While I studying for a doctorate in history in Texas in the early 1970s, it became obvious that Irish neutrality had been greatly distorted by David Gray, during his tenure as the US Minister to Ireland from 1940 to 1947. I got access to Gray’s personal papers, which included a manuscript for a book that he began writing after the war.
I was approached to edit this manuscript for publication but felt it was so distorted that it would virtually require another book to rectify his distortions. At the outset of my research I wrote to the eminent diplomat David K Bruce for help.
During the war, Bruce was head of the European operations of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency. In that capacity he had actually visited Ireland in 1943. He later served terms as US ambassador to France (1949-52), to West Germany (1957-59), and to Britain (1961-69). In 1970 he was appointed to head the American delegation at the Vietnam Peace Talks in Paris.
Writing from Paris in response to my letter, Bruce provided poignant clues between the lines. He damned Gray with irrelevant praise, and cited Ervin “Spike” Marlin as an authority on the information I was seeking..
“Mr Gray — a fine man, and a great authority on foxhunting and sport, about which he had written delightfully and authoritatively — had no previous familiarity with secret intelligence activities, and was somewhat suspicious of them,” Bruce wrote. “If you can locate ‘Spike’ Marlin, you would find him especially knowledgeable about the affairs in which you are interested.”
Marlin, who was working at the State Department at the time, was initially reluctant to co-operate, but after he retired, he contacted me and was very helpful. He had been sent to Ireland as an OSS agent in 1942. His cover was as an economic adviser to Gray.
Marlin’s first OSS assignment was to evaluate the sympathies of members of the Irish government. He concluded that all were pro-Allied with the exception of PJ Little, the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, who was pro-German.
As Marlin was sending his report to OSS headquarters in Washington in the diplomatic bag, Gray insisted on reading it. He then demanded to know Marlin’s source for his assessment of Little. Marlin — who was born and reared in New York — had attended Trinity College, Dublin, from 1929 to 1932. While there he became friendly with the future Irish president Erskine Childers, who was a junior minister in the de Valera government in 1942.
Under pressure from Gray, Marlin reluctantly divulged that Childers was his informant. Gray protested to the Irish government about the inclusion of this pro-German sympathiser in the cabinet, and he went on to commit the appalling indiscretion of citing Childers as the source of this information.
Realising that Marlin was an intelligence agent, the Irish secretly offered to co-operate with him, but Gray objected. David Bruce therefore visited Dublin to resolve the matter.
Bruce “recognised fully our frankness and real desire to be helpful”, Joe Walshe, the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, noted. Hence Gray’s objections were overruled, and Marlin was authorised to co-operate with the Irish. His cover as an economic adviser to Gray was no longer needed.
“I was relieved of my assignment under Gray,” Marlin told me. “He wanted me out also so we were at last in perfect agreement on one point.”
J Russell Forgan, Bruce’s deputy, assured me: “The Irish worked with us on intelligence matters almost as if they were our allies. They have never received the credit due them.”
Marlin was supplied with voluminous reports on Irish radio interceptions, aircraft and submarine sightings, files on German spies captured in Ireland, as well as the names and addresses of people in the United States to whom pro-German Irish people, or German nationals living in Ireland, were writing.
From May 1943, Marlin worked from London and returned to Dublin about every six weeks. He maintained regular communication with Irish security officials.
The Irish were so helpful that Marlin suggested to OSS headquarters that they would likely provide the OSS with information from their diplomats in Germany, Italy and France. As the Allies had no diplomats in those countries, the OSS decided to look into the matter.
While Gray was in the United States for consultations, Carter Nicholas, the head of the Éire Desk at OSS headquarters in Washington, visited Dublin with Marlin in September 1943 and asked Joe Walshe, if the Irish would provide the OSS with information from Irish diplomats.
After clearing the matter with de Valera, Walshe agreed. In the following weeks Marlin supplied Walshe with questions for Irish representatives in Berlin, Rome, and Vichy. Walshe then forwarded their replies to Marlin. In effect, Irish diplomats were being used as American spies.
Following the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944, Marlin returned to the United States, and the OSS sent Edward Lawler to Dublin as its liaison officer with the Irish. “We received 100% co-operation from the Irish authorities,” Lawler assured me. “The co-operation 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.”
All of the four of the OSS agents, who were stationed in Ireland at different times during the war, were adamant that the Irish were fully co-operative with the Americans. Martin S Quigley, who later wrote about his experiences in his 2008 book — A US Spy in Ireland — quickly realised that Irish authorities could hardly be more favourably disposed towards the Allies. As a result he was baffled by Gray’s attitude. “He never knew what was really going on, or if he did, he refused to accept the truth,” Quigley concluded.
Quigley provided me with a copy of an extensive history of OSS operations in Ireland, written by Carter Nicholas. It detailed the extensive co-operation, and did not mention any item on which the Irish declined co-operation.
