Collusion is not an Illusion

Amidst persistent rumours of yet more informers to be exposed (“3 are to be named soon”, “One has already left his home”, etc., etc.), the World Socialist Web Site examines what is most worrying about the whole charade of informers, agents, and responsibility.

A number of very serious questions arise.
It now seems that for a long time, counted in decades, the British government not only had a window into the IRA’s internal discussion and organisation but the means to pull levers and eliminate opponents within it.
It is also clear that the military disasters suffered served to strengthen the influence of the leadership around Adams and McGuinness, who were advocating a constitutional settlement with the British government.
However, Britain’s spies would not have simply been used to thwart IRA operations. They would have colluded with many of them and allowed them to be successful if this was considered to be politically expedient.

While immediate damage is done to groups whose ranks are exposed to be filled with informers, and it can be uncomfortable and squeamish for those left behind (especially if they are inclined to cover up versus coming clean), the real damage of the business of informers is done to the British government. How much does the excuse of fighting a war that you won’t admit to having fought cover for an abuse of trust and responsibility that with hindsight appears to have contributed to prolonging the war and some of its worst excesses?

Informers, in general, are a murky, sticky business. By their very nature they are criminal, involved with activities beyond the norm; from a law enforcement perspective they are useful, but can they be effective and not cross the line from informant to participant? And when they do cross that line, is it tolerated? When it is tolerated, does that up the stakes? Will the truth out?

Many families across the spectrum suffered as a result of the actions of informers or their handlers choices to protect them. Do they not deserve the truth of the matter?

Many murky, dirty issues to be unraveled. What hope the so-called “Truth Commission”?

Consultative Group on the Past: Dealing with the Legacy

For uncomfortable reading see also:
BIRW: Stakeknife and the Billy Wright Case

Sidenote: Yesterday’s Irish News flags up the difficulties in getting to the truth without transparent co-operation: when the coroner can’t even get ahold of Mi5 and the PSNI won’t give relevant information to him, what hope the rest of us at getting to the truth of anything?

Mr Leckey expressed irritation that he could not avail of the “luxury of picking up the telephoneҒ to quiz MI5 chiefs over their failure to provide the court with the threat assessments.
PSNI barrister Bernard McCloskey said he would contact “certain quartersҒ to address the concerns.
When Mr Leckey questioned whether he will be allowed to share correspondence received from MI5 with the Jordan family’s legal representative, Mr McCluskey assured the coroner that the “suggestive limitation of dissemenationҒ would be explored in due course.
In an unusual move the coroner’s own legal representative, Nicholas Hanna QC, raised concerns over the PSNI’s apparent inability to provide the Jordan family’s legal team with proper disclosure of intelligence material.

  • Briso

    “the real damage of the business of informers is done to the British government.”

    And yet by repeatedly burning them, HMG is clearly showing that it doesn’t give a shit. There is only one important message being given here which HMG should be very careful about. It is this: “Don’t inform to the British Government as they will drop you when they’ve decided you’re no longer useful.” The importance of this message is in Bradford, not Belfast.

  • “According to British Irish Rights Watch”

    So it’s been watching the agents of the British and Irish states? And it’s more interested in the rights of victims than in the rights of paramilitaries. And it isn’t sponsored by legal eagles in search of easy money from public inquiries.

    Perhaps side-deals between the two governments and elements within the senior ranks of the loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations have been a necessary part of the so called peace process. Which leaders have been in receipt of immunity from prosecution?

    The nimby approach adopted by London and Dublin, acting in consort, has meant that ordinary decent folks here will have been sacrificed ‘for the greater good’ of the rest of these islands.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    So we are now accusing the British of killing themselves? What gets me sometimes is Republicans insisting the Provos were fighting a war and then complaining when it turns out their main opponent was fighting one as well.

  • Greenflag

    ‘So we are now accusing the British of killing themselves?’

    Well if the Irish can kill themselves why can’t the British kill themselves ? Seems only fair I’d have thought .

    ‘ What gets me sometimes is Republicans insisting the Provos were fighting a war and then complaining when it turns out their main opponent was fighting one as well.’

    It takes two to tango and more to fight a war .

    As regards Britain’s and the Republics roles in NI the immortal words of Austin Bourke re the Irish famine says it all.

    ‘Each in turn lifted the lid of the cauldron , looked helplessly into the mess of injustice, discrimination , prejudice, sectarianism , murder and despair and quietly put the lid on again ‘

    The lids on for now but there are many who can’t wait to blow the lid off again and as usual it will be for the sake of let me see- oh yes -justice -equality-parity of esteem – closure- etc etc .

  • Diggery Dodds

    ‘What gets me sometimes is Republicans insisting the Provos were fighting a war and then complaining when it turns out their main opponent was fighting one as well.’

