“Creeping Jesus” and the plot to kidnap Éamon deValera

The recent allegation by former CIA Director James Woolsey that he overheard President Trump’s disgraced national security advisor Mike Flynn discussing with high Turkish officials the idea of kidnapping a Turkish opposition leader here in the U.S. and returning him to Turkey where he would face sure execution will not go away. The story is sure to resurface again and again as the FBI investigation into Flynn’s conduct with Russia, Turkey and possibly other nations not friendly to the U.S. deepens.

Yet, the purported plot by Flynn and the Turks to kidnap the exiled Muhammed Fethullah Gülen from his Pennsylvania farm was far from the first attempt by a foreign government to exfiltrate a political leader from American soil. In 1919, Irish Republican leader Éamon deValera had escaped a British prison and had taken refuge in New York City.   The British government wanted to get their hands on him and weren’t too particular how it came about.

Irish Republican leader Éamon deValera. He had escaped Lincoln Gaol and made his way to New York. The embarrassed British wanted him back

Here enters David Hugh Montgomerie Boyle, like T.E. Lawrence, one of those strange and fascinating characters only described as a “Civil Servant” or “attached to a department of the Foreign Office” or cloaked with nondescript military cover.

Boyle, who years later would acquire the moniker “Creeping Jesus” or “Creeping Christ” for his habit in the British Secret Intelligence Service of suddenly popping around corners to see who was visiting whom in the SIS’s Broadway, London headquarters. A close friend and colleague of then SIS director Sir Stuart Menzies, Boyle was head of the service’s Section N which opened diplomatic mailbags and other mail leaving London from abroad. Menzies also relied on him to keep a watch on the office staff. But by this time, he was already far into a long and murky career in service of the Crown.

Like Lawrence, Boyle dropped out of Oxford University. Lawrence did so to spend several years in the Middle East on an archeological expedition that neatly dovetailed with British intelligence needs. Boyle, on the other hand, left New College in 1902 in order to cram for the civil service exams and planned to return to Oxford. A friend, however, wangled him a position with the British-run Chinese Customs Service in Beijing.  Thus began a nearly two-decade saga of roaming the Far East and Africa, working for a tea company, on a rubber plantation, a timber corporation and then the Colonial Service in the former Gold Coast and what is now Ghana.

When World War I erupted, he tried to enlist in the British Army but the Colonial Office objected to his release. He did not give up and finally was invalided out of the Colonial Service at which point he promptly had himself passed A1 and enlisted in the Army as a private. What he did while in uniform has never been made public but in January, 1919, he was demobilized, receiving a commission as second lieutenant the same day.

By October, he was in New York on a diplomatic passport with a vague posting with the Foreign Office. “I was most suddenly and unexpectedly asked if I would accept a post in the United States ‘under the Foreign Office’. Apparently more men of my age and experience were required to help in winding up the various missions which had been concentrated there during the war,” Boyle explained in his autobiography.

What were the “various missions” Boyle needed to wind up? The British had been active in the U.S. before and after America entered the war, preventing German spies and saboteurs from blowing up munitions plants and informing on British supply ship movements. But now the war was over. So what was there to wind up? Well, there was the Irish problem. The Easter Rebellion was only three and a half years past. Ireland had been offered Free State status but that was not satisfactory to the vast majority of the Irish people who wanted complete independence.

The New York-born deValera had been a rebel commander during the Easter Rebellion. Arrested and imprisoned by the British, he was released under amnesty in June, 1917, and was promptly elected to the British House of Commons, representing East Clare. More importantly, he was also elected president of Siin Féin, the pro-Republican party that won a huge election in Ireland the next year. In reaction, the British rearrested deValera in May, 1918, preventing him from attending the January, 1919 session of the Dáil (the Irish Assembly).

Lincoln Gaol today. In 1919, it was surrounded by open fields and barbed wire.

In February, deValera made a daring escape from Lincoln Gaol, utilizing a chapel key he had duplicated with wax from an altar candle that he had melted with his body heat and with help from other Republicans who had cut the barbed wire outside the prison.  In May, he made his way to the U.S. where he began promulgating three objectives: official recognition of the Irish government, loans for the government and arousing popular support among Americans for an independent, republican Ireland.

Boyle, for his part was charged with stopping deValera’s mission.   Arriving in New York, he was posted as the number two to Major Norman Thwaites, head of the SIS’s Section MIIc, which was working clandestinely out of the British Mission in Manhattan and tasked with watching Irish “radicals” who had arrived in the U.S.

Utilizing two different cover names, “Mr. James” and “Mr. Fox”, Boyle set up parallel networks of agents: one to use disinformation to sway American public opinion against the Irish republicans; the second, charged with the kidnapping and possible assassination of deValera.   While Boyle’s operations were run out of the British Passport Control Office at 44 Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan, he also used a post office box rented under a cover name at Manhattan’s City Hall Station.

In attempt to get close to deValera, Boyle took up residence in Elmhurst, a heavily Irish Catholic section of Queens, New York, and that house may have served as a base for what would be the actual action against deValera. For this operation, he apparently tried to recruit local men as mercenaries in effort to sanitize the British Mission and by extension, His Majesty’s Government.

This, however, may have led to his downfall and the aborting of the mission, for one or more of the “recruits” were also on the payroll of the New York City police, who had many members sympathetic to the Irish republican cause. Word soon reached Washington and it was made known that Boyle was persona non grata and the activities of the British Mission must immediately cease.

In February, 1920, Boyle left for Canada and in March, he was living in the Carlton Club in London. In August, he was posted to Dublin with unspecified duties in the Police Advisor’s Office. One has to wonder whether despite the failure to kidnap deValera in New York, the British had sent Boyle to Dublin in case their quarry returned.

In any event, the kidnapping never came off and both deValera and Boyle went on to have long and fruitful careers. The one as President of the Republic of Ireland, the other as a senior official of MI-6, who became best known to his colleagues as “Creeping Jesus” and whose Section N activities were assiduously reported to a grateful Moscow Centre by Boyle’s colleague and Soviet spy, H.A.R. “Lucky Kim” Philby.

Speak Your Mind

*