spies were uncovered. None worked as a double agent in the twenty-six counties, but there was one agent that nobody talked about for another quarter of a century.
The Germans had dropped Joseph Lenihan — an uncle of Brian Lenihan and Mary O’Rourke — as a spy over County Meath in July 1941. With G2 hot on his heels, Joe Lenihan slipped across the border and offered his services to the British as a double agent. He worked for MI5 under the codename “Basket” for the remainder of the war. But the British have still not released their files on him.
Ervin "Spike" Marlin
After the United States joined the war in December 1941, the OSS stationed three undercover agents in Ireland. The first agent was Ervin “Spike” Marlin, who was officially supposed to be an economic advisor to David Gray, the US Minister to Ireland. Marlin was an American who had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, from 1929 to 1932.
One of his first tasks for the OSS was to assess the sympathies of Irish politicians. He reported that three Fianna Fáil deputies were pro-German — backbenchers Dan Breen and Tom McEllistrim, and the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs Patrick J. Little.
As this report was being transmitted in the diplomatic bag, Gray insisted on reading it, and he then demanded to know Marlin’s source for the information on Little. Marlin reluctantly told him it was Erskine Childers —then a junior Minister in the de Valera government and a future President of Ireland.
Source: National Archives
A few days later Childers complained to Marlin that Gray had not only protested about Little being pro-German, but had gone on to commit the appalling indiscretion of naming Childers as the source of this information.
Realising that Marlin was an OSS agent, Joseph P. Walshe, the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, offered that Irish security would cooperate with the OSS through Marlin. Walshe had already arranged a similar set up between G2 and Britain’s MI5. But Gray opposed such cooperation, because he was deeply suspicious of Walshe.
Although Gray had no prior diplomatic experience, he enjoyed considerable political influence, because he had direct access to the White House, as he was married to an aunt of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. The OSS soon became painfully aware that his political clout was not matched with good judgment.
In a postwar memoir, published for the first time in 2012, Gray contended that he had better sources of information in Ireland than the OSS. He did not identify those sources in the memoir, but his letters to President Roosevelt reveal that they were from another world.
A strong believer in spiritualism, Gray was passing on advice to the President from supposed ghosts. He informed Roosevelt, for instance, that the ghost of late British Prime Minister Arthur J. Balfour had informed him during a séance on November 8, 1941 that Walshe was “a leading quisling” and that he “is hand and glove with the German Minister.”
At another séance on December 2, 1941, the ghost of the late President Theodore Roosevelt supposedly belittled the danger of a Japanese attack on American forces. This was the Tuesday before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but Gray never doubted that he was in contact with the ghosts.
“Four days after this communication,” Gray wrote to President Roosevelt, “the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. They had T.R. fooled. I suspect that if these communications come through pretty much as given our friends on the other side don’t know very much more than they did on this side.”
Despite Gray’s objections, the OSS accepted Walshe’s offer to cooperate with Marlin, G2 turned over voluminous reports on German spies already captured, as well as the names and addresses of people in the United States to whom German nationals living in Ireland, or pro-German Irish people, were writing. Over 4,000 people were named in the material.
Gray was so sour over the co-operation that the OSS decided to move Marlin in London, from where he would travel back to Dublin when necessary. G2 kept in contact with him with regular reports that were sent to London through the Department of External Affairs in the Irish diplomatic bag.
Walshe was so co-operative that Marlin suggested the Irish would possibly use of their diplomats on the continent to collect information for the OSS. R. Carter Nicholas, the head of the Éire Desk at OSS headquarters in Washington, D.C., visited Dublin to explore this possibility in September 1943.
Nicholas reported that he asked Walshe about “the possibility of our receiving information from Irish diplomatic sources. It was intimated that other neutrals had gone as far.”
With de Valera’s approval, Walshe acceded to the American request, and he read excerpts from reports from Irish diplomats on the continent in which Nicholas and Marlin might be interested. He also agreed to transmit to the Irish Chargé d’Affaires in Berlin “a request for information on the political situation in Germany at the top.”
