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15 February 2001 Edition

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Female FRU operative named


As the Web site Cryptome points out, Mags' main `achievement' lay in the deployment of loyalist death squads to target and assassinate Irish republicans and nationalists in what can only be decribed as state killing by proxy
A female Force Research Unit operative at the centre of the Pat Finucane controversay and only known previously as ``Mags'' has been named on the Internet. An American-based Web site which specialises in releasing intelligence information, ``Cryptome'', named the British Intelligence officer as Captain Margaret Walshaw.

``Although any British newspaper editor who publishes her name is threatened with imprisonment, she is openly listed in the current offical British government publication, the `Army List','' according to the Web site article.

The Web site also confirms that the FRU, far from being disbanded, is still operating and running agents in Ireland but under a different name. ``Since it has become controversial, it has adopted a new cover name. This is JCU (Joint Collection Unit).''

The JCU works directly with MI5 and has offices and technical teams on the ground in the Six Counties, says the Cryptome site. ``To confuse the many British journalists who are now investigating the activities of the FRU, another intelligence unit was renamed FIU. This is the Force Intelligence Unit, which runs more orthodox intelligence activities.''

According to the Web site compiler, John Young, British Intelligence illegally hacked into his site to find out who was accessing the material. The MoD admitted as much when they contested a decision by their own D Notice Committee which initally gave British newspapers the go ahead to name Walshaw.

The Glasgow-based Sunday Herald, the Sunday Times and Sunday People had been tipped off that Mags' identity had been revealed on a US Web site last week and immediately notified the secretary of the MoD's D Notice Committee, the body which decides whether or not to gag the press on grounds of national security.

Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson told the press they were free to publish the identify of the FRU operative after he established that the information was already within the public domain. But in an unprecedented move, the MoD ignored the committee's ruling and threatened the media with injunctions if they named names.

According to the Sunday Herald, the newspaper was contacted by Treasury Solicitor Roland Philips who ``made it clear that unless we issued him with an undertaking that we would not publish her name, he was instructed to seek an immedate interdict (a Scotish injunction) to prevent us naming her''.

The MoD did not accept that the operative's identity was already within the public domain, because only 230 people had accessed the Internet document, the Herald had been told by Philips.

According to Cryptome's editor, such information could only be accessed by the British MoD by illegally hacking into the American Web site. Furthermore, Young says, the MoD's figures are wrong and reflect only a portion of access within one day.

To protect visitors to the Web site from scrutiny, Cryptome routinely deletes log files, daily and twice daily when necessary. Within a few days of posting, over 3,000 people had accessed the document, says Young.

On the Web site, Cryptome not only names Walshaw but also reveals that since leaving the Six Counties, the former FRU operative has been promoted and awarded a medal.

``At the time she ran agent Brian Nelson and supervised his murderous activities, she was a non commissioned officer (sergeant) in Britain's Intelligence Corps,'' say the Web site. ``On 1 April 1998, Sergeant Walshaw was promoted from the ranks to become an officer. She has also been awarded the `British Empire Medal' for her achievements.''

As Cryptome points out, Mags' main `achievement' lay in the deployment of loyalist death squads to target and assassinate Irish republicans and nationalists in what can only be decribed as state killing by proxy.

Between 1986 and 1990, Mags and a second FRU operative known only as ``Geoff'' were the principal handlers of Brian Nelson, a former member of the Black Watch regiment of the British Army recruited by the FRU and acting as a chief intelligence officer for the loyalist UDA.

Mags was directly accountable to FRU commander Colonel ``J'', recently named as Gordon Kerr, now a Brigadier and serving as British military attache in Beijing. A covert unit within British Military intelligence, the FRU was funded through British Army headquarters in Thiepval Barracks, County Antrim.

The chain of command, through the Joint Security Committee, stretched to the British Cabinet, where the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is known to have taken personal interest in the covert actions of her military forces.

On the ground, Mags facilitated the UDA's deadly campaign of terror by producing maps, photographs, details of routes to the scene of the assassinations and information regarding the target's routine.The female operative has been linked to at least 14 deaths including five sectarian killings.

A secret FRU document dated 3 May 1988 records that Nelson, identified as `6137', ``wants the UDA only to attack legitimate targets and not innocent Catholics. Since 6137 took up his position as intelligence officer, the targeting has developed and is now more professional.''

Another document, dated 6 February 1989, says: ``6137 initiates most of the targeting. Of late, 6137 has been more organised and he is currently running an operation against selected republican targets.''

But even the summary execution of ``selected republican targets'' did not always satisfy the agenda of the FRU. When it suited British Military Intelligence or their political masters, ordinary Catholics or even effective defence lawyers were deliberately targeted and killed as part of a wider campaign of terror.

