Ian Hurst / Martin Ingrams

Ian Hurst, Derek Haslam And Hackgate

British Military Intelligence FRU member Ian Hurst - Martin Ingram circled in white, British Occupied North of Ireland, c. 1980s

British Military Intelligence FRU member Ian Hurst – Martin Ingram circled in white, British Occupied North of Ireland, c. 1980s

More on Britain’s “super-spy” Ian Hurst (aka. Martin Ingram) with an alleged phone recording of the former soldier from the notorious Force Research Unit (FRU) in conversation with Derek Haslam, an undercover police officer from Scotland Yard. The FRU was a British Military Intelligence group that conducted part of Britain’s counter-insurgency war against the Irish Republican Army through the control of Britain’s terror gangs in Ireland, principally the UVF and UFF. From its inception in 1981 until the late 1990s the FRU was involved in dozens of terrorist attacks, most notably the assassination of the Irish civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

Here Haslam discusses his role in Britain’s recent “Phone Hacking Scandal” with Hurst (more here). Here’s the transcript:

Hurst - The point is that MPs, ministers, the Home Secretary, they were targets, and that information was communicated to your handlers.

Haslam - And the reason is they fell into two two camps of target, one that could be made, they could, er, financially make money from, and the other type was one that they could use, blackmail, or influence for their own benefit to do with their own thing, because they were so anti that squad

Hurst - So, yeah, you mean they see…

Haslam - Yeah, anything that could put the Met into a bad light, or anybody they could implicate, or blackmail into helping them, you know, in two.  One would have been for earning money like Marunchak’s end, and two would have been for influence.

Hurst - But you can put your hand on your heart and you can say categorically that all intelligence which you generated which demonstrated a threat to posed against an MP, a minister, or the home secretary was communicated to your handler?

Haslam - That’s right, and you look at my motivation [cut]“

Thanks to Goggzilla for the tip.

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Fantasy Troubles Part 4

British Military Intelligence FRU member Ian Hurst - Martin Ingram circled in white, British Occupied North of Ireland, c. 1980s

British Military Intelligence FRU member Ian Hurst – Martin Ingram circled in white, British Occupied North of Ireland, c. 1980s

In the aftermath of the publication of the de Silva report into the assassination of the Irish civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane by terrorists from the British-run UDA the journalist and author Paul Larkin has an excellent summing up on his blog of the career of the British “super-spy” Ian Hurst (also known by his media nom de plume, Martin Ingram). Over the last decade Hurst has been at the centre of a flurry of stories in the UK media claiming that he and other members of the British Army’s Force Research Unit (or FRU) played a crucial role in bringing an end to the armed struggle of the Irish Republican Army by successfully placing high-level spies and double-agents within the IRA’s command and control structure. In this James Bond fantasy, which has been seized upon by certain sections of the British press eager to present a historic compromise with the forces of Irish Republicanism as a victory, Britain defeated the IRA through the superior guile and cunning of the English mind over that of its Irish rival.

Even if it took thirty years to do so.

From Larkin’s Cic Saor:

“With the de Silva report, Ian Hurst reaches the end of the credibility road – what about his media backers?

Tucked away in Chapter 21 of the de Silva report into the murder of Pat Finucane is this devastating statement regarding Ian Hurst’s testimony:

“I do not attach any weight to his allegations with respect to the FRU and the murder of Mr Finucane.” 

Chapter 21 as a whole, which deals with FRU agent and loyalist killer Brian Nelson’s role in the murder of Pat Finucane, can be read here

Anyone who reads this chapter will see that Ian Hurst’s credibility as a reliable witness and commentator on the Troubles is demolished once and for all.

This comes on top of the Saville Inquiry (Bloody Sunday report) and its total dismissal of Hurst’s evidence (also referred to by De Silva in this chapter). Here again is how Saville politely described Hurst as a dissembler:

147.270 – We are of the view that Martin Ingram to a substantial degree exaggerated the importance of his role at HQNI and his level of knowledge and access to intelligence.

Now how is it that none of the above has been reported in any newspaper or media outlet?

Those same media sources (the Sunday Times and the Guardian in particular), which have reported Ian Hurst’s spurious claims from 1999 onwards suddenly fall silent when presented with this devastating demolition of their FRU spook of choice. Moreover, the latter part of what is allegedly the definitive book on the IRA written by Ed Moloney also uses Hurst as a key source.

