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9 November 2000 Edition

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British dirty tricks continue

BY LAURA FRIEL

A leading British Intelligence officer who played a key role in the covert British Army's war against the IRA for over 20 years is being threatened with court martial if she doesn't agree to ``retire quietly''. The British military are desperately trying to ensure that details of their dirty war in Ireland remains under wraps, despite the recent inroads made by the Stevens team investigating Crown force collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane. The female Force Research Unit (FRU) operative, known only as ``Mags'', is believed to have been at the centre of many of the most controversial killings in the North.

     
The British military are desperately trying to ensure that details of their dirty war in Ireland remains under wraps, despite the recent inroads made by the Stevens team investigating Crown force collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane
The former FRU woman worked closely with FRU agent Brian Nelson. Nelson, a former British soldier and member of the UDA, was specifically recruited by Colonel Kerr, head of the FRU, to act as an agent within the UDA. While an agent for the FRU, Nelson played a pivotal role in reorganising and rearming loyalist paramilitaries in the Six Counties. As an intelligence officer in the UDA, Nelson identified targets and supplied up to date information to aid loyalist gunmen. The information was often supplied by his female FRU handler.

Nelson's handler was only recently removed from active service in the Six Counties after it became clear that many of her exploits might become exposed during the Stevens investigation. Her military masters removed her from front line duties and posted her back to England, where she is currently training undercover soldiers.

Recently, the FRU operative was linked to the sectarian killing of West Belfast pensioner Francisco Notarantonio. The FRU operative passed fake documents identifying Notarantonio as ``a top Provo'' to Nelson, who handed the details on to loyalist gunmen. It was ``Mags'' who ordered the withdrawal of the regular British Army and RUC from the area, giving Nortarantonio's killers a clear run.

This week, the same operative was linked to the killings of three West Belfast petty criminals during an attempted robbery of a bookmakers shop on the Falls Road in 1990. The three men, armed only with fake weapons, were shot dead at close range. Eyewitnesses said two of the robbers were ``finished off'' by a soldier standing over them as they lay wounded on the ground. The third, an unarmed driver, was shot at close range as he sat in the getaway vehicle.

A fourth man who escaped the FRU ambush later claimed that the gang had been deliberately set up after documents and weapons were stolen out of a car that belonged to a British undercover unit. The two sports bags were taken from the back seat of the vehicle parked outside the Homestead Inn in Drumboe.

A Heckler and Koch machine gun and 9mm pistol were in one of the bags. The bags also contained a map of Belfast with military coordinates, tinned food, clothes, a sleeping bag, a green canister with a grenade type trigger mechanism, a coded document and a jumper with a lion and cannon motif.

The same female FRU operative has also been linked with the killing of UVF gunman Brian Robinson. Robinson was shot dead in August 1989 by an undercover female soldier just moments after he and another loyalist had shot dead Ardoyne Catholic Paddy McKenna. An undercover unit led by a woman in a Vauxhall Astra car rammed Robinson's motorbike as he made his escape. Robinson was shot dead at close range as he lay injured on the ground.

According to media reports, the female operative at the centre of the FRU controversy has threatened to ``tell all'' if there is any attempt to scapegoat her for undercover killings in the North of Ireland. She is refusing to go quietly into the obscurity of retirement and has vowed to resist any attempt at court martial.

Meanwhile, the British government has dropped charges under the Official Secrets Act against a former British Military Intelligence officer, Lt. Colonel Nigel Wylde, who was accused of disclosing information about covert surveillance in the Six Counties to author, journalist and former British paratrooper, Tony Geraghty.

Wylde had been employed in 1997 to oversee the upgrading of computer-based surveillance systems used by the British military in the Six Counties. The systems, codenamed `Vengeful' a vehicle movement tracker, `Crucible, a database of intelligence on residents in the North and `Glutton' a system for identifying vehicle number plates, were described by Geraghty in his book ``The Irish War''.

In a recent interview, Wylde called for the case against the former FRU soldier, suspected of being the whisleblower using the pseudonym Martin Ingram, to be dropped. ``I'm concerned about former members of the FRU,'' said Wylde. ``Up to 15 of them have been arrested.'' Wylde has been lobbying the British government for the setting up of a truth and justice commission for the North of Ireland similar to that established in South Africa.

The Force Research Unit is currently at the centre of allegations of Crown force collusion with loyalist death squads. FRU documents were recently seized by the Steven's team investigating collusion in the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. Taken from British Army headquarters last month, the Stevens team have discovered the fingerprints of dozens of leading loyalists, most notably those of UDA killer Johnny Adair, on FRU intelligence documents.

The fingerprints appear to confirm that the FRU regularly passed British military intelligence files, containing the personal details of nationalists and republicans, to loyalist gunmen. Four people, including one woman, have already been arrested and questioned by the Stevens team in connection with fingerprints found. At least 20 more loyalists may face arrest.
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