Pursuing The Predator

If things continue as they are it might only be a matter of time, and without much tongue in cheek, before the investigative journalist Darragh MacIntyre finds himself described as the greatest living threat in Ireland to the British state. A sobriquet once reserved for Martin McGuinness before he was co-opted, and on occasion for the late Brian Keenan, might just find its way to a new standard bearer.

Last night, via BBC Spotlight, for the second time in as many weeks, MacIntyre stepped into the ring, metaphorical fists at the ready to fight shadows, spooks, smoke and mirrors, ring craft, dissembling, subterfuge, veils, labyrinthine trails littered with chicanes and diversion signs thrown up to deflect the spirit of free inquiry away from its task of scrutinising government. The investigative journalism of MacIntyre and others is peeling away the camouflage beneath which lies a sordid history of a dirty war from which the stench of British state terrorism is emitted with all too recurring frequency.

Professor Henry Patterson might well worry that the history of the northern conflict is being rewritten by nationalists to the point that the formal statistic that "deaths by the state were far, far lower" is no longer as boldly inscribed in the narrative. To the extent that such apprehensions are well founded, it may be argued that hard evidence rather than nationalist alchemy is driving the restorative work currently underway.  Such graft is incrementally but inexorably restoring the British state to its rightful place in the matrix that was the Northern conflict. Britain was no compere, gallantly and impartially holding the ring, but a pugilist in the middle, gouging, biting and kicking as much as the other contestants. Now that it finds itself on the ropes, too bad.

"Deaths by the state were far, far lower" is the cloak of legitimacy that the British state does not wish to be denuded of.  It is content for society never to find out the full extent of the state's terrorism and the victims that it produced. The state's real death toll might well be lower but by how much? Can it be said any longer with a straight face that all the ostensibly IRA killings that vex Professor Patterson were exclusively IRA acts?

It is precisely this type of problematic that has made BBC Spotlight a thorn in the side of the British state in recent months. Chris Moore exposed the machinations of the sinister Weapons & Explosives Research Centre (WERC), a RUC Special Branch ballistics unit, which existed for the purpose of the forensic manipulation of evidence. Vincent Kearney opened a window called Gary Haggarty through which the viewing public could observe the wholesale rubbishing of the professed but dishonest commitment of the PSNI to be an impartial police force in the business of justice delivery. 

Last night’s “date with the state” examined how British state terrorist strategy found expression through the activities of Freddie Scappaticci, aka Stakeknife. Scappaticci was a key – just not the master key - British agent within the Provisional IRA, having been recruited in the 1970s by the British Army.

Spotlight combined the forensic pursuit of its quarry, Scappaticci, with a parallel narrative that told the sorrowful story of Caroline Moreland, for the most part articulated by her daughter Shona and made all the more powerful and poignant by the use of footage of the Moreland family recorded shortly before Caroline was shot dead 6 weeks short of the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Her killing seemed to be one of the organisation’s more strategically gratuitous acts of violence, spurred by either personal vindictiveness or a display of chest beating just to let the doubters know that despite the peace shenanigans the IRA hadn't gone away, you know. Yet it seems highly likely that while the IRA may have thought it alone was responsible for the death of Caroline Moreland, the hidden hand of the British state was present, with the downward thumb posture maintained to the very end.  

The central question raised by Spotlight is why the state armed with the information it had in its possession, courtesy of its own agent who was responsible for hunting down prey like Caroline Moreland, did nothing to prevent her death or the deaths of so many others accused by informers within the IRA of ...  being informers within the IRA. Kafkaesque for sure, but it was nothing less.

We might never find out but the suspicion remains that amongst his many tasks, Scappaticci was a vacuum for hoovering up what the British state had determined human asset detritus: people whose cover had been blown or who were coming to the end of their shelf life as agents: allowing them to be compromised and killed, a much less costly enterprise than relocating them and their families to England.

In the face of PSNI prevarication and procrastination, investigative journalists are now openly challenging the dominant British state narrative of the conflict. The PSNI tactical paradox of rushing in the “investigative delay" mechanism, so palpably absent in its pursuit of the Boston College oral history archive, in the hope that things can be strung out to 2040 as estimated by the North's Lord Chief Justice, shows there is no dark side to the reconfigured RUC. It is all dark.

Spotlight and Darragh MacIntyre by their unrelenting investigation are denying
British state terrorism the cover of PSNI darkness.


  1. "a vacuum for hoovering up what the British state had determined human asset detritus: people whose cover had been blown or who were coming to the end of their shelf life as agents"

    Maybe this point is exactly how the British penetrated Republicanism to the degree it did.

