UK to probe role of high-ranking IRA informant in 24 murder cases

Provisional IRAAuthorities in Northern Ireland have launched an official investigation into the alleged involvement of a British government informant in dozens of murders perpetrated by Irish republican militants. The informant, codenamed STAKEKNIFE in British government documents, has been identified by some as Freddie Scappaticci, the grandson of an Italian immigrant to Northern Ireland, who in the early 1970s joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Eventually, Scappaticci was put in charge of the Provisional IRA Northern Command’s Internal Security Unit. The unit was tasked with counterintelligence operations, which involved detecting, capturing and eliminating suspected British government spies inside the IRA.

Unbeknownst to the IRA, however, Scappaticci was himself an informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s Special Branch. He is believed to have been paid up to £80,000 a year to provide information to the British government about the IRA’s activities. STAKEKNIFE’s reputed work for the British government was first publicized in 2003 by another British government informant in the IRA, Kevin Fulton. But Scappaticci, who is known in republican circles as ‘Scap’, denies he was STAKEKNIFE, and the claims about him and his activities have been surrounded by an air of mystery.

Last year, however, families of those killed by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit took advantage of Fulton’s claims. They argued that, if STAKEKNIFE was indeed a British government informant, and if he was personally involved in the murder of alleged IRA informants, then the British authorities technically allowed him to get away with murder in order to protect his secret identity. The government, therefore, technically colluded in the murders and should be held responsible.

The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland investigated these claims and communicated his findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The latter recently described the STAKEKNIFE investigation as “perhaps the most significant case” in his time as DPP. He has now ordered the Police Service of Northern Ireland to launch a formal inquiry into the matter and to start inviting witness testimonies. It is reputed that Northern Ireland First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who is said to have been close to Scappaticci during his tenure in the IRA, will be among the first witnesses called on to testify as part of the investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2015 | Permalink

IRA is still ‘broadly in place’, says Northern Ireland police chief

Provisional IRAThe Provisional Irish Republican Army, which fought British rule in Northern Ireland for decades, but officially disbanded in 2005, is still “broadly in place”, according to the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA announced that was ceasing all paramilitary operations and disbanding as of 4:00 p.m. that day. The man who made the announcement on British television was Séanna Walsh, a former cellmate of Bobby Sands, the Provisional IRA volunteer who was the first prisoner to die in the 1981 Irish hunger strike. He read a statement authorized by the Provisional IRA leadership, which said that all PIRA units had been “ordered to dump arms” and that PIRA volunteers should “not engage in any other activities whatsoever”. Three years later, the Independent Monitoring Commission declared that the PIRA’s Army Council, which steered the activities of the militant organization, was “no longer operational or functional”.

In the ensuing years, which have seen the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that restored peace in Northern Ireland, it has been generally assumed that the PIRA had ceased to exist. Last week, however, George Hamilton, the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told reporters that “some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place” in the area. Hamilton was speaking in reference to the murder earlier this month of Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast. McGuigan, a 53-year-old father of nine, was a former member of the Provisional IRA, who had fallen out with the organization. He was gunned down at his home, allegedly in retaliation for the murder last May of Gerard Jock Davison, a former commander of the Provisional IRA, who was also shot dead in the Markets area of Belfast.

Some allege that McGuigan had participated in Davison’s murder, and that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council authorized McGuigan’s killing in response. Chief Hamilton said last week that the PIRA had probably not authorized McGuigan’s killing, but added that the militant separatist organization was still in existence. In response to his statement, the Irish government said on Tuesday that it would reassess its intelligence on the activities of the PIRA during the last decade. Meanwhile, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, which is believed to be the political wing of the PIRA, has denied that the armed separatist group is still active and insisted that the PIRA “left the stage in 2005”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 August 2015 | Permalink

Gaddafi’s spy chief could be executed before revealing Libya’s terror past

Abdullah al-SenussiA group of American, British and Irish citizens are pressuring their respective governments to prevent the impending execution of Libya’s former intelligence strongman. Abdullah al-Senussi, 65, led Libya’s intelligence services during the regime of the country’s late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Last week, however, he was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli for his role in “inciting genocide” during the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. American, British and Irish officials are being urged to intervene to stop Senussi’s execution, so that he can help shed light on Libya’s role in international terrorist plots in the 1980s and 1990s.

Senussi rose rapidly through the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime in the 1970s after marrying the Libyan leader’s sister-in-law. Eventually, he became one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides, escorting him on most international trips and seeing to the medical needs of the dictator. Throughout that time he is believed to have led at various times Libya’s internal security agency, its external spy organization, and the country’s military intelligence agency. It is unclear however, whether he actually held any official posts in the Libyan government, especially after 1977, when Gaddafi abolished official titles and declared that his country was a Jamahiriya —a “state of the masses” not ruled by officials, but by “revolutionary” popular councils and communes.

