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We spied on Real IRA for years – they asked us to find a gun to kill Tony Blair

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Maureen Rupert lives in Midwestern USA. We can’t know exactly where but we know she is always looking over her shoulder for a Real IRA assassin.

Her husband David was a senior member of the Republican group, while a double agent for the FBI and MI5, with Maureen undercover, too.

So trusted was the American – nicknamed the Big Yank for his 6ft 7in, 20-stone build – that he was appointed to the terrorists’ elite Army Council.

He was not only let in on a plot to assassinate then prime minister Tony Blair but even charged with acquiring the weaponry to carry out the attack.

When he gave evidence against the Real IRA’s chief of staff, blamed for the horrific 1998 Omagh bombing, it led to Michael McKevitt being jailed.

Royal Ulster Constabulary police officers and firefighters inspect the damage caused by a bomb explosion

 

Maureen says: “When it went to court, it blew our lives up. I don’t know how he did it or how I did it. But I believe we saved so many lives.

“We got Michael McKevitt and I am very, very proud of David for that.”

The US couple’s story is told for the first time by Irish journalist Sean O’Driscoll in The Accidental Spy.

Maureen met trucking firm boss David in August 1994, when he rented an office at the truck stop she ran.

David was a regular visitor to Ireland and was friends with many IRA sympathisers, having been introduced to the community by an ex who raised funds in the US for the terror group.

That summer, David took Maureen with him for the first time. She recalls walking into a pub in Donegal where the walls were covered in IRA posters.

“It was all threatening stuff,” she says. “And women were coming in with prams and dancing around singing all these IRA rebel ballads. I thought, ‘Jesus, what is this?’”

David Rupert was a US spy for the FBI and M15 during the Troubles

 

David’s regular transatlantic trips did not go unnoticed. He had already been approached by the FBI to work for them.

The night they returned to Chicago he told Maureen they had now offered to pay him to be an undercover agent.

At that point the former wrestler agreed only to milk the FBI. David says: “I thought, ‘Hey, if I can sucker the FBI into paying for our trips, great.’ We both loved Ireland. I didn’t know anything anyway.”

It wasn’t long before the MI5 also wanted him on their books.

Maureen now lives in fear

Maureen, who became David’s fourth wife in November 1994, says: “At the time I thought it was all very James Bond. After 20 years as a woman in the trucking business, nothing scared me. It was exciting and if the FBI pay for us, great.

“Looking back, I had no idea how deep into this thing we would go.”

As the peace process progressed, before culminating in the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, terrorists on both sides gave up their weapons.

But the Real IRA splinter group refused. These were the people Maureen and David had befriended.

“These people would kill us in a second if they knew the truth,” Maureen says. “One day I said to David, ‘I can’t wait until we have a normal life’. And he says, ‘You know it will never be a normal life’.”

They had a system where immediately after David met with terrorists, he would recite to her what occurred and she’d write it down.

Maureen says: “I would give David the notes, then he’d email encrypted details of the meetings to MI5 and the FBI.” They then burned the notes in the sink.

They became so trusted by the IRA that they were invited to dinners with McKevitt and his wife Bernadette Sands-McKevitt – sister of Republican Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in Maze jail, Co Down, in 1981.

The remains of the Killyhelvin Hotel, Enniskillen, after a car bomb exploded

The Ruperts’ double life was thrilling at times but having to lie to their families was exhausting.

Maureen says: “It was draining, we lived in a different world. My dad, who would’ve been in his 70s, two brothers and a sister all thought David was in the IRA running guns.”

And they came close to being found out. After meeting with an FBI agent in Ireland, David discovered the man had left his business card.

Had it been found by the IRA, David would have been killed.

He said: “I knew the FBI had this rule: never flush anything down a toilet unless you flush it three times because it can float back up again. So I took the card and ate it.”

To prove his loyalty, David smuggled cash into Ireland from Republican sympathisers in the US.

He became known as “the man with the bag of money from Chicago” after offering to help Chicago’s Irish Freedom Committee, who funded arms for the IRA.

David was later appointed to the Real IRA’s Army Council, rubbing shoulders with bombers.

McKevitt would discuss with him
how he wanted to secure sophisticated weapons and said big attacks would soon happen in England.

He told David about an “excellent” assassin in Boston who he wanted to target “Tony Blair or somebody of that calibre”. Soon, authorities were urging David to give evidence against the terrorists in court. He refused.

A turning point was the Real IRA’s Omagh bomb, which killed 29 people in the worst atrocity of the Troubles since they began in the late 60s.

Maureen, based in Bundoran, Co Donegal, at the time, says: “We were reeling.

The pair were close to McKevitt and would often be invited to dinner parties when they were undercover

“I remember David coming home, I never saw anyone pack so fast.

“We went to the airport and flew to Edinburgh to fly to London, just to get back to the US. We just had to get out of there. It was terrible.

“When they asked us to testify, we decided it wouldn’t be a good thing to do. Then all of a sudden we saw a broadcast of the Omagh bombing.

“It showed these poor kids, body parts everywhere. David looked at me and said, ‘We have to testify’.”

In 2003 David took the stand at McKevitt’s trial in Dublin. McKevitt was convicted of directing terrorism and membership of the IRA, and jailed for 20 years.

David was accompanied out of Dublin by SAS bodyguards and flown out on a Hercules transport aircraft.

McKevitt, now 69, was released in 2016. Maureen says: “We lost some sleep but now our fear isn’t so much McKevitt.

“There are a lot of sympathisers in Boston and Chicago who’d love to do us harm; they want the badge saying they got Rupert.” David received almost £4million from the Federal Rewards for Justice fund.

In 2005 he was paid a final sum from the MI5. O’Driscoll claims it is about £580,000. In all, he received about £7.75million from authorities.

Yet the couple are both on prescription medication for anxiety and depression. In spite of this, Maureen says: “I would love to go back to Ireland but I don’t think it would ever be possible.”

  • Pre-order The Accidental Spy now for just £15 (RRP £18.99). Go to mirrorbooks.co.uk or call 01256 302699, quoting offer code SPY. Free P&P.

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