South East Antrim UDA boss Gary Fisher has called a temporary halt to all cocaine importation over fears the terror gang is still being bugged by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The paranoid drugs cartel boss is even wary about leaving his Greenisland home over suspicions his every move is being watched by police drones.
Loyalist sources say Fisher's "nerves are wrecked" after three of his closest lieutenants - Clifford 'Trigger' Irons (43), Glen Burns (38) and David Weir (38) - were remanded in custody charged with cocaine dealing.
The case against the trio, named as high-ranking UDA members in court, is based on conversations recorded by NCA bugs hidden in a car.
A fourth suspect, 33-year-old Daniel Vance, faces the same charge, however he appeared separately in the dock from his co-defendants after a prosecution lawyer revealed he had made "significant statements".
Reeling from the NCA investigation, insiders say Fisher has decided to call a temporary halt to all South East Antrim UDA drug importation.
But the move has proved unpopular with the gang's 'commanders' in the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, who rely heavily on the income brought in from the sale of cocaine and cannabis.
They are now openly questioning Fisher's leadership, saying that his repeated failure to deal with an out-of-control UDA unit in Carrickfergus has brought an unprecedented level of police focus on their criminality.
"For the first time in Fisher's 18 years as brigadier he is under real internal pressure," a UDA source explained.
"The UDA commanders in Rathcoole, who were 'operators' unlike Fisher, are now saying he has to go.
"They make a fortune from drug dealing, but the money has dried up because there is no gear coming in because of the NCA investigation."
Leading the charge against Fisher are two UDA killers from the Rathcoole estate who were central to the 2002 sectarian murder of Catholic postman Danny McColgan, and the execution the following year of loyalist Alan McCullough.
Our source added: "They are the real power within the South East Antrim UDA, along with another fella who lives in the Monkstown estate.
"Fisher lets them get on with things, if these guys were to really challenge it would be the end for him. The worry he has now is the mess caused by the UDA in Carrick is taking money out of these boys' pockets."
Police pressure on the South East Antrim UDA was cranked up after its murder of terminally-ill Glenn Quinn in Carrickfergus last year.
This was the sixth grudge killing committed by an out-of-control unit in the town in the past two decades. It was after this that an order went out to the PSNI and NCA from the highest level of government to bring Fisher down.
As well as charging senior loyalists Clifford Irons, Glen Burns and David Weir with cocaine dealing, police have also identified the routes which the South East Antrim uses to bring drugs into Northern Ireland.
Cocaine and cannabis is sourced in England and smuggled through ports in Larne and Belfast on lorries. The operation is overseen by a UDA member who lives in the village of Ballyrobert, but who is originally from the Rathcoole estate. Sunday Life is unable to identify him for legal reasons.
The South East Antrim UDA also use a high-end used car sales business in Co Antrim to launder its millions of pounds of illegal cash.
These revelations have added to Fisher's paranoia and the belief within the terror gang that his days are numbered.
A UDA source added: "Fisher was stunned when he read that in last week's Sunday Life. When something like that appears in the papers he normally has a meeting in a social club to discuss it, but he didn't even do that because he's convinced the place has been bugged by the NCA."
Drugs accused Clifford 'Trigger' Irons is Fisher's hand-picked UDA 'commander' in the Carrickfergus and Greenisland areas.
Co-defendant Glen Burns is his '2IC' (second-in-command), while the day-to-day running of the UDA in Greenisland is left to David Weir.
When the trio appeared in court last week charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine they were named as "important figures" in the South East Antrim UDA - a description challenged by their lawyers.
It was alleged that the three were recorded in a car talking about police searches for a 1.2kg cocaine haul in Greenisland last November. Heat-sealed packages containing the drug were found in two cars and a specially constructed hide buried in a hedge.
Further details about the bugging operation were revealed when David Weir failed to be granted high court bail last Wednesday.
Giving evidence, an NCA officer said: "We have recorded Mr Weir through our authorised surveillance activities.
"He was party to and participated in criminal conversations in respect of two vehicles in which drugs were seized and had a criminal knowledge of drugs seized in the hide."
Sunday Life understands that as well as bugging the car in which Weir and his co-accused were travelling, the NCA was also monitoring their movements via drone and listening in on their mobile phone conversations.
With the trio now on remand in Maghaberry Prison, under-pressure Gary Fisher has been forced to install a new UDA leadership in Carrickfergus.
The man picked as 'temporary' commander was previously kneecapped by the UDA over accusations he was stealing money from the gang.
The South East Antrim UDA, which has approximately 2,000 members, is considered by police to be the biggest criminal gang in Northern Ireland.
It controls drugs turf stretching from Larne to north Belfast, and pockets of Newtownards.