There are also huge questions now for the current Smithwick Tribunal, because much of the reason for its existence stems from Ian Hurst’s claims that there were British spies everywhere who were controlling all aspects of the guerrilla war in Ireland.

So perhaps now we can start asking the question about Ian Hurst that no journalist, astonishingly, has ever asked – what exactly did Ian Hurst do as a FRU agent in the only period when he was actually an agent handler?

I can answer at least part of that question.

Ian Hurst was never in the FRU in Belfast, but he did serve in Fermanagh from the end of 1987 to the early 1990s and was part of the FRU team that sought to “facilitate” dissident republicans in their attempts to source weaponry via the likes of veteran republican Joe O’Neill in Bundoran. It should be stressed that Joe O’Neill has stated that he was unaware that he was being used as a “proxy” in this way and that he had no intention of importing arms from places like America or Canada.

How do I know about illegal FRU activities in Fermanagh, Sligo and South Donegal? Because I made a film for BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme about that very issue, though we were unaware that it was the FRU we were dealing with at the time. We also know that the FRU/Joint Services Group of British Military Intelligence attempted exactly the same psyops scam (and targeting exactly the same dissident groups), with MI5 agent David Rupert in the run up to the horrendous Omagh bomb in 1998.”

This, of course, is far closer to the truth about Ian Hurst’s “military career” than many of his British media fans would allow. Hurst himself has issued so many versions of his claims about the FRU’s (undoubtedly murderous) actions in Ireland that he frequently finds himself slipping into self-contradictions. In 2006 he claimed that one in every twenty IRA Volunteers (soldiers) was a British spy, while “higher up” it was one in every three. Yet by 2011 he was claiming that it was one in every four Volunteers, while one in every two senior officers was an agent of Britain.

All of which stands in stark contrast to the genuine analysis by British Intelligence of its war efforts as detailed in the de Silva report where the British express frustration at their inability to penetrate the Irish Republican Army’s ranks. This is stated without dispute in a confidential note from the head of MI5′s operational section in Ireland, one of the most senior British Intelligence people in the struggle against the IRA, to his bosses in London. It dates from the late 1980s:

15.19: …recruitment of PIRA players has proved impossible”

However, in contrast, the official de Silva report states that:

11.5:…the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which sought to murder members of the security forces, was at times able to cultivate and maintain a limited number of sources working for the security forces in some capacity.”

So much for super-spies and informers.

UPDATE: Veteran Irish journalist Ed Moloney and Bob Mitchell present the origins of the Force Research Unit on the blog, The Broken Elbow.

More Cloak And Dagger Shenanigans In Fantasy Troubles

And so it rumbles on, the latest chapter in the tale of Britain’s super-superspy and double-agent extraordinaire Freddie “Stakeknife” Scappaticci, with the audio recordings of calls between Ian Hurst (the nom de guerre of Martin Ingram, an alleged former British military Intelligence agent) and Sir John Wilsey (former General Officer Commanding the British Army in the Occupied North of Ireland during the early 1990s). Not much new, not much we didn’t know already, and all rather desperate really. But judge for yourself here.

Fantasy Troubles Part III – Britain’s Superspies!

Back in December 2011 I addressed the grossly exaggerated issue of the alleged penetration of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army by British Intelligence agents and double-agents in the 1980s and ‘90s, concluding that:

“The majority of tactical intelligence gathered by the British Forces, the sort of intelligence that saw weapons and explosives captured, ambushes and attacks thwarted, IRA Volunteers and Active Service Units counter-ambushed, arrested or assassinated, whole regions of the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland closed down for days or weeks on end, was derived from the new modes of electronic and computer-coordinated intelligence, surveillance and bugging that were made possible by the advances in technology that began to make their presence felt in the late 1980s and ‘90s.

British listening devices placed in phones, homes, cars, shops, pubs, regular meeting points, the use of long range, long term covert cameras (with real-time satellite and landline feeds), tracking devices placed on or into vehicles and other equipment (including guns and explosives), the widespread use of CCTV in urban areas accessible to the then RUC and the British Army, routine and co-ordinated communication interceptions and monitoring, indexing of suspected or known IRA Volunteers and continuous observation of their movements, homes, cars, work places (and of their families, friends and work colleagues), all these techniques were what powered the cutting edge of the British war machine in Ireland. The central collation and study of data, thousands of individual facts and figures, over a period of months or years, and the redistribution of that data to those who needed to know it is what weighed heavy in favour of the British in the closing years of the conflict.

