Monthly Archives: April 2017

Scappaticci: Some Thoughts On The British Joint Intelligence Committee & Steak Knife

‘Exploration of the Joint Intelligence Committee’s role in advising (the) British government on the unfolding Northern Ireland crisis after 1968 raises one  further issue. If the JIC system was so sophisticated a means of integrating intelligence analysis and setting intelligence priorities by the late 1960s, it follows that it carried ultimate responsibility for the operational as well as the analytical practices of intelligence agencies and departments, in the muddy fields of South Armagh as much as in the committee rooms of Whitehall. Consequently it behoves researchers to continue to probe the question of what the JIC knew, and what it may have chosen not to know, about problems such as security force collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, as well as all other aspects of intelligence and counter-terrorism policy and operations relating to the Northern Irish troubles.’ The British Joint Intelligence Committee and Ireland, 1965-72, Eunan O’Halpin, IIIS Discussion Paper No. 211, March 2007, p.4

We do not know whether the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) gave the agent Steak Knife, aka IRA spycatcher Freddie Scappaticci, the necessary legal leeway to murder in order to preserve his cover as possibly the most important British double agent during the Troubles.

But it is simply inconceivable that the JIC did not know all there was to know about Steak Knife, his position in the IRA, his importance to the fight against the IRA and the hard reality that to preserve his place in the organisation, and his value to Britain, he would have to either personally kill, or authorise others to kill.

The JIC would know that to interfere with Steak Knife’s work in the IRA, to shrink with horror from his murderous activity and end it, would be not just to doom him but to deprive the British government of a uniquely well-placed agent whose potential to undermine the IRA was irreplaceable.

The Joint Intelligence Committee brings together, inter alia, senior members of MI6, MI5, GHCQ and Defence Intelligence, as well as high-ranking officials from other government departments. Representative from close allies, such as the United States, are allowed to sit in for at least part of their weekly meetings.

The JIC’s job, simply, is to advise the British prime minister of the day on available policy options, especially in foreign policy, defence and internal security matters, based upon the intelligence that is fed into its range of committees and sub-committees.

In the case of Steak Knife, the JIC would assess his value and advise the British leader of the day on how best to use him against his comrades in the IRA. Assuming political approval was forthcoming his handlers, and their allies in Northern Ireland, would be instructed accordingly.

Steak Knife’s unique value lay in the terms of reference given to the IRA’s spycatchers, the Internal Security Unit, when it was conceived in the internment cages of Long Kesh in the mid-1970’s and established in the late 1970’s.

Amazingly, the IRA had given spy catching a low priority during the early years of the Troubles; spotting possible infiltrators was a task left to Company Intelligence Officers (IO’s) who often had other priorities. Occasionally, as in the Four Square Laundry affair, this approach worked but largely by luck.

This haphazard approach was an indication, perhaps, of the IRA’s confidence that it could inflict a speedy defeat on the British.

When it became apparent that this was not going to happen and that the IRA was going to have to engage instead in ‘a long war’ against the British, then defending the organisation against British infiltration acquired a new priority.

The Internal Security Unit (ISU) was the product of this thinking and it was given considerable powers which added to Scappaticci’s value as an agent. Prime amongst these was the authority to investigate any IRA operation that had gone awry, to question and probe all those involved and to access any part of the IRA deemed appropriate in the search for traitors.

This would have given the ISU a unique oversight of the IRA and its membership, allowing the British, via Steak Knife, to identify the IRA’s battle order, to spot candidates for recruitment, to identify their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and in that way to broaden and deepen the infiltration of the IRA.

We don’t yet know for a fact that this happened but that it did is a reasonable and even compelling assumption. If so then the ISU thus became the gateway to the subversion of the organisation.

Ironically, it was this power that led to Scappaticci’s fall. In the 1992-1993 period he launched an investigation of the Army Council and demanded the right to question its seven-man leadership.

The then Chief of Staff, Kevin McKenna was outraged and sacked Scappaticci and his staff. He returned to Belfast and to a quieter life, disturbed only when the former Force Research Unit agent handler, Ian Hurst began talking about him to the media in 1999.

With the first IRA ceasefire only a year or so away one can only assume that Scappaticci’s British handlers were behind the ill-fated move. What that plan was and if it existed at all remains one of the intriguing mysteries from the Troubles.

But it is arguable that by this stage in the IRA’s journey towards the peace process, the loss of Steak Knife was less of a blow than it seemed. One British estimate of infiltration at this time had one in three IRA members working for either MI5, RUC Special Branch or the FRU. Steak Knife, it seems, may have done his work.

There are few in-depth studies of the Joint Intelligence Committee and even fewer that have examined its work in Northern Ireland. A paper written by Trinity College Dublin historian, Eunan O’Halpin in 2007 for the Institute of International Integration Studies is the only discussion about the JIC and the Troubles admits that access to the that I was able to locate.

And even so the extent of JIC’s Irish files available to O’Halpin at the British government archive at Kew was, to say the least, limited: “…almost all material with an Irish dimension”, he wrote, “remains closed.”

This is how he described the place of the JIC in the British system:

The JIC sits at the apex of the British intelligence system; equally significantly, it is located within the Cabinet Office. By the 1960s it had acquired a quasi-judicial status in Whitehall: it was taken to be dispassionate, cerebral, and non-partisan, favouring the interests or arguments of non-individual agency or department, fearlessly putting forward independent assessments of threats to and opportunities for Britain based on all available intelligence from whatever source.

Another way of looking at the JIC is to regard it as a clearing house for intelligence. Reports are sent in to the JIC from the various agencies, digested and assessed by the vast array of working and sub-committees that populate the JIC’s bureaucacy and then presented to the full JIC which in turn deliberates and then compiles policy options for the prime minister of the day who then, in cabinet, decides what the policy will be.

Steak Knife was owned and run by the Force Research Unit (FRU) but that did not mean that his handlers were free to use him in any way they wished. If normal procedures were followed, the JIC would decide how to best utilise his skills and the final decision would be made by the prime minister of the day.

In his ‘interview’ with FRU whistleblower Ian Hurst, former GOC General Sir John Wilsey claimed that MI5/RUC really had ownership of Steak Knife’s product, an assertion consistent with a possible JIC directive. :

‘The Force Research Unit worked for MI5 and for the RUC, and all the (Steak Knife) product went to them.’

This suggests that the JIC had ordered this to happen.

Although documentary evidence was sparse, Eunan O’Halpin did come across some files in the archive at Kew that helped explain why the JIC was especially necessary in Northern Ireland.

For years, the JIC took only occasional interest in Ireland. Amid exaggerated warnings in 1966 of an IRA uprising from the RUC, a flurry of meetings preceded the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising but once that crisis had passed uneventfully, Ireland didn’t figure until the civil rights movement emerged on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1968.

