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.
Last night Mr Hurst refused to comment on the document.
He said: “I believe that this was made public to mess me about. I cannot comment on it because of an injunction preventing me from giving details of my career in special forces.”
Mr Hurst worked in military intelligence between 1981 and 1990, spending most of that time in the FRU, responsible for handling agents and informants in Irish paramilitary groups. The injunction has been varied to allow him to give evidence to Smithwick in Dublin.
However tribunal lawyers are insisting that he give his testimony in closed session, something he suspects is part of a deal with the British authorities to limit potentially embarrassing disclosures.
One of the alleged rogue officers in Dundalk has already been indentified. Owen Corrigan, a detective sergeant, was named by Jeffrey Donaldson under Parliamentary privilege. Mr Corrigan, now retired, has always denied the allegation and appeared at the tribunal to reject them. He is one of three gardai, two based in Dundalk and one in Donegal, named in the document.
In the document Mr Hurst says “the fact that a Garda was passing information to the IRA did not bother me anymore or any less than in the same way members of the RUC/UDR/BA (British Army) occasionally passed information to the IRA and regularly to members of various loyalist paramilitaries.”
Mr Hurst assisted John Stevens’ inquiry into security force collusion with terrorists in Northern Ireland.
The document states Lord Stevens told him that of 210 terrorist suspects he arrested, only three were not security force agents, and some worked for several agencies.
The Smithwick Tribunal is examining claims that members of the Irish police or other employees of the Irish State colluded in the murders of the two most senior RUC officers to die in the Troubles. Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Supt Robert Buchanan were shot dead while returning from a meeting at Dundalk Garda station in the Republic. The tribunal has so far heard evidence from a number of witnesses, some of whom have alleged that members of the Garda passed information to the IRA.
A MAN FROM THE DARK CORNER OF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE
Doubts about Ian Hurst’s reliability were dispelled after I published stories based on his information back in 1999.
The first, an unlikely sounding tale claiming military intelligence had doctored bullets used to shoot Gerry Adams, was immediately confirmed by the Defence Advisory Committee. After that he was arrested, and I was questioned under caution.
For a time I gave him the pseudonym Martin Ingram to obscure his identity, but now that alias has been dropped.
He was the first member of the Force Research Unit (FRU) — the dark corner of military intelligence which ran agents in terrorist groups — to speak publicly.
He had two tours of duty in Northern Ireland. Between 1982 and 1990 he was in Londonderry handling agents like Frank Hegarty, an IRA quartermaster later murdered for betraying a cache of Libyan weapons, and Willie Carlin, who got out just ahead of the execution squad.
A second tour was in Enniskillen between 1990 and 1991. There he met his wife, from a Donegal republican family. That affected his vetting and he bought himself out of the Army in 2003.
Penetration of the Provisionals
Mr Hurst was responsible for handling agents in the IRA and for a time had enhanced access to other agents’ reports, though not their names, on military intelligence computers. He has painted a picture of an organisation penetrated at almost every level and with its head of security, Stakeknife, working for the other side. The document says: “As a rough guide you should expect one in four PIRA volunteers to be agents of one agency or another.” Lord Stevens (above), the former Met chief, is quoted as
saying that only three out of 210 terrorist suspects he arrested in a collusion probe in Northern Ireland were not working for either the RUC, MI5 or the Army. The document claims that Hurst secretly taped a conversation with RAF Air Vice Marshal Andrew Vallance, who was quoted as telling him that the most sensitive matter was the identity of Stakeknife and his role as a British agent.
IRA agents within the Garda
The document claims that the FRU had a file on suspected rogue gardai prepared to pass information to the IRA and act as its agents. It names three people who were allegedly on the list, two in Dundalk and one in Donegal. It quotes Basil Walsh, a senior Garda officer who Mr Hurst met in 1999, as saying he was aware of one named Garda who worked for the IRA. Mr Walsh allegedly told him “that every time something was done to try and eradicate the mess something happened to intervene”. The document also claims MI5 had a network of agents with the Garda. MP Jeffrey Donaldson has named retired detective sergeant Owen Corrigan under Parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons in April 2000, as being a “rogue garda”. Mr Corrigan denies all allegations of collusion. Last week former agent Kevin Fulton claimed Corrigan was passing information to the IRA and was regarded as a “friend” of the group
Role of McGuinness in the IRA
MR Hurst once backed claims that Martin McGuinness reported to MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency. This was based on a document passed to him, and accepted by him in good faith, after he left the Army but which appears to have been a forgery. The document does not repeat that claim but it does put Mr McGuinness in a central role in the IRA. It states the IRA’s “security unit came under the operational command of Northern Command” and adds “the person in charge of that unit throughout the entire Troubles was PIRA member Mr James Martin McGuinness”. It accuses McGuinness of being “directly involved in matters of life and death for persons rightly or indeed wrongly suspected of informing on PIRA members. Mr McGuinness was also a key player in the long-term strategic strategies used by PIRA”. McGuinness has always denied such a leading role and stated that he left the IRA in the early 1970s.
Republican intelligence gathering
It is claimed that the IRA had a network of informants in public agencies such as social security offices and vehicle licensing, North and South. This echoes claims by Martin McGartland , a former RUC agent in the IRA. One section of the document reads: “PIRA was extensively penetrated at all levels, most sources of the information to PIRA were readily identified (by military intelligence) but seldom compromised.” To back up its claims that the intelligence services turned a blind eye to IRA intelligence sources, it claims that in the early 1990s a FRU agent was targeted by the IRA with the help of a social security employee who is still working in the same office. It claims that the IRA could informally “obtain information from driver licensing, social security, councils, utilities far quicker than the FRU”, especially in cross-border areas where red tape was involved in working through the RUC and Garda.
Stakeknife, the Army’s key agent
Stakeknife was a key military intelligence agent within the IRA, a man with a hotline of his own which gave him direct contact with dedicated handlers in an office known as the ‘rat hole’. When he called, he identified himself with a code number, but Mr Hurst learned his true identify by chance while manning the phone. Stakeknife had been caught drink-driving and gave uniformed police the hotline number in an effort to extricate himself. Hurst vouched for him, and it has been claimed that Stakeknife was Freddie Scappaticci, though Mr Scappaticci strongly denies this. The document expands on Stakeknife’s role as head of the IRA internal security. It claims he controlled IRA agents in the Garda. The most corrosive suggestion which Justice Peter Smithwick will have to consider is that officers Breen and Buchanan were allowed to die rather than risk compromising the Army’s most important agent in Ireland.
The web of collusion and spies
MR Hurst has frequently claimed some members of the RUC, UDR and Army colluded with terror groups. The statement portrays a wilderness of mirrors in which every organisation has the other penetrated to some degree and “all sources have a shelf life”. It talks of British agents in the Garda, Garda agents in Northern Ireland, IRA agents in the RUC and Garda and RUC agents in the IRA. It states “the fact that a Garda was passing information to the IRA did not bother me any more or any less than in the same way members of the RUC/UDR/BA (British Army) passed information to the IRA and members of various loyalist paramilitaries. It was a matter for HQNI and the RUC and way above my pay grade ... in other words it was a strategic and not a tactical problem”. It concludes that none of this “registered massively on the Richter scale, it was just a fact of life, indeed it was well within the rules of our game!”