In September 1987 Francisco Notorantonio, a retired Catholic taxi driver, was shot dead in his bed when masked gunmen smashed their way into his Ballymurphy home. A British Army map was discovered at the scene after the killing and one of gunmen was wearing British Army issue boots.

The pensioner was targeted after the UDA was persuaded that he was a ``top provo'' by the FRU. Mags deliberately falsified British military intelligence documents in order to encourage the UDA to target Notorantonio. The FRU claims it was a ploy to protect another agent, allegedly within the IRA.

Nelson, as the first secret document says, may have preferred to target republicans but the UDA could be just as effectively deployed against ordinary Catholics when it suited the FRU. The FRU used the same smokescreen two years later when an ``uppity Catholic lawyer'' was proving difficult to neutralise.

Less than a week after the second document was written on February 12 1989 Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his wife and children as the family sat at their Sunday dinner.

This week marks the twelveth anniversay of Finucane's death. Finucane was not the only victim targeted by Mags and her FRU colleagues but he has proved to be one of the most controversal, evoking international condemnation which has refused to fall silent over a decade later.

As Nelson's handler, Mags played a pivitol role in the plot to kill Pat Finucane. But she was far from alone.

While the FRU targeted Finucane and provided his killers with a clear run to and from the scene of the shooting, another British agent, William Stobie, working as an informer for RUC Special Branch, supplied and later disposed of the weaponry.

The gun which killed Finucane was from the locally recruited British regiment the UDR, `stolen' from Palace Barracks. But even before that a British minister had conveniently provided the political cover in which the killing could proceed.

Just weeks before Finucane's death, a British Home Office Minister Douglas Hogg had told the House of Commons that ``there are in Northern Ireland a number of solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA''.

These deliberately inflammatory remarks followed a secret briefing by two RUC Special Branch officers who had spoken to Hogg probably at the behest and certainly with the knowledge of the then head of the RUC John Hermon.

A decade later Hermon claimed ``Pat Finucane was associated with the IRA and he used his position as a lawyer to act as a contact between suspects in custody and republicans outside.''

The scene has been set, in the run up to the killing, and subsequently, the lie has been perpetuated that Pat Finucane was targeted and killed because he was a republican, either in fact or in perception. But in truth the real threat Finucane posed to British occupation in Ireland was as an effective defence lawyer.

It was not, the mythical ``PIRA Officer'' claimed by the UDA and like Notorantonio, manufactured by the FRU and RUC, but the real solicitor willing and able to defend human rights that the British had in their sights.

In his book ``The Irish War'', Tony Geraghty highlights the importance British strategy placed on the manipulation of the courts as a weapon against opposion to British rule in Ireland during this period. Finucane was a thorn in the flesh of this strategy.

As a lawyer, Pat Finucane was courageous enough to pursue the British Army and RUC when they broke the law, tenacious enough to challenge the denial of defendents' rights in the non jury courts of the North, persistent enough to hold the British government to account in international courts of law, and finally smart enough to suceed.

As his son Michael recently wrote in a British newspaper, ``to dwell on the role of people like Brian Nelson and Martin Ingram (another FRU operative) is to miss the point as to why Pat Finucane was murdered. It happened because he was a determined and innovative lawyer and not, as the RUC and others claim, because he was involved in paramilitary activity.''

``When the British government had to decide between preserving the status quo and putting up with some uppity Catholic lawyer, the choice was simple: the lawyer had to go,'' says Michael.

The photograph passed by the FRU to the UDA showed Pat Finucane coming out of a courthouse with a client, Pat McGeown. McGeown a former Republican hunger striker and prominent member of Sinn Féin had just been acquitted of murder charges relating to two British Army corporals.

The two soldiers had been executed by the IRA after they attacked a funeral cortege in West Belfast. It has been alleged that the two corporals were members of the FRU. If this is true there was an added incentive for the FRU to target Finucane.

Mags was a crucial player in this killing and in the FRU's wider campaign of terror. She appears to have relished her role as ruthless spymaster and purveyer of sudden death but she was never a renegade British soldier. If she acted beyond the law it was with the full knowledge of her commanding officers and complete sanction of their political masters.

This is why the restricted remit of the Stevens investigation, like the proposed investigation by the new Police Ombudsman's office, can never hope to reveal the full truth behind the Finucane killing.

The family's call for a fully independent international public inquiry has gained support within Ireland, throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, leaving the British government standing alone in it's continuing denial.

And as Michael Finucane recently pointed out, the state machinery that murdered his father was not established to kill one man. ``Others died too, and the question that has to be answered is, how many?''

``Many people who still live in the Northern Ireland were unaware of how precarious their existence was, and did not realise that for many years each of them was considered expendable. But they are aware now and they want to know the truth.''

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