Following the October 5th march in Derry, the JIC set up an ‘Ulster Working Group’ to monitor events and co-opted the Head of RUC Special Branch. But with London’s growing involvement and need for better intelligence becoming ever more urgent, so friction grew between the local RUC and especially the British Army. This intensified when the Army arrived in Belfast and Derry in August 1969 to replace the exhausted and discredited police.

O’Halpin wrote:

By the summer of 1969, Northern Ireland featured fairly regularly in JIC business. In May the chief of the army general staff complained that the RUC ‘is jealous of its independence .. the Minister for Home Affairs .. is being told only what the Inspector General deems it fit that he should hear’, a judgement duly reported to prime minister Harold Wilson. It was plain that London needed to know more about what was happening and what was likely to happen. In July the Home Office circulated a report to the JIC on ‘on the progress made in improving intelligence assessments and providing intelligence coverage of the Ulster situation’. The JIC also reflected on emerging difficulties and friction between the RUC, anxious lest any other government agency collect and forward intelligence to London independently of it, and MI5 and the army. For the next six months this became a rolling theme in JIC business…..

As the honeymoon between the British Army and the Nationalists of Belfast and Derry began to sour, and the IRA geared up for war, so the problem of RUC unwillingness to share intelligence with the military festered. The competition and suspicion that characterised police-army relations at this time would be an abiding feature of the security landscape for many years, not least rendering Panorama’s claim that during this period the RUC handed over ‘Steak Knife’ to the military hard to accept.

Halpin again:

In January 1970 the director general of MI5 (Dick White) visited Northern Ireland to discuss future security and intelligence arrangements, a clear signal that London was now taking the Northern Ireland problem seriously. The available JIC records do not say much about the detailed outcome of those discussions, although intelligence arrangements remained problematic due to the reluctance of the RUC and the British army to share material systematically and comprehensively: two years later the departing JIC secretary reported that ‘since all action has to be achieved by persuasion rather than by direct intervention, the rate of progress remains regrettably slow in some fields’. The saga of inadequate police-army cooperation in Northern Ireland was to continue for at least another decade.

Without the JIC around to butt heads or pour oil on angry waters, it is possible that the intelligence war against the IRA would have much been more problematic.

According to O’Halpin by the mid-1970’s the JIC was calling the shots in the intelligence war:

It is clear that by the mid-1970s the techniques and parameters of intelligence collection and counter-terrorist operations were not determined at the local, tactical level, but by reference to policy laid down from on high.

It was in the mid-1970’s – 1976/77 if Sir John Wilsey’s account is accurate – that Peter Jones recruited Freddie Scappaticci and just two years later that he joined, or was steered by his handlers towards the IRA’s new Internal Security Unit.

If O’Halpin is correct then the ‘techniques and parameters’ of his work with the ISU on behalf of British intelligence were decided not by Peter Jones or his FRU bosses but by the grey suits seated around the JIC’s table at 70 Whitehall, London each Thursday morning.

Amongst those ‘techniques and parameters’ would be Scappaticci’s role in executing or ordering the execution of IRA informers.

But would the mandarins actually have given Scappaticci permission to kill without any possibility of sanction? Would they even have the legal powers to make such a promise? Would that not make them accessories before and after the fact?

Common sense, a rudimentary knowledge of the criminal law and the natural caution of the bureaucrat combine to suggest that the JIC would not have given a clear answer to any of those questions. So how to deal with this problem?

There are times when taking a decision not to make a decision is actually a decision, and this may have been one of those occasions.

By not taking a position of the question of Scappaticci’s culpability for murder – but allowing it to happen nonetheless – the JIC would enjoy the luxury of benefiting from his intelligence product while not officially sharing in the burden of what he was doing to obtain it. There would be nothing on paper to incriminate the functionaries?

A classic British solution perhaps? But wasn’t that just another way of sanctioning Scappaticci’s death-dealing ways?

Perhaps Chief Constable Boutcher of Operation Kenova will eventually tell us….

  •                               *                              *                            *

An answer to that question may also lie in the character and temperament of the prime minister on whose desk the issue would eventually reside. And it is well to remember that bureaucrats survive and prosper by accurately reading their master’s – or mistresses’ – minds and wishes.

Three British prime ministers were in office during the years of Scappaticci’s career as a British spy: Jim Callaghan served between April 1976 and May 1979; John Major between November 1990 to May 1997 and Margaret Thatcher from May 1979 to November 1990.

Callaghan had the least to do with Scappaticci’s career as a spycatcher. The ISU may have been set up after he left office but it is possible, if Peter Jones had, for instance, steered Scappaticci towards the planned ISU in the months before it began its work that Callaghan may have known something about the legal and moral quandry surrounding Steak Knife’s employment. But unlikely.

John Major was around for just two years or so of Scappaticci’s service for British intelligence and these were the final years, when the IRA was also moving slowly towards its first ceasefire. His usefulness was fading and then ended within two or three years of Major entering Downing Street.

Margaret Thatcher on the other hand was prime minister for the bulk of Scappaticci’s time working for the British government. An official account of Thatcher’s dealings with the Joint Intelligence Committee paints her as someone who was, in the words one Cabinet colleague, ‘besotted with intelligence’ and fascinated by the JIC’s work.

She was the first prime minister to attend a meeting of the JIC, regularly read and commented on its reports and kept in close touch during the eleven or so years of her premiership. Given the loss of her close friend and confidante, Airey Neave at the hands of the INLA and the fact that IRA activity, inside and outside the jails, dominated her first years in office, it is not hard to imagine her following Steak Knife’s career with special interest.

Nor, if she was asked, would it be difficult to surmise what her attitude would be to the JIC’s legal and moral dilemma over Steak Knife’s activity.

Here, from the British government’s own blog, is an account of Thatcher’s relationship with the JIC. Enjoy:

Margaret Thatcher and the Joint Intelligence Committee

Soon after taking office a new Prime Minister receives special briefings from the Cabinet Secretary. One is on the ‘letters of last resort’, which give instructions to the commander of the British submarine on patrol with the nuclear deterrent, in the event of an attack that destroys the Government. Another briefing outlines the structure and control of the intelligence machinery, including the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in the Cabinet Office. Sir John Hunt, the Cabinet Secretary in 1979, briefed Margaret Thatcher on the intelligence structure, including counter-subversion activities, the day after her election victory of 3 May.

Margaret Thatcher arrives at Number 10 Downing Street 1979

Margaret Thatcher arrives at Number 10 Downing Street 1979

Thatcher had started a programme of visits to Government departments to see first-hand what some of the 732,000 officials inherited from James Callaghan’s administration actually did. In September, during a routine briefing by Brian Tovey, the Director of GCHQ, Thatcher showed great interest in the way in which intelligence was collated and assessed by the JIC, stressing that assessment should be free from policy (or political) considerations. She also expressed a wish to attend a JIC meeting. It would be the first time a Prime Minister had attended the JIC since its creation in 1936.