Yet Gray persistently refused to believe that de Valera was helpful. Gray actually contended that he had “better sources of information” than the OSS. Those sources were telling him that de Valera and Walshe were secretly scheming for a German victory in the hope that Hitler would end partition in Ireland.
The American minister did, indeed, have different sources, which he literally believed were from out of this world. A strong believer in spiritualism, he thought he was getting advice from ghosts, and he even passed on some of this information to President Roosevelt in the White House.
Shortly after arriving in Dublin in 1940, for instance, he wrote to Roosevelt about “the ghosts that are here” in his official residence in the Phoenix Park, where the late British Prime Minister Arthur J Balfour had lived as chief secretary of Ireland in the 1880s.
Balfour had later engaged in seances with a famous Cork medium Geraldine Cummins, who would go into a kind of trance and write out messages from supposed ghosts.
Cummins held seances for Gray at his Phoenix Park residence. On November 8, 1941 Balfour’s ghost supposedly warned Gray, through Cummins, about Joe Walshe. “He, from what I can see, is hand and glove with the German minister,” the message read. It went on to describe Walshe as “the leading Quisling.”
At a further seance on December 2, 1941, Cummins wrote a purported message from the late President Theodore Roosevelt. “I want to tell you,” the late president supposedly indicated, “that I think Franklin will hold the Japs for a while; at any rate from our country’s point of view. I see no immediate Armageddon for young America, possibly not at all.”
“Four days after this communication,” Gray wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, “the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor.” Gray did not doubt he was in touch with Teddy Roosevelt, he just concluded that the Japanese had deceived the late American president.
“They had T.R. fooled,” Gray added. “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.”
Yet such messages were the foundation for Gray’s belief that de Valera wanted Germany to win the war, despite the extraordinary Irish co- operation with the Allies.
While Gray was arguing that Roosevelt should discredit de Valera, the OSS got hold of alarming information, suggesting that the German legation in Dublin had been furnishing Berlin with extraordinary intelligence information. Fritz Kolbe, an official at the German Foreign Ministry, turned over a cache of sensitive documents, demonstrating that the Germans had been getting information from inside Roosevelt’s cabinet.
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. These documents were to have enormous historical significance.
Roosevelt dropped Wallace and replaced him with Harry Truman as his vice-presidential candidate in 1944, and Truman succeeded to the White House barely six months later. Kolbe’s document also showed that the German had been getting extensive information on Allied activities in Britain and Northern Ireland from the German legation in Dublin. But MI5, the British intelligence agency, explained that this information was really part of a MI5 misinformation campaign.
The pertinent misinformation was buried in a wealth of accurate information that the Germans already knew. As MI5 had broken the Germans’ code, it was monitoring the messages from the German legation in Dublin, and was therefore confident that the ploy was working.
For more than a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War, Irish intelligence co-operation with the Americans was ignored. In 1971, however, R Harris Smith asserted in his book, The O.S.S., that the Irish diplomatic corps smuggled espionage material out of Italy for the Americans in the Irish diplomatic pouch.
According to Smith, the “Vessel Project”— originated when the Vatican’s acting secretary of state, Monsignor Giovanni Montini (later Pope Paul VI), offered the Americans strategic information from a Vatican source in Japan. But there was no corroboration of this, or of the Irish co-operation.
After serving in Ireland in 1943, the OSS moved Martin Quigley to Italy where he was involved in the Vessel Project. He told me the OSS had its own means of delivery and there was no reason why they would have involved the Irish in the project. Hence he had serious doubts about Smith’s account. “I am convinced some and perhaps all of what he wrote is false,” Quigley warned.
In the early months of the war, Irish diplomats on the continent had been warned by the Department of External Affairs in Dublin not to transmit confidential material in diplomatic bags, because the Germans were opening them. Thus, they would not have transmitted material for the OSS from the Vatican.
Harris was obviously used to distort the whole Vessel Project. It had actually been a scam initiated by an Italian 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 his trade in forged documents. The OSS paid for the Vessel material, which it considered so good that some of the raw material was actually shown to US president Roosevelt.
But in February 1945 the OSS learned that the messages were actually embellished reports from the Vatican’s representative in Tokyo. The Americans had broken his code and were already reading the original messages, so Scattolini’s handiwork was detected, but by then he had ripped off the OSS.
Scattolini had used Montini’s name to lure the OSS into his scam. The OSS later used Montini’s name — after he became Pope — to cover up its own messing. In the late 1960s the intelligence people pretended that the details of the Vessel Project had to be kept secret in order to protect the reputations of the Pope, and the Irish president de Valera had, indeed, secretly authorised the use of Irish diplomats as American spies, but neither he nor Montini were ever involved in the Vessel Project.