The FBI has uncovered a trove of classified documents relating to Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to the United States, revealing a potential assassination plot by Irish nationalist sympathizers.
The documents, which show how authorities repeatedly prepared for threats from supporters of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), have come to light following freedom of information requests submitted after the death of the queen in September last year.
The potential threat of assassination came to light the day before the late Queen arrived in San Francisco in 1983 when a police officer tipped off federal agents of a potential attack.
It involved attempting to drop ‘an object’ from the Golden Gate Bridge as the Royal Yacht Britannia sailed below.
It is part of a huge release of more than 100 pages of documents related to the late monarch following freedom of information laws sent to the FBI after her death in September last year.
What do the FBI documents reveal?
- An assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II was foiled the day before she arrived in the United States in 1983;
- The FBI warned that it would be ‘very difficult’ to avoid events which would ’embarrass’ the Queen during the trip;
- There were also warnings of an attack by IRA sympathizers during a visit in 1981;
- The FBI assessed the IRA threat to the British Royal Family as “ever present”.
Queen Elizabeth II toasts former US President Ronald Reagan at a banquet in San Francisco in 1983
The potential assassination threat was revealed the day before the late Queen arrived in San Francisco in 1983.
The police officer who tipped authorities regularly drank in an Irish pub and told officers about an IRA sympathizer who was determined to get revenge for his daughter’s death.
It follows a phone call he received in February from a man he knew through the pub, ‘who claimed his daughter had been killed in Northern Ireland by a rubber bullet’.
That phone call took place about a month before then-President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan welcomed the Queen and Prince Philip, 57, to California.
Official documents say the man told the officer he planned to ‘attempt to harm’ the late Queen by dropping ‘an object’ from the Golden Gate Bridge or trying to kill her during a visit at Yosemite National Park.
The assassination attempt memo states: “This man also claimed he was going to attempt to harm Queen Elizabeth and would do so by either dropping an object from the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Royal Yacht Britannia when he sails below either trying to kill Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Yosemite National Park.
The documents add that the man in question had previously been involved in police investigations. He was described as having been “generally cooperative, although he made no secret of his IRA sympathies”.
The documents also reveal that FBI agents warned ahead of the visit: “It will be very difficult to anticipate and prevent incidents that might embarrass the Queen or the President.”
While perhaps the biggest threat, this wasn’t the first time the FBI had warned of possible attacks on Her Majesty.
Two years earlier, the FBI warned of a “potential attack” on Elizabeth II when she visited US cities with strong ties to Ireland, including Boston and New York.
Another document from 1989 stated: “The possibility of threats against the British Monarchy is ever present from the Irish Republican Army.
He continued: “Boston and New York are urged to remain alert to any threats against Queen Elizabeth II from members of the IRA and to provide them immediately to Louisville.”
The police officer who tipped authorities regularly drank in an Irish pub and told officers about an IRA sympathizer who was determined to get revenge for his daughter’s death
Queen Elizabeth II (right) and Prince Philip (second from left) pictured at Yosemite National Park in 1983, the second location mentioned by the sympathizer as a possible assassination site
Queen Elizabeth II visits the Hewlett Packard factory on March 3, 1983 in California.
Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the San Diego Institute of Oceanography in 1983
The Queen arrives in Santa Barbara, California in 1983
The documents also reveal that FBI agents warned before the 1983 visit: ‘It will be very difficult to anticipate and prevent incidents which might embarrass the Queen or the President’
The 1983 plot was far from the only assassination scheme the Queen (second from left, pictured in California in 1983) survived
The would-be killer planned to drop ‘an object’ from the Golden Gate Bridge as Queen Elizabeth’s craft cruised underneath
And in 1976, a New York City pilot was summoned by police to stop him flying an “England Get Out of Ireland” banner while Elizabeth II was in the city.
The frequent worries of the American authorities and the royal family themselves were far from groundless – in 1979, Elizabeth II’s second cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered in an IRA bombing.
He and three other people died after his fishing boat was filled with explosives which then detonated.
The other victims were Mountbatten’s grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, crew member Paul Maxwell and Nicholas’ paternal grandmother Doreen, dowager Lady Brabourne.
There were also assassination attempts on the Queen which made the IRA threat even more potent.
In 1981, a New Zealand teenager pointed and fired a gun at Her Majesty as she got out of a car.
Christopher John Lewis fired a shotgun, which missed, during the Queen’s tour of the country. But he quickly became obsessed with wiping out the royal family.
Two years later, he attempted to overpower guards at a mental hospital where he was being held in an attempt to kill Prince Charles, who was in New Zealand with Princess Diana and Prince William.
Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered by an IRA plot which killed him and three others in 1979
Lord Mountbatten was killed after explosives went off on his boat (pictured, stock image)
In the same year, an anti-royal extremist shot the Queen six times blank during the parade of the flag.
She again emerged unscathed from the attempt, led by 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant.
He was later sentenced to five years in prison for terrorism offences, but only served three – during which time he wrote to Elizabeth II and apologized for his actions.
And in 1970, a conspiracy was uncovered in Australia after the train she and Prince Philip were traveling in hit a log on the track.
Fortunately, the conductor noticed the log and slowed down enough that the train did not derail, but former Detective Superintendent Cliff McHardy said in 2009 that his investigation concluded the log had been put in place deliberately.
Had the driver not seen the log, the train could have derailed, sending the royal couple into a deep embankment below.