Not the double-agents and “touts”, mythical or otherwise.”

My piece was followed up by Mick Fealty over on Slugger O’Toole, and now Paul Larkin casts a critical eye on the ongoing controversy in the Guardian:

“The refusal of the star witness, journalist Toby Harnden, to undergo cross examination at the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin has thrown the whole inquiry into disarray and leads to questions about holding one in the first place.

The tribunal was set up by the Irish government to investigate claims that in 1989 a member of the Garda Síochána (Irish police) helped the IRA to murder two high-ranking RUC officers: Harry Breen and Ken Buchanan. This is despite the fact Canadian judge Peter Cory had already investigated these killings in 2003 and ruled that the IRA did not need the help of a traditionally hostile southern Irish police force to kill the two officers.”

The conclusion reached by Judge Cory after a lengthy series of investigations was clearly stated by him in his 2003 report:

“The intelligence reports received within days and the early weeks following the murder all suggest that PIRA members committed the murders without relying upon any information that the Gardaí or its employees could have supplied.”

He further recommended a public enquiry to examine the sources of the allegations of the claimed co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the Irish Republican Army in the assassination of the two RUC officers – not the claims themselves which he effectively dismissed. But to return to Larkin’s article:

“In a now familiar pattern, the Garda/IRA story was first circulated by former low-ranking agents of the British army’s force research unit (FRU). Most Irish people saw the decision to extend the Cory investigation as a sop to Unionists – a perverse quid pro quo for all that Irish republican fuss about Pat Finucane and the hundreds of other victims of Britain’s dirty war.

Perhaps the Irish government should have listened more closely to Judge Cory, who cast doubt on Harnden’s evidence in relation to the murders, saying he took unattributable testimony from security force or intelligence sources and repeated these as fact: “Statements and allegations were put forward as matters of fact, when in reality they were founded upon speculation and hypothesis.”

In the case of the two murders, for instance, FRU operatives say the formidable IRA units from north County Louth and South Armagh, which carried out the killings, were “riddled with spies” and that their favourite spy for Britain in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci, knew all about these killings. This is pure fantasy; deadly IRA cells would have no need or desire to consult with anyone before launching this kind of attack – least of all a Belfast man like “Scap”. Territory is important in Ireland.

But don’t take my word for it. A high-ranking RUC Special Branch officer (witness 62) told the Smithwick tribunal: “No agent of the state or anyone who was recruited at that time was in any way involved in the shooting.” [ASF: For more on the evidence of the ex-RUC officer see here where he dismisses the testimony to the Tribunal of the wandering British "spy" Peter Keeley/Kevin Fulton]

[Freddie Scappaticci] was a member of a debrief unit that questioned IRA volunteers after certain operations and in certain areas. He was never briefed about upcoming operations. He was never in a so-called “nutting squad” and never in a position to walk into a particular area and demand prior details of an operation or the head of an IRA volunteer on a plate. Yet this FRU-inspired myth has become the accepted narrative.

The repeated (and incorrect) assertion that MI5 was running the IRA and pushing the peace process feeds the ire of armed groups in Ireland who oppose the Good Friday agreement. A headline that says “IRA riddled with spies” is, in that sense, an incendiary device and undermines our democratic all-Ireland decision to try another, unarmed, way to find justice and peace and ultimately end partition.”

Indeed, as I pointed out back in December the exaggerated claims in certain quarters about the numbers and successes of British intelligence agents placed in the Republican Movement is less about the past war and more about the present war.

As for Freddie “Scap” Scappaticci, the alleged head of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU), despite the tens of thousands of words written about him he remains as big a question mark as ever. His first name is Freddie yet the media frequently call him “Alfredo”. A serving IRA Volunteer from 1970 onward he was interned in 1971 and 1974 (along with his brother Umberto), and we are told that he turned traitor in 1978 after a personal dispute with a more senior (unnamed) IRA officer in Belfast. Shortly thereafter he was subject to a “punishment beating” by the IRA on the orders of this officer, leading Scappaticci to apparently walk into a local RUC paramilitary police base several days later offering up his services as an “informer”. Initially this was with the RUC Special Branch before he was “passed on” in the early 1980s to the deliberately disingenuously named Force Research Unit (FRU), which controlled a number of British Army spies and agents in the Irish Republican Army (and at least one leading member of the terror squads of the British separatist minority).

