While Matthew Teague’s “Double Blind” (April Atlantic) was indeed a fascinating read, I was hardly convinced that Kevin Fulton’s role was as significant as the dramatic cover photo and caption might suggest. Indeed, it is worth asking if the Irish Republican Army did in fact “topple,” or whether it simply came to the realization that terrorism was no longer a viable tool. Terrorism in our modern era depends less on the effectiveness of the act itself and more on the effectiveness of the communication of that act to the global public. The day the media opts not to cover terrorist activities will be the day that terrorists start looking for other means to accomplish their goals. It cannot be a coincidence that while there has been a rise in terrorist activities in the Middle East over the last decade or so, there has been a corresponding decrease in terrorist activities in Northern Ireland. American/Western interests dictated that the happenings in the Middle East would be the first priority for mass media organizations, and the IRA realized that it would be hard pressed to compete for global media attention. Thus, terrorism in Northern Ireland became an ineffective use of time, money, and human life.
Matthew Teague replies:
It’s true, as I noted in the story, that the IRA fell into military ruin due to a confluence of several circumstances: an environment inhospitable to terrorism, political gains by its partner Sinn Féin, and of course British agents within its ranks.
I think it’s not true, however, that the IRA stopped operating due to a lack of global media attention. Quite the opposite. If the IRA were to restart its bombing campaign, in London or elsewhere, the media coverage—in the current climate of fear and awareness—would be total, including within the United States. And since America is one of the Republican movement’s largest financial bases, such attention would actually be devastating to the organization.
James Bamford (“Big Brother Is Listening,” April Atlantic) presents the late Senator Frank Church and, by implication, the senators opposing present National Security Agency activities as heroes. But it should be remembered that the practical result of Senator Church’s efforts was to destroy the operational side of the CIA for almost three decades, and to end the careers of an entire generation of intelligence people whose skills would likely have been useful in the present age of terrorism. Perhaps 9/11 or the attacks on the USS Cole or our African embassies could have been prevented had those skills been passed on.