THE voice on the other end of the phone certainly sounded old Etonian, just how you might expect a Sandhurst-trained, top-level British intelligence operative to speak.

I was in the Belfast offices of Madden and Finucane where I had just heard Peter McCaughey tell how he had been approached by a man calling himself Nick in Dubai who identified himself as British intelligence, M16.

Mr McCaughey said he had a note with a mobile number pressed into his pocket as he tried to get away from the man who wanted to recruit him as an informer and take him to Afghanistan for ‘debriefing.’

The tale sounded almost too extraordinary to be true but when the Dungannon man’s solicitor tapped the mobile number into the phone a man answering to the name Nick did pick up.

“Can I ask you why you’re harassing my client Peter McCaughey,” solicitor Fearghal Shiels asked.

“I’m not harassing him. I simply want to speak to him about his finances and links to Irish terrorism,” the plummy English voice on the other end said.

The use of counter-insurgency tactics by the British against Irish republicans can be dated back centuries.

However, sending operatives to Dubai to confront a man, armed with aerial pictures of every aspect of his private life, would represent a new determination to infiltrate suspected dissident republican organisations.

There is no way of knowing if the United Arab Emirates agreed to allow British intelligence to operate in their jurisdiction.

However, this small glimpse into the world of espionage shows that despite the perceived Islamist threat, the north may still very much be on the spooks’ radar.