However other sources claim that Scappaticci became a double-agent after being arrested by the RUC in 1982 for a drink-driving offence and that he was immediately recruited by the FRU. Some have conflated both these events, while others have challenged the “foundation myth” that Scappaticci was attacked by fellow IRA Volunteers as part of a personal vendetta (a vendetta that seems to have never gone beyond a story in a number of British newspapers since there is no further history of it), stating that the “beating” taken by Scappaticci was the result of a youthful, drunken fistfight, a dispute over IRA policies with another IRA Volunteer or that it never happened in the first place.

Take your pick!

It is claimed by the conspiracy advocates that the FRU facilitated Scappaticci’s rise through the IRA’s ranks by eliminating rivals and giving him a number of “successes” against the British Forces (in other words a section of the British Army co-operated in guerrilla attacks upon its own soldiers!). By the mid-1980s he was now commanding the IRA’s security and counter-intelligence department (however, yet again, other sources claim that Scappaticci was in fact second-in-command and never rose beyond that position). This group, the Internal Security Unit (ISU), was in charge of the IRA’s counter-intelligence war: which primarily meant investigating some IRA operations that went wrong or were aborted in suspicious circumstances, individuals suspected or known to be agents or informers, the loss of munitions to “enemy action” where no reasonable explanation existed, conducting counter-surveillance operations or checks, and sometimes executing those convicted of “capital offenses” in IRA courts martial.

Many journalists (and some anonymous but much quoted “security sources”) have stated that the ISU “vetted” all new IRA recruits. This is untrue. It rarely acted in this manner. The ISU’s remit was largely restricted to the interrogation of suspected informers (and their families and friends) or people of a “dubious” background. Most individual IRA Active Service Units recruited their own Volunteers (relatively) free of interference from anyone higher than Brigade Staff-level, usually based upon personal or family links or recommendations.

The only real exceptions were in the case of the English Department, the IRA’s fighting arm in Britain and Europe, which was attached to the General Headquarters. Yet even here the ISU’s vetting seems to have been mixed, with most Volunteers being recruited from within the IRA’s existing ranks or through personal contacts or familiarity with senior IRA officers. In any case by the mid-1990s the traditional command-and-control structures for operations in Britain were being increasingly by-passed with greater reliance placed on Special Service Units recruited and directed by the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade and associated personnel (which was not the first time that local IRA units in Ireland took control of attacks in Britain).

Bizarrely we have Freddie Scappaticci’s own words from an anonymous interview he gave in 1993 for a British television documentary, “The Cook Report”, produced in order to publicly name senior alleged members of the IRA, including Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. How Scappaticci came to make the interview, and how his British Army “handlers” permitted their “prized spy” to give it in the middle of the ongoing conflict, remains one of the strangest episodes of Britain’s long and dirty war in Ireland. What marks it out, amongst other things, is the list of casual inaccuracies about the IRA’s internal structures that are surprising in someone supposedly at a high level within the organisation:

Scappaticci: McGuinness? Oh, I know him very well. I know him about twenty years, you know. Basically, see the thing you were putting across on the programme the other night that he’s in charge of the IRA. He’s not as such. It’s a technical thing, right. The IRA’s split in two. There’s another command, a Southern Command. He’s in charge of Northern Command. He’s the Northern Command OC [ASF: Actually he was called the General Officer Commanding or GOC not OC]. There’s a Southern Command, it has nothing to do with the Northern Command. The Northern Command basically takes in the nine counties of Ulster, right [ASF: Wrong. The Northern Command comprised 11 counties not 6]. He controls all of that. He’s also on the IRA Army Council. There’s a five-man Army Council [ASF: Wrong. The Army Council had 7 members not 5]. He’s one of them. Nothing happens in Northern Command that he doesn’t okay, and I mean nothing. Now, he’s nothing to do with England. See what happens in England, he’s nothing to do with that. The person who controls England is a south Armagh fella, right? [ASF: Wrong again. At this time the Army Council controlled the English Department through the GHQ Staff and officially continued to do so]”

Elsewhere in the interview, Freddie Scappaticci claims that:

“No. Danny Morrison had nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with it. He was director of publicity, but he was also on the IRA Army Council. But he’d no balls. That’s basically, right? He was a pen-pusher if you want to put it that way, right?”

Which is a rather odd allegation to make since many commentators believe Danny Morrison, Sinn Féin’s director of publicity for much of the 1980s, was not a member of the Army Council.