    What gets me is that so called Republicans are still willing to trust a party who have already had 2 touts outed; and a possible other 3 on the way. Mind boogling stuff. It’s taken 10 years, but I think its beginning to show that the Brits have won.

  • susan

    Sammy, the allegations in the Jones piece from the World Socialist Web site — and I’m aware they are allegations, not proven facts, hold your fire, folks — are far beyond compromised informer-agents systematically killing each other off. How far-reaching? It alleges British agents and informers not only gave information, but shaped and participated in sectarian murder and incidents resulting in the slaughter of innocent civilians. A few paragraphs:

    “The conflict’s worst single atrocity, the Omagh bombing in 1998, left 29 dead and 220 injured. The bomb’s maker is alleged to have been an intelligence asset along with the man who stole the car used for the attack. Omagh—allegedly carried out by the hard-line splinter group, the Real IRA, in an effort to sabotage the Good Friday Agreement establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly—had the opposite effect.

    The horrific deaths of both Protestants and Catholics prompted even greater popular support for an end to the conflict and Sinn Fein’s first-ever condemnation of republican violence. The INLA soon declared its own ceasefire, and the Real IRA suspended its operations. It subsequently issued a statement claiming that its own involvement was “minimal” and that the bombing was the work of two MI5 agents—an allegation lent credence by BBC’s “Panorama,” which insisted that police on both sides of the Irish border had knowledge of the bomb plot.

    How many similar attacks were allowed to go ahead? What was known beforehand of Bloody Friday, July 21, 1972, when 22 bombs were exploded in central Belfast killing nine bystanders; or of the series of pub bombings in the UK in the 1970s; the 1982 Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombs; the 1987 Remembrance Day attack on Enniskillen; or the 1990s London and Manchester bombings? How many of the countless sectarian killings in Northern Ireland were carried out with at least some level of insight, foreknowledge or even approval from the British authorities?

    IRA bombings were seized on by successive British governments and the military to legitimise all manner of undemocratic measures—the maintenance of a large standing army in Northern Ireland and the creation of a special apparatus skilled in surveillance, infiltration, entrapment, assassination, and psychological operations, as well as to manipulate public opinion and justify repressive and undemocratic measures in the name of combating terrorism.”

    I’m not familiar with the World Socialist Website as a source of information. I am familiar with facts that have come to light about, for example, Stakeknife and Mark Haddock, and their implications. It is important to remember that in the oft-referenced Peter Preston piece on “these poisonous foundations,” Preston wasn’t just questioning the ethics of past paramilitaries in politics and in power, he was questioning the role of MI5 in allowing and perhaps even encouraging murder in the wake of Nuala O’Loans report on collusion. As Msgr Faul used to say, “Either there is the rule of law or there is no law. That is the basis of civilised society.”

    If it was a war, and the allegations of British involvement in sectarian murders and/or paramilitary attacks proved true, they would be war crimes.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan

    re: “They would be war crimes”

    I think we are in danger of becoming too precious here – is was a nastly little (in my opinon ) ‘war’ with bad stuff all round.

    As my father used to say about the occupied territories ( Non Iron ) good job it wasn’t the French army.

  • susan

    Disagree with your father about the French, Sam. At least there is a cure for syphilis.

  • DK

    “I think its beginning to show that the Brits have won”

    I don’t think they cared either way. It was damage limitation to them of a marxist inspired rebellion. The fact that they were happy with Stormont rule before the sectarian war and they’re happy with it now afterwards shows that the main aim was initially cold war politics (preventing a soviet client state in western europe) followed by damage limitation.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan,

    I dont think the good people of Algeria, for example, were just concerned with sexual health matters whilst hosting the French army.

  • susan

    Of course they were not, Sammy. I would not have expected you to take my off-hand remark any more seriously than I took your warning about being “too precious” about the rule of law.

    Incidentally, Alistair Horne’s history of Algeria’s revolt against the French, “A Savage War for Peace” is now in paperback

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Savage-War-Peace-1954-1962-Classics/dp/1590172183

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan,

    now that you have shown your credentials with a reference to a weighty tome on French misbehaviour I see now I should not have take your remarks at face value.

    Re. the Rule of Law.

    I was being serious – I don’t think you can realistically expect any state to face the type of onslaught they faced in Non Iron and expect them to play by the rules – it is a classic insurgency technique to provoke the state. If moralising is to take place I’m with most Unionists on this – let it be on all sides – lets have an explantion from Grizzly & Martin & Co what the feck they were doing killing numerous non combatants.

    It is not good enough to say – oh but its different for the state – becuase if the Provos want to claim it was a war (which I agree with ) then its the exactly the same for both sides.