It fell to Sir John Hunt, a former Secretary of the JIC, to make the arrangements, but there were complications. First, the JIC Chairman, Sir Antony Duff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), had also been made Deputy Governor of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after the British Government assumed direct rule of the rebellious colony. He was a key participant in the Lancaster House Conference, aiming finally to settle the Rhodesian problem, and could not be sure to attend the JIC until after its conclusion. Second, the JIC normally met on Thursday mornings in 70 Whitehall, which was also when the Cabinet met in 10 Downing Street, so a special JIC meeting would need to be arranged.

Extra work was also needed. The agenda of the Committee typically related to events of immediate interest and focused on Soviet (and other powers’) capabilities, opportunities and aims. Thatcher had asked deeper questions about the longer-term motivation and intentions of the Soviet Government and it was thought wise to include papers on this topic at the JIC meeting she was to attend. Two relevant papers were in preparation. One covered the long-term aims of Soviet foreign policy, but not the underlying motivation. A second sought to define the characteristics of the Soviet Union in the forthcoming decade. Hunt also commissioned a third, to analyse, in depth, the broader thinking and rationale of the Soviet leaders.

In a briefing note prepared for Thatcher by the JIC’s Secretary and the Intelligence Co-ordinator, the JIC’s main responsibilities were described, including the difference between policy-making officials and elected ministers:

[the JIC’s] main function is to assemble, evaluate and present joint intelligence on events, situations and problems in the field of external affairs and defence as may be required by the Cabinet, individual Ministers or the Chiefs of Staff, or as the Committee consider necessary. This means that the JIC provides a forum for the approval of interdepartmentally agreed assessments where the main customer Departments for intelligence are brought together with the intelligence agencies. The JIC provides assessments for use by policy makers; it is not within its terms of reference to discuss policy or make policy recommendations.

Thatcher’s visit took place on Friday, leap year day 1980, in the JIC room (room 215) in the Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall. It began at 10.00am immediately after she had chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Office Oversea and Defence Committee. She was provided with a ‘quicker, more convenient and discrete route’ to the room, using a ‘normally unused security door’. Thatcher set aside a full two hours for the session which took place under high security – even her own official diary merely contained a bland entry: “Keep free for Cabinet Office.” She sat at the head of the conference table between Sir Antony Acland (who had succeeded Duff as Chairman) and Sir Robert Armstrong, the new Cabinet Secretary. All members of the Committee attended, including the ten British officials from intelligence and policy departments, ranging from the Chief of the JIC Assessments Staff and ‘C’, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, to representatives from the FCO and Ministry of Defence, and the Intelligence Co-ordinator. Also in attendance, as was normal, were representatives of the UK’s closest allies, who were present for the discussion of current intelligence and then withdrew.

The JIC Chairman opened proceedings by welcoming the Prime Minister and declaring that her presence was ‘as far as could be established without precedence’, continuing that ‘the Committee were gratified and encouraged by the Prime Minister’s interest in intelligence, and her attendance at this meeting would be a stimulus to its work’. The Committee then discussed, as was customary, items of current intelligence.

Thatcher offered her support for these regular, weekly updates but also suggested that the language they employed was ‘nuanced’. ‘It would be helpful’, she explained, ‘if key judgments in the assessments could be highlighted by placing them in eye-catching sentences couched in plainly expressed language’. This was an understandable criticism of the JIC papers, but also suggested a potentially dangerous precedent, for it implied making often vague and fragmentary intelligence clearer and more definitive than it necessarily ought to be.  Perhaps as a result, Acland agreed to ‘consider’ revising their ‘presentation’.

The Committee then moved onto its more substantive work, following the withdrawal of the allied liaison officers, considering a longer draft assessment on Soviet foreign policy in the 1980s, focussing on how the recent invasion of Afghanistan might affect future decisions. Thatcher did not intervene, and there is no record of her expressing any views on the topic. Thereafter several minor administrative matters were discussed, relating to the ‘utility of JIC assessments’.

Thatcher later commented how valuable the session had been in helping her to see the Committee’s reports in context. She left the Committee with views on how the material should best be presented for ministerial consumption, stating that ‘the work of the Committee is of considerable importance and it is essential therefore that it should be presented to the best effect.’ Quite what Thatcher intended has not been preserved; neither has any record of an internal discussion within the JIC structure. In practice there was a change, though it does not seem to have followed from the specific point raised by the Prime Minister. Items of current intelligence in the Weekly Survey of Intelligence or ‘Red Book’, as it is known, had, until that point, provided details of the sources of intelligence. Following Thatcher’s intervention these were removed.

Margaret Thatcher continued to take a close interest in the working of the Committee, ranging from frequent annotations on its weekly reports to a more critical discussion with Sir Patrick Wright (Acland’s successor as Chairman) on 25 April 1982, just over three weeks after the surprise Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands. The subsequent review, chaired by retired diplomat Lord Franks, recommended that future JIC Chairmen should be independent and appointed by the Prime Minister. According to her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, Thatcher was ‘positively besotted’ by intelligence. Part of the explanation is provided in the recollections of the final JIC Chairman under Thatcher, Sir Percy Cradock, who eloquently summarised her views and passion:

Mrs Thatcher respected intelligence and had a keen appetite for it. She was aware from personal experience that we lived in a dangerous world… She was aware that Britain had a powerful intelligence machine, was good at the game, and enjoyed in consequence valuable influence in Washington. That mattered… The value and prestige of the intelligence services gained in consequence. How was policy affected? The policy-makers were well informed and often forearmed. British ministers had consistently better briefs than foreign colleagues. The Prime Minister was given the underpinning for a robust and expert response to the multifarious threats to the British interests…

Media Coverage Of Syria; No Different From Iraq, Libya, Iran or Gaza

Media Lens, with some caustic coverage of the media response to the Syrian gassing incident/attack. Makes depressing reading. You can read it all here:

Scappaticci: Did Panorama Pull Its Punches?

Did These British Prime Ministers Know About ‘Steak Knife’ And Authorise His Licence To Kill?

I was disappointed in last night’s BBC Panorama special on Freddie Scappaticci, the British Army spy in the IRA known by his code-name ‘Steak Knife’ or ‘Stakeknife’.

There were a number of reasons. No mention of Peter Jones, the Force Research Unit handler who, according to a former British Army GOC in Northern Ireland, recruited and handled Scappaticci.

No mention of the GOC, General Sir John Wilsey who wrote a fascinating chapter about Jones and ‘Steak Knife’ in his book ‘The Ulster Tales’ which was featured recently on this site. Wilsey was one of the few outside the Force Research Unit who met Scappaticci.

There are flaws and falsehoods in Wilsey’s account to be sure. Scappaticci is portrayed in his book as an IRA ingenue, who was on the fringes of the organisation when he and Jones met. In fact Scappaticci was an IRA veteran by 1976, a former internee, when, according to Wilsey, he crossed paths with Peter Jones.

Having said that it was clear (from the contents of a taped phone conversation between Wilsey and Ian Hurst, aka ‘Martin Ingram’) that Wilsey was under considerable pressure from the British security authorities to not even write about Scappaticci and that he therefore massaged basic facts so as to disguise his real identity.