During Senussi’s reign, especially in the 1980s, Libya deepened its connections with militant groups in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, prompting some European and American officials to describe him as “the world’s most wanted man”. On Tuesday of last month, Senussi was among nine former Gaddafi aides and officials to be sentenced to death by a court in the Libyan capital. They include one of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, as well as the late Libyan dictator’s Prime Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. Ironically, the sentence imposed on Gaddafi’s son cannot be implemented, as he is being kept prisoner by a militia in western Libya, which has refused to surrender him to the central government in Tripoli since 2011. Senussi however, is being held in Tripoli, having been captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritanian in March 2012 in what is believed to have been a successful French-led intelligence operation.

Critics of Libya’s past dealings with terrorist groups believe that the jailed former spy director is aware of crucial details relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people in 1988. He is also thought to possess information relating to Libya’s support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The militant group is said to have received training, weapons and cash from the Libyan government in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims of IRA operations and their families have continued to pressure London to intervene to prevent Senussi’s execution since his extradition to Libya from Mauritania in 2013. The Libyan government has said that it intends to execute Senussi in September.

IRA spy’s lawsuit against MI5 to be judged in secret, UK court decides

Martin McGartlandA lawsuit against Britain’s Security Service (MI5) by a former spy, who in the 1980s infiltrated the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as IRA, is to be judged in secret, a court in London has decided. The spy, Martin McGartland, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was recruited by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the mid-1980s. The information he supplied to the security agencies over several years is widely credited with having saved the lives of at least 50 British police officers and soldiers. His autobiographical experiences formed the basis of the 2008 motion picture 50 Dead Men Walking.

However, McGartland’s cover was dramatically blown in 1991, when the IRA began suspecting that he might be an MI5 mole. After several hours of interrogation by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, McGartland managed to escape his captors by throwing himself out of a third-floor window. He survived serious injuries and was taken into hiding by MI5, living in a series of safe houses across Britain for nearly a decade. In 1999 the IRA caught up with him at an MI5 safe house in North Tyneside, in the northeast of England, where he was shot and left for dead by an IRA hit team while walking to his car.

McGartland is now suing MI5 and its institutional patron, the British Home Office, claiming that they failed to support him after he was shot by the IRA. In his lawsuit, McGartland claims that the government funding he was receiving for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was withdrawn after he publicly criticized the British government’s counterterrorism policies. In May of 2013, it emerged that Home Office solicitors had filed a formal request to hold the trial as a Closed Material Procedure (CMP) hearing. This type of practice, which became law in Britain under the 2013 Justice and Security Act, allows the court to decide a case without giving the plaintiff party any details of the information against them.

In many cases, the government resorts to CMP ostensibly to protect ‘sources and methods’. But McGartland’s legal team said that the secret hearing was designed “solely to cover up [MI5’s] own embarrassment and wrongdoing and not, as the Government has been claiming, to protect national security”. Moreover, civil rights groups warned that applying CMP to McGartland’s lawsuit would open the way for the imposition of wider restrictions on the principle of open justice and would normalize secret hearings in the civil courts.

After the judge hearing the case decided to impose CMP on the proceedings, McGartland’s legal team filed an appeal. Now the appeal judges seem to have sided with the Home Office. In a decision published on Tuesday, the judges opined that the imposition of CMP was “a case management decision properly open to the judge and there is no proper basis for this court to interfere with it”. They added that their decision did not represent a blanket approval of secret legal proceedings, but that they expected court judges to scrutinize future CMP applications “with care”.

The ruling means that McGartland’s legal team will not be allowed to hear testimony by certain MI5 witnesses or view court material designated as “sensitive” by the government. Lawyers for the former IRA informant said on Tuesday that the approval of the imposition of CMP represented “a serious aberration from the tradition of open justice”. But lawyers for the Home Office said that the ability to protect sensitive information was central to the proper function of a national security service.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 July 2015 | Permalink:

