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.
- Death Squad Britain (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Named And Shamed – The Faces Of Britain’s Death Squads In Ireland (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Pat Finucane – A Victim Of Britain’s State-Sponsored Terrorism In Ireland (ansionnachfionn.com)
- A State Within a State Is the State. (radicalglasgowblog.blogspot.com)