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Soccer spy MI5 superspy targeted Old Firm fans as informants for republican and loyalist groups

Ken McCallum reveals some of the secrets which helped him penetrate terror groups in Ulster

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MI5 agent Ken McCallum: 'I just tried to find a common bond of humanity with them on which to build a relationship'

MI5 agent Ken McCallum: 'I just tried to find a common bond of humanity with them on which to build a relationship'

MI5 agent Ken McCallum: 'I just tried to find a common bond of humanity with them on which to build a relationship'

Glasgow’s Old Firm was unwittingly used to recruit agents inside republican and loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Sunday World has learned.

The startling revelation was made last week by Ken McCallum, the newly appointed head of MI5.

Shortly after he was recruited as a spy 25 years ago, McCallum was parachuted into Northern Ireland.

And for the next 10 years he operated here as an undercover agent handler.

In an interview last week, the super-spook revealed for the first time details of how he used his knowledge of Celtic and Rangers football clubs to sign up informers.

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MI5 new director general Ken McCallum. Photo: Home Office/PA Wire

MI5 new director general Ken McCallum. Photo: Home Office/PA Wire

MI5 new director general Ken McCallum. Photo: Home Office/PA Wire

 

“I just tried to find a common bond of humanity with them on which to build a relationship,” said McCallum.

But the career spy was also living a lie which could easily have landed him in real danger at any moment – because in reality, he wasn’t a fan of either club.

“I know it sounds like a complete cop-out. But I come from a long line of Partick Thistle supporters!” he said.

The Director General of MI5 came to work in Belfast shortly after the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994.

In his first ever interview, he revealed some of the secrets which helped him penetrate terror groups in Ulster which were still committed to violence.

“I had a regular family upbringing and I never thought I’d end up as the head of MI5. In fact my uncle was a postman and I thought, that could be a good job, because you can be off in the afternoons!

“But in my case, I applied for mainstream government jobs and then there was a brief period when I could have a ‘no commitment’ meeting with MI5.

“I went along, mainly out of curiosity – I mean who wouldn’t want to see the inside of a spy headquarters? But I liked the people I met. I liked their sense of purpose. I liked the fact that they didn’t seem to be dragging around large egos and 25 years on I’m still there.”

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McCallum freely admits that it was his intimate understanding of Glasgow’s sectarian divide which helped him on his first assignment as an MI5 agent handler in Northern Ireland.

“My first job was working in Northern Ireland. I was working on the peace process. I dealt with the rejectionist groups who were trying to tear up the Good Friday Agreement.

“My specific job was as an agent handler working with human beings inside the terrorist organisations to try to keep people safe. My role was to persuade a member of a terrorist cell to stay in the cell, but to work with me instead, to keep people safe. It is a hell of a challenge.

“I mean if I went into a room to meet a member of the IRA, in their eyes, I’m probably their sworn enemy. So it’s a professional challenge.

“I mean how do you find that one thing that gives you a connection to that other human being to persuade them to do the right thing and work with us? It’s a risk.

“It can be sport. It often is. I mean as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I’ve supported every team in Glasgow,” said McCallum.

In 2012, McCallum took charge of counter-terrorist investigations in the run-up to the London Olympics.

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