Irish police mole helped entire IRA leadership avoid capture in 1974

Provisional IRA volunteer in the 1970sBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
The former intelligence director of the Provisional Irish Republican Army has claimed that an informant within the Irish police helped the entire leadership of the militant organization avoid capture during a raid in 1974. The raid was conducted in December of 1974 by Garda Síochána, the police force of the Republic of Ireland, in the village of Feakle, County Claire, in western Ireland. On the day of the raid, the entire leadership of the Provisional IRA was taking part in a secret meeting with Protestant clergy, which had been pursued by the separatist organization following the so-called pub bombings in the English cities of Guildford and Birmingham. The bombings were meant to take the war in Northern Ireland to the British mainland, but were eventually deemed disastrous to the image of the IRA. Nearly 30 people died in the bombings, while hundreds were injured, many of them seriously. The secret meeting between the IRA’s leadership and Protestant clergy was part of a wider negotiation campaign between republican separatists and pro-British loyalists, which eventually led to a ceasefire that lasted until the start of 1975. However, an informant had given the Garda accurate information about the meeting location between the IRA senior command and Protestant clergy, and the agency’s Crime and Security Branch planned to swoop on the meeting and arrest the republican militants. However, in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, the IRA’s former director of intelligence, Kieran Conway, said the IRA leadership managed to escape arrest thanks to “a tip-off from high-placed figures within the Garda”. Conway joined the IRA in 1970 and became director of its intelligence wing in 1974. He left a year later and joined again in 1981 during the hunger strikes by republican prisoners. He left for good in 1993, in protest against the IRA’s decision to sign the Downing Street Declaration, which formed the basis of the IRA’s eventual decision to decommission its weapons and enter the political process. Conway also told The Guardian that the IRA had the support of “prominent members of the Irish establishment” including mainstream politicians, senior bankers, stockbrokers and journalists. Many of these supporters provided safe houses for members of the IRA in affluent neighborhoods of Irish capital Dublin, he claimed. Conway was speaking to promote his recently published book, called Southside Provisional: From Freedom Fighter to the Four Courts. This is not the first time allegations have surfaced about IRA moles inside the Irish Garda. In 2011, an Irish government investigation unearthed intelligence reports claiming that an informant within the agency helped the IRA plan the killings of a judge and two senior British police officers in the 1980s.

IRA ‘tried to kill Queen’s husband’ during Australia visit

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in 1973By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
The Provisional Irish Republican Army tried to assassinate Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, during an official Royal visit to Australia in the early 1970s, according to a new book. The claim is detailed in the book Shadow of a Spy, written by Warner Russell, a veteran Australian reporter and retired military intelligence officer. The alleged assassination attempt was uncovered in Sydney on March 15, 1973, during the Prince’s two-day visit to Australia. While there, the Queen’s husband attended a conservation meeting and led an official opening ceremony of a Royal Australian Air Force war memorial in capital city Canberra. According to Russell, two “crude explosive devices” were discovered in Sydney at locations that had been scheduled to be visited by the British Royal entourage. The first device was detected in a trash can in Dowling Street, in Sydney’s downtown Potts Point neighborhood. The second device was found inside a luggage locker at Sydney’s Central Station, a few miles away from the location of the first bomb. The book claims that the two other “suspicious packages” were found, one in a local government building located across the street from an officer’s club that the Prince was due to visit, and another in a trash can at Taylor Square, less than a mile from Central Station. Eventually, the two “suspicious packages” were determined to be “decoys”, says Russell. But the other two devices contained explosive material and were defused by an Australian Army bomb disposal team before being secretly taken to a forensic laboratory for examination. Russell claims that the bombs were defused just minutes before Prince Philip’s group arrived at the two Sydney locations, and Australian authorities were so nervous that they ordered the Prince’s motorcycle escort and protection team to “take evasive action” as they approached Dowling Street. Read more of this post

Police ‘error’ reveals secret deal between IRA, UK government

Provisional IRA muralBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
An alleged police error, which has prompted the release from custody of a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) volunteer accused of killing British soldiers, has revealed a secret agreement between the PIRA and the British government. British authorities have long suspected John Downey of involvement in a 1982 bomb explosion in London’s Hyde Park, which killed four British soldiers and injured scores of bystanders. But Downey was released from custody yesterday, after a judge was shown a letter that the suspect had been provided by the British government, assuring him that he was not wanted for outstanding crimes related to PIRA operations. The letter was given to Downey in 2007 by Britain’s Northern Ireland Office; it stated that the former PIRA volunteer would be able to travel outside Northern Ireland “without fear of arrest”. British authorities said that the letter had been sent “in error” and that it should have been withdrawn prior to Downey’s recent detention. But the case has exposed what appears to be a “discreet agreement” between the British government and republican paramilitaries. The agreement is undoubtedly connected to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The multi-party accord permitted —among other things— power-sharing between Northern Ireland’s loyalist and republican political parties, in exchange for the decommissioning of weaponry held by paramilitary groups on both sides. But it also stipulated that all prisoners held for crimes related to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland were to be freed. By 2000, most of these prisoners had been released, based on the British government’s belief that paramilitary groups on both sides were unlikely to refrain from violence while many of their members remained in prison. However, there was nothing in the Good Friday Agreement to cover the cases of those “on the run”, namely paramilitaries —most of them republican— who were at large and wanted by the British state for crimes connected with paramilitary activity. Read more of this post


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