The scope of criminal activity by insurgent and terrorist groups is vastly underestimated by lay readers; It is as if operational money appears as Minerva from the head of Jupiter, if it is thought about at all. Terrorist organizations build criminal funding arms that have the real possibility of dwarfing the military mission, and in some cases, as I believe is happening in Northern Ireland, they become nearly pure criminal groups with a veneer of rhetoric. None are immune:
[The Red Brigades'] daily life was ruled by economics. Members of the organization spent most of their time raising money to carry out their violent attacks, to buy weapons, to rent new safe houses… The Red Brigades [often] sailed to Lebanon to pick up arms from the PLO. The weapons were them brought to Sardinia where other European groups, such as the IRA and ETA, came to collect their share of the cargo. For this service the Red Brigades received a fee. [To give an idea of the] money required by an armed organization to function, in the 1970s, the Red Brigades had a turnover of $8 to 10 million, equivalent to about $100 million today. This figure was equivalent to the turnover of a medium size Italian company. Generating such vast flow of money required constant attention and absorbed the bulk of the time of the full time members of the organization.
The "significant prospect" of an IRA strike on London, breaking a 7 year ceasefire amid the crisis sparked by the robbery of £26.5 million from the headquarters of the Northern Bank, Belfast, on 20 December 2004, is said to be due to a:
threat to its criminal interests -- estimated by the Times [to] provide an annual income of 200 million pounds -- that might prompt a return to violence. "There is a serious worry about a hardcore of terrorists coming off the ceasefire… They're gangsters who don't want to disband -- it will end their racketeering and well-heeled lifestyles."
The Independent Monitoring Commission concludes "firmly that it was planned and undertaken by the PIRA [Provisional IRA]… It follows from this that the robbery at the Northern Bank, though by far the most serious incident, was one of a series of crimes that have enabled PIRA to gain very significant resources in recent months. Violence or the threat of violence has been a feature of all these incidents. We believe that the Northern Bank robbery and abductions and the other robberies and abductions referred to above were carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the leadership of PIRA."
The reporting from stalwarts such as the Telegraph and Times on IRA criminal activity has sounded at times more like screeds:
[Irish Republic] security forces seized £2.3 million in sterling and laid bare an international money-laundering operation by the Provisional IRA that senior Garda think was part of what they believe to be now the Provisional's primary project: to subvert the Irish Republic. Jim Cusack [has] claimed for the past three years: the existence of an extensive criminal empire whose purpose is to fund the Provisional IRA's project to find a "tipping point" that would see takeover in the Irish Republic. "The IRA now licenses all professional criminal activities in Dublin. But it generates even greater income from investing its criminal assets - it is now the biggest pub owner in the state." Cusack says the sums stacked up annually are so huge - possibly £200 million a year - that they argue a strategic subversive agenda. "Sinn Fein IRA is now the largest nationalist political party in Northern Ireland. All it has to do is secure 20 per cent of the vote in the Irish Republic to hold the balance of power and create the "tipping" point for a political crisis which will see them swept into power." Like many security sources, Cusack believes that the IRA's huge financial arsenal is to fund a three-point plan: electoral politics funded by criminal activity; black propaganda groups fronted by sympathetic journalists alleging "corruption" by business supporters of the mainstream parties coming up to a general election; and well-armed cadres capable of coercion of state forces.
Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable [who] first pinned the blame for the robbery on the IRA, is quite clear that there is no split in the IRA, no hard men pushing for a takeover. There is just an organisation that funds itself through crime and is indignant that it has been caught in the act. He says: "People talk about splits but I can’t see anything that would indicate to me that they are going to go back to their campaign."
Republicans are annoyed [because] such activity was not covered by the terms of the ceasefire and the two governments have, in the past, turned a blind eye to IRA criminality in the interests of the peace process. Mo Mowlam, during her stint as secretary of state for Northern Ireland, once referred to paramilitary punishment attacks as "housekeeping". The message was clear, as long as the IRA did not attack the security forces or loyalists, then the peace process could continue.
Routine IRA reconnaissance did not technically breach the ceasefire defined as a "complete cessation of military operations."