Smithwick and the murky outline of British counterinsurgency tactics…

As Brian Rowan said on Sunday Sequence last Sunday, the British counterinsurgency campaign was a dirty war. Richard Dowling reinforces that view, though also points out that it is and never was as black or white as we are often led to believe by some of the chief protagonists. In the case of British Peter Keeley (aka Kevin Fulton), he notes:

In later years he worked for CID and the customs service. He told his handlers about planned IRA operations including fundraising crimes. He took part in many of these as he had at this stage officially been given ‘participant status’.

That allows agents to break the law as long as they provide information to their handlers who were employed to uphold the law. It never is, and never was, a question of morals.

It’s just a question of returns. Will the information gleaned from the crime justify the crime in the first place?


One thing is clear arising from the evidence of Peter Keeley. Nothing was or is straightforward regarding the dirty war during The Troubles. There’s very little black and white – it’s mostly shades of grey. Whether it’s darker or lighter grey depends on your own perspective.

The judge’s problem will lie in sorting out the meagre objective evidence in any of these matters… What’s at the heart of this an other inquiries which put state institutions at the heart of their investigations is their respective ‘counter insurgency’ strategies, and identifying where lines were crossed that should not have been.

The assertion that many lives were saved is much harder to quantify that counting the bodies of those who died. But there ought to be a question lodged at least as to why after the killing frenzy from late 1971 until 1975 suddenly tails off so dramatically from 1975 onwards.

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  • Pat Mc Larnon

    As Dowling reveals the Smithwick Tribunal was set up based solely on the allegations from Keeley.

    Given that he has admitted lying to the Stevens Inquiry and that some of his evidence to the tribunal contradicts claims previously made in his book the whole affair appears to be a bit of a farce.

    It was obviously set up as a counter balance to the inquiries about British state collusion. The question is did unionists hang their hat on the wrong peg?

  • Mick Fealty

    Of course Pat. It’s hardly a state secret. The question I’ve posed (although I concede there are many others besides without having to resort to the old whataboutery routine, is was the British counterinsrugency technique of letting agents like Keely break the law effective; if only in the pragmatic terms of bringing down the kill rate of loyalists and Republican paramilitaries?

    We cannot conclude that from the partial evidence of one witness. But the casulty figures suggest something happened post 1975. It can’t all have been the Peace People protests?

  • Skinner

    I disagree that it’s not a question of morals. The driver is to save lives by countering a terrorist threat that has shown itself to be deadly. If handlers of agents may at various times have decided to allow crimes to be committed (including murder) in order to save more lives in future, that represents the utilitarian view and is a moral question at its root. Whether it illustrates good morals or bad morals depends on your view but it is certainly a moral question.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    The point being Mick is that we will never know if Keely was allowed to do anything in order to be effective. He has admitted lying to another inquiry and has admitted that his story on Oliver doesn’t tally with his book. So in believability terms it is a case of whatever you are having yourself.

    Post 1975 we had 1976, the year that had the second highest rate of fatalities after 1972.

    Post 1976 coincides with the major restructing of the IRA and the British policy of Ulsterisation. Both acts, especially on the part of the IRA, moved the campaign away from the set piece confrontations of previous years.

  • Skinner

    Mick- wasn’t 1975 around the time the IRA re-organised into cells? They departed from the old method of throwing less organised, larger groups of terrorists into more open conflict. The latter method probably had a higher attrition rate both for civilians and for terrorists. Not sure about the loyalist terrorists. I’m sure more effective state intelligence reduced the kill rate too.

  • Mick Fealty

    Pat’s right, my dates are out… Here’s a picture of the appropriate page in Lost Lives…!/mickfealty/status/157138533163876352/photo/1/large

    1972 is the peak, but it doesn’t ease off until 1977, when fatalities settles into the ‘acceptable level of violence’ so beloved of British Secretaries of State. It never gets as bad again.

    I’d like to hear more on how the cell system might have curtailed the killing on the Republican side. But why did the level of violence in the loyalist campaign also slide?

  • Hedley Lamarr

    There are many variables which may have led to a decrease in fatalities. It was around this period when the IRA realised another “year of victory” was going to pass and they settled in for the long war.