We are told that the 2003 revelation of Scappaticci’s identity as Britain’s chief spy in the IRA, the infamous “Stakeknife”, came from other British ex-agents angry over their lack of financial reward for the “dirty work” they did in Ireland:

“WE have, apparently, two other disgruntled double agents to thank for the unmasking of Stakeknife. The pair, Kevin Fulton [ASF: aka Peter Keeley, the "spy" dismissed as a virtual fantasist by the former senior RUC officer above] and Samuel Rosenfeld, passed his real name, Alfredo Scappaticci into the public domain, because the British Ministry of Defence was refusing to provide them with pensions.”

So, one wonders how much of this is simply disinformation, “black propaganda” designed to strike fear into the Irish Republican enemies of Britain, past, present and future? And how much is simply personal vendettas: disgruntled ex-spies embittered former employees and ego-boosting fantasists?

Update 17/02/2012: There is more on this issue, and a very heated debate in the Comments section involving several of the people mentioned here, over at Slugger O’Toole.

Playing Fantasy Troubles

Three Volunteers of an Active Service Unit of the Irish Republican Army, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

A lot of articles, books, documentaries and news pieces have been produced over the last two decades exploring the origins of the Peace Process in the North of Ireland, and none more so than in the murky world of Britain’s Dirty War. It has become de rigueur in certain British nationalist circles (and amongst their sympathisers) to claim that it was “the Brits wot won it!” thanks to the alleged penetration of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) by various branches of the British intelligence services. It was not boots on the ground that brought about the peace, or even the “hit squads” of the infamous Special Air Service (SAS), but rather “human intelligence” – and in particular informers and double-agents.

The successful penetration of PIRA at all levels by British spies and agents, from top to bottom, helped the British to turn the organisation around, point it in the direction they wanted it to go, convinced it there was nothing further to be gained by continuing the armed struggle, and set it off on the path of peace (a few bumps and hiccups along the way not withstanding). Or so the story goes. Some even go so far as to claim that the British succeeded in a complex, decades-long strategy of bringing Irish Republicans into the governance of the north-eastern part of Ireland on behalf of the British – a masterstroke indeed.

If true.

This particular narrative has gained legs in recent years with the dramatic unmasking of several senior British agents at high levels within the Republican Movement, in both the military and political wings. Not simply the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army but Sinn Féin itself was compromised, it would seem. So the cries went up: the Brits knew everything! The Brits ran everything! The whole last decade of the war, the whole peace process itself was nothing more than a sham.

All of which is complete and utter nonsense.

In fact it is a James Bond fantasy come to life for people who simply cannot understand the complex history of a three decades Long War. Or even Ireland’s history in general. Worse, it is a propaganda myth with a purpose – to sow fear, doubt and confusion in the ranks of an old enemy (or any new ones who may contemplate replacing what came before).

A Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army on active service in the British Occupied North of Ireland, armed with an American-supplied M16 assault rifle, early 1980s

Yes, of course, the British Forces in several guises, the RUC Special Branch (SB), British Military Intelligence (BMI), the Security Service (SS or MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) and other shadowy groups, managed to place a high number of agents within PIRA, or rather in most cases “turned” PIRA Volunteers to become spies and informers. These men (and women) did what they did for a wide variety of reasons: idealism, financial inducement, intimidation, blackmail, exploited psychological or medical problems, petty jealousies or personal rivalries. The list goes on and on. Patriots and traitors, heroes and cowards, the full gamut of human character is to be found in amongst these individuals.

But what will not be found are the answers as to why the conflict slowly ground to a halt. Nor, in any accepted sense of the word, is a “defeat” of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army to be found here either. There was none. There was a peace settlement, with all the compromises on all sides that such a political, diplomatic and military exercise entails. A fact that the British themselves acknowledge, as reported in the Sunday Herald in June 2004:

“MI5 has caused outrage after one of its spies stated publicly that the IRA “fought a just cause” and won a “successful campaign” during the 30-year Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The Sunday Herald is unable to name the MI5 officer following a threat of legal action from the government. However, the spy’s comments have provoked fury from the victims of IRA violence and Ulster politicians.

The controversy centres on a briefing given by the MI5 officer, a former Royal Navy commander, at a maritime security conference on Orkney. Details have been given to the Sunday Herald by Mark Hirst, the former head of communications at Orkney Islands Council, who attended the seminar.

Hirst says the MI5 officer said the IRA was “the biggest threat to British national security”. But the officer then said “in our opinion they [the IRA] have fought a just cause”.

