FBI releases its files on Queen Elizabeth II, revealing fears of 'everpresent' IRA threats


Before Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to San Francisco in 1983, a city police officer who regularly patronized an Irish pub warned federal agents about a potential threat against the queen by an Irish Republican Army sympathizer who was bent on revenge for the death of his daughter, newly released FBI records show.

The unidentified police officer claimed that on Feb. 4, 1983 — about a month before Ronald and Nancy Reagan hosted the visit from the queen and Prince Philip — he received a phone call from a man he knew from the pub “who claimed that his daughter had been killed in Northern Ireland by a rubber bullet,” according to a confidential FBI teletype.

“This man additionally claimed that he was going to attempt to harm Queen Elizabeth and would do this either by dropping some object off the Golden Gate Bridge onto the royal yacht Britannia when it sails underneath, or would attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth when she visited Yosemite National Park,” the memo states.

The teletype is among 102 pages of FBI records about Elizabeth that were publicly released late Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by NBC News and other media to the agency following the queen’s death on Sept. 8.

The records — posted in The Vault, the FBI’s public website where documents of widespread interest are often released — mostly reflect standard behind-the-scenes communications about a visiting head of state, including federal agents’ shared memos, itineraries, press clippings and other documents largely related the queen’s various visits to the United States, dating back to 1976.

Though the records — some of which are heavily redacted — don’t indicate that the San Francisco threat ever developed beyond just the words of an angry pub patron, they clearly reflect a persistent source of potential danger for the queen whenever she visited the U.S.: the IRA and its sympathizers.

President Reagan laughs following a joke by Queen Elizabeth II, who commented on the lousy California weather she has experienced during a banquet at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in 1983. (Bettmann / Getty Images file)
President Reagan laughs following a joke by Queen Elizabeth II, who commented on the lousy California weather she has experienced during a banquet at the De Young Museum in San Francisco in 1983. (Bettmann / Getty Images file)

Formed in the late 1960s as a secret armed wing of the political movement Sinn Féin, the modern version of the Irish Republican Army was dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland, often by violent means.

The documents show FBI agents routinely shared intelligence and preparations with the U.S. Secret Service, local police agencies and other law enforcement about the IRA and its sympathizers in the run-up to, and during, the queen’s state visits.

During her trip in New York for America’s Bicentennial celebrations in Battery Park in 1976, a New York City Police Department intelligence detective had advised the FBI of no arrests, but noted that a summons was issued to a pilot of a small airplane for flying over the park with a sign reading, “England, Get out of Ireland.”

The FBI’s concerns about potential IRA violence against members of the royal family were not unfounded. In 1979, Elizabeth’s second cousin, Lord "Dickie" Mountbatten — a close confidant of then-Prince Charles — was killed in an IRA bombing in Ireland.

In 1989, prior to the queen’s visit to the East Coast and parts of the American south, an internal FBI memo noted that, despite knowing of no specific dangers, “the possibility of threats against the British Monarchy is everpresent from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).”

“Boston and New York are requested to remain alert for any threats against Queen Elizabeth II on the part of IRA members and immediately furnish same to Louisville,” the memo added.

Two years later, during a 1991 visit when the queen and President George Bush planned to attend a Baltimore Orioles baseball game via helicopter, FBI agents shared intelligence with the Secret Service that “Irish groups” were planning protests at Memorial Stadium.

A teletype about the 1991 ballpark visit cited a published article in the “Philadelphia Irish Newspaper” that stated “anti-British feelings are running high as a result of well publicized injustices inflicted on the Birmingham Six by the corrupt English judicial system and the recent rash of brutal murders of unarmed Irish nationalists in the six counties by Loyalists death squads.”

The “Birmingham Six” were six Irishmen wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the IRA bombing of two pubs in Birmingham, England, in 1974. Their convictions were overturned in 1991, a few months before the queen’s visit.

While the FBI memo stated the article contained “no threats against the president or the queen,” it said its contents “could be viewed as being inflammatory,” and that “an Irish group had reserved a large block of grandstand tickets” to the game.

The FBI often gleaned details from published news articles to help identify groups that planned to protest the queen’s visits, as well as kept in touch with local police agencies and its “assets” within protest groups, the records show.

For the 1983 visit to San Francisco, police had warned the FBI that, due to the wide variety of protesters against both Reagan and the queen during her visit, “it will be very hard to anticipate and prevent incidents which may embarrass either the queen or the president.”

But the records do not indicate the FBI or other law enforcement agencies arrested anyone for attempting to carry out any politically motivated violence or plots against the queen during that or any other visit.

As to the potential threat to drop an item onto the queen’s yacht in 1983 made by the patron of the Dovre Club — an Irish pub in San Francisco’s Mission District — the FBI memo describing the threat noted the Secret Service planned to “close the walkways on the Golden Gate Bridge as the yacht nears.”

A letter from the FBI on Tuesday notifying NBC News about the release of the records about the queen noted that “additional records potentially responsive to your subject may exist” beyond those posted by the agency this week.