    Making Sense of the Troubles explains Mason’s approach during and after the second Loyalist Strike of tackling the IRA with determination caused many loyalists to conclude that it was no longer necessary for them to involve themselves in paramilitarism.

    Changes which came with Ulsterisation and Criminalisation also were important. The use of confession-only evidence increased the prison population without the recruitment incentive of internment.

  • Sutton Index Crosstabulations with ‘Year’ as the first variable and ‘Organisation summary’ as the second provides statistics from 1969 to 2001.

    From 1971 to 1973 the number of deaths per year is 240, mostly due to Republicans. The figures increase to 262 per year from 1974 to 1976 as the attribution moves closer to parity.

    There is then a significant reduction to under 80 per year from 1977 to 1990 – 63 by Republicans, 15 by Loyalists.

    1991 to 1994 marks a slight drop to 75 per year overall but now the Loyalist figures have moved a little ahead of the Republican ones

    1995 to 2001 marks a significant drop to 20 per year with Republican figures slightly ahead of Loyalist ones.

    Curious that the 1991-2001 figures show a Loyalist return to parity as that marks the era when the major role in intelligence gathering was transferred from the RUC to MI5 – according to Jack Holland in “Phoenix”.

    Presumably after 1985 there was greater co-operation on intelligence between London and Dublin, not least in relation to which attacks might be permitted to proceed in order to maintain an intelligence input from paramilitaries.

  • John Ó Néill

    I read something last week in either 1981 papers or the Thatcher archive and it briefly reviewed the ‘acceptable level of violence’ story but I can’t find which one it was now.

    Bottom line is that it was a significant decrease in the number of non-security force fatalities in the short term over the end of the 1970s rather than a pro-rata reduction overall. If you look at the statistics on CAIN (see here in particular), the reduction in fatalities appears linked to an overall/proportional reduction in shootings (relative to bomb incidents) – this data is given in Table NI-SEC-06. This probably reflects greater control in access to weaponry (which you might then put down to the IRA’s re-organisation into a cellular structure).

    Knowledge of internal loyalist organisation at this time is murky (hence your OP) and, if you contextualise it as Kitsonian counter-insurgency you might argue that the cadence of loyalist activity was intentionally matched to republican activity and sped up or slowed down as needed. Obviously you can also make the converse argument (that the intensity of republican activity was matching the cadence of loyalist activity). Typically, that choice will be based on who you feel dictated the pace: the IRA, loyalists or counter-insurgency directors within the security forces.

  • Mick Fealty

    By ‘contextualise’ you mean assume John? After this phase (which also follows a lengthy ceasefire), the loyalists are barely signifcant players again. It’s the Ra left to slug it out against the Brits, with loyalist beginning a long phase of looking after themselves.

    This immediately follows a year long IRA truce in which there’s a number of events, Stickies v INLA feud and a racking down rather than ceasation of IRA violence. With the Provos largely off the radar presumably the British authorities had the opportunity to bear down on loyalist paramilitaries instead?

    And yet the British seem prepared to let the casualties amongst their own number mount up and to make limited responses, aside from the Supergrass trials which are little more than a contrivance at the internment without trial of substantial numbers of IRA, UVF and INLA personnel in the early eighties.

    I buy Hedley’s argument about criminalisation and to some extent Ulsterisation (though this is where the accusation that some elements of the republican movement were practising genocide in taking out part timers), after it took soldiers out of the firing line and minimised the political pressure at home.

    The payoff seems to have been the effective containment of the conflict. Not exactly inert or harmless for sure; but after this point the Republican armed campaign is no longer a systemic threat to the state.

    It’s reasonable to conjecture that intelligence as well as the familiarity borne of long engagment with a single enemy would account for such an important turn in the nature of the campaign.

  • Hedley Lamarr

    It is ironic that the leadership of the IRA who were ousted due to their ownership of the truce (and it’s weakening of the IRA) are now lauded as archytypal physical force Republicans, when their Northern replacements (at the head of the PIRA) are now on the receiving end of the same sort of abuse.