That certainly raises serious questions about his account but I still found it more credible than the version presented by Panorama reporter John Ware, which was that the RUC Fraud Squad initially had Scappaticci on their books but then handed him over to the British Army. Really? And what did the RUC Special Branch have to say about that, I wonder?

All this and other quibbles I had with the programme fade into insignificance however compared to the glaring hole in the middle.

A spy like Scappaticci who was regarded as ‘the golden egg’, as Wilsey called him, and the most important IRA double agent on the books of British intelligence would inevitably come to the attention of the British government at its highest levels.

And given that it was inevitable that in order to survive as a spy Scappaticci would have to kill or authorise killings, no British intelligence agency would dare give him the go-ahead without the highest possible political endorsement and approval.

This means that Scappaticci’s activities would have to be discussed by the British Cabinet’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), whose deliberations and conclusions – and formulations of rules governing intelligence operations – are shared and endorsed by the British prime minister of the day.

If Scappaticci was allowed by his handlers to kill it was because his handlers – and their bosses – had been given the green light by the prime minister of the day. To do otherwise would be like stepping into an Arctic snow storm naked.

If, as seems to be the case, he began spying for the British in 1976 and left the Internal Security Unit circa 1992/93, then, if all this is true, three British prime ministers, two of them now dead, authorised murder in Northern Ireland . They were James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

And that, dear reader, is why Jon Boutcher will get nowhere with his probe into Freddie Scappaticci.

Scappaticci: When ‘Steak Knife’ Divided The Irish Media

Watching last night’s BBC Panorama special on Freddie Scappaticci, I was struck by the media consensus that now surrounds the existence of the British Army spy in the IRA, ‘Steak Knife’, now known as ‘Stakeknife‘ by all and sundry (with the exception of this site), thanks to a court injunction. Everyone now believes ‘Steak Knife’ existed.

It wasn’t always so.

For a long time, at least until 2003 when Freddie Scappaticci was outed by a Sunday newspaper, belief in the existence of ‘Steak Knife‘ or otherwise was regarded as a surrogate for attitudes towards the then still fragile peace process.

When I say that, I mean that in the eyes of peace process advocates in the media – and there were and are divisions along these lines in the Belfast press – to express any level of belief in the Steak Knife story was tantamount to being opposed to the direction Gerry Adams and his allies were taking the IRA.

The Steak Knife story was broken by the late Liam Clarke in August 1999, just over a year after the Good Friday Agreement. In tribute to Liam, I reproduce his article in The Sunday Times of  August 8th, 1999 below.

There were, admittedly, flaws and weaknesses in the story. The source was grandiosely and inaccurately called a ‘spymaster’ when in fact he was a junior NCO, a corporal if my memory serves me right, in an unnamed unit of British military intelligence.

The source was given a false name, ‘Martin Ingram’, although this was not known at the time. And his unit in the intelligence world was not identified.

All this, and the fact that the spy was not identified but described as ‘the crown jewel’ of British intelligence sources and his status and existence supported by no other evidence made it a controversial story. Liam wrote it up because he had reason to believe ‘Ingram’, either because ‘Ingram’ was especially persuasive or had provided evidence that he could not publish.

Either way it was a one source story. Liam had faith in his one source but how could others share it?

Not long afterwards ‘Martin Ingram’ (real name: Ian Hurst) rang me and we arranged to meet in Dublin. I came away from the meeting impressed by him and what he had told me, and believing that this was a story that had to be followed up.

Eventually, ‘Ingram’ would give me documentary and photographic evidence proving that he was a member of British military intelligence and that the unit he worked for was called the Force Research Unit. As for the existence of ‘Steak Knife‘, that had not yet been established. ‘Ingram’ knew the name but was not telling.

Not all journalists were as keen to follow the story up. Sinn Fein spread the word that Liam Clarke’s story was the work of ‘securocrats’ – remember them? – who wanted to bring the peace process crashing down.

The charge had a certain credibility because of the days that were in it. The process was still fragile in late 1999. Killings were continuing – Rosemary Nelson, Eamon Collins and Frankie Curry were among the victims that year – the Provos and Unionists were squabbling over IRA decommissioning and the formation of the power sharing Executive promised by the previous year’s Good Friday Agreement was as distant as ever.

So the sudden appearance of a claim that the British had a major spy in the ranks and that there was an associated if only implied suggestion that the spy may have helped steer the Provos towards the peace process was, immediately denounced by Sinn Fein as a dirty trick.

And a significant and influential section of the media in Northern Ireland agreed.

By this stage the media in Belfast had, in considerable measure, divided into camps differentiated by their approach to the peace process. The pro-process camp in large measure closed up shop and contented themselves with simple daily reportage of events. But no digging worth the name. The school eventually adopted the moniker: ‘Peace Journalism’.

They accused those who wouldn’t go along with this, who approached the peace process as they would any other story, as being politically motivated, propelled by a desire to do the process damage.

I don’t know if Liam Clarke was placed in this camp (and I had my own differences with him down the years) but I suspect he was. I know that I certainly was. I remember at one point being roundly denounced for writing about Steak Knife by one reporter. ‘You want it to be true’, was the thrust of the accusation.

So forgive me if I take a wry satisfaction watching members of that camp now falling over themselves to appear on TV programmes about Freddie Scappaticci.

Here is Liam Clarke’s original article about Steak Knife (note his spelling) in The Sunday Times. For reasons that defy explanation I could not recover the final paragraph(s). Enjoy:

The British Spy at Heart of IRA
Sunday Times (London) August 8, 1999,
By Liam Clarke

Britain’s spy network in Northern Ireland finds that money talks. A senior IRA figure in the province is the army’s top agent, earning up to Pounds 60,000 a year for vital information. Liam Clarke talks to a former spymaster who reveals how the system works

Martin Ingram was on night shift at the British military intelligence headquarters in Northern Ireland when one of the phones rang. It was the hotline – a number known only to and reserved for Britain’s most cherished agent, a man known by the codename Steak Knife.

Steak Knife was and is the crown jewel of British intelligence in Ulster, a man at the heart of the IRA’s war effort who had to be kept happy at all costs. His source reports were read by ministers. His output was, and remains, so prolific that two handlers and four collators work full-time on them.His identity is a matter of national security but the RUC sergeant at the other end of the line just blurted it out. “We have arrested a Mr Padraic Pearse (not his real name) and he gave us this number to contact. He says he works for a man called Paddy …” giving the cover name of a military intelligence handler. Steak Knife had played his “get out of jail free” card and was released a few hours later.

Ingram was appalled that the RUC had forced Steak Knife into this position. “I will never reveal the identity of any agent but that is how easily it can come out,” he said. It was not the first or last time the RUC, whose special branch is well aware of the IRA man’s double role, had approached a key agent it was desperate to poach from the army.

