Operation Chiffon codename meaning: what was secret MI5 mission, who was Robert?

The MI5 Spy and the IRA: Operation Chiffon will air on BBC Two on Saturday

The BBC will lift the lid on the secretive Operation Chiffon in a brand new documentary.

The MI5 Spy and the IRA explores an officer who was simply known as Robert for decades but played a key role in the special mission. The operation took place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Peter Taylor has spent two decades attempting to track down the mysterious MI5 agent. BBC Two’s new documentary will dive deep into Operation Chiffon and the man who helped keep a back-channel line of communication between the UK government and the IRA open.

The documentary will be available to watch on catch-up on BBC iPlayer.

But who is Robert and what does Operation Chiffon mean? Here is all you need to know:

What did Operation Chiffon codename mean?

Operation Chiffon was the codename of the top-secret MI5 operation of back-channel communications between the UK Government and the leadership of the IRA.

What was secret MI5 mission?

Chiffon’s mission was to get the IRA to end its violent campaign and embrace the political process that eventually led to the historic Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago.

Peter Taylor. Picture: BBCPeter Taylor. Picture: BBC
Peter Taylor. Picture: BBC

Who was Robert?

At the heart of Operation Chiffon was the MI5 officer simply known as Robert – the spy who is the missing link in the complex jigsaw of peace. After more than 20 years of trying to track him down, award winning BBC reporter Peter Taylor has conducted a ground-breaking interview in which former MI5 agent Robert breaks his silence for the first time and reveals the astonishing inside story of what really happened, step by step, on the precarious road to peace: the covert meetings and the extraordinary messages that were exchanged between the two sides.

Robert put his life and career on the line and disobeyed orders by meeting the IRA leader Martin McGuinness face to face only three days after the Warrington atrocity in which IRA bombs killed two children. Introducing himself as the British Government Representative Robert admits telling McGuinness in plain terms that Irish unity is inevitable.

It is these highly contentious and unauthorised words that encouraged the IRA to call a ceasefire and that eventually leads to Sinn Fein taking part in the Good Friday Agreement. “I’d like what I did to be remembered,” he says. “I did think I’d brought peace to Northern Ireland.”

Who is Peter Taylor?

Born in Scarborough in 1942, he is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. He is best known for his coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

He also investigated Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism in the wake of 9/11. Taylor started his career with ITV’s This Week in 1967 before joining BBC’s Panorama team in 1980 - in a position he held until 2014.

How to watch BBC documentary?

The programme The MI5 Spy and the IRA: Operation Chiffon will air on BBC Two at 7pm on Saturday (25 March). It will run from 7pm to 7.35pm - and will be available on iPlayer to catch-up on afterwards.