    Maybe not so ironic after all when you consider the Long War (20 years or so) strategy of the politics-focused Northern leadership who replaced the Southern set who never deviated from the school of physical force.

    The focus on politics as well as the weakening of Republicanism due to the truce was also a factor in the decrease in casualties.

    As for people who think Gerry Adams had a crystal ball and could see into 1998 and beyond or believe future events such as political success dictated things in the 1970s or made Gerry kill off Hunger Strikers try reading “War and Peace”. It holds a great truth regarding the folly of equating hindsight with foresight.

  • John Ó Néill

    By contextualise – I had meant invoking the Kitson thesis (without wanting to sidetrack into it for now).

    The irony in the acceptable level of violence is that the drop in security force fatalities

    1969 1 0
    1970 2 0
    1971 59 43
    1972 146 103
    1973 79 58
    1974 50 28
    1975 31 14
    1976 52 14
    1977 43 15
    1978 31 14
    1979 62 38
    1980 26 8
    1981 44 10
    1982 40 21
    1983 33 5
    1984 28 9
    1985 29 2
    1986 24 4
    1987 27 3
    1988 39 21
    1989 23 12
    1990 27 7
    1991 19 5
    1992 9 3
    1993 14 6
    1994 6 1
    1995 1 0

  • Mick,

    I think the main reason that the serious decline in violence in the late 1970s is because the type of mass support that had been presence for paramilitarism in the early and mid 1970s had disappeared. In terms of loyalism, by the mid to late 70s, they had gotten over the shock of civil rights and then the loss of Stormont, defeated Sunningdale, and could see that the British were not actually going to leave. Throw in the effects of Castlereagh, Ulsterisation etc, and I think you can see why loyalist violence died down. The extent to which it died down though is often forgotten because most people now think of it in terms of the late 80s and early 90s. They forget that in 1984 and 1985, for example, they killed very small numbers. Some people ascribe this to British choice, and there’s no doubt that collusion played a major role, but so did generational change, and the rise of people like Adair who had no politics whatsoever apart from sectarianism, whereas some of the leaders from the 70s had experience of community organisation, trade unions, etc.

    As for violence from the Provos and the INLA, I think there’s also a clear fall off in support, as well as the effects of re-organisation, police actions, and a desire to avoid the type of gunbattles that characterised the early 70s.

  • John Ó Néill

    Sorry – the legend is missing from that – the first column after the year is overall security force (RUC+UDR+British Army) deaths whilst the second is British Army only – shows Ulsterisation in real terms (and it should have read that ‘the drop in security force fatalities is mostly British Army’).

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Given how much higher the Republican rate of killing was 1977-90 than Loyalist or security forces, it would be a strange argument to say anyone other than them was dictating the pace of killing in that period. Murkier for other periods, but Republicans are not really outkilled on a regular basis until the change of the Loyalist guard at the start of the 90s.

    On the original post on Rowan and “shades of grey” in the intelligent services anti-terrorist efforts, this seems hardly a surprise. They have an objective to subdue or defeat terrorist organisations, which they have to pursue – on the basis that stopping terrorists is generally agreed to be a good thing for society in the long term. Call it a utilitarian good if you will. Clearly innocent people died in the efforts to bring terrorism to an end but the numbers we seem to be talking about are small compared to (1) the overall number of deaths caused by terrorists and (2) the possible future deaths had terrorism continued.

    There would only be a problem if the intelligence services were artificially perpetuating or exacerbating a conflict that would have been less severe without their efforts. Is anyone seriously suggesting the other parties to the conflict would have killed fewer people or stopped sooner were it not for the intelligence services? Or if so – as I’m sure there can always be improvements – what form of counter-terrorist operations would have been acceptable? At what level of killing by terrorists do we start to ask our security forces and security forces to do more?

    We reached that level of killing in NI in the early 70s. There was an urgent compulsion upon the forces of the state to do as much as possible to protect the public from continued violence from determined terror groups. In that sense, I don’t see an awful lot of moral greyness about their task. And in tasking them to do that, we as a society would be unfair to them if we expected them to achieve successes against the terrorists in a ‘clean’ way. If that is “morally grey” to some people then so be it, but the big moral picture is no more grey than any other moral picture. Indeed it’s more black and white than most.