In the following weeks Marlin supplied questions to Walshe for the respective Irish representatives in Berlin, Rome and Vichy. Walshe asked those questions of the respective diplomats and then forwarded their replies to Marlin. In effect, Irish diplomats were being used as American spies. But Gray was far from satisfied.
During the summer of 1943 he had returned to the United States and met with President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on August 16, 1943. He persuaded them to ask for Irish bases as a means discrediting de Valera in order to ensure that he would not be able to cause difficulties between the British and Americans over the partition issue after the war.
Gray did not want Irish bases; he just wished to provoke de Valera’s refusal. He suggested, for instance, that the request should stress that the bases were no longer needed but the Allies were just offering Ireland a chance to share in the forthcoming victory.
De Valera had already been so helpful that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff thought that he might actually accede to the request, and they warned that Irish bases would be worse than useless. They would be a liability to the Allied war effort, which was what de Valera had been claiming for years.
The idea of requesting bases was therefore blocked, but Gray then came up with another suggestion. He proposed that President Roosevelt should asked the Dublin government to expel the German and Japanese representatives from Ireland, because they supposedly posed a threat to the forthcoming D-Day invasion of Europe.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on 21 February 2014
Pope Paul VI and de Valera used in OSS Cover-Up
by Ryle Dwyer
While David Gray’s suggestion that President Roosevelt demand that Eamon de Valera expel German and Japanese Representatives from Ireland was being considered in Washington, the Americans got hold of an array of German documents. Some of which suggested that the legation in Dublin had been furnishing Berlin with extraordinary intelligence information.
It would be hard to exaggerate the extent of the alarm, because some of the documents exposed a leak within Roosevelt’s own cabinet. These were to change the course of American history.
Fritz Kolbe, an official at the German Foreign Ministry turned over some 2,600 sensitive documents to the OSS in Switzerland during the latter half of 1943. Those documents showed that Vice President Henry Wallace had been talking indiscreetly to his brother-in-law, a Swiss diplomat, who had been passing on the information to his own foreign ministry, where it was falling into German hands.
As a result of the Kolbe documents, Wallace was dropped and replaced by Harry S. Truman as Roosevelt’s running mate in Presidential election of 1944, and Truman succeeded to the White House within six months.
From the Irish standpoint Kolbe’s documents were equally alarming, at least initially. General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, informed the White House “that a great deal of information pertaining to Allied activities in England and Ulster comes from the German embassy in Dublin. The Legation which is heavily staffed has succeeded in infiltrating agents into England.”
The OSS reported, for instance, that German diplomats in Dublin had identified 600 air installations in England. Carter Nicholas, the head of the Éire Desk at OSS headquarters, noted that it “looked to me at first as though there was a serious leak from Éire.”
When the OSS shared this information with its British counterpart — MI5 — the British explained that the reports from Dublin were part of a deception plan. MI5 had been feeding misinformation to the German legation. To ensure that the Germans would believe the various deceptions, the material was buried in a wealth of accurate information that the Germans already knew.
When MI5 explained the situation, OSS leaders realised that the Irish security situation was even better than they “had previously thought.” MI5, which was effectively using the German diplomats in Dublin as double agents, had serious reservations about the Americans demanding the expulsion of Axis diplomats from Dublin.
If the German diplomats were expelled, MI5 warned that this would possibly endanger Allied security, because the Germans might infiltrate a useful spy. As it was the British had broken the German codes and were reading all the messages from the legation in Dublin.
The OSS knew that Gray’s proposal was just a political ruse, so it did not involve itself in the American Note, which was delivered to de Valera on February 21, 1944. News of the note and de Valera’s refusal broke on March 10.
As this was the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, the news ignited a firestorm of criticism in the American press. Ireland was denounced as indifferent to the lives of American soldiers, even Irish-American boys. Some American journalists contended that the Irish should realise that diplomats were often used as spies.
