Fresh revelations on secret British terror organisation in Northern Ireland
By Robert Stevens
15 May 2001
During the past three weeks, the Guardian newspaper has run several articles on the Force Research Unit (FRU), an undercover security operation financed and run by the British state in Northern Ireland for more than two decades.
The articles detail how this terror network – involving up to 100 soldiers and double agents? organised a series of covert intelligence and military operations and authorised their agents to carry out numerous illegal activities including bomb making, murder, and the shooting of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers.
Through interviews with alleged former members of the FRU, the Guardian reports that the FRU was in active operation until the British and Irish governments signed the Northern Ireland Agreement three years ago. Afterwards ex-FRU members complain they were discarded by the British secret services and left without any protection.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and successive British governments have never officially acknowledged the existence of the FRU network and have remained silent on these latest allegations. But the Guardian articles appear at a time when the history and operation of the FRU are coming under closer scrutiny. On April 25, the MoD obtained a High Court order preventing Ulster Television from showing an incriminating documentary produced by the Insight programme. In the documentary an ex-soldier claims his British Army military chiefs knew he had been an accomplice in the murder of members of the security forces. At this time the interviewee was a member of the FRU and working as a British agent in the IRA.
The MoD managed to secure the High Court ruling just four hours before the documentary was to be broadcast. Rob Morrison, Ulster Television’s head of news and current affairs, said the station would be contesting the ban and would show the documentary as soon as it was legally able to.
The banned documentary apparently contains an interview with an ex-member of the Royal Irish Rangers. He is known as “Kevin? in the programme and became an IRA member on FRU instructions, during which he claims to have taken part in a series of terrorist bombings in the 1980s and the early 1990s. These included the 1993 bombing that decimated the town centre in Portadown.
In the documentary Kevin states that his British handlers were aware of these activities and alleges that during the four years it took him to be accepted into the IRA, he carried out armed robberies and other activities to gain the organisation’s trust. Kevin says, "I had to be an IRA man, not just pretend to be one. Yes, certain lives were lost. I know a lot of lives were saved, that’s all I can say."
He also said that his period as a British agent in the IRA lasted until the second IRA ceasefire in 1997. Around this time the IRA discovered he was a British agent and he began to receive death threats.
Kevin has been questioned by the team led by Metropolitan police chief Sir John Stevens, which is presently investigating allegations of intelligence and military collusion between the British security forces and loyalist paramilitary organisations. The Stevens investigation was initially set up two years ago to investigate the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane, who was murdered at his home in 1989 in front of his wife and children. It was alleged that the FRU were responsible for Finucane’s death and other killings.
Over the past three years, more information has emerged about the vast intelligence and military apparatus known as the FRU. Its chain of command reaches up to the highest echelons of the British state within the armed forces and intelligence gathering bodies.
In March 1998, the Sunday Telegraph was passed secret documentation that revealed for the first time the existence of the FRU. The information released by the Telegraph alleged that the FRU “was complicit in a series of murders carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) between 1987 and 1990." The UDA is a fascistic, loyalist paramilitary organisation.
The Sunday Telegraph documents revealed some information about the organisational structure of the FRU and stated that it was made up of 50 officers and soldiers who ran more than 100 agents. The newspaper alleged that the FRU was wound up in 1990 but was then reconstituted and was still in operation at the time of its exposure.
The Sunday Telegraph’s article also revealed that Brian Nelson was probably the most important FRU agent. Nelson became the UDA’s main intelligence officer and in that role was implicated in some in 15 murders, 15 attempted murders and 62 conspiracies to murder. The Sunday Telegraph documents confirm that as the UDA’s primary intelligence officer Nelson passed on the names, photographs and addresses of suspected IRA members from Army Intelligence records to UDA gunmen and that he carried out assassinations under army direction.
At the time of Finucane’s murder, Nelson was still the UDA’s senior intelligence officer. He was later arrested for a series of other offences, including conspiracy to murder and having information useful to terrorists. Following his arrest an agreement was struck with the Attorney General at the time, Patrick Mayhew. In return for dropping the main charges against him, Nelson pleaded guilty to lesser offences and was jailed in 1992 for 10 years, of which he served just six years. At the time of the Sunday Telegraph article Nelson was still on the payroll of the British Armed Forces. He currently lives at a secret address in England.
Nelson’s role was confirmed as a result of the investigation by John Stevens, then Deputy Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire in the early 1990s. In 1989, UDA members released official Army Intelligence documents to the media. These documents included 250 names, photographs and addresses of IRA suspects. The UDA also claimed that a man they had killed, Loughlin Maginn was on army files as an IRA Intelligence Officer. To answer where the UDA had received this information from, the British government was forced to establish an official inquiry headed by Stevens. This investigation led to Nelson’s exposure: his fingerprint was found on one of the documents.
Senior British army intelligence did everything possible in an attempt to obstruct this initial inquiry and it was only when the Stevens team threatened to arrest senior army officers for obstruction that documents were finally handed over to them. An article chronicling Nelson’s role and the subsequent high-level cover up of the Stevens investigation can be found on this site at http://www.wsws.org/news/1998/apr1998/ire-a10.shtml.
The present investigation has questioned Nelson and other ex-members of the FRU about the organisation and their role within it. According to reports, Nelson has been assured that he will not be prosecuted over Finucane’s death. The Finucane family, who are demanding a full public inquiry into his murder, have refused to co-operate with the Stevens team.
Information known to the Stevens investigation includes that of Nelson being one of up to 20 Northern Ireland-born soldiers who were recruited by the army to become agents inside both Loyalist and Republican terrorist groups.
The investigation is now set to interview two other leading figures within the FRU. The first of these is Brigadier Gordon Kerr?known as Colonel J. Kerr?who was in overall charge of the FRU and is now a military attach