    We kid ourselves and we flatter the terrorists of we pretend it was all just a morally confusing mess. Close to the action of course it seems that way, but stepping back to look at the big picture, as shown by the stats and overall patterns of the action of the Trouble, it’s not so grey at all.

  • Mick Fealty

    The utilitarian argument is fine in general terms, but there are moral questions that attach to individual cases. There is a line that should not be crossed, either in current or historic cases.

    I don’t buy into the idea that there is never question of morals involved. But it is hard to know how far the line can legitimately bend when we know so little of the detail of this dirty war.

    If there were agents in the internal security unit of the IRA selectively taking out ‘enemy assets’, is that acceptable in a dirty war?

    What if it goes to the extent of using paramilitaries to do the state’s own dirty work (as is alleged in the case of Pat Finucane)?

  • cynic2

    “But why did the level of violence in the loyalist campaign also slide?”

    Possibly increasingly effective policing as the RUC got back on its feet, coupled with the increased threat from PIRA and the effects of alcohol consumption in the leadership.I also suspect that intelligence operations take time to get their agents into the right positions to start to have real access to the right information and to exercise influence

  • “the intelligent services anti-terrorist efforts”

    MI5 and MI6 could well have been working to different agendas, even opposing agendas, with the latter more anxious to do a deal with the PRM to protect the ‘good name’ of the state in international relations. Is it significant that it was the boss of MI6, the Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who met ‘Martin and Mitchel’ in or near Derry on November 5, 1993, in the lead-up to the Downing Street Declaration and the hoped for immediate ceasefire?

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes Nev, and the moon might made out of cheese, oh wait…

  • galloglaigh

    It would be fair to make the argument, that at some level within the British intelligence community (and perhaps further up the line), a blind eye was turned when agents give information on ‘jobs’ carried out by both loyalist and republican volunteers. No state should be so morally corrupt as to allow this, or allow for this type of counter-insurgency. When you look back in simple terms, the British political establishment and Ulster’s political unionism took the moral high ground, while under the covers, they were as involved in some form or other in directing terrorism in this state. They have as much of the responsibility to bear, as any republican or republican organisation.

    There should be an open, and independent investigation into the activities of MI5, the FRU, and RUC Special Branch. If there is a case to defend, they should be given their day in court; their files should released; those that haven’t vanished that is.

  • Skinner

    galloglaigh –

    You’ve just made three huge leaps in the course of one paragraph:

    from (1) “turning a blind eye”

    straight to

    (2) “involved in directing terrorism”

    and finally to

    (3) “the [British Gov] have as much responsibility to bear as [the IRA]

    I realise it is very convenient and very tempting for republican sympathisers to engage in this sort of woolly thinking, but those three ideas do not follow each other at all.

    The fact is that the IRA wanted constitutional change and were prepared to kill for it. The British wanted everyone to calm down so they could stop spending a fortune trying to police the place. True, the British army often got the tactics criminally wrong (e.g. Bloody Sunday) but on the whole the main goals of the respective sides do not point to the British Gov having equal responsibility for the loss of life that occurred.

    Dealing with your starting position – “turning a blind eye” – if it could be proved that turning a blind eye on one murder prevented 50 others, would you agree it was the sensible course of action?

  • Mick, consider this from the MI5 website: “The Home Secretary is regularly briefed by the Director General, who is directly accountable to him, on any changes to the threats to national security, major current investigations and any other significant matters.” Have you any record of any dealings between the leaders of the PRM and the Home Secretary and MI5 officers?

  • summerhill


    ‘Dealing with your starting position – “turning a blind eye” – if it could be proved that turning a blind eye on one murder prevented 50 others, would you agree it was the sensible course of action?’

    What if it was brother or your wife or your mother or your child that was being murdered and ‘a blind eye’ was turned – would you still agree it was the sensible course of action?

  • Skinner

    No of course not summerhill, but that is not the basis on which anyone makes a utilitarian-based decision.

