False Irish passport 'to be used by spy ring'

A false Irish passport was allegedly to be used by members of a Russian spy ring arrested in the United States, it was disclosed today.

False Irish passport 'to be used by spy ring'

A false Irish passport was allegedly to be used by members of a Russian spy ring arrested in the United States, it was disclosed today.

The Government said officials had been warned about a link to the so-called “deep cover” operation, broken up after years of secret service investigations.

The US Justice Department claimed 10 suspected Russian agents had been on long-term undercover assignments for authorities in Moscow in a bid to infiltrate American policy-making circles.

Court papers claimed one of the defendants, Richard Murphy, was told by his handlers to travel from the US to Rome where he would be given the forged Irish documents.

Officials in Dublin were investigating whether a fake passport was handed over to a spy and whether it was used to get an agent back into Russia.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs has this morning learned that a person arrested in the US on suspicion of espionage activities is alleged to have travelled on a forged Irish passport,” a Government spokesman said.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs will be seeking to obtain further information in relation to these reports.”

Ten suspected spies - alleged members of Russia's intelligence service, the SVR - were detained by the FBI in a series of raids on Sunday in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and near Washington DC.

Court papers filed by US attorneys at the Department of Justice described the suspects as “illegals” and claimed they were given false travel documents to get back to Russia.

It stated: “In early 2010, Moscow Centre provided instructions to Richard Murphy, the defendant, for his trip from the United States to Russia via Italy, where he was to receive a false Irish passport for travel from Europe to Russia.”

It is the second false passport scandal to dog foreign affairs officials this year.

An Israeli citizen employed in the country’s embassy in Dublin was expelled this month amid huge fall-out from the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of a leading Palestinian in a Dubai hotel.

The Hamas official’s killing was blamed on Israeli agents from Mossad.

The Foreign Affairs spokesman added: “The firm position of the Government in regard to the fraudulent use of Irish passports is a matter of public record.”

He refused to be drawn on whether Russian diplomats in Ireland have been challenged over the controversy.

It is understood US officials have been asked to clarify the reports of a forged Irish passport and for exact details on the travel documents.

Fine Gael's foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins called for the US and Russian Ambassadors to be questioned over the forgery allegations.

“This highlights once again the vulnerability of Irish passports,” Mr Timmins said.

“It’s only five months since we learned that eight Irish passports were used by a Mossad unit which carried out the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel last January.

“The Minister must state what steps he is taking to address the fraudulent use of Irish passports.”

Deputy Timmins claimed more than 33,000 Irish passports were reported lost, stolen or mislaid – 6% of the total issued.

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