Discovery of the car bug sent disruptive ripples through the peace process, and Mr Adams cited it as evidence that security and intelligence elements were intent on undermining the Good Friday Agreement and the new institutions of government in Northern Ireland. Mr Adams declared: "I feel shafted by the discovery of this."
Tony Blair, responding to a Commons question, would say only: "I never comment on security allegations, I don't intend to do so now."
On a more welcome note for the authorities, the illegal Ulster Freedom Fighters, one of the two main loyalist paramilitary groups, announced after some hesitation that, like the IRA, it would make contact with General John de Chastelain's Decommissioning Commission. Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, recently released from prison, was among a number of interlocutors named yesterday.
A masked UFF spokesman made the announcement to reporters, though in a noticeable toning down of tradition no weapons were on the table at the news conference. He stressed: "Disarmament will only be considered in the context of the IRA having already begun to decommission its arsenal of weaponry."
Although no one expects any early act of decommissioning by loyalists, the appointment of interlocutors was generally seen as an encouraging sign.
The bugging development was, however, viewed as being damaging to the unprecedentedly harmonious relations which have developed between republicans and the Government in recent years. Although no one was prepared to confirm or deny that the apparatus was the work of the intelligence services, either with or without ministerial approval, the general assumption in Belfast was that it had indeed emanated from the authorities.
It consisted of a large device welded to the bottom of a car which has been used in recent months by Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness, and in which they travelled during the Mitchell review of the devolution and de-commissioning issues.
The device, which was said to be colour-coded so that it would match exactly the colour of the car, was wired to a microphone built into the middle of the roof of the vehicle. The apparatus also included a transmission aerial which republicans claimed might be used both to broadcast conversations from the car, and to provide a signal to allow the car to be tracked by satellite.
If the information provided is correct, someone must have had access to the car for some hours, long enough to implant the various parts of the device throughout the vehicle. The result would have been to allow someone to know both the location of the republican leaders and to eavesdrop on them.
Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "In common with previous governments, we don't comment on intelligence issues and we do not comment on allegations such as this."
However, this was not the case during a previous bugging controversy, when Sinn Fein claimed that in a Stormont office allocated to them they had detected a positive signal from a photocopier, using a scanning device. On that occasion, the Conservative minister Michael Ancram said he wished to state categorically that the room was not "monitored by or on behalf of the British government".
In April last year, Sinn Fein produced video footage of what it claimed was a bugging device in a house used by Gerry Kelly, one of its senior negotiators. Security sources later privately blamed the discovery of the device on the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam.
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