  • summerhill


    Just intrigued as to who makes / would make this decision to turn ‘a blind eye’ to a killing for sake of the greater good? Is it one person or a group ( s ) of people How would they arrive at their decision? Would they have a check – list or some / any type of criteria etc? If it wasnt so serious can you even begin to imagine the scene?
    ‘Well, what about Tommy Smyth?’
    ‘No, not him, I used to go to school with his brothers wifes sister’
    ‘What about Andy Bennett?’
    ‘ Nope, used to drink with him myself years ago’
    ‘ Well, what about ……..’
    ‘Happy days, now we are getting somewhere”

  • Skinner

    Yes I am intrigued too. I expect every situation was different and every decision had its own dilemmas to weigh up.

    As a simplistic example, imagine you were the handler of Informer Sean. Informer Sean is extremely valuable – over the course of two years he has given you information that has thwarted the murders of 20 people. One day he tells you that he has been given exclusive information from a tight-knit IRA cell. They are planning to murder a notorious loyalist terrorist who has already killed 5 innocent Catholics and who is likely to kill more.

    Now, you have two options:

    (1) Arrest the IRA cell to prevent the murder and in doing so expose Informer Sean as a tout; or
    (2) Turn a blind eye and let the IRA murder the loyalist.

    What would you do?

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m sure there’s a more functional defence in one of Poppers works. But the state must work within boundaries or be accountable for those occasions when it transgresses.

    The problem we have with historic cases and a peace agreement that is based on the assumption that no one will rat on anyone else so long as they stick to their various agreements.

    So we are working with very limited disclosure, both regarding the very widest extent of the problem and and the precise nature of individual cases.

    We only have the word of individual agents that they did save lives and some fatality figures that suggest all paramilitaries were struggling to keep up their kill rates.

    We need arrest figures and a more precise sense of the number of thwarted or aborted operations to begin to test those assertions objectively.

  • summerhill


    Interesting moral and political dilemma – I supposed the moral answer would be a constant and the political answer would depend on,well, the politicial climate / atmosphere etc. I have already heard some Unionists mention the ‘Coventry Principle’ whereby they were referring, I think, to the decision made by Churchill et al to let the bombing of Coventry from the air by the Germans continue moreorless unhindered rather than let the Germans know that Britain had cracked the Germans secret codes.

    Mick, I am wondering what boundaries the Britsh state was working within when they made this decision?


  • Skinner

    It’s facile always to consider questions of “intelligence” in the context of the British state’s actions. I know why it is the case – it is where the battle lines between unionist and nationalist are drawn. Nationalists may be more pre-disposed to assume that the “Brits” actions were borne of mal-intent. Unionists may be more pre-disposed to assume that the Brits had little to gain from the situation other than to try and save lives.

    However intelligence dilemmas did not just fall to the British to deal with. Many civilians also had decisions to make. Should I report Johnny from No.16 whom I overheard talking about plans to take out another taig? Will I replace the floor board covering these AK’s and forget I ever saw them? Should I shop Brendan whom I saw removing his balaclava as he got into the getaway car?

    We can’t just pretend that these sorts of moral decisions were purely for the “Brits” to wrestle with. Neither can we blame the Brits exclusively for negative aspects of the results.

    The Irish state also had its own informers, Sean O’Callaghan being one I believe. Surely the Irish state had dilemmas of their own to consider (albeit fewer), yet I’ve never heard any nationalist call for disclosure of the circumstances.

    The problem with trying to assess the morality of a decision is that we can never know entirely the context in which it was made. It would thus be extremely difficult to plot where along the moral sliding scale the decision falls. For example, there is a significant difference between receiving information from an informer and having absolute control over his every act. The label ‘agent’ is probably often misapplied or is insufficient to describe a very complex and fluid relationship.

  • Alias

    The British state could have shut down PIRA at any time of its choosing. It controlled PIRA’s internal security/intelligence department. That department vetted all new members of PIRA and monitored their activities, having a remit to investigate all PIRA operations and audit all of its internal affairs that could only be countermanded by a member of the Army Council. Its members took their orders from the Army Council, especially in regard to its murders of PIRA members which required AC authorisation. These British agents – appointed by Gerry Adams – could have provided all the evidence needed to close the shop by legal mans. The state could also have targetted PIRA leaders for covert murder using its loyalist proxy murder gangs, thereby disabling the organisation. Instead it protected them (see Brian Nelson).

