Garda National Surveillance Unit

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Garda National Surveillance Unit
Irish: Aonad Faireacháin Náisiúinta
Agency overview
Formed 1995; 20 years ago (1995)
Preceding agency
  • Garda Special Surveillance Unit (SSU)
    "Tango Squad"
Jurisdiction Ireland
Headquarters Phoenix Park, Dublin (D8)
Harcourt Street, Dublin (D2)
Employees Undisclosed (estimated 100)
Annual budget Undisclosed (part of Garda Síochána budget, €1.34 billion in 2014)
Minister responsible
Agency executives
Parent agency Crime & Security Branch
Badge of An Garda Síochána.gif Garda Síochána

The National Surveillance Unit (NSU) (Irish: Aonad Faireacháin Náisiúinta) is the principal clandestine intelligence gathering and surveillance operations unit of the Garda Síochána, the national police force of Ireland. The unit operates under the Crime & Security Branch (CSB), based at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and also works from Harcourt Street, Dublin. Members of the unit are specially trained and selected Detective Gardaí who are tasked to remain covert whilst on and off duty, tracking suspected criminals, terrorists and hostile, foreign spies operating in Ireland. The unit's detectives are routinely armed. The National Surveillance Unit is understood to possess a manpower of approximately 100 officers, and is considered to be the most secretive arm of the force.[1][2]


The Garda National Surveillance Unit was formed in the mid-1990s, when the "Crime Special Surveillance Unit" and the "Crime Ordinary Surveillance Unit" were merged. It is the operational wing of the Security & Intelligence Section of the Crime & Security Branch (CSB). The unit is headed by a Detective Chief Superintendent, who is under the supervision of the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Crime and Security Branch. It is understood to have a strength of about 100 plainclothes officers, mainly detectives, who all carry firearms (standard issue is the concealable Walther P99c 9mm semi-automatic pistol). The unit is headquartered in the Phoenix Park, but carries out many operations from Harcourt Street.[3] The NSU has personnel nationwide, and works closely with the Special Detective Unit (SDU) as well as Garda analysts or "techies" in other Garda regions, although often local Gardaí are unaware of the presence of the NSU operating in their area. Increasingly, the NSU is using technical and electronic espionage rather than physical and human intelligence, working with the SDU and Directorate of Military Intelligence of the Irish Defence Forces, mainly to counter terror, militant and subversive groups in Ireland,[4] as well as serious crime (particularly drug trafficking) and the activities of hostile foreign governments on Irish soil (counterintelligence).

The Garda NSU is considered the most covert unit of the force, and according to the Department of Justice: "It is the policy of An Garda Síochána not to comment on any matters relating to the operation of the National Surveillance Unit."[5]

"Ghost Teams"[edit]

The Garda NSU operates a small number of "Ghost Teams" or "Ghost Units", which conduct so-called "Black bag operations", whereby a team of officers will break into a property upon possession of a warrant and plant bugs to gather intelligence or evidence against suspected serious criminals, terrorists or hostile spies without their knowledge, and without leaving a trace (hence the name "Ghost Team").[6] The existence of these teams came to public attention following the publishing of The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009.[7] The equipment and technology used by the NSU is highly sophisticated and very expensive, but is also kept secret.[8][9]


The National Surveillance Unit has been involved in a number of high-profile Garda operations, though rarely are the unit named, and they do not appear in public.