“The conclusion of MI5, according to this officer,” said Hirst, “was based on the fact there had been legitimate grievances among, and discrimination against, the nationalist community and this had sustained the IRA through the length of the campaign.”

The MI5 officer then added: “Has it been a successful campaign? The answer is yes.”

Hirst said: “He referred to the fact Sinn Fein had two ministers in power. What better success can you wish for, he said, than to have your people in positions of power in government.”

Hirst said the comments were “not off-the-cuff as they were supported by an official MI5 PowerPoint presentation, complete with the official crest”.

“Presumably this was sanctioned at some level,” he added.

The DoT confirmed that the briefing took place, adding: “This was part of a programme to ensure that security staff at UK ports were up to date with the terrorism threat they are countering. We are not prepared to comment further.”

…Kevin Fulton, a former double-agent who infiltrated the IRA, said he was not surprised by the MI5 officer’s comment.

Martin Ingram, a former intelligence officer in the army’s spying arm, the Force Research Unit, said: “I think what this officer is saying is an honest appraisal. The nationalist community was unjustly treated and that led to the resurgence of the IRA, although I disagree with the IRA’s methodology.

“What this man has said will be detrimental to his career, but there are those in senior positions in MI5 who would probably agree with him.”

Did the Irish Republican Amy wage a successful campaign? Yes, undoubtedly. Did they have to compromise on their ultimate war aims? Without a doubt. Did Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign contribute to that compromise? Of course.

However the gross exaggeration of the numbers of British spies in IRA ranks simply detracts from the credibility of what the British did do. Claims that by 1994 the British had managed to turn 1 in every 4 Volunteers into a “friendly” or willing agent, or that 1 in every 2 senior officers was a spy, is beyond laughable. This is not just hype. It is patent madness and flies against all reason or logic. The claims do not match the facts. The compromising of the IRA’s leadership, particularly the Internal Security Unit (ISU) and elements of the Northern Command (the IRA’s counter-intelligence and fighting arms), was undoubtedly key to the last years of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign. But it was not, despite all the hysteria, the most crucial key.

An Active Service Unit (ASU) of the Irish Republican Army launches an anti-aircraft attack with a HMG (Heavy Machine Gun) in the British Occupied North of Ireland, late 1980s

If we remove IRA prisoners-of-war (POWs), those living overseas (“on the runs”), and a few others, the IRA’s nominal strength in 1994 was somewhere around 450-500 Volunteers. Of this number some 250-300 were on Active Service; that is they were regularly engaged in military operations, the majority in or around the North of Ireland (by military operations I mean attacks on the British Occupation Forces or other targets, acquiring, maintaining or transporting weapons, explosives or other equipment and vehicles, active intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, etc.). Taking the upper number of 500 the conspiracy theorists would allege that at this time around 200 of these Volunteers were agents of the British (or Irish) state. This is clearly nonsense. It flies against all reason and what journalists and commentators on the ground, as well as many others, know to have been observable facts. It is simply impossible that in 1994 out of 500 IRA Volunteers around 200 were informers or “touts”.

A far more reasonable and probably accurate estimate would place the number of “double-agents” in IRA ranks in 1994 at around 20-30. Even that itself is a remarkable figure, especially as some were positioned in a number of key areas within the military organisation. The penetration of the IRA’s intelligence, or more accurately, counter-intelligence network was a coup of epic proportions and the British rightly did whatever they needed to do to protect it. But “human intelligence” was not the only weapon in the British arsenal, important though such sources were. The majority of tactical intelligence gathered by the British Forces, the sort of intelligence that saw weapons and explosives captured, ambushes and attacks thwarted, IRA Volunteers and Active Service Units counter-ambushed, arrested or assassinated, whole regions of the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland closed down for days or weeks on end, was derived from the new modes of electronic and computer-coordinated intelligence, surveillance and bugging that were made possible by the advances in technology that began to make their presence felt in the late 1980s and ‘90s.

British listening devices placed in phones, homes, cars, shops, pubs, regular meeting points, the use of long range, long term covert cameras (with real-time satellite and landline feeds), tracking devices placed on or into vehicles and other equipment (including guns and explosives), the widespread use of CCTV in urban areas accessible to the then RUC and the British Army, routine and co-ordinated communication interceptions and monitoring, indexing of suspected or known IRA Volunteers and continuous observation of their movements, homes, cars, work places (and of their families, friends and work colleagues), all these techniques were what powered the cutting edge of the British war machine in Ireland. The central collation and study of data, thousands of individual facts and figures, over a period of months or years, and the redistribution of that data to those who needed to know it is what weighed heavy in favour of the British in the closing years of the conflict.