  • susan

    Sammy, if you were a solicitor, you would have noted I nowhere claim to have read the weighty tome. But it is on my (short) list. ;o)

    As to your point, “It is not good enough to say – oh but its different for the state,” I would agree, Sammy. Totally. I find it the most cringing hypocrisy to decry violence and lawlessness from paramilitaries, only to fall silent as an empty church when the source or sponsor of violence and lawlessness is the state. To do so is, at best, to presume that violence and lawlessness from the state is only a response to violent insurgency, a symptom, rather than a cause.

    I reject that presumption, and given your familiarity with the history of Algeria, I’m sure you do, too. It was a war, a war with three sides.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan,

    there are 2 lots of hypocrisies going on here – I have more difficulty with the stuff on my side of the fence – the nationalist/republican side.

    To amend your statement slightly

    It is “hypocrisy to decry violence and lawlessness from the [state] only to fall silent as an empty church when the source or sponsor of violence and lawlessness is the [paramilitaries]”

  • cut the bull

    The state had well placed agents in high ranking positions within armed Republican and Loyalist groups as seems to be the case.

    Could it be the case that the state was to a degree running the war, unsavoury bits included.

    Could it also be the case that the state to a similar degree could now be managing and manufacturing the peace

  • susan

    Sammy, I think the less toleration and/or perpetuation of either of those two hypocritical “lots,” the better the chances of a real peace and a genuinely civil society emerging out of the never- ending process.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan,

    well no point in talking to you if you are going to agree with me.

  • Briso

    Posted by cut the bull on Mar 13, 2008 @ 05:59 PM
    Could it be the case that the state was to a degree running the war, unsavoury bits included.

    It not only could be, it seems that was what was happening. Almost nothing that happened on the Loyalist side and a significant but not yet quantified amount of what was happening on the Republican side (including almost everything ever done by the INLA) was carried out with the knowledge and often direction of the British state. That raises two questions, “What in the name of God were they up to?” and “Why are they burning agents now?”

  • crow

    They will be outings agents now either because they are no longer required or to destabilise/shame the relevant organisations.

  • susan

    Almost nothing that happened on the Loyalist side and a significant but not yet quantified amount of what was happening on the Republican side (including almost everything ever done by the INLA) was carried out with the knowledge and often direction of the British state. That raises two questions, “What in the name of God were they up to?” and “Why are they burning agents now?”
    Posted by Briso on Mar 14, 2008 @ 09:11 AM

    Well said, Briso. Two important questions, indeed. More important than the burning question of what do you call the residents of Buckingham Palace when you are not meeting them, or the eleventh rephrasing of the remarkable revelation that an American presidential candidate exaggerated her foreign policy contributions to present herself in the best possible light. Or so I would have thought.

  • cut the bull

    Could it be that the British state are outing agents who have outlived their usefulness in a post conflict situation and at the same time tightly keeping a grip on those who are still useful in the same post conflict situation.

  • susan

    Well, cut the bull, now you mention it, I’m sure publicly outing an agent in and of itself does provide both a carrot and stick to as yet un-outed agents. What more powerful motive to remain useful, or at least cooperative, than watching the life of an outed agent publically unravel?

    And while I don’t think the residents of Thames House think in terms of “shame” and “shaming,” they are trained and effective at influencing public opinion and diverting the public attention. The outing of high profile agents grab front page headlines and raise awkward questions about who is shaping policy and who is a puppet, questions that simmer on the boil for awhile before melting away again until the next time.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    What gets me about this type of debate is the sort of underlying idea, particularly popular with republicans, that the British should somehow be blamed for what the Provos did.

    I personally dont think the Englezes should be obliged to divulge any more information about collusion and agents until the Provos agree to be open about their antics. If you demand openness then it let be for everyone.

  • susan

    “Demand openness”?

    I could demand openness from everyone for the rest of the week, it would only be self-aggrandising rhetoric.

    Who in their right mind expects or anticipates en masse openness on the past from paramilitaries,security forces, or the British or Irish governments?

    Sometimes evidence and facts emerge anyway. Investigations by journalists, academics, official inquiries, criminal investigations. Sometimes past participants decide to blow the whistle on themselves, or their former colleagues. To the police. To their publishers.

    It makes sense to pay attention. It makes sense to be curious about the motives and methods of all participants, and to find out what you can. Questions specifically about the role of the state and the rule of law do not become null and void because you suspect some of the people asking them are republicans.

  • cut the bull

    Sammy

    Take blaming the brits for what the provos did out of the equation for a moment.

    Ten years after the 1997 ceasefire a man Paddy Murray appears in court on charges relating to a bomb factory found in Ballymena.