    The state obviously had a use for its murder gangs. It would not have been possible to bring the ‘nationalists’ to elevate what they had previously dismissed as “the unionist veto” to the status of a principle (the Principle of Consent) and to formally reject their former right to national self-determination without the invaluable assistence of its murder gang, the Shinners. Likewise, it would not have been possible for the Irish state to renounce its former claim to British territory without the campaign of murder and mayhem created by the gangs.

    Given that wars are fought over territory, with the losing side giving up its territorial claim, the absence of war was welcome to the Irish state where the outcome would have been the same. The price of a few hundred British soldiers is a much smaller price to pay given that they would have lost that amount in a few weeks if the constitutional dispute was settled by standard means.

  • Skinner

    Let me get this straight, you think Sinn Fein was entirely a puppet of the British state, the strings of which the Brits (encompassing four different governments) exclusively pulled over the course of 30 years and at the expense of thousands of lives in an attempt to get nationalists to recognise the legitimacy of a country the British themselves would rather have washed their hands of?


  • Alias

    Yes, apart from a small matter of dates. The British state infiltrated PIRA over a long period of time, so how long they actually controlled it for is yet to be determined.

    There could have been no “historic compromise” without the stolen historical names of Sinn Fein and the IRA to make it.

  • Alias

    “…the British themselves would rather have washed their hands of?”

    This is a myth. The British state has never freely given up any of its sovereign territory. The duty of the state – particularly its intelligence agencies – is to defend the state’s sovereign territory and to promote British national interests. There is no agenda to these agencies other than that – they are simple binary configurations.

    Now, let’s look at the Falklands war. This was Argentina asserting by militant means its claim to what it regarded as its territory and the UK defending its territory by violent means. Several hundred British soldiers lost their lives defending this little patch of ‘British’ territory. What was the purpose of it if the British government would rather ‘wash its hands’ of such places?

    The British state will claim that it is defending the right to national self-determination and that it must therefore get its own soldiers killed even if it doesn’t want to. But that claim, if true, is a fundamental misunderstanding of self-determination. The Falklanders do not have a veto over the right of the British state and its people to self-determine their own affairs in the matter of war. To give them such a veto is to deny self-determination for the British people and its government. Clearly then, the British state cannot be asserting the principle of self-determination by violating it. Ergo, the argument is fallacious.

    Why then do they cling on to such territory if it is not for the bogus reason they claim? Because it is the duty of the state to defend its sovereign territory at all costs. It was simply not tolerable, from the British state’s perspective and from the duty of its intelligence agencies, that another state shold make a claim to sovereign British territories.

    Whether you recognise the reality of asymmetric warfare or not is irrelevant to the efficiencies its offers states that engage in it.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Fair play Alias, your depth of knowledge on the workings of the IRA and who appointed whom simply indicate that you have remembered bits and pieces of a lot of tabloid stories.

    It is most often referred to as bluffing.

  • Skinner


    1. Constitutional and international legal theory is one thing, political expediency is another. See for example the invasion of Iraq.

    2. “Such places” – The Falklands is materially different from NI, primarily because its inhabitants were not engaged in a bitter sectarian conflict. The Falklands represented the opportunity for a quick win for Maggie, again illustrating the primacy of political expediency.

    3. There is hard evidence that the British Gov (at one stage at least) would rather wash its hands of NI – revealing papers from the 1980s were discussed on Slugger a few days ago. Churchill was also ready to trade it in return for Dev’s help during WWII.

    4. Your constitutional legal point doesn’t stack up anyway, regardless of the fact that it is largely irrelevant. The state can by convention or otherwise decide to cede decision-making capability to one part of its territory. That is an exercise of state self-determination, not a violation of it.

    5. If you are going to make the outrageous claim with such certainty that Sinn Fein and the IRA became entirely the puppet of the British state, you are going to have to put a date on it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Im afraid I have to agree with Pat. For an argument to remain critically sound you have to take some caree to extrapolate from what we know.

    Curtailing the effectiveness of the campaign is implied in fatality patterns, but there is no conclusive evidence for your assertion that the British were in control.