It was the Irish Republican Army’s initial difficulties in keeping pace in the technology war, its inability to find genuinely effective means or tactics to thwart a virtual 24/7 police state (not to mention the related advances in forensic sciences), that began to tell in the early 1990s. Undoubtedly, given time, a way would have been found (as Palestinian guerrilla groups have proved in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon. Or Iraqi and Taliban insurgents have shown in their respective theatres of conflict). In fact the early signs of a developing counter-struggle were already there in the mid-1990s as Republicans became more adept with counter-surveillance and detection techniques, and the use of mobile communication devices and computer technology. But such (temporary and ongoing) solutions came just as the overtures for peace began to take real substance and the electronic war became one of several key facts that persuaded the Irish Republican Army to explore “victory through negotiations”.

Not the double-agents and “touts”, mythical or otherwise.

Units of the Derry Brigade of the Irish Republican Army parade through Derry City, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

However some in the British press, the British military and intelligence fetishists, as well as their cheerleaders elsewhere, would have us believe otherwise. So to the latest “revelation” in the Belfast Telegraph:

“Half of all senior IRA members in the Troubles were working for intelligence services, a secret dossier of evidence into the murder of two RUC men has claimed.

The remarkable document has laid bare a startling series of claims about the infiltration of both the police and terror groups during the ‘Dirty War’.

It claims the IRA ran agents in the RUC and also that Dundalk Garda station was regarded by British intelligence as “a nest of vipers”, with at least two officers actively assisting the Provos.

The information is contained in a secret 24-page document in the name of Ian Hurst — a British intelligence whistleblower — which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph.

The sensational claims are due to be made to Justice Peter Smithwick’s Dublin tribunal of inquiry into the murder of two senior RUC officers in 1989.

The victims, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan, died in a hail of IRA gunfire as they crossed the border following an intelligence exchange with the Garda in Dundalk.

The dossier also claims:

•The shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) had a file on suspected rogue gardai prepared to pass information to the IRA and act as its agents. MI5 also had a network of agents with the Garda.

•The IRA had a network of informants in public agencies such as social security offices and vehicle licensing departments.

•One in four IRA members was an agent, rising to one in two among senior members.

•Martin McGuinness was involved in all strategic military decisions taken by the IRA.

At the centre of the web of intrigue sat the IRA’s head of internal security, the agent known as Stakeknife, who took information from rogue gardai while himself working for British intelligence.

Perhaps the most shocking claim is that a rogue Garda Sergeant leaked intelligence to Stakeknife. Stakeknife has been identified as Freddie Scappaticci, a veteran Belfast republican.

Scappaticci has strongly denied working for British intelligence and said he had cut his links with the IRA in 1990. He is legally represented at the Smitwick Tribunal and is now considering giving evidence in person.”

In fact this much-heralded exclusive is anything but. The so-called “secret” document has been freely available on Cryptome for the last two months. The problems with it lie in the complex mixture of truth and falsehood that pervade the file. Undoubtedly everyone was spying on everyone else. But much of the Ian Hurst statement needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Or two.

Volunteers of the Derry Brigade of the Irish Republican Army parade through Derry City, British Occupied North of Ireland, 1970s

For instance it contradicts some of the claims made by him in previous statements and interviews (usually under his long-standing nom de guerre of Martin Ingram). In 2006 he stated that:

““It’s time ordinary republicans stopped being led like sheep and started asking questions. At grassroots level, around one in 20 members are British agents. Higher up, it’s one in three.”

Somewhat different from the numbers given by Hurst now. To say the least.

His alleged statement to the Smithwick Tribunal starts with an introduction:

“I was born in the north of England. When I was 20 I joined the British Army. Within a few months of joining the Army 07 01 1980 I joined the Intelligence Corps at Templar Barracks, Ashford, Kent. When I left Templar Barracks I had graduated into the Intelligence Corps as a lance corporal and posted as requested to Northern Ireland. All Intelligence Corps soldiers are negatively vetted (NV) on entry into the Intelligence Corps – which allows regular access to secret material but only occasional access to Top secret.

In 1981 I was posted to 3SCT (Special Collation Team) based at HQNI. The unit manually typed RUC source documents (RIRAC) onto the Intelligence computer system 3702 and was also responsible for Vengeful the Vehicle Intelligence system.

