Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Security services making a killing from the Troubles

From the dusty wastelands of Afghanistan to Desertcreat in Co Tyrone, the G-men keep the memory of the B-men alive. The B Specials provided a sizeable percentage of the first recruits to RUC Special Branch. Now the FBI is sending its own recruits over here to learn from the Branch's experience.

The first wave of G-men and G-women anxious to access local expertise gained in the battle against terrorism is expected to arrive at the £140m emergency services college near Cookstown in spring 2015.

"We have a real product to sell here," said PSNI deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie last month. Facilities on the 250-acre Desertcreat site will be "world class", she promised. "The FBI and other international law-enforcement agencies are interested in using the facilities for anti-terrorism and public order training".

Counter-terrorism lore from the fight against the IRA and other paramilitary organisations will be passed on to FBI operatives in state-of-the-art surroundings, including a mock-up prison where conflict between staff and inmates can be re-enacted and a street complex where US law-enforcers can draw on Northern Ireland experience to practice and perfect their crowd control tactics.

What the paranoid schizophrenic cross-dressing closet queen J Edgar Hoover would have made of it all we can but guess. Irish subversives were by no means top of his target list during 48 years as FBI director. The Reds, the Mob and uppity blacks took priority.

But files released four years after his death, in 1976, contained 2,871 pages recording warrantless wiretapping, electronic eavesdropping and so forth directed against suspected IRA fundraisers and gunrunners. Some local veterans sharing their knowledge of conflict at Desertcreat seminars may find the students well ahead of them.

Experience in subverting republican and loyalist paramilitaries is also proving a valuable commodity elsewhere in the war against miscreants trying to subvert the new world order.

Charismatic Iraq war rhetorician Tim Collins' New Century group last year won a $45m (£29m) Pentagon contract to train the Afghan army and police how to "find and cultivate informants among the Taliban".

The Intelligence Online website reports that "most of the instructors are not US, but Northern Irish, former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which for many years was in the frontline of Britain's combat with the IRA."

The biography for Collins issued by New Century refers only in passing to his Iraq involvement, highlighting instead his experience as "opera- tions officer of 22 SAS and subsequently commander of the Royal Irish Regiment in east Tyrone (Northern Ireland) . . . has worked closely with the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch . . . assumed command of 1R[oyal] Irish in Jan[uary] 2001, where he led the battalion on operations again in Northern Ireland, for which he was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service."

Three years ago, Collins wrote in the Daily Mail that, "the PSNI . . . is so riddled with political correctness that many good, old-fashioned coppers - who were expert in terrorism and the communities they worked in - have simply been sidelined."

He will have had in mind such old-fashioned coppers as retired chief superintendant Norman Baxter, formerly chief liaison officer between Special Branch and MI5, now New Century's director of doctrine, standards, audit and training.

Mark Cochrane, consultant programme manager (training and compliance) served for 28 years in the RUC/PSNI.

"For over 20 years, he was employed in counter-terrorism duties . . . was the officer in charge of covert police training within the PSNI."

Human resources manager Steve Smith is a former commando who has "served on eight operational tours in Northern Ireland in support of the RUC/PSNI in areas as diverse as south Armagh and west Belfast".

New Century's training co-ordinator in Afghanistan is Mike Wilkins who, from September 2006 to September 2010, was based in Belfast as senior investigating officer with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

The company's roster of political advisers is headed by Nancy Soderberg, her intelligence credentials apparently established during her stint as Bill Clinton's point-woman on the north.

The $45m success of New Century shows what a tradable commodity experience gained in the fight against the IRA and other paramilitaries has become.

Now DCC Gillespie is bringing it all back home and making it available, at competitive rates no doubt, to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies worldwide.

The two main parties, which together have spearheaded the drive for the Desertcreat facility, will be chuffed at how favourable the auguries now seem.

Gives the lie to begrudgers who claim that the struggle wasn't worth it and brought nothing worthwhile.

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