Collusion and misdirection in the dirty war

….. Following on from the last post

Stakeknife was named in 2003 by disaffected Army agent Kevin Fulton. Fulton, whose real name is Peter Keeley, infiltrated the IRA for the Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) in the late Seventies. Media speculation that followed, drawing on former RUC Special Branch officers and senior members of the Garda Siochana, saw Henry McDonald in The Observer. write,

“Stakeknife was only one of five highly- placed agents working inside the republican terror group…. Garda Siochana told The Observer this weekend that Scappaticci’s second in command during the Eighties, the late IRA veteran John Joe Magee, worked for the security forces on both sides of the border.” [The Observer Sunday 18th May 2003].

Naming a dead person to raise further speculation, distrust and retrospective accusations to destablise political opponents is straight out of the “counter-terror” manual. The construction of a truth takes on many aspects and much of the media coverage contains the phrase “According to security sources” – hence the Independent headline: “IRA’s GHQ riddled with informers” [May 18 2003] stoking up the suspicion the controversy has provoked, inducing a backdrop of fear and mistrust. The propaganda war did not end hence the narrative: British spies had infiltrated the IRA, spreading deceit and rumours of deceit. The IRA had turned against itself. The story is that British agents subverted the IRA from within.

Not everyone neatly observers the set script. Journalist Eamon Mallie was not alone in pointing out: “A question screaming out for an answer is how the Army and MI5 explain and justify the alleged role of Stakeknife – an agent in that part of the IRA that interrogated and tortured other suspected agents, steps often leading to execution.Whilst rubbishing the initial charges against Scappaticci, former republican publicity director Danny Morrison raised the flaws in the broader narrative in his Guardian article, The story of Stakeknife is full of holes.

Likewise an American journalist Matthew Teague raised the other issue talking to “Scappaticci’s attorney, Michael Flanigan… I asked about Scappaticci’s career as a spy, and Flanigan shook his head. He has previously called the allegations “misinformation” and told me it was all British propaganda. The British, he said, just wanted to embarrass the IRA by pretending they had penetrated it. When I suggested that the Stakeknife affair might reflect as poorly on the British as on anyone else, he smiled.”

Shortly afterwards Teague relays Denis Donaldson, “the legendary IRA hunger-striker who had met with me in his kitchen— has just been expelled from Sinn Féin… For being a British spy. Donaldson, it turned out, had been spying on the IRA for two decades.”

To date the only charge raised against Scappaticci arose from his brief arrest in February 2018. An inspection of his laptop resulted in a sentence of three months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, for possession of pornographic images. After the trial in December 2018, Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who leads the investigation for Operation Kenova, said: “Today’s conviction came about as a result of material recovered during a search conducted by the Kenova team. This result is an indication that wherever criminal behaviour is identified during my investigation, evidence will be presented for the purposes of prosecution.” Really?

A previous inconclusive inquiry, the Smithwick Tribunal was set up in 2005, by the Irish Government on the advice of Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, and sat in public in Blackhall Place, Dublin from 2011 until 2013, examining the possibility of Garda collusion in the deaths of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who were murdered North of the Border in March 1989, after a brief meeting in Dundalk Garda Station. The purpose of the RUC officers’ visit was to discuss a move against the IRA’s Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy, which had been ordered by then Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Tom King.

One of the principal sources for the Tribunal was the author of Unsung Hero (John Blake Publishing) , a former army spy, Kevin Fulton, who was living “somewhere in the UK”, in hiding from the IRA and was engaged in a lengthy legal battle with his former employers over a “severance package”. He says he was promised money, relocation and a new identity if his role as a spy within the Provisional IRA was ever compromised. The intelligence services, he claims, have reneged on that promise.Fulton, who was born in Newry, has written a book about his undercover war. He outlines how he was recruited by military intelligence as a young soldier in the Royal Irish Rangers and asked to infiltrate the IRA in the Newry/Dundalk area. In Unsung Hero, he defends his active role arguing that he was assured that while his role may have cost lives – even those of soldiers, police informants and RUC members – it saved more lives than it cost.

In Unsung Hero, ‘Fulton’ claims that he worked undercover as a British Army agent within the PIRA at the height of its campaign. He was believed to have operated predominantly inside the IRA’s, “South Down Brigade” as well as concentrating on IRA activity in South Armagh. “Fulton” supposedly pioneered the use of flash guns to detonate bombs.

Fulton worked as a painter by day, whitewashing the pocked walls of County Down, Northern Ireland. But secretly he made bombs, as part of a small team of demolitions experts who operated in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Some of their bombs blew up military targets. Others blew up civilians. Fulton could sometimes sabotage missions. Often he could not. Admittedly Fulton now distances himself from the graphic book expedient in the face of the, at least nine, PSNI Investigations arising from it, and the many civil actions in the pipeline.