  • In August 1998, the Real IRA terrorist organisation detonated a car bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland (see Omagh bombing), killing 29 people and injuring 220 others. It was the single deadliest terrorist attack ever carried out on the island of Ireland, and all the casualties were innocent members of the public.[10] In the aftermath, claims were made by whistleblowers that the Garda National Surveillance Unit had obtained intelligence three weeks prior to the bombing that a stolen car would be used by the Real IRA in an attack on a town in Northern Ireland, and failed to pass this information on to the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in order to protect the identity of an informant.[11] These claims have been strenuously denied by both the Garda Síochána and Irish government, although subsequent investigations suggest that had the Gardaí and RUC pooled their resources, the attacks may have been prevented.[12] The infiltration of dissident republicans by the Gardaí, RUC, MI5 and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) led to five foiled terrorist attacks in the same year, including a thwarted bombing of the Aintree Grand National.[13]
  • In December 2001, NSU Detective Sergeant John Eiffe – aged 40 from Ratoath, County Meath – lost his life in tragic circumstances after he was hit from a bullet ricochet fired by a colleague from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) during an operation to arrest four armed bank robbers in Abbeyleix, County Laois. The four men had been under surveillance by NSU detectives, and when they attempted to rob a bank, the NSU and Emergency Response Unit intervened. One of the men attempted to flee using his vehicle, and the sound of a tyre bursting led officers at the scene to believe they were being fired on by the armed robbers, causing them to open fire.[14] It later transpired that although the criminals had been carrying firearms, they had not discharge them. Gardaí discharged all 3 shots. Another officer was also injured in the incident, but recovered.[15]
  • In May 2009, NSU detectives shot and killed an armed raider in Lucan, County Dublin after he attempted to hold-up a cash-in-transit van. 27-year-old Gareth Molloy, who had previous criminal convictions, and his gang were under surveillance by the NSU for a number of weeks prior to the incident. Gardaí received intelligence that the gang were going to carry out a heist, and the NSU were backed-up by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI), Organised Crime Unit (OCU) and ERU.[16] When Molloy and a gang associate attempted to hold-up a cash delivery van at gunpoint and fired a shot in the air, NSU detectives intervened and ordered the armed raiders to drop their weapons. Gareth Molloy pointed a sawn-off shotgun in the direction of armed Gardaí and was immediately fired upon by NSU officers and was fatally wounded.[17] His associate refused to drop his weapon, and was also shot, but survived with serious injuries. 5 shots were fired by Gardaí in total. No one else was hurt. Four other gang members were arrested, charged and jailed following a pursuit in the aftermath of the incident.[18]
  • In March 2013, NSU detectives were carrying out surveillance on dissident republicans when a former leader of the Real IRA terrorist group, Peter Butterly, aged 35, was assassinated by his own gang[19] outside of a public house in Gormanston, County Meath, unaware of the presence of onlooking intelligence officers. Five men were arrested at or close to the scene at gunpoint by the NSU, backed-up by the SDU and ERU, and three were charged with his murder, as well as terrorism offences.[20] It was reported that the Gardaí had an undercover officer planted in the gang, who was being backed-up by armed officers nearby, and that he had to break his cover in the aftermath of the shooting to apprehend members of the gang. An NSU team had planted a tracking device, following secret judicial approval, on the car in which their undercover officer was travelling in.[21] Armed Gardaí were forced to ram one vehicle to stop it fleeing the scene. No one else was injured in the incident.[22]

Killed in the line of duty[edit]

Rank Name Year of death Circumstances
Detective Sergeant John Eiffe 2001 Fatally wounded in friendly fire incident during arrest operation, County Laois[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Keeffe, Cormac (20 April 2009). "Surveillance in the spotlight". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Mooney, John (6 May 2012). "Security lapses by garda agents". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Garda Management Journal ("Communique)" (PDF). 20 November 2008. Garda Siochana ( Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "Garda tells trial of 'sensitive' surveillance operation". Breaking News Ireland. 17 November 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  5. ^ "Department of Justice and Equality | Written answers on Garda Strength". 25 February 2014. Kildare Street. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  6. ^ MacGuill, Dan (17 May 2015). "State surveillance: How Gardaí and others can secretly monitor you". Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009" (PDF). 2009. Government of Ireland. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Barry, John. "The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009: An Examination of the Compatibility of the New Act With Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights" (PDF). Cork Online Law Review. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  9. ^ Cusack, Jim (16 February 2014). "Hi-tech snooping on crime gangs can be child's play". The Sunday Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "Bomb atrocity rocks Northern Ireland". BBC News. 16 August 1998. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  11. ^ McDonald, Henry (19 October 2003). "Omagh agent claims Garda let bomb pass". The Observer. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Cowan, Rosie (26 October 2002). "Irish police accused on Omagh". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Cusack, Jim (25 November 2012). "Communication 'muddle' blamed for Omagh bomb, Confusion among spy agencies led to carnage". Irish Independent. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Guerin, Jimmy (24 November 2012). "The tragic day a young Garda died". Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  15. ^ Felle, Tom (8 May 2007). "Inquest into garda death at bank raid delayed due to appeals". Irish Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Trial hears garda evidence of surveillance of cars". 15 June 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Phelan, Shane (27 November 2012). "Armed raider opened fire on gardai". Irish Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Undercover gardai had followed raid gang for two weeks". The Herald. 16 May 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "Ex-Real IRA chief shot by former associates". Irish Mirror. 7 March 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Armagh leader of 'New IRA' ordered Co Meath murder in row over cash". The Belfast Telegraph. 8 March 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  21. ^ "Gardaí seek privacy screen for surveillance operatives in murder trial". 2 October 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  22. ^ Brady, Tom (8 March 2013). "New IRA chief ordered murder of dissident for 'pocketing funds'". The Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  23. ^ "An Garda Síochána Roll of Honour List" (PDF). 2014. An Garda Síochána. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 

External links[edit]