The question is part of the post-conflict debate. Who won the intelligence war?
This week on the BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme a former head of Special Branch Raymond White offered an opinion – that they had won on intelligence, but lost the propaganda war.
Is anyone in a position to be so certain and so clear at this time; so definitive before those hidden corners of intelligence and agent-running have been more fully examined and explored?
What were the rules and boundaries of intelligence and agent-running and how much was lost as those boundaries and rules became more and more stretched?
There are many more questions to be asked and answered before the talk of winners and losers – more questions about Stakeknife and Nelson and many others; questions about what was known across the intelligence agencies, MI5, Special Branch and Military.
Part of this will be scrutinised as part of Operation Kenova – the Stakeknife Investigation – being headed by the Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher.
When delivered, how will the findings of this investigation be interpreted within that frame of winners and losers.
How will the Army explain and justify the role of an agent placed within IRA internal security, a part of the IRA tasked with the interrogation and culling of suspected informants?
Remember the bodies dumped at roadsides and on country lanes.
Winners and losers?
There was nothing new or surprising in the contribution Denis Bradley made to the debate in the past few days, his re-calling of the visit the Eames/Bradley Group on the Past made to the Stevens Investigation bunker in 2007.
Back then, there was the talk of the filing cabinets containing the secrets of agents and informers – a mountain of documents described as “traumatic information”.
The talk was of a can of worms – too much to be allowed to spill out over this small place and its communities.
It is in the dark corners of intelligence and in the secrets of agent-running that some of the ugliest truths are hidden.
None of that has been properly or fully excavated and it may never be shovelled to the surface.
So, it is too soon to talk about winners and losers.
We know the importance that the worlds of security and intelligence attached to agents:
“It is well to remember that, despite technological advances, the key weapon in the battle against both republican and loyalist terrorists remains the well-placed informant,” former RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley said in a Police Foundation lecture in July 1992.
Several years later, in 1995, Ronnie Flanagan – then Head of RUC Special Branch – spoke of four out of every five planned attacks being thwarted and that “virtually every anti-terrorist success had a Special Branch dimension”.
“…we will never of course say or do anything which would risk exposing to danger those who have been pivotal in standing between order and anarchy,” he said.
Intelligence is not just about what was thwarted, but the blind spots when things were missed:
- the Libyan weapons shipments to the IRA;
- the mortar bomb attack on Downing Street;
- not knowing the detail of the 1994 ceasefire – that it would be delivered as “a complete cessation of military operations.”
- the 1996 London Docklands bomb signalling the end of that ceasefire;
- the bombs at Thiepval Barracks – the Army’s NI Headquarters – also in 1996, and
- the robbery at Castlereagh Special Branch offices in 2002.
All of this missed in the intelligence war, leaving a clear impression that there was a tier or a part of the IRA that was a blind spot.
Probably more important than intelligence, was the political and security commentary several years before the 1994 ceasefire that it was difficult to envisage a military defeat of the IRA.
The IRA – even with Libyan arms – also knew it could not defeat the British.
This was the recognition of a military stalemate that began to change things – that began to make a peace process possible.
The long wars ended with no winners.
I quote >> https://www.facebook.com/RelsForJustice/posts/866245940173139
The use of the nomenclature ‘war’ has been used to perpetuate the myth of what was a local paramilitary conflict, used by many former combatants to give the conflict some credence. No part of our ‘troubles’ was a war. What happened between 1939-45 was a war. What happened after partition in Ireland was, at a stretch, a civil war. What is happening in Syria now is a war. We had a conflict created by those with no understanding of peaceful struggle or passive resistance or boycotting. By no stretch of my imagination can I regard what happened as a war, and I would suggest that any war only happened in the imaginations of those poor people caught up in brutal activity of murder and mayhem at the time. There can be no winners or losers. We won what we would have won without the senseless loss of life, and we lost the lives of innocent loved ones.
In responding to this article I, as always, point out that I am speaking as an individual and only for myself.
I find it interesting, but not surprising, that this week’s Spotlight programme has caused such a stir. And it’s a stir that impacts many lives. Above all I think we should not lose sight of the fact that EVERY life lost or destroyed was/is a human being. We are one community, albeit with many divisions, but one section or any other did not develop in isolation nor beam down from outer space. In the run-in to what might turn out to be a crucial period for proposed legacy structures it appears that some are scene setting and felon making.
It’s interesting to me that Spotlight can dedicate a special edition to an anonymous accuser (who might well have been anyone – MI5 operative?) who delivered nothing more than black propaganda reminiscent of the 1970s without a single balancing reference, such as to the Panorama programme where clearly identifiable soldiers talked about being involved in attacks here.
I also wonder why you list Libyan Arms without listing South African Arms, Downing Street without Miami Showband, Thiepval without Sevastipol Street or Castlereagh without Torture. Although you don’t list it another example might be the alleged ethnic cleansing of protestants along the border without being balanced by the killings carried out by the Glenanne Gang. All of which need to be addressed. And not only the incidents where there was loss of multiple lives, but also the 100’s who were killed individually.
On this site recently Sean Murray said a new approach is required while Winston Irvine stated that no process can succeed without the inclusion of loyalists (I paraphrase). I agree with both.
I certainly don’t buy into the one narrative – there are many, and I’ve not heard a locally based perfidious narrative yet.
But lets for one second accept that the Spotlight programme was accurate and that there was perhaps 800 agents/informers operating at any one time. Then consider that, if true, virtually nothing happened without intelligence agencies involvement. When this has sunk in then consider what this does to the statistics regarding who was ACTUALLY responsible for what.
The actions of the illegal combatant groups are pretty well known and they all appear positive on engaging in a truth recovery process. The same cannot be said for the ‘legal’ forces who continue to be in public denial despite several mountains of evidence. What would it do to Spotlight or statistics if responsibility was redistributed, such as moving deaths caused by the Glenanne Gang, Stakeknife, Brian Nelson (and 800 other agents at any one time) etc etc etc into the Westminster Governments portfolio?
Collusion is not an illusion – neither is/was it one-sided.
A balanced and honest approach is needed from all sides and it’s needed urgently.
There is NO SUCH thing as a “terrorist organisation” which is not controlled by at least one “Intelligence agency.” The whole thing is one gigantic game where the lives of innocent people count for nothing.