“They told him they would expose him unless he worked for them, they put out arrest-on-sight warrants, they accused him of holding information back. They even sweet-talked him but they couldn’t match the money we were giving him and couldn’t make him trust them.”

Steak Knife had originally been a walk-in. For reasons never explained, he turned against his comrades and, almost casually, had strolled into an army base far from his home and offered to help.

Though now a wealthy man, he cannot attract attention by spending the cash he receives. He also knows he may never live to enjoy his tax-free fortune. His Pounds 50,000-Pounds 60,000 annual retainer and lavish bonuses lie gathering interest in a building society account held in a false name.

He has frequently threatened to retire and to buy a business. He has always been tempted back by the promise of more riches to come and his apparent addiction to the deadly game he plays with his own life and the lives of

others. INGRAM never planned to enter this hall of mirrors. An army barmy teenager from the Midlands in England, he sought a man’s life in the Parachute Regiment. On basic training, he was talent-spotted and invited to attend an interview at the Intelligence Corps in Ashford, Kent.

He passed out of basic training in late 1980 and was posted to a unit called 3SCT in Northern Ireland. His first job was to programme the corps’s main Northern Ireland computer system. Soon he was moved to 121 Intelligence, which prepared reports for Major General James Glover, the second most senior soldier in Northern Ireland.

In both these posts, he had access to a wealth of raw intelligence data that he was expected to read and process. It came mainly as Misers (military intelligence source reports), which listed intelligence given by individual agents at briefings, cross-references to notes on people, vehicles and places the agents had mentioned to their handlers.

There were reports from agents working for MI5, the British internal security service. These files, known as Box 500 reports because of the service’s London address, were complemented by reports from MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency that monitors terrorist contacts with countries such as Libya and Syria. RUC special branch reports were passed on to the army on a strict need-to-know basis through the Tasking and Co-ordination Group which co-ordinated security force activity across the services.

Ingram and his fellow programmers examined these reports and played a grim game where they tried to guess the identity of the agents working for the various agencies.

It was clear that most of the MI5 agents were in the republic. The most prolific, codenamed Eamon, was a high-ranking Garda officer who met his handler regularly at Dublin airport. In Northern Ireland, a leading Sinn Fein figure was on the MI5 payroll, providing a steady stream of internal policy documents and reports on republican thinking on the move into politics after the 1981 hunger strike.

RUC agents tended to be low to middle-ranking IRA members, often recruited as……

Scappaticci: That Panorama Programme

A quick verdict: hmmmmmmm. lots of holes. more anon. Go here.

Has Trump’s Son Let The Cat Out Of The Bag On Syria Raid?

An enterprising interview with one of Donald Trump’s sons, Eric, by of all people, The Daily Telegraph makes one wonder about the mental stability of the Trump clan.

With nearly all the US media ignoring one of the most obvious motives for the strike against one of Assad’s airbases in Syria, i.e. that it would distance Trump from Assad’s ally Putin and quell all that nasty Congressional speculation about Trump being in Putin’s back pocket, the last thing any of his relatives should be doing is breathing life into the corpse.

But Eric Trump has done precisely that, telling the Telegraph that the Syria raid showed that his father was ‘not in league’ with Putin and will not be ‘pushed around’ by the Russian  leader. He added:

“If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.”

These statements beg the obvious question. If all this was a consequence of the Syrian raid, was it also possibly one of the motives? Or should we instead believe that it didn’t cross any minds in the White House that attacking a Putin ally just might help to banish or at least diminish Trump’s Russian scandal?

Donald Trump’s decision to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria proved he is not in league with Russia and will not be “pushed around” by Vladimir Putin, the US President’s son has told The Daily Telegraph.

Eric Trump said his father was not intimidated by President Putin’s talk of war, and there would be “no-one harder” than President Trump if they “cross us”.

He also confirmed that President Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airbase to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a nerve gas attack last week was influenced by the reaction of his sister Ivanka, who said she was “heartbroken and outraged” by the atrocity.

It came as Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said Russia would face fresh sanctions if it did not pull its armed forces out of Syria and end its support for Assad.

As foreign ministers of the G7 group of nations met to agree the best way to put pressure on Mr Putin, Mr Johnson said the US missile strike had “changed the game” and Russia now “needs a way out” because association with Assad’s “toxic regime is…poisoning the reputation of Russia”.

In a significant hardening of US policy, Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, is understood to have told Mr Johnson America now backs regime change in Syria. On Sunday he had refused to call directly for Assad to go.

Ahead of the G7 meeting in Italy, Mr Tillerson said the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War would “serve as an inspiration to us all” as he visited a memorial in Italy to 560 people, including 130 children, massacred by the Waffen-SS in 1944.

He said: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

The Kremlin responded by trying to belittle Mr Tillerson, saying he was not scheduled to meet Mr Putin, contrary to reports that he would.

 It also announced that a Kilo-class submarine had successfully carried out a cruise missile test in the Baltic Sea, having previously warned that it would retaliate if there were further US missile strikes in Syria.

The US State Department said it did not expect imminent regime change, and its immediate priority was stabilising Syria.

However, a White House spokesman said last night: “If you gas a baby, you’re going to see a reaction from this President.”

Writing in Tuesday’s Telegraph, William Hague, the former foreign secretary, says that the “sad truth” has now dawned on President Trump – that “Russia under Putin is not a reliable partner”.

Eric and Ivanka Trump
Eric Trump with his sister Ivanka Credit: Reuters

Mr Trump’s son Eric, 33, who has taken over the running of his father’s property empire with his brother, Donald Jnr, warned Mr Putin his father was “deeply committed” to building what could be the world’s largest ever peacetime military force as he is a “big believer” in Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of achieving peace through strength.

President Trump pledged to improve relations with Mr Putin during his campaign for the White House but his new administration has been plagued with allegations of close entanglements with Russian officials.

Eric Trump said his father was merely arguing that the US should try to be “best friends with other superpowers” if that was possible and described allegations of links with the Russian regime as “ridiculous”.

He said: “If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.”

Speaking at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire, he said: “If they disrespect us and if they cross us, fine. There will be no one harder – he has got more backbone than anybody. We’re no worse off than we were before. Maybe we’re finding that we can’t be.”

Asked about Mr Putin’s threats of military escalation over Syria, he said: “He is not a guy who gets intimidated. I can tell you he is tough and he won’t be pushed around. The cards will shake out the way they do but he’s tough.”

Mr Trump said his father was “deeply affected” by the television images in the aftermath of the Syrian chemical attack of children being “sprayed down by hoses to keep their skin from burning.”

The businessman, whose wife is pregnant with their first child, said: “It was horrible. These guys are savages and I’m glad he responded the way he responded.”

He added: “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that.

“And by the way, he was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago. Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.”

Mr Trump rejected claims his father had acted impulsively after seeing the images, saying the President was “a great thinker, practical not impulsive.” He added: “I’m proud he took that action and believe me he thinks things through.”

