Peter McMullen liked New York immediately. He liked its intensity and the anonymity it provided for one like himself who did not want to attract attention. McMullen was on the run from British and Irish authorities, and was in America illegally. Still, he was elated. This was a whole new world, a new life, a new assignment.
He reported to work at a nightclub on East 86th St. in Manhattan as a doorman-bouncer. He worked under the name of Peter Graham. However, his new role as an IRA agent in America was security and technical officer for the purchase of weapons to be smuggled to Ireland.
"There were a lot of people buying arms for us, and they were not necessarily IRA people, but often were sympathetic to the Republican movement," he recalled.
"Sometimes they simply were people with guns for sale. A bartender at the nightclub was an arms buyer."
At first, McMullen said, it was his job to screen weapons buyers and sellers to make sure they were not agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) or FBI agents.
He would then examine the weapons offered for sale to make sure they were in good working order and were of a type preferred by the IRA, "like any kind of assault rifle, Armalities especially, Ar15s, M16s, Ar18s, but almost any kind of high-powered, self-loading weapons would do, as well as shorts
short arms, handguns." Then he began buying weapons in upstate New York, Connecticut, Vermont and as far away as the Carolinas.
Where did he get the money?
"A bartender at the nightclub was skimming as much as $3,000 a week, most of it on weekends. The owner knew nothing about it," he said.
McMullen said that weapons were stored at his (McMullen's) apartment on 72nd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens. When he had a dozen or so weapons on hand, a confederate would pick them up "and take them to a guy who was an officer of one of the transport unions."
"The way the weapons got out [of the country] was in household and office furniture. They'd strip the furniture down and fill it with weapons. Guns would go inside everything, cabinets, beds, sofas, chairs -- everything."
The shipment was then loaded aboard a sealed container bound by ship from New York to Dublin. There was never a problem with U.S. customs. "Someone took care of that here and on the other side, too. Telephone calls would be made to a contact in Dublin giving the date of arrival of the container, the numbers and so forth, and it would be let through customs," he said.
From Dublin, the container, marked "household goods," would be taken to a warehouse in Monahan, northwest of Dublin, near the border of Northern Ireland. In the warehouse, the weapons would be sorted out and an IRA quartermaster would decide the units the weapons would be shipped to in Northern Ireland. The arms then would be shipped to Dundalk, a town on the border, where they would be hidden in a tree, shrub and flower nursery until picked up by IRA members in Hertz rental cars.
"Usually the guns were just hidden in the boot [trunk] or in the space between the boot and the back seat and under the back seat. If it was a big load, they'd go into the door panels as well. The same with explosives, except that gelignite could also go into the wheel wells. The best thing to do would be to send women through as drivers, especially with children and on a busy Sunday afternoon when the authorities couldn't possibly check every car," he said.
Once, McMullen said, when he worked the border at Dundalk, "an emergency shipment had to get through to Belfast, so I packed 600 pounds of gelignite into a car and sent the wife and kids through. They didn't know about it. We lost Hertz that way. Some idiot left a pound of gelignite in a door panel. Later the car got into an accident and while it was being repaired the explosives were discovered. After that Hertz was very choosey about who they rented to."
By late autumn of 1972, McMullen had been promoted to maitre'd at the nightclub. He did quite a lot of gunbuying at this time, "mostly Armalites, which you could buy with a driver's license. You'd go to a state, establish residence, if just giving a false address didn't work, and simply walk into a gun shop and buy what you wanted. I bought in Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts."
Another route out for the weapons, he said, "was through passenger luggage aboard the British luxury liner QE2. Two IRA men were crew members who took care of seven suitcases every two weeks.
"An Irish customs agent in Cork would be given the claim numbers on the tickets, and he would take care of them -- put them aside. But he could only watch them for a certain period of time before he had to turn them in as unclaimed. If he didn't, then he'd be implicated.
"Well, Joe Cahill screwed that route up by simple neglect. He didn't show to claim the suitcases. The weapons were found, wrapped in New York Times newspapers, and of course they still had serial numbers on them. The guns were traced to a store in New York and the buyers were traced from there. That resulted in a well-known case in America known as 'The Fort Worth Five.'"
Cahill, says McMullen was quartermaster general at that time for the IRA, and Brian Keenan was quartermaster for the Belfast brigade. Cahill distributed to Keenan and Keenan distributed weapons to the three Belfast battalions.
A union official in New York, McMullen says, perfected the smuggling routes years before, "when the Queen Mary was still making runs across the Atlantic. He was amazing, this union man. I mean he could get anything. I once carried two cases of hand grenades for him."
Another gun buyer, however, was a different sort altogether. One night he shocked McMullen with the brazenness and stupidity of a particular weapons purchase.
"I'm standing at the door of this busy nightclub and up comes [the gun buyer] with this great bloody carpet over his shoulder. He says he's got something to show me, and I figure what is it? So I tell him to get the hell out of the doorway and meet me in the basement. He unrolls the carpet and there's four Winchester rifles, three AR15s [a semi-automatic civilian version of the M16, the standard automatic rifle issued to U.S. Army personnel] an M16 submachinegun, a shotgun, a 9mm Luger, a 4.44 magnum and two .38 cal. handguns."