The press campaign against Ireland turned so nasty that the Irish feared the Americans might even divulge how the Irish diplomats were being used on the continent. Carter Nicholas noted that “Walshe was very anxious about the point, particularly as the Irish could not publicly admit to having engaged in so unneutral an act as supplying us with anti-Axis intelligence.”
If the Americans divulged that Irish diplomats were being used as American spies, Walshe warned that all co-operation would be cut off. “We would never dream of using any confidential information we could have got from your people,” a senior State Department official assured Robert Brennan, the Irish Minister in Washington.
Walshe suggested to the OSS that American and British security officials should be stationed in Ireland “to keep in constant touch with Irish authorities on the problems, to receive reports from them, and to make recommendations for improving methods of surveillance.”
As the American Note was strictly a political ruse, the OSS had initially tried to avoid involvement, but as the diplomatic tension was growing, General Donovan decided to outline the details of secret Irish security co-operation in a memorandum to President Roosevelt on March 30, 1944. He provided a long list of ways in which the Irish had been helping, and he emphasised the potential of the help being provided by Irish diplomats on the continent.
“So far the information contained in these reports has been of use primarily as confirmation of information from other sources,” Donovan explained. “However the potentialities are important.”
“The cooperation in intelligence matters offered and given by the Irish has been very full,” Donovan added. “Since the delivery of the American Note the Irish offered their prompt cooperation in adopting whatever security measures may be recommended by us.”
Gray tried to block acceptance of the latest Irish offer. He warned Roosevelt on April 14 that such co-operation could be used “as a political means of wiping off the record” the stigma of de Valera's refusal to dismiss the Axis diplomats. “As long as we keep him hooked on his record of refusing our request he cannot do us any great harm either now or in the postwar period,” Gray insisted, “but he is very apt to catch us napping and wriggle off.”
All three OSS agents had already been withdrawn from Ireland, but now, at the suggestion of the Irish, the OSS decided to station Ed Lawler in Dublin for the remainder of the war. “The cooperation and information we received from the Irish was every bit as extensive and helpful as it would have been if Ireland had been a full partner with us in the war effort,” Lawler wrote.
For decades afterwards the intelligence co-operation provided by the Irish was played down. The first public indication of such help was R. Harris Smith assertion that Irish diplomatic corps smuggled espionage material out of Italy for the Americans in the Irish diplomatic pouch. This seemed to fit in with the secret co-operation provided by the Irish, but there was an added twist.
Irish diplomats on the continent were under instructions from early in the war not to transmit confidential material in diplomatic bags, because they knew the Germans were opening them. Thus, they would hardly have transmitted secret material for the OSS from the Vatican.
The Vessel Project supposedly originated when the Vatican’s Acting Secretary of State, Monsignor Giovanni Montini (later Pope Paul VI), offered the Americans strategic information in the form of reports from the Vatican representative in Japan. The whole thing was actually a scam run by a former journalist named Virgilio Scattolini, who had sold bogus Vatican information to various wire services before the war.
Following the liberation of Rome in 1944, he sought to re-establish this lucrative trade in forged documents. The Vessel material was considered so good that some of the raw material was actually shown to President Roosevelt.
But in February 1945 the OSS learned that Scattolini had embellished messages from the Vatican’s representative in Tokyo. The Americans had broken the Vatican code and were already reading the original messages, so the fabrications were detected, but not before Scattolini had ripped off the OSS.
Montini’s name had been used to lure the OSS, which then used his name as Pope to cover up its own gaffe. In the early 1970s the OSS pretended that it had to keep the project secret in order to protect the Pope, and the Irish President.
Neither the Pope nor de Valera had ever actually been involved in the Vessel Project. The whole thing was smoke screen to cover up the OSS blunder. It was, of course, just another of the many deceptions.
Historians, who are unaware of MI5’s input in feeding the Dublin legation misinformation, have perpetuated the myth that Ireland was the source of valuable information for the Germans.
Ryle Dwyer’s Behind the Green Curtain: Ireland’s Phony Neutrality during World War II, published by Gill & Macmillan.