  • “The British state could have shut down PIRA at any time of its choosing.”

    Alias, that would appear to be a fanciful notion based on this contribution from the Derry Peace and Reconciliation Group to the Opsahl Commission in 1992/93. Perhaps Andy Pollak, the OC report’s compiler, could put additional flesh on these bones.

  • “Curtailing the effectiveness of the campaign is implied in fatality patterns”

    which brings us to the role of Roy Mason.

  • Alias

    Mick, there is “no conclusive evidence” that Gerry Adams was a member of PIRA either, but I’m sure you’ve formed your own opinion about that independently of “what we know.”

    How do you know how many informers were in PIRA? All you can know from the facts is that PIRA had no means of detecting informers/touts/agents within its organisation, so there were as many agents within PIRA as the British state wanted to be in it. How many is that? Well, according to an FRU hander, it was 1 in 4 volunteers and 1 in 2 ‘officer class.’

    Indeed, Lord Stevens (who actually knows the facts) has stated in regard to his three enquiries “of the 210 people we arrested, only three were not agents.”

    That’s control, not just infiltration.

  • Mark

    Who was it said they only have to be lucky once ?

    The British Govt were nearly wiped out in Brighton . How can you control something like that . There were certain areas where they could manage but they never got a handle on the Provo’s England Department . As long as the Provos could operate in England , the Intel Services could never say they had control of the situation .

  • Alias

    Mark, the point of ‘spectatulars’ in the UK is that they disguised how few attacks actually occured on the ‘mainland.’ Almost 99% of all murders were successfully contained with NI. As long as it was just the Paddies killing each other, that was containment. Why were PIRA so obliging to British interests in confining their activities to killing Paddies, who no-one in the UK cared about, and not busy kicking the enemy where it hurt? Indeed, while it might sound appalling to say it, PIRA were a highly ‘civilised’ terrorist group in a low-intensity conflict. You’d almost think they were ‘house-trained’ compared to real terrosits groups.

    Every non-linear narrative has to have a contradiction. There has to be something that people can point to and say, ‘That can’t be true because x did y.’ The contradictions exist for that purpose.

    The Brighton Bomb is easy to explain when you accept that not every PIRA member was a tout. It could also be the result of a botched intelligence operation as so many attacks actually were or it could have been the intelligence services securing funding and ‘authorisations’ from the British government. But the simplest explanation is that Gerry Kelly wasn’t a tout….

  • Mark

    In relation to the house training , I suppose Republicans operating at that time regarded themselves as revolutionaries as opposed to terrorists and figured the deliberate targeting of innocents / civilians was unjust and counter productive .

    You’re right about the Intel Services … they’re a law unto themselves and of course they were touts a plenty as there are in any conflict …. i just can’t fathom the Stevens figures , they don’t make sense .

  • summerhill

    ‘Indeed, Lord Stevens (who actually knows the facts) has stated in regard to his three enquiries “of the 210 people we arrested, only three were not agents’

    Stephens was enquiring into the allegations of collusion between Security Services and Loyalists and it might be safe to assume that the 210 arrested that he refers to were Loyalists.

  • Mark

    Cont …

    Alias , The Killing of Ian Gow , Deal , Bishopsgates , Canary Wharf proved that they could operate at will when the needs be . One area they never got near was South Armagh which according to some people ran the England Department .

    I remember PJ Caraher saying you need onlt shoot one soldier every six months to keep a war going .

  • Mark

    Typo – I remember PJ Caraher saying you need only shoot one soldier every six months ……….

  • Alias

    “Stephens was enquiring into the allegations of collusion between Security Services and Loyalists and it might be safe to assume that the 210 arrested that he refers to were Loyalists.” – summerhill

    That’s a very safe assumption so well done for making it. But your other assumption needs some work…

    Mark, they’re all mantras of a low-intensity conflict. To come back to the point about requiring a contradiction: PIRA members had the view that if another member commited murder that he or she couldn’t be an agent. So, that contradiction worked to the advantage of agents. Why did PIRA promote as a mantra a contradiction that worked to the benefit of the security services’ infiltration agenda?

