Russian spies may have used six Irish passports

 

THE GARDA is investigating how six Irish passports may have been fraudulently used by members of a Russian spy ring uncovered in the US this summer.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin yesterday described as “disturbing” allegations that data from several Irish passports had been cloned. But he stressed that the investigation is ongoing. “Any story that involves the compromising and undermining of our passports security . . . and in any shape or form steals the identity of Irish citizens is a matter of deep concern and is disturbing,” Mr Martin said.

“I think we have more work to do to ascertain the exact nature of what has been going on here. Our passport offices are in contact with the gardaí who are obviously receiving information in relation to this and I think from our perspective we want to get more information before we comment further,” he added.

Mr Martin said the Russian embassy was “aware of our concerns” although he would not comment on whether the Government had made direct representations to the embassy. A spokesman for the Russian embassy said it had not been contacted by the Irish authorities about the matter.

A parliamentary question relating to the issue is to be raised in the Dáil today.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was made aware of the allegations by a third source, which other sources have confirmed is the US. “Once we have the facts the Minister will report to the Government on this matter,” he said.

The spokesman added that there was no difference between the Government’s approach to these allegations and its approach earlier this year to claims that forged Irish passports were used by suspects in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai. “Any evidence of abuse would be of the highest level of concern for the Government,” the department spokesman said.

An investigation into the latter case concluded that Israel was likely to have been responsible for cloning the eight Irish passports implicated. An official at the Israeli embassy in Dublin was expelled as a gesture of protest.

US investigators broke up the Russian espionage ring in June with the arrest of 10 people in New York, Boston, New Jersey and Virginia. All 10, who were later deported as part of a spy swap deal with Russia, admitted conspiring to act as unregistered foreign agents.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said gardaí were working closely with their US counterparts as part of the investigation, which, he added, has been ongoing for some time.

Last week gardaí informed a female volunteer with the Irish charity To Russia With Love, which works with orphans across Russia, that her passport had been compromised. It is not known how or where the passport was accessed.

Debbie Deegan, the charity’s managing director, has been invited to a meeting with the Russian ambassador today. A spokesman for the Russian embassy said the Russian government held the charity in high esteem. “We confirm our respect for, and very good relations with, Ms Deegan and her organisation,” he told said. “We will continue those very good relations.”

In July, Eunan Gerard Doherty, from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, was interviewed by gardaí after it emerged his passport details had been implicated.

Documents released by the US justice department claim that one of the 10 spies, who used the assumed name Richard Murphy, flew to Rome last February where he was instructed to collect a forged Irish passport in the name of Eunan Gerard Doherty before flying on to Moscow.

Mr Doherty had travelled to Russia on holiday in 2005. It is understood his wife Maureen has been told that her passport may also have been compromised.

Most of the passports being investigated are believed to pre-date the new security-enhanced passport introduced in 2005.