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8 March 2001 Edition

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FRU made Nelson a ``monster''

BY LAURA FRIEL

``We took a man, told him to become a terrorist and then supplied him with the information he needed to be a good terrorist - namely intelligence used to take out Catholics.''

These are the words of a former British Army intelligence officer, a member of a unit at the centre of Britain's covert war in Ireland, the Force Research Unit. He is talking about Brian Nelson.

``It is as simple as this,'' the former FRU member told Neil Mackay of the Sunday Herald. ``The British Army took an honest soldier, paid him to become a terrorist and then fed him the information he needed to set up Catholics for assassination. We turned an ordinary man into a monster.''

Brian Nelson, from the Shankill Road, was a soldier in the British Army's Black Watch regiment when he was recruited by FRU commander Gordon Kerr, then a colonel in the British Army, now a brigadier and military attache in Beijing. But Nelson wasn't just an ordinary soldier with a home address in Belfast. He had very specific credentials, a connection with the UDA and a history of sectarian violence.

In 1973, Brian Nelson was already a British soldier when he and two UDA members abducted a disabled Catholic man as he was walking along North Queen Street in North Belfast. The gang's victim, Gerald Higgins, was taken to a UDA club in Wilton Street off the Shankill Road where he was beaten, threatened with a gun, set on fire and electrocuted.

``The men wet his hands and then put two wires in his hands connected to a generator and sent an electric shock through his body,'' said the Belfast Newsletter, reporting the subsequent trial. In a notebook belonging to Mr. Higgins, his torturers had written ``this is one, two to follow''.

In court, Brian Nelson was exposed as the ringleader. Gerald Higgins died shortly afterwards and his family attributed his premature death to his ordeal at the hands of Nelson and his UDA cohorts. Perhaps a few years later, when Kerr was looking for potential FRU recruits, it was the ``monster'' rather than the man that attracted the colonel to Brian Nelson.

``If Nelson had been recruited when he was in the UDA, all that would have happened is that the army turned a terrorist, who once happened to be a soldier, into a double agent,'' said the FRU source. ``However, the truth is much worse. We took an ordinary soldier and turned him into a criminal.''

Through Brian Nelson, acting as chief intelligence officer within the UDA, British Military Intelligence reorganised, rearmed and redirected loyalist violence. British Army expertise enhanced the ability of loyalist gangs to terrorise the northern nationalist community. In the FRU, Kitson's colonial strategy of creating and sustaining `counter gangs' were realised.

Speaking of Nelson, the former FRU operative continued: ``This is probably the worst case of the use of an agent provocateur ever undertaken by the (British) army... and there were actually anywhere between 16 and 20 agents similar to Nelson operating in Ulster. That means we put at least 16 decent soldiers into Northern Ireland and told them to commit terrorist crimes.''

Illegal, immoral, and based on a fundamental lie, the FRU's manipulation of loyalist violence didn't just `take the war to the IRA'. Its pool of victims was much wider than that. In repressing opposition to British rule in Ireland, the ordinary Catholic demanding equality, the lawyer defending the rule of law and the politician advocating change are all targets, as well as the armed Volunteer.

Francisco Notarantonio, Pat Finucane, John Davey, Sheena Campbell, Rosemary Nelson are some of the more familiar names of over 400 nationalists whose deaths have been linked to the collusion controversy. And it didn't end there.

According to the Sunday Herald source, FRU agents active within the IRA injured and killed fellow members of the British Crown forces. ``The British were actually fighting the British,'' said the FRU source.

``We were putting our agents into terrorist organisations in an attempt to beat terrorists, but then allowing them, and encouraging them, to carry out the crimes we wanted to stop in the first place... it's through the looking glass stuff. It seems the army are the terrorists and the terrorists are the army. It is a policy without morality.''

In 1990, Brian Nelson was inadvertently arrested by the Stevens' team tasked with investigating crown forces collusion with loyalist death squads. Inexplicably, and against the direct orders of his FRU handlers, Nelson revealed his role to the Stevens' detectives.

Nelson was subsequently charged with a series of offences, including murder and conspiracy to murder. In a last minute deal struck by the Attorney General and DPP, Nelson pleaded guilty to lesser charges. The most serious charges were dropped and a potentially politically embarrassing trial was curtailed.

In court, Kerr, the FRU commander, gave evidence under the name of Colonel `J' and praised Nelson for his bravery. Nelson was jailed for ten years but served less. On release, Nelson was given more than £200,000 by the British Army and he is now thought to be living under a new identity in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the former FRU operative known only as Martin Ingram, has objected to An Phoblacht's coverage of his role in Britain's covert war in Ireland. Writing in the Andersonstown News, Ingram says: ``To be labelled a traitor by those in the (British) Army and a murderer by An Phoblacht/ Republican News is not a pleasant experience, especially when there is no truth in either position.''

Ingram advises republicans ``to take a reality check'' and ``let go of the old rhetoric''. He also objects to being placed ``alongside Stobie and Nelson'' which he says is ``repulsive and unfair''.

Martin Ingram was a covert operative in one of the most secret units of the British Army, a unit in which obscurity and deception were stocks in trade. For those of us on the outside looking in it is hardly surprising that the subtlety of some differentiations sometimes eludes our analysis.

Beyond the secrets and lies it is now a matter of public record that the FRU actively colluded with loyalist death squads. The fine detail of that collusion has yet to be fully established.

And of course, republicans accept that former and even serving British soldiers may ``have a role in exposing the wrongdoings of the past'' and as British citizens they have every right to defend their notion of democracy by exposing the corruption of that ideal within the British state.

As Irish republicans living under British occupation, our focus is a little different. The impunity with which units like the FRU could play with our lives and deaths (and the lives of our families, friends and neighbours) suggests we have yet to achieve citizenship and establish a democracy to defend.
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