A few months later I moved to 121 Intelligence cell to cover the Derry desk. 121 Int cell is the Intelligence unit within Head Quarters Northern Ireland (HQNI) that supported both General Office Commanding Northern Ireland (GOC) his G2 staff officers, MI5 detachment and HQNI FRU. Employment within HQNI 121 Intelligence required access to computer 3702 level 1 access and access to classified intelligence.

In early 1982 I applied to join FRU (Force Research Unit) as a collator in Derry, Having completed my FRU collator training course, I was posted to FRU North, based in Derry. FRU (N) is a very busy office that deals with Human Intelligence sources within the counties of Londonderry, Tyrone, Northern Fermanagh, Northern Antrim, Derry City. The following areas were also part of FRU (N) responsibilities (AOR) Donegal, Sligo shared with FRU (W). This office along with every other FRU office dealt with Agents both within Republican Paramilitaries and the general public who were in a position to supply information of Intelligence value.

FRU (N) in accordance with province wide FRU instructions recruited NO loyalist paramilitary members; this rule could only be deviated upon unless the person/agent was a former member of the Britsh Army. A good example of that Policy was Willie Carlin & Brian Nelson who were handled by FRU (E) (N) respectively.

FRU is a force unit hence the name Force Research Unit. That means it is different to most British Army units operating within Ireland and during my service in the Intelligence Corps the following units were Force units and were active in NI:

a. 22 (SAS) – RUC controlled

b. 14 Coy – RUC controlled

c. FRU – No direct RUC operational control

The major advantage of being a force unit was being outside the normal command structure thus we had more power and influence for operational matters and from a soldiers point of view we had increased pay and allowances. FRU was an Intelligence Corps unit but was manned (Handlers) with approximately 60% Intelligence Corps and 40% other unit members. FRU was in operation from 1980 until the early 1990s when its name was changed to the Joint Services Group.

In Aug 1984 my father became seriously ill and I was compassionately posted to an Intelligence & security detachment in the north of England to be close to him until his death. At this time I was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Subsequently, I was seconded to L Branch, Repton Manor, Templar Barracks involved in the resettlement of exposed agents like Willie Carlin and Mr Frank Hegarty (RIP). I was seconded for six months to Belize and returned to England in 1987. I then completed a current FRU handler course in Templar Barracks and was then posted to FRU West, based in Enniskillen. During late 1990 I was posted to Ministry of defence in London with a recommendation for promotion and considered suitable for commissioning. Whilst serving as a middle eastern desk Intelligence officer in the MOD defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) This post required that I was enhanced positively vetted (EPV) which allowed access to the highest grade intelligence available within the UK including Sig Int and Satellite Imagery. That vetting was completed in Northern Ireland over a 6 month period prior to me taking up employment at the ministry of defence (MOD).”

He then continues with some more background information on the British Intelligence system in Ireland, as well as numerous allegations about the use of agents and counter-agents, and the manner in which all participants in the conflict penetrated each other’s organisations to one extent or another. The full statement is here in a downloadable PDF format.

All very interesting, and indeed plausible sounding on the face of it. However that’s the problem. When one starts to dig down into the many and varied statements of Ian Hurst “Britain’s top spy in Ireland!” one soon finds that the face takes on a thousand sides. Hurst, under his assumed name of Martin Ingram, emerges from the Bloody Sunday Inquiry examining the attack upon an Irish civil rights protest by British troops in Derry, 1972, as a less than credible witness:

“It is the case that Martin Ingram claimed that he had access to all documents while he was working at HQNI.  However, he was at that time only a Lance Corporal.

…We are of the view that Martin Ingram to a substantial degree exaggerated the importance of his role at HQNI and his level of knowledge and access to intelligence.

…Martin Ingram was too junior to be entrusted with the information.

Martin Ingram told us that while he was working in the Army’s Force Research Unit in the early 1980s he saw documents relating to the IRA’s plans for the day…

Martin Ingram gave confused accounts in the course of his evidence about the intelligence that he said he saw.

We formed the view that Martin Ingram had, at best, an imperfect recollection of events and that it would be unwise to rely upon his evidence.”

For some Hurst/Ingram provides more evidence of the hidden hand behind three decades of conflict in the north-east of Ireland. It feeds their version of what can only be described as form of “Fantasy Troubles”. For others it is just another dark and murky corner of Britain’s ongoing Dirty War in Ireland.

A Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army on active service in the British Occupied North of Ireland, armed with an AKM assault rifle, early 1990s