Denis Payne

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Denis Payne was a senior MI5 officer who served in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

Payne relieved the MI6 officer based at Stormont Castle at some point in late 1973/early 1974.[1] According to Paul Foot, Payne's appointment, with the new title of 'Chief of Intelligence' marked the point at which Northern Ireland became an MI5 preserve at MI6's expense.[2]

According to Colin Wallace, the "resident top MI5 officer at Lisburn, Denis Payne, would give visiting American journalists such as John Barron the standard line of KGB control of the IRA".[3]

Northern Ireland

According to journalists Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Payne was "director of B Branch of MI5 and Chief of Intelligence, Northern Ireland, from 1973 to 1975.[4]

According to Colin Wallace:

In Northern Ireland the chief intelligence post was given to an MI5 officer, Dennis Payne, much to the chagrin of SIS.[5]

Wallace added:

In theory the head of Army Intelligence in the Province was a full Colonel, Peter Goss, who came under the direction of MI5's Dennis Payne. SIS, who came under the direction of Payne, had their own senior officer at Army HQ at Lisburn, Craig Smellie, and a complete office at Laneside, and reported directly to Century House.[6]

D. H. Payne is listed as an Under-Secretary at the Central Secretariat of the Northern Ireland Office in Stormont Castle in the Civil Service Yearbook for 1974, which went to press in November 1973.[7] The listing recurs in the same position in 1975 as "D.H. Payne (liaison staff)".[8]

According to Paul Foot, Payne presided over the creation of the Clockwork Orange psychological warfare operation:

Not long after the change-over from MI6 to MI5 was completed, Colin was called to a high-level conference at Stormont. Senior MI5 officers were there, including Denis Payne. The subject of discussion was a new initiative to meet the deteriorating security crisis and to stem the rising tide of sectarian assassinations. A top secret information offensive was proposed. Its codename was to become 'Clockwork Orange'.[9]

Michael Cudlipp told Sir Frank Cooper in April 1975 that the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland wanted more input from Payne's unit in psychological operations:

He believes strongly that we do not retaliate sufficiently against the Provisional's propaganda and suggests more use should be made of Army intelligence reports (community relations reports?) that come into Mr Payne's Department to provide regular briefing material. Is this a sound idea? Should an intelligence brief be produced for NIO information officers?[10]

Ulster Workers Council Strike

Payne's period in Northern Ireland included the May 1974 Ulster Workers Council strike.

During the crisis, Northern Ireland Electricity Service officials said only 30 per cent power could be maintained. When John Hume queried this estimate during a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees, Payne and Brigadier Len Garrett were brought in support its veracity.[11]


In 1990, the This Week programme focused on Payne and Charles Elwell in an investigation of MI5 black propaganda. "The team tracked down Payne and Elwell, both retired and living in the country, but they wouldn't comment," the Guardian reported.[12]

External Resources


  1. Richard Deacon, 'C': A Biography of Sir Maurice Oldfield, Futura, 1985, p.174.
  2. Paul Foot, Who Framed Colin Wallace? Pan Books, 1990, p.40.
  3. Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Smear: Wilson and the Secret State, Fourth Estate Limited, 1991, p.257.
  4. Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, Britain's Secret Propaganda War 1948-1977, Sutton Publishing, 1998, p.157.
  5. Anthony Cavendish, Inside intelligence, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997, p.169.
  6. Anthony Cavendish, Inside intelligence, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997, p.170.
  7. Civil Service Yearbook, 1974, p.731.
  8. Civil Service Yearbook, 1975, p.722.
  9. Paul Foot, Who Framed Colin Wallace? Pan Books, 1990, p.41.
  10. Meeting with the GOC, Michael Cudlipp to Sir Frank Cooper, 4 April 1975. National Archives file CJ4/887.
  11. Robert Fisk, The Point of No Return, The Strike which broke the British in Ulster, André Deutsch, 1975, pp. 86-87.
  12. Adam Sweeting, Arts: Spies, lies and the MI5 - Television, The Guardian, 27 April 1990.