McMullen was angry. He should never have brought the weapons to the bar. McMullen told the man to bring the weapons, as discreetly as possible, to his apartment. McMullen claims he then paid the man $2,500 for the arms with money supplied from a contact at Noraid in the Bronx.
Noraid is an abbreviation for the Irish Northern Aid Committee, which raises money, ostensibly for the aid of families of people put into prison in Ireland and Northern Ireland for their political beliefs. Although Noraid officers have steadfastly denied involvement in arms purchases or smuggling, two members in recent years have been convicted of conspiring to run guns, and two others, both Noraid officers, were named by the Justice Department as unindicted coconspirators in the case.
Noraid has reported raising more than $1.5 million since 1971, but no one is certain exactly how much has been taken into its treasury. American leaders of Irish ancestry, such as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.y.) and House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) have urged Americans not to donate to Noraid, and donations have fallen off sharply in recent years.
The guns wrapped in the carpet were quickly shipped to Dublin by cargo container ship out of New York City.
In February 1973, McMullen, working long hours both at the bar and for the IRA, including long drives for arms purchases on his days off, decided it was time for a rest. He received permission from the IRA to take a job on his own while he rested. McMullen used his training as a cook to get himself a job as a chef at a restaurant in Glen Cove, N.Y., called the Piping Rock. (Piping Rock Inn is in Westbury, close to Glen Cove, in Long Island).
There he worked under his real name, Peter McMullen.
"I got the job myself. I'm a pretty good chef. I really enjoy cooking, and I stayed there from late February or early March right through the summer of 1973 until about August. I lived out on Long Island during the week and would come back into Manhattan, usually on a Sunday, and return on Monday night," he said.
McMullen felt relaxed and secure. Both of those feelings were shattered on his days off when he went to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
On three different occasions in August he noticed two men he thought were following him.
"I sensed something. It's hard to explain. But I started looking and these two guys kept cropping up again and again, and they were different from Americans. Their bearing, their clothing, their demeanor were definitely military. I switched around on them one day and got close enough just to catch a few words. They were Brits."
McMullen began carrying a handgun again, convinced that M16, British Intelligence, was on to him, and "they don't bring you in for trial."
McMullen was on the run again.
In Belfast, he had slept with a Thompson submachinegun. Now he began sleeping with a .45 cal. pistol. He found a job through an advertisement as an assistant chef "at one of those fat farms in Arizona. I don't recall the exact name. It was outside Phoenix."
McMullen was asked during the interview what happened next.
A. I visited the chef's house one night.
Q. What was his name?
A. Jose was his first name. I don't remember his last name. He was Chilean.
Q. And this was in September or October of 1973?
A. Yes. I was coming out of his house and just getting to my car when two shots rang out. This was about 10 at night.
Q. While you were in the car the shots were fired?
A. No. I was just opening the door.
Q. Did you see who fired the shots, muzzle flashes?
A. I didn't wait.
Q. Where did the shots come from? What did they sound like? Did they hit the car or anything?
A. From in front of me, definitely, two shots. Low-velocity, from my experiences. As far as I know they didn't hit the car.
Q. Low-velocity would indicate a handgun. Did it sound like a .45?
A. If I had to guess, I'd say it was probably 9 mm.
Q. What did you do then?
A. I hit the accelerator and went straight back to New York. I must have left about $800 worth of stuff at the ranch in Arizona, all my clothing, belongings, identification -- everything.
At that time, the Autmn of 1973, McMullen was in the good graces of the IRA. He believes that British military intelligence agents attempted to kill him in Arizona after tracing him from New York.
Once back in New York, he stayed as a "safe house" with a friend and passed word to his superiors that he was in hiding but would return to Ireland as soon as possible. His problem at the moment, enegy agents aside, was to get another passport, his false Irish passport had been left in Arizona.
McMullen is resourceful. He went to a party with a friend and while the friend made sure the host was distracted in conversation McMullen slipped into the man's den, rummaged through his papers and files and stole his birth certificate, Social Security card and driver's license. Before the week was out Peter McMullen, alias Terry Enwright, applied for and was granted an American passport.
McMullen had now become William Pekar, American citizen.
He wasted no time in flying direct from New York to Dublin in October 1973. In Dublin he reported to two men, Harty White and Albert Price, who were liaison men to the IRA's ruling Army Council. Price is the father of the Price sisters, Dolours and Marian, who were convicted in London that year of setting off a bomb at London's Criminal court. The blast injured 288.
At first McMullen was given a light, but important job of looking after IRA members who had come to the south either because they were on the run or desperately needed a rest.
McMullen's job as rest and recreation officer in Dublin lasted until February 1974. It was then that he received orders for some of the most chilling assignments of his career in the IRA. It was also the year in which he became thoroughly fed up with the movement.