Government rejected military plan to bring home suspected Isis supporter Lisa Smith

US officials had agreed to assist in operation to extract suspected Isis supporter from Syria

July 6th, 2019: Plans to extract Lisa Smith, the suspected Isis supporter, from a camp in Syria two months ago were rejected by the Irish Government. Video: BBC


The Government rejected a plan from the Defence Forces to bring Irish-born suspected Islamic State supporter Lisa Smith home from Syria two months ago through co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies.

The plan, which was drawn up by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, also known as J2, was presented to Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe in late April.

It involved requesting US military intelligence personnel extract Ms Smith (37) and her two-year-old child from the Al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria. She would then have been brought south to the Jordanian border where Irish officials would have escorted her back to Ireland.

US military intelligence officials had provisionally agreed to assist their Irish counterparts in the operation. However, the plan was rejected by the Government.

Since then the Garda and the Department of Foreign Affairs have taken the lead in plans to secure Ms Smith’s safe passage home.

There is significant dissatisfaction within J2 and the higher levels of the Defence Forces with the Government’s decision. Intelligence officers believed their experience placed them in the best position to bring the former solider home safely and discreetly.

Shared intelligence

The Garda is the primary intelligence agency for the State but J2 has more experience operating in conflict zones and has established relationships with other forces including US and British intelligence agencies.

Despite not being a member of Nato, Irish military intelligence enjoys a close working relationship with its US counterparts.

Requests for assistance or information are common amongst the intelligence agencies of friendly western countries, sources say.

Such arrangements often operate on an informal, quid pro quo basis with agencies sharing information and resources as long as it does not jeopardise their own country’s interests.

The Department of Defence referred queries about the plan to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which declined to comment. The Defence Forces did not respond to queries.

‘Turf wars’

The Garda and Defence Forces have been carrying out separate enquires as to whether Ms Smith, who left for Isis-controlled territory in Syria about five years ago, poses a threat if she returns to Ireland.

There is a long-standing rivalry between military and Garda intelligence, former deputy director of J2 Michael C Murphy told The Irish Times.

“When you have a number of intelligence agencies it is historical and normal that there are turf wars.”

Mr Murphy said such rivalry highlights the need for the establishment of a civilian agency outside of the military or Garda whose sole function would be intelligence work. He said turf wars between agencies lead to intelligence failures and “siloisation”.