So how does he now view his role? “There is no such thing as a clean war,” he says. “War is always dirty. What people saw in Belfast, South Armagh or Newry, soldiers patrolling the streets and roads, was only the overt part of the war. There was a covert war going on that they knew nothing about. The real war was going on behind the scenes and it was hurting everyone.

It is alleged that he was personally been linked to the death of Eoin Morley , member of the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation, a splinter republican paramilitary organisation, who was shot dead by the IRA in April 1990. A subsequent investigation by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’ Loan concluded that the RUC failed to properly investigate Morley’s killing. However, she ruled there had been no effort by police to instigate a feud between the IRA and IPLO!

An IRA statement, supplied to An Phoblacht newspaper, stated  “Following meetings with the mother of Eoin Morley the leadership of the IRA has conducted an in-depth inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eoin Morley. “Eoin Morley was shot and killed in Newry on 15 April 1990. No order was issued for the killing of Eoin Morley. At the time allegations were made that he was an informer. In the course of a lengthy interview in An Phoblacht in November 1992 the IRA leadership described those allegations as, “incorrect and totally inaccurate”. “The killing of Eoin Morley was wrong. The IRA leadership offers its apologies to the Morley family for the grief and pain they have suffered as a result of our actions and the subsequent false allegations levelled against Eoin Morley.”

Kevin Fulton was testifying at the Smithwick tribunal into alleged Garda collusion in the IRA murders of two other RUC officers in March 1989. In 2006 Fulton /Keeley was arrested in England and questioned about the Morley killing and the death of British soldier Cyril Smyth, who was killed when the IRA carried out a bomb attack on a checkpoint outside Newry in 1990. Keeley also played a role in other IRA operations which the MoD should have known about. These were said to include the mortar attack on a police mobile patrol that claimed the life of Constable McMurray and seriously injured one of her colleagues. In one incident, Fulton /Keeley was questioned on responsibility for designing firing mechanisms used in a horizontal mortar attack on an RUC armoured patrol car on Merchants Quay, Newry, County Down, on 27 March 1992. A 34-year-old RUC officer (Colleen McMurray) died and another RUC officer was seriously injured “Kevin Fulton” claims he tipped off his MI5 handler that an attack was likely. He was later released without charge.

Some observers find it hard to endorsed Fulton, a man who had made a lifetime “career” of deception, as a highly credible witness. During the Smithwick tribunal, Fulton was asked for his reaction to previous evidence from RUC witnesses who described him as a “fantasist” and intelligence nuisance. “I have done things that I am not proud of and they would be party to that” he said, “Maybe it’s good to discredit someone who could do them harm.”

Matthew Teague’s articles stated “Fulton harbors complex feelings about the British spy services. His handlers in Northern Ireland abandoned him after his encounter with Scappaticci. His special toll-free number suddenly stopped working and eventually became the hotline for a forklift company. Fulton suspects that once the IRA loosed Scappaticci on him, his handlers decided he would make a good sacrifice: another mark of credibility for their prize agent, Stakeknife. His handlers betrayed him. “He trusted the people he worked for,” Jane Winter told me. She heads a human-rights organization called British Irish Rights Watch, one of the few authorities respected by people on both sides of the continuing conflict. “He believed that he was doing something that—although it was difficult and unpleasant—was necessary and right. And then he found out the people that he trusted were not worthy of his trust. I think that must be very difficult for anybody.”

Into the limelight appeared another former member of the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) using the name Martin Ingram and, as with Fulton, the reliability of Martin Ingram’s stories is unclear. He co-authored a book about Stakeknife. Ingram, whose real name was Ian Hurst said, “There is a firebreak between government and the work on the ground. Do you honestly believe that politicians would have allowed themselves to implicated in murder? They just don’t have the balls.”

Hurst talks about the difficulties involved when loyalist and republican paramilitary members became agents of the state. Operations get complex and thus more dangerous. To illustrate this Hurst gives this quote from (Lord) John Stevens who was in charge of three inquiries into collusion between the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and loyalist paramilitaries in the war with republicans.

‘There was the RUC, MI5 and the army doing different things. When you talk about intelligence, of the 210 people we arrested, only three were not agents. Some of them were agents for all four of those particular organisations, fighting against each other, doing things and making a large sum of money, which was all against the public interest and creating mayhem in Northern Ireland.’

Robin Ramsay, editor of the Lobster magazine noted, “That 98.5% of those arrested were on the British secret state payroll is the most surprising thing I have read for a very long time. These were on the Loyalist side of the conflict – allies, essentially, of the British state – and I think we may assume that on the Republican side a lower percentage of the combatants had been recruited by the British state.”

The dirty war does not end, the propaganda war to control the narrative remains sharp and the collusion, hypocrisy and misdirection does not diminish because as a letter writer to The Guardian asked,

“I wonder whether, during their conversation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a chance to ask Theresa May when the murders of Pat Finucane will be brought to justice?” [December 4 2018]

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