Mr Johnson said that Mr Tillerson would go to Russia later this week with a “very clear” message from the G7 countries: “Do they want to stick with a toxic regime, do they want to be eternally associated with a guy who gases his own people, or do they want to work with the Americans and the rest of the G7 and like-minded countries for a new future for Syria?”

He said the gas attack and subsequent US bombing of a Syrian air base had presented “a very substantial opportunity” to find a political solution to the six-year civil war.

He added that the G7 meeting in Lucca, which continues on Tuesday, would discuss the possibility of sanctions against Syrian and Russian “military figures” involved in coordinating Syrian bombing.

Mr Johnson’s decision to cancel a trip to Moscow before the G7 meeting came under fresh scrutiny when Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, arrived in Moscow on an official visit on Monday, ahead of talks with Mr Putin on Tuesday.

The Italian ministry of foreign affairs muddled the message coming from the G7 meeting by saying “the total eradication” of Isil in Syria and Iraq, as well as combating terrorism and violent extremism, were priorities for the G7 countries.

Mr Johnson said he had cancelled his own trip to Moscow because it was vital “for the world to present a united front and for there to be absolutely no ambiguity” in the message taken to Mr Putin.

Asked why he thought the threat of sanctions against Russia would work now when it has not worked in the past, he said: “I think the Russians need a way out and a way forward.”

Freddie Scappaticci: Profile of Peter Jones, The FRU Handler Of ‘Steak Knife’

The more sharp-eyed of my readers would have noticed references in Ian Hurst’s ‘interview’ with General Sir John Wilsey to a ‘Peter Jones’ or ‘PJ’, being the British Army’s handler of ‘Steak Knife’, real name Freddie Scappaticci, who was arguably the most valuable British spy in the IRA’s ranks during the Troubles.

Wilsey was quite open about Jones to Hurst because he had written about him at length in his book: ‘The Ulster Tales: A Tribute To Those Who Served 1969-2000’, which was published in 2011.

General Sir John Wilsey, GOC NI 1990-1993

The book presents the life stories of ten people who Wilsey regards as having being in one way or another emblematic of Britain’s military involvement in Northern Ireland. His subjects range from the widow of the most senior British army officer killed in the Warrenpoint ambush to the head of British intelligence at Stormont who oversaw the secret links to the IRA’s Martin McGuinness during the peace process.

The book is really very interesting and well worth reading for those addicted to the Troubles. It is available on Kindle, which is handy for those running out of book shelf space.

Wilsey, who writes well, devotes a chapter to Jones under the heading ‘The Source Handler’s Tale’ and presents a story of Scappaticci’s recruitment distinctly at variance from the conventional tale. Scappaticci is never named in the book and is known only by the fictional codename, ‘Kerbstone‘.

‘Steak Knife’. The code name for Freddie Scappaticci, who Gen. WIlsey calls ‘Kerbstone’ in his chapter on Peter Jones. This photo was taken around the time that he was outed as an alleged spy, a charge which he denied at a press conference in Belfast.

The version commonly accepted for years was that Scap, as he was widely known, decided to approach the British after he was badly beaten by a rival in the IRA; his motive was revenge.

Wilsey’s account is entirely different and says the recruitment derived from a drinking friendship Peter Jones had struck up sometime after 1976 when his regiment was posted to North Belfast.

According to Wilsey, Peter Jones had served in Belfast in the early 1960’s with the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and was stationed at Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down from where got to know Belfast and its people well.

He met his wife there and made friends outside military circles, getting to know the culture and the language. When the Troubles broke out and he returned to the city it was as a military intelligence officer who knew more about Belfast than most of his peers.

On his own initiative he set out to try to identify possible sources and visited bars and drinking clubs where it was known that republicans socialised.

It was on one such expedition that he met and befriended ‘Kerbstone‘ who initially had no idea who Jones really was. When ‘Kerbstone‘, whose links to the IRA were initially tenuous, began to criticise the IRA’s violence, Jones revealed himself and recruited him. ‘Kerbstone‘ was then offered an important job by the IRA – presumably in its Internal Security Unit. British intelligence had struck gold.

It is of course possible that one reason for ‘Kerbstone‘s’ disenchantment with the IRA was that he had been given a bad beating by someone acting on its behalf but if so, Wilsey makes no mention of such an incident.

Wilsey is less than straight about Scappaticci’s IRA links; he presents him as being initially on the fringes whereas he was significant enough to have been interned in Long Kesh, long before he and Peter Jones crossed paths. Clearly an imperative governing this chapter was not to give away anything that could identify Scappaticci.

Photo of Peter Jones on graduation day taken from Wilsey’s book

On Scap’s recruitment, Wilsey writes: ‘Like a skilled and patient fisherman, PJ read the water well. He bided his time until, intuitively, he judged the moment right to cast his fly. He then hooked and landed his fish. This fish represented the Security Forces’ biggest intelligence breakthrough at the time and, arguably, the Army’s most significant single contribution to the whole campaign. PJ had secured a priceless asset that would run and run.’

One aspect of the ‘Steak Knife’ affair that Wilsey does not touch upon in the chapter is to what extent ownership of Scappaticci gave an advantage to the military in ‘the big swinging dick’ contest with the RUC Special Branch, which was apparently eager to tempt the agent to work for them, or MI5. In the intelligence world ownership of the most valuable sources brought more than bragging rights and it would be surprising if Jones did not share in the glory.

Is Wilsey’s account true? Who knows. Freddie Scappaticci knows, I guess, but I suspect he is not telling. Anyway it is a ripping yarn. Here is the chapter on Peter Jones. Enjoy:

The Source Handler’s Tale

Author’s Introduction:

My fourth tour, in 1976, took me back to Belfast, this time as a Company Commander responsible for the troublesome areas adjacent to the New Lodge Road and Crumlin Road in the north of the city. This was a flash-point: one of the places where the Catholic community felt threatened by their neighbours, and vice versa. It was where IRA Volunteers lived, and from where they mounted their attacks.

By now the Troubles had already lasted longer than the Second World War. Pitched battles between the two opposing communities had reduced in frequency and intensity, and the RUC routinely handled whatever residual disorder remained. Reflecting greater confidence in the police, a new policy of ‘Police Primacy’ had been announced whereby the RUC assumed the lead in the fight against terrorism. In other words, the roles of the RUC and Army had been reversed and the Army were subordinated to the RUC, except in the most difficult areas like South Armagh.

The Army now set about revising some of its earlier priorities and methods. Initially, in their urgency to restore law and order, soldiers had been too indiscriminate and vigorous; too many citizens had been unnecessarily inconvenienced and alienated, too many random arrests had been made, and some wholly unjustifiable incidents had occurred, as the Saville Inquiry indicated. A dilemma for the Security Forces in any democracy is to ensure that operations are targeted at those who take up arms against the State, whilst those that do not break the law but may sympathise with the cause of those perpetrating violence are left alone. This requires subtlety, good discipline and, above all, accurate local intelligence.