    He gets bail and is taken into protective custody amid media speculation that he has been working for either the Special Branch or MI5.

    This man after being released from jail under the GFA moved from west Belfast to Antrim which was relatively quiet. He formed a flute band and decided to file for parades where they were not wanted in Ballymena by Loyalists or Nationalists.

    He was constantly winding things up in Antrim and Ballymena.

    Now the question is was he doing this on his own or was this part of a Special Branch and or an MI5 stratedgy.

    If the Special Branch or MI5 was involved are those groups interested in maintaining the peace process or wrecking it.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Susan,

    you dont seem to be aware that Republicans are demanding that the British governement hold a variety of enquiries into collusion.

    SF demanded a bloody sunday enquiry as part of their negotiations for GFA/Peace Process. The British by holding a proper enquiry into Bloody Sunday have made a pretty good start spending 250 very big ones on this.

    The Provos have been very slow in coming forward with information about what ther feck they were up to.

    Your statement “Questions specifically about the role of the state and the rule of law do not become null and void because you suspect some of the people asking them are republicans” is true – but if Republicans cant be arsed to provide information themselves about their activites then it is reasonable for the British and Unioinsts to say that the state should wait until the Provos/SF/Republicans start to also behave in the manner they are demanding from others.

    So it could be argued the Republicans are holding up the porcess of establishing exactly what went on – it would be nice to hear them being told that by people from their own camp.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Cut the Bull,

    once upon a time there was a fourtenn year old Irish boy who liked to go out in a boat and he was joined one day by an elderly English gentleman who favoured a United Ireland. Some Republicans decided to detonate a bomb in the boat because the lederly gentelman was a relative of the queen.

    This was one of many shocking and indefensible ‘operations’ carried out in the name of fighting for freedom for Ireland. I would like someone to explain these operations in public forum so we can understand how the decision to carry them out was arrived at.

    When the Provos start to get round to doing that we Nationalists/Republicans will be in a position
    to lecture the Englezes about telling us about their bad stuff.

  • Reader

    cut the bull: Now the question is was he doing this on his own or was this part of a Special Branch and or an MI5 stratedgy.
    New film coming out; “Conspiracy 2: Return of the securocrats”
    I thought this was all settled a year ago. The Brits infiltrated the (insert name of group here) with such success towards the end of the troubles that they all had a hell of a job completing any operations in NI. With the result that we all know.
    Is this your Paddy Murray?
    http://www.derryjournal.com/county/Informer-accusation-total-lies-.3403413.jp

    http://www.phoblacht.net/gooseam15102g.html

    He looks like a traditionally minded dissident republican to me. If he was an agent, as you seem to suspect, how come he was locked up before the GFA (he had served 8 years, and was due for another 17, before the GFA let him out), and also arrested after? Is that what you look for in an agent’s CV?
    and do you think his flute band were also working for the securocrats, or were they just as stupid as their leader?

  • ctb, you missed out inter alia the role of SF HQ.

  • If Murray was considered an obstacle to the peace process then London, Dublin and the PRM would have had a reason for collusion.

    Philip McGuigan originally backed the Murray parade and was off-message in Dunloy when the Athboy strategy was revised; he’s now an ex-MLA.

  • cut the bull

    sammy everbody including the IRA carried out terrible acts which resulted in death mutilation and suffering.

    I look forward to a time when all combatants, all armed groups and the Brit and IUrish Governments will divulge what they had done,and possibly are still involved in doing

  • cut the bull

    Nevin read the above posting

  • cut the bull

    Reader

    when some goes into to protective custody it says a lot.

    By the way Denis Donaldson, Freddy Scappaticci, Roy Mc Shane had all been arrested while supposedly working as agents.

    Denis was even cahrged in relation to the theft of hundereds of sensitive security files while he was working for the Special Branch.

    Its called being outed. You know thrown to the wolves when you’ve outlived your usefulness.

    I think questions need to be answered in relation to a lot of things especially the collapse of the Assembly in relation to Stormontgate.

    Was this a Special Branch operation to bring down the political institutions,

  • ctb, I think it’s safe to assume that little of consequence will be divulged by the guilty and the ones most likely to benefit from inquiries will be the legal profession. The victims and their families will be further traumatised to varying degrees by those with an axe to grind.

    The Assembly collapsed or was collapsed and we presently have the Chuckle Brothers ‘driving’ the process. Perhaps Trimble was an obstacle to ‘progress’ and had to go. Who knows …

  • cut the bull

    I think you’re missing the question as to who actually brought about the cicumstances which led to the collapse of the Assembly.

  • ctb, there were so many players and so many options that I think it might be very difficult to determine the precise chain of events. SB was certainly involved but I don’t know how significant its role was.