    People who were of no use to the state were perhaps shepherded more quickly and in greater numbers towards their end to add complacency to the Republican project.

    All the time the useless assets were being killed, giving an appearance of control, more prized assets went unnoticed?

  2. Simon,
    They weren't all useless. Some were sacrificed to save others hidden within the leadership cabal.....Dennis Donaldson is one....he wasn't sacrificed for what we are all lead to believe over the Stormont Spy Ring...absolute balls...he was part of the think tank for goodness sake....

  3. Whether Scappatici was an informer or not will be borne out in time no doubt. The informer code name, steak knife or stake knife, may have its owm sighificance as a stake through the heart of certain individuals and so the heart of the Republican movement itself

  4. Niall, by "useless" I meant what Anthony said and what I referred to - "people whose cover had been blown or who were coming to the end of their shelf life as agents".

  5. What puzzles me is that Scap has been widely( without denial) accepted to be a major informant and agent of the British state,now giving his role at the very heart of the PIRA and the length of time in his position following on from another tout John Joe he was giving carte blanche to commit crimes including murder , his knowledge of the membership and operations carried out was extensive to say the least, now heres the rub for me ,what exactly was Scaps end game or role ,I would have thought that it was to assist the "authorities" in bringing those involved in terrorism before the courts by providing key information on those involved especially the "leadership" which Scap would have been in contact on a regular basis ,to date we have seen nothing ,nada níl, zilch, and if I,m not correct withholding information on crime is initself a criminal offence,so can we expect to see arrests anytime soon can we fuck .

  6. marty ,do you mean endgame as in his post ceasfire contribution? I would imagine the arrests were already done, if the access he had was as described. If every arms dump in the North could be tampered with because he debriefed Vols on their operations, Stakeknife wouldnt of even needed prior information on other operations for them to be compromised.Stakeknife was too important to just stand in court pointing like a supergrass for membership charges, they wanted Vols in possesion of guns etc

  7. Marty that's a very good point... his focus was downward toward low grade security force own informers rather than upward toward IRA leadership -it is a bit arse faced.

  8. It was a good programme. Felt awful for the girl talking about her mom. What a pointless murder and her mom's voice on tape came across to me like someone who expected to be going home, likely after the usual press conference. The Brits were standing by watching slaughter, hardly neutral. Scap was pure evil. The fact he hasn't been charged is a disgrace. The 'leadership' was put in place over time and protected, another successful British exercise in 'war-games'. Families of those shot for informing in spite of their handlers knowing their fate deserve justice. What the hell was it all about?

  9. Larry,

    that was my feeling summed up. The mum thought she was going to a press conference. They pulled that trick on her: bring in someone well known for press work; tell her she is going to a press conference and he is there to handle it; she settles a bit because seeing him it is plausible and associates him with his SF role because it is what she wants to believe, needs to believe. He gives the thumbs down and the woman is killed. If the Brits walk in on them his defence will be he was there for a press conference.

    And they can't blame Morrison for this one because he was in jail at the time. Besides he would hardly lie abut anything so we can believe him when he says he was at the Sandy House to take Sandy to a press conference. FFS that pig just hit me on the head - I got in its flight path.

  10. AM

    Scap was having a wee ball all to himself. What I seem to be picking up is he landed Morrison 'in-it' and it has taken Morrison and his handlers/contacts all this time to get his conviction quashed. They were nothing more than a very dangerous joke at the end, a danger to anyone who went near them and the SB/Brits running both sets of paramilitaries. Never could have imagined the depth of it all.
    Still feel awful thinking about the senselessness of the killing on that programme.

    Saving lives?? how big a lie was that from the RUC?

  11. Larry,

    and a hefty compensation wad at the end of it all to account for the bulging bank balance. The extent of it I would not have believed a few years ago. The Brits were bastards but they did not monopolise bastardism. We had quite a few on our side too. And to see them scrambling and scraping to promote their own photo with Charles Windsor. What a sad, sorry lot.

  12. Larry

    The RUC did save lives. Low level provies were sacrificed so that the more senior ones could be kept in place. It was a well practised drill and it worked a treat for SB. You would need a heart of stone not to be moved by that girls story of how her mother was betrayed and killed, but you have to ask yourself why she was allowed into the IRA in the first place and privvy to such sensitive info. The IRA must take responsibility for those lives lost. I remember hearing about a rural taxi driver who was an IRA sympathiser being approached to work for the IRA. They clearly wanted someone with a car, access to all areas etc however he was a little too fond of the drink. SB followed him until he was caught drink driving and then told him to start working for the IRA or they would remove his source of income. Did the Provos seriously think that these were good people to recruit? Did they think these people could resist the machinations of hard nosed SB detectives? People with drink problems, single mothers, teenage boys were encouraged to join the dirty war and paid the price, you can't pin the blame for that solely on the RUC.