  • Alias

    Incidentally, Lord Stevens is worth quoting in full:

    ““We were over there during a period of time in what were very difficult circumstances, physically and mentally, when RUC superintendents would be blown to bits by cars, and we actually had some threats against us. Yes, the rule of law must appertain wherever you are and whatever you are doing, and that rule of law must be absolutely locked into and deal with the processes as they stand at that time. What I am saying is that certainly what we discovered— and some of it may never see the light of day, I don’t know — as we have 100 tonnes of documentation now over there — and that is not a matter for me, it is a matter for other people — is that there has to be a proper, transparent process and there has to be a meeting. 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.”

    He sees the mayhem created by the State but he presents it as cock-up rather than conspiracy.

  • Hedley Lamarr

    What was the story Stevens told of the fire at the archives of documents held by the RUC and the song ‘Ring of Fire’ on the jukebox by Johnny Cash?

  • Hedley Lamarr
  • paul ohara

    John Stevens was brought in to investigate collusion between loyalists and the state agencies around the death of pat Finucane. How can anyone guess how many republicans where touts when the vast majority if not all who he arrested where loyalists. This figure that is be discussed proves how much the British controlled loyalist murder gangs.

  • Mark

    Alias , You’re point about the Provos promoting a mantra about a agent carrying out killings couldn’t be an agent is a logic that most people would follow if involved in a situation like that .

    And one man did most of the damage but i go back to my point about no leaks from the most important Unit they provos had – the England Dept and no control of England dept meant no control of the war because as you said yourself , the English don’t care if the locals are killing eachother but when the boots on the other foot ….

  • Alias

    “Alias , You’re point about the Provos promoting a mantra about a agent carrying out killings couldn’t be an agent is a logic that most people would follow if involved in a situation like that .”

    Yes, but most people are not trained to be paramilitaries, are they? The question is why the PIRA leadership incorporated such a curious ‘test’ into its counterintelligence training for rank-and-file members when it would only serve to promote infiltration of the organisation by agents rather than serve to detect them.

    But then again, given that PIRA’s intelligence/security unit was controlled by agents, it’s not really all that suprising that such self-serving ‘training’ should have been proffered to the members by them. The more ‘surprising’ aspect is why Mr Adams kept an agent in a critical counterintelligence role for two decades when universal practice is to change those positions in order to avoid the long-term infiltration that PIRA experienced.

    “And one man did most of the damage but i go back to my point about no leaks from the most important Unit they provos had – the England Dept and no control of England dept meant no control of the war because as you said yourself , the English don’t care if the locals are killing eachother but when the boots on the other foot ….”

    It wasn’t one man. Roy McShane, Eamon Collins, Peter Keeley, in addition to Freddie Scapaticci were all members of PIRA’s ISU. What about JJ Magee? Mr Adams neglected to inform other PIRA members that Mr Magee was an elite member of the British Royal Marines (an omission mirrored by Mr Magee). He must rank as the world’s worst counterintelligence director given that his deputy and most of his team were long-term British agents but he failed to detect them. Isn’t it more likely that he was an agent too?

    Some of the ‘England department’ were agents (See the Docklands bombing). However, that department was conspicuous by its absence so AC decisions circumscribed it. Again, that would be Gerry and Marty. As Moloney wrote about Marty’s branch of PIRA “McKevitt [PIRA’s QMG] came to suspect that for whatever reason, McGuinness gave more weapons to units that were most likely to lose them, usually through the efforts of informers.” Gerry’s branch was busy killing prods. As it happens, the British state was busy killing off members of non-cooperative branches (see East Tyrone), while Slab Murphy was busy becoming a multi-millionaire and property mogul thanks to the state buying him off by turning a blind eye.

  • Mark

    Alias ,

    When I spoke about one man doing the damage , It was obvious who i was talking about as you have mentioned his name in relation to dozens of killings . I already said that there were touts a plenty .

    For the record , Eamon Collins retracted his evidence and as far as I’m concerned , Peter Keeley is not a reliable source . Have you read his book ?

    The rest of your post relies on Moloney and as we’ ve seen with Boston , his personal feelings for Adams can overcloud his professional judgement at times .