False Irish passport 'used by spy subject'

Diplomats were tonight trying to trace records of an Irish passport given to a US-based Russian spy on a debriefing mission.

False Irish passport 'used by spy subject'

Diplomats were tonight trying to trace records of an Irish passport given to a US-based Russian spy on a debriefing mission.

A secret agent known as Richard Murphy was to use the false travel documents in the name of Eunan Gerard Doherty to covertly get into the former Soviet state.

He is one of 10 suspects detained in the US over a decade-old spy ring whose goal was to infiltrate government policy-making circles for bosses in Moscow.

The Government said officials had been warned one passport had been linked to the so-called “deep cover” operation, broken up after years of FBI and secret service investigations.

Diplomats in Dublin were investigating whether a fake passport was handed over to the spy in Rome and whether it was used to get him back into Russia on a flight from Milan earlier this year.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs has learned that a person arrested in the US on suspicion of espionage activities is alleged to have travelled on a forged Irish passport,” an Irish 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. An 11th suspect named “Christopher R Metsos” was arrested today in Cyprus.

A fake British passport is also believed to have been used, according to the US Justice Department.

Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin, who was in northern Uganda as part of an aid trip, has been kept up to date with the controversy – the second passport forgery affair to hit Ireland 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 killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh 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.”

The Russian Embassy declined to comment on the allegations its officials had used a counterfeit Irish passport.

The timing of the arrests came less than a week after US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev held talks designed to improve relations between the two countries.

The Department of Foreign Affairs refused to be drawn on whether Russian diplomats in Ireland have been challenged over the controversy but it is understood they were first in contact with US officials to get further information on the scandal.

The US Justice Department claimed the 10 suspected Russian agents had been on long-term undercover assignments.

Court papers claimed Murphy was ordered to Rome in February to meet a handler and take possession of a fake Irish passport – in Doherty’s name, issued in Dublin in July 2001 and due to expire next year.

It was an old style paper document with a laminate over a simple passport photograph and no biometric information.

Murphy was also due to travel on to Milan by train and then to Moscow for a debriefing from secret service bosses and further instruction on his US spy mission.

Court papers 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.”

The FBI said some of the spies were known as illegals, given a fake identity called a legend and sent abroad. They lived an unassuming life and had contacts with other gang members and officials at the Manhattan-based permanent Russian mission to the United Nations.

Their training included foreign languages, agent-to-agent communications, brush-passes, short wave radios, invisible writing and codes such as Morse and counter-surveillance.

Billy Timmins, foreign affairs spokesman with Fine Gael, 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.”

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

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