  13. Peter,

    the IRA claimed responsibility for most of the people they claim they killed as informers. We can debate the morality of it or the extent to which they have been truthful about it until the end of time but there is that acknowledgement of responsibility. The RUC have been trying to evade responsibility for decades despite being heavily immersed in state terrorism. They try to behave as if the actions of everyone else was terrorism but not their own.

  14. Peter

    I think a lot of RCs bought into the line that the majority of RUC were doing a job and many may have considered them to have been doing it professionally and effectively. But with the revelation of just how squalid and ruthless the actions of the intelligence agencies actually were it has taken on a much more evil complexion. It is evident people were being recruited for execution, scapegoats in advance, to keep evil bastards in place and functional. If it was a crime issue (Thatcher) then the greatest criminals it would appear, were in uniform.

    At the risk of being accused of 'whataboutery' was there as great a drive and enthusiasm to recruit prods as touts for scape-goats in the loyalist outfits? Can't quite imagine RUC SB sitting back watching young gullible prods being driven off for torture and death. I mean some estimates place as many as 90% of loyalists as agents.

    A heart rending documentary, and I can't help wondering what the attitude of the public would have been at the time had this been known. Another one on RTE tonight.

  15. AM

    The IRA merely appeared to be claiming responsibility for informers it killed. Reality seems to be they were claiming responsibility for murders the RUC and its agent/employee Scap murdered.

  16. Larry

    I can't believe 90% of loyalists were on the payroll. If so, why were so many jailed? There were more loyalists jailed than republicans, did loads of govt agents take their porridge without a whimper? I don't believe it. Loyalists and the police hated each other although maybe they were all working for FRU and not SB.
    As for SB being happy to watch young republicans getting stiffed, you must lay most of the blame for that at the door of the IRA. It was the IRA that decided to kill every tout discovered. This was used against them rather efficiently. loyalists let loads of touts off with expulsions or kicking, very few got buried. The Provos made a rod for their own backs as the spooks bred suspicion and paranoia throughout the ranks.

  17. Peter

    Think Nuala O'Loan used that figure regarding those spoken to during enquiries. I have no doubt there were a lot of angry disillusioned loyalists in jail, maybe that's why so many graced the 'mixed-wings'? Jail maybe was their 'execution', the realisation of being much less valuable than they had believed themselves to be. I heard also the reason large numbers - car convoys - of loyalists are used in attacks is because they are told to be at a location, then once there the high number of suspected touts can do nothing but participate.

  18. Bid to hear legal action against alleged IRA army agent set for 2016

    Vincent Kearney BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent ...

    An attempt to have part of a legal action held in secret against a man alleged to have been the most high ranking agent within the Provisional IRA will be heard early next year.

    A woman claims she was interrogated and falsely imprisoned by Freddie Scappaticci.

    He is alleged to have been an army agent codenamed Stakeknife.

    Margaret Keeley is suing him, the Northern Ireland's police force and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for damages.

    The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the MoD want some of the court hearings to be held behind closed doors for "national security" reasons.

    Margaret Keeley claims the police and MoD both knowingly allowed her to be interrogated and threatened by a man working as an agent for the state over a two-day period in the New Lodge in Belfast in 1994.

    She is claiming damages for personal injuries, false imprisonment, assault, battery, trespass to the person and misfeasance in public office.

    The PSNI and the MoD are seeking to use what are called "closed material procedures" for the first time a civil case in Northern Ireland.

    This would allow their lawyers to introduce sensitive information that could only be seen by the judge and a security-vetted "special advocate" who would be appointed to represent Margaret Keeley.

    The advocate would not be allowed to give her or her legal team precise details about the sensitive material introduced during the secret section of the trial.

    The police and the MoD argue that closed hearings are essential because some of the material is so sensitive it could potentially damage national security.

    At the High Court in Belfast on Friday, Mr Justice Stephens said the application will be heard in February.

    Freddie Scappaticci, the grandson of an Italian immigrant who came to Northern Ireland in search of work, denies he was an army agent.

    An initial request to include him in the legal action was refused, but that decision was later overturned on appeal.

    In his judgement overturning the initial decision, Mr Justice McCloskey said the allegations being made gave rise to "acute public concern and interest... and raise the spectre of a grave and profound assault on the rule of law and an affront to public conscience".