The absence initially of the latter (for the reasons explained in other Tales) was what the Army had to rectify. Intelligence gathering became a priority; consequently, it became imperative for those who directed and engaged in armed conflict to thwart, by all possible means, the Army’s endeavour to improve its intelligence. They tried, and sometimes succeeded, by smearing the methods and legality of intelligence gathering.

Recording what this concentration on intelligence meant in practice, I want to describe something of the work of Peter Jones of my Regiment, who had once been a young soldier in my platoon. He was one of those dedicated and brave soldiers with the rare aptitude and confidence to work undercover.

His is the Source Handler’s Tale.

                                                                  * * *

(In this chapter alone some identities have been disguised)

Peter Jones passes unnoticed in a crowd. Yet this dyslexic former Warrant Officer in the British infantry played so significant a role in Britain’s fight against terrorism during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, that his work as a source handler –that is, a recruiter and controller of those prepared to assist the Security Forces –was formally recognised by the award, not just of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal but later of the George Medal too. At the time, only one other serviceman –a bomb disposal officer –held this double distinction.

Notwithstanding his remarkable record, within a few years of leaving the Army Jones was divorced, bankrupt, living rough and forced to sell his medals to make ends meet. A proud and private man, he alerted no one to his plight. Friends and former colleagues, who noticed that he was drinking too much and did not seem himself, assumed this was part of a new undercover persona he had had to adopt, and did not enquire further.

Sadly, the reality, as will emerge later, was different.

Peter Jones, known as PJ, was a wartime baby, one of twin boys born in Poole, Dorset on 21 September 1944 shortly after the Allied Liberation of Paris. His shrewd, pretty mother was from the lovely Devon village of Lustleigh. His father, from nearby Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor, worked for an asphalt company in Parkstone.

The family’s achievements were notable. Both of PJ’s brothers went to university. The elder, David, now deceased, became a senior partner of accountants Price Waterhouse International and lived in comfortable retirement in the British Virgin Islands. PJ’s twin brother is a physicist responsible for the research and development programme of Raychem, a US defence contractor.

Earlier generations of Joneses were interesting too. PJ’s maternal grandfather fought at the relief of Ladysmith in the Anglo-Boer War of 1901, and his paternal great-great-grandfather, Richard Trevithick from Helston in Cornwall, was the famous inventor who converted the first steam engine at a tin mine to run on rails. As PJ dryly recalls, one forebear was the Mayor of Penzance, another a pirate from Penzance.

An active and quick-witted boy with an enquiring mind, PJ was severely handicapped at school by dyslexia. No one recognised the condition then, or even that his learning was impaired. Thus his academic attainments were dismal. Yet a fit, inquisitive and gregarious boy like PJ was exactly the sort of young man the Army sought, although they might not have realised it until his formidable mother drew it to their attention.

One day the teenage Jones appeared before Poole magistrates for pilfering cigarettes from a beach kiosk. His powerful mother, likened by PJ to Margaret Thatcher in full flow, represented him and told the Bench that he would be joining the Army the next day. This was news to PJ. But the Justices were impressed and bound the boy over, enabling Mrs Jones to deliver her son the next morning for enlistment in his local County Regiment.

The Army brings out the best in certain types. It has had decades of experience in encouraging and developing practical and self-reliant young men and women who might, for lack of formal qualification, be considered otherwise unpromising. Army selection staff set greater store by emotional intelligence –EQ –than IQ. The former claims to identify useful practical qualities such as intuition, adaptability and the ability to relate to others, things not assessed by the more usual Intelligence Quotient.

Jones possessed EQ in full measure and easily passed selection. He was enlisted in Exeter on 10 June 1960 into the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment (subsumed into The Rifles in 2007) as a Junior Soldier. This regiment –not showy, but with a fine reputation –prided itself on its close affinity with its counties, its dependability and its family cohesion which, in all ranks, stretched back generations.

PJ’s training began at the Nissen-hutted Heathfield Camp in Honiton, Devon where he made friends easily and relished a more practical and stimulating environment than he had experienced at school. On reaching seventeen and a half –the Army’s definition of ‘adulthood’ –PJ joined the 1st Battalion of his regiment, then stationed on the outskirts of Plymouth. He was drafted into the Signal Platoon because ex-junior soldiers tended to secure the better jobs. Here Jones was required to receive and send Morse code at a minimum of twelve words a minute, but his still undiagnosed dyslexia handicapped his ability to record messages fast and accurately. The results were often incomprehensible, and so he was transferred to the Anti-Tank Platoon, where brawn counted for more than brains.

Peter Jones’ Linkedin profile, page 1

Linkedin profile, page 2

In the early 1960s the Army was adjusting to the end of National Service. Conscription had provided abundant manpower but this was often poorly directed, even misused. Furthermore, without a clearly defined role or challenge, garrison soldiering in Plymouth was dull, especially for a highspirited young man. But Jones’s fortunes were to change. In July 1963 his regiment was posted to Northern Ireland, where it was due to remain for the next couple of years.

Jones’s unit moved into Palace Barracks, Holywood, in County Down, one of only four regular Army barracks then in the Province, and generally considered the best. Situated a few miles outside Belfast, it had sweeping views across Belfast Lough to the distant Antrim shore. Shorts’ airfield at Sydenham and Harland and Wolff’s shipyard were thriving, and vessels of every size and nationality plied the Lough.

Northern Ireland was then what soldiers called a ‘plum posting’. New arrivals were struck immediately by the people’s friendliness. It was a real pleasure to serve in a place where, unlike naval Plymouth, soldiers were popular. Smiling local girls queued at the barrack gate for the weekly NAAFI dances where the Swinging Sixties swung. There was kudos in marrying a soldier. It afforded opportunities and raised horizons otherwise denied to most local girls, many of whom felt claustrophobic in the Province. Girls single-mindedly pursued partners, and most young soldiers –PJ among them –could hardly believe their good fortune at finding such easy companionship and pleasure.

PJ should have lived in camp, but discreetly broke the rules and slept out locally. With other Devon and Dorset friends, he frequented the bars and night-spots of Belfast. It was through contacts made at SammyHouston’s Jazz Club in downtown Belfast that he met the twenty-one-year-old model, Margaret Power, daughter of a well known Belfast businessman and distiller of Powers whiskey. She would later become his wife.

There were few indicators in the early sixties that the community was deeply divided, or that so massive and ingrained were the resentments on both sides that, within six years, the peace would be shattered, never to be restored during the twentieth century.

Soldiers knew of the IRA, of course. That was why –unusually in the United Kingdom –the police were armed. Yet it was startling to alight from the Liverpool ferry and find a policeman armed with a heavy .303 rifle at the bottom of the gangplank. Equally, new arrivals were intrigued when playing local rugby sides to be told, with a conspiratorial wink, that their opponent’s massively built front row were all good ‘B Men’ –in other words, ‘B Specials’.

The security of military armouries in Ulster was taken particularly seriously, following various IRA break-ins, but otherwise the job was similar to soldiering in England. Yet life was a great deal more relaxed and congenial. Even the Republican pubs and clubs of Belfast, such as Dubarrys, were haunts where PJ and other off-duty soldiers in civilian clothes, as long as they were not quarrelsome, could safely down their pints and join in the rebel songs.

Jones’s agreeable circumstances changed when the Devon and Dorsets were hurriedly deployed to a minor insurrection on the other side of the Atlantic. In the early sixties Britain’s Armed Forces were still deployed around the globe policing the remnants of her former Empire. Trouble had bubbled up in British Guiana, the small Caribbean country on the north-east coast of South America, where the two indigenous communities –African and East Indian –had embarked on a campaign of riot, murder and intimidation.

Nowadays this would be described as ethnic cleansing –and would probably involve the United Nations. But then, the colonial power –with the Governor representing the Queen’s authority –had the responsibility of intervening and restoring order in classical colonial policing style.

The man who outed ‘Steak Knife’ – former FRU soldier, Ian Hurst, aka Martin Ingram

In these circumstances, an eager young Lance Corporal Peter Jones arrived up-country at Mackenzie on the Esquibo River to find his Company confronted with the grisly aftermath of an inter-communal massacre, with hundreds of mutilated bodies floating down the river.

Here it was that PJ got his first taste of intelligence work. A native had been arrested, and in an amateurish field interrogation PJ invited him “to spill the beans.”

“We have no beans to eat, man, let alone to spill!” exclaimed the poor suspect indignantly.

PJ’s sojourn in British Guiana was short, but helped him mature. A more grown-up young man returned to Northern Ireland after nine months and rekindled former relationships in Belfast. In January 1966, aged twenty-two, he was married in the Belfast Registry Office to his previous girlfriend, Margaret Power. They honeymooned in Canada, with a week spent at Niagara Falls.

Later that year PJ and Margaret moved with his regiment to Munster in West Germany, which was then one of the British Army of the Rhine’s largest garrisons. By now Jones had been promoted to corporal and was a section commander responsible for eight men in one of the rifle companies.

Service in Germany was monotonous for those who were slack or who had been stationed there too long. However, for the active and adventurous it could be most agreeable. Numerous sporting opportunities were available once the large annual autumn exercises were over. Skiing had the greatestappeal. Each year championships were held in the Alps, where regimental teams headed when the first snows fell. Competition at unit, divisional and army level was keen and standards were high. Even experienced racers found the Downhill Race –usually set on an Olympic or World Cup practice run –a formidable challenge. For novices like PJ, barely in control yet going flat out down seemingly vertical drops, the races were terrifying. Often unable to sleep before a big race and needing all his willpower and courage to get down the course, PJ nevertheless became the highest placed infantry novice. By the end of the season he had proved to himself and colleagues his determination and physical courage.

After four years in Germany, Corporal and Mrs Jones moved to Exeter, where PJ was to train young recruits joining his own and other West Country regiments. This was a normal career progression for a young NCO, offering wider experience and the chance of promotion into the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess. Two years later, PJ returned to his regiment –now back from Germany and stationed at Gillingham in Kent –as Sergeant Jones. That autumn he went to Kenya on exercise, where he was selected to be the Intelligence Sergeant.

The essence of military intelligence is inquisitiveness: burrowing around to make sense of the many random snippets of information gleaned from observation and other sources in order to build up, and hopefully complete, an overall intelligence picture. Another skill is making useful deductions from each new fact or development, by enquiring “So what?” After the novelty and glamour of being ‘in intelligence’ wears off, few soldiers show the patience and tenacity to stick at its painstaking processes. But Jones did. By the end of the Kenya exercise he had established a reputation as a skilled and alert intelligence sergeant. He was soon to be tested.

The most violent years in Northern Ireland were the early seventies. At their height, the Army deployed some 28,000 servicemen and women, some units returning within nine months of their previous tour. Soldiers’ attitudes to service in the Province varied, depending on the number of tours served, whether they were married or single, and where they were deployed. Often they found the work more interesting than barrack routine in garrison towns. Moreover, many a soldier’s career was advanced by a successful tour in the Province, as was the case with Jones.

In 1976 his battalion –already on their fourth emergency tour of Northern Ireland and unaccompanied by their families –was in North Belfast. Their Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) covered the mainly Republican enclaves of the Ardoyne and New Lodge, along with the hard Protestant areas of Whiterock and the Crumlin Road, off which lay both the heavily guarded Law Courts and the austere Crumlin Road Jail.

Because of PJ’s intelligence experience in Kenya and his impressive showing on previous tours in Northern Ireland, he was selected to be the Battalion’s Intelligence Sergeant based at North Queen’s Street Police Station. His commanding officer was the inspiring Lieutenant Colonel Colin Shortis, an officer with an unusually good feel for the subtleties of operations in Northern Ireland and the need to work in partnership with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Furthermore, Shortis had a keener understanding than most of the importance of acquiring intelligence by the unit’s own efforts, rather than expecting it to be delivered from on high.

To achieve this, he vigorously encouraged his Devon and Dorsets to engage with the community, irrespective of local attitudes or persuasions, by –among other things –chatting casually on patrol to passers-by. Many soldiers found this difficult, either because they were self-conscious talking to strangers, or because they considered it pointless in the face of hostile reactions. But Shortis’s initiative broke important new ground and became widely adopted by the British Army as a good practice per se. Terrorists and their sympathisers seeking to impose total control locally were disconcerted by soldiers talking freely in their neighbourhood, for they could never be certain what was being discussed or passed on. Occasionally invaluable nuggets were.

PJ was naturally what the Army called a ‘chatter-upper’. He liked the Irish –his wife was a local, after all –and he understood their colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies. He had a friendly, open and, for a British soldier on operations, unusually easy and relaxed manner. Furthermore, he had a remarkable memory for faces and places. He remembered all those he met, and recalled what they said. Everything he gleaned went first to his own headquarters then up the military chain of command and sideways to the RUC. He operated initially in uniform, but later, when confidence in him was established, was authorised to work in civilian clothes, grow a beard, grow his hair long –as was then the fashion –and mingle unobtrusively. Unselfconsciously at ease, PJ did not find it difficult to blend in, not least because he understood the social scene in Belfast, where he had spent many off-duty hours in the mid-sixties, and where he had courted Margaret.

A 1974 photo of Freddie Scappaticci, taken two years or so before his recruitment by Peter Jones

His local knowledge and the information he gathered was such that he was tasked to identify anyone with existing or prospective links to the various paramilitary groupings who might be encouraged to assist the Security Forces. This was ‘source recruiting’, delicate work of a strategic nature. Not only was PJ putting himself in physical danger, he was opening up the whole national security effort to being manipulated.

Large areas of Belfast in those days –after internment in 1971, and well before the hunger strikes of ten years later –comprised two poor, polarised and disaffected communities in which many separate intelligence agencies trawled for information. At the time, the activities of both the Security Forces and the paramilitaries were poorly controlled.

Intelligence boundaries were ill-defined. Unