5 January 2006 Edition
British psy ops and black propaganda - next phase of the Peace Process?: BY DECLAN KEARNEY
Donaldson exposure - Republicans must thwart securocrat agenda
While the admissions by Denis Donaldson were shocking for many republicans, they are also hugely significant at this juncture in the Peace Process, especially against the backdrop of IRA initiatives since July 2005. The reality of agents placed within republicanism to work against Irish independence is nothing new. The recruitment and operation of agents, and use of counter-intelligence operations by British agencies against the struggle for independence are as old as the struggle itself.
Yet there are wider implications, which stem from Donaldson's exposure. They underscore the fact that the structures, systems and paraphernalia of Britain's armed campaign in Ireland remain operational. It is why the Six County Executive and All-Ireland political institutions were brought down in 2002.
This represents an acid at the heart of the Peace Process. It undermines the British Government's purported commitment to developing a real conflict resolution process. It causes political instability. Republicans need to recognise this is precisely what is intended by those opposed to the Peace Process. We need to stop this happening. Similar challenges confronted other liberation struggles at seminal moments.
Counter Strategies in South Africa
The exposure of this agent, followed by PSNI visits to some Belfast republicans over Christmas ostensibly to warn them of their outing as informers succeeded a recent battery of political policing actions in the Six Counties and ongoing activities by unionist death squads. This all resonates with events in South Africa some ten to 15 years ago, albeit on a different scale.
Despite the historic turn of events in 1990-'91, the Apartheid regime had not fully resolved to sue for peace and democracy. Even after the ANC decided to ceasefire and later dump arms, those within the state's political establishment and intelligence agencies opposed to change tried repeatedly to undermine these historic initiatives and in doing so, cause disarray among the forces of progress. In the four years of stop/start negotiations leading up to the 1994 elections, 20,000 people died in violence instigated by state-sponsored death squads. Key ANC leaders were assassinated. Black propaganda operations were targeted against the ANC and other tactics were deployed to frustrate the momentum for political change and growing support for the ANC.
In the last few years a catalogue of overt and covert intelligence operations have been launched against republicans and the wider Peace Process. The most incontrovertible of these was the collapse of the political institutions by PSNI Special Branch. We have come to expect that these operations intervene in direct proportion to Sinn Féin's continued success at winning the battle of ideas across the island. Nevertheless it is difficult not to conclude from the mounting evidence in recent years that British policy in this process has been driven by an intensive counter-intelligence strategy incorporating the use of agents, electronic surveillance, various espionage tactics, black propaganda, and increasingly, psychological operations (psy ops). It amounts to the prosecution of a dirty war, conducted with the complicity of a compliant media.
The Political Detectives and TCG
Those responsible for directing this political dirty war, cut their operational teeth during the 1980s and 1990s during the shoot-to-kill policy, when the death squads were re-organised and rearmed, and throughout the period of collusion killings and assassination of republican activists. Since then they have made the transition from RUC Special Branch to become the political detectives of the PSNI, and in the process have imbued their war mentality into the senior command structure of that force. Throughout this period these same elements have worked in harness with British intelligence. The anti-republican culture they have brought into the PSNI will continue for as long as this force remains integral to the military intelligence and spying functions of the Tasking and Coordinating Group (TCG). The TCG harmonises the activities of PSNI and British agencies in the Six Counties, and reports to the Joint Intelligence Committee; a sub-committee of the British Government.
As republicans consider the future intentions of and operational interaction between the political detectives and their peers in British Intelligence agencies, we need to reflect laterally upon the ramifications, which are thrown up. Can and should they be judged as a monolith? Are these agencies all operating in unison? Are they operating to a common strategy against the republican project and the Peace Process? Are they singularly or collectively operating in conformity with, or in contradiction to British Government policy? Ultimately, only the British Government can answer such questions.
Whether some, or all of these forces are working to destabilise the Peace Process, some issues are beyond dispute. The decision to create conditions leading to the exposure of Denis Donaldson was calculated to precipitate a new political crisis; by either seeking to provoke a reaction from the IRA, or impel him to seek sanctuary with these same agencies, thus creating a pretext for the IMC to smear republicans in its next report. The Christmas visits in Belfast, clearly prove that the PSNI remain locked into this particular tactic; and we may expect more of the same. Those who hoped to engineer a new crisis but failed, will seek to exercise whatever leverage they still can from Donaldson's betrayal to create other political difficulties. This indicates the Peace Process is in a phase of intensified psy ops and black propaganda targeted against Sinn Féin, and aimed at popular opinion. Indeed if some of Britain's security agencies are operating to their own agenda, we may well be entering the most dangerous period of the process to date.
Psy Ops to Continue
Regardless of individual emotions initially triggered by Denis Donaldson's exposure, republicans need to assess it dispassionately.
The political sub text in which the intelligence agencies operated was to use a negatively inspired IMC report in the new year to subvert the prospect of political talks; provide a renewed pretext for unionist intransigence; contribute to concretising direct rule; and, deny republicans the political initiative. Neither should we underestimate the hostility within the policing establishment and intelligence agencies towards republicans successfully negotiating acceptable policing arrangements, as a motivation for what has happened, and what may yet unfold.
Having failed in their initial intention, it is inevitable that the securocrats will seek to play the Donaldson episode out as an ongoing psy op, aimed at destabilising internal republican unity and political cohesion, and sucking momentum out of the Peace Process.
Ending Political Policing
Our political programme in the New Year needs to be driven by determination to prevent this happening, and thwarting the agenda of the securocrats and reactionary unionism. We need to ensure the tactics of our opponents do not deflect us from continuing to build political strength and winning the battle for hearts and minds or contaminating republican political unity and cohesion.
The combined efforts of republicans in the next few months need to concentrate on confronting the role of political policing and ensuring the reinstatement of the political institutions. This requires visibility and high impact campaigning nationally and internationally, aimed at mobilising popular opinion for an end to political policing and restoration of the political institutions.
What we must do
For the British and Dublin Governments, the SDLP, and progressive unionism, they must decide if they really want the institutions reinstated. If so, their battle is with those elements of the political establishments and intelligence agencies, in Britain and the North who do not. They have a choice to make between creating a consensus for democratic change, or subordination to the securocrat strategy of long-term direct rule.
The biggest choice however, rests with the British negotiators, and whether they will confront the threat to democracy in Ireland from within their own system, in the same way that the progressives in South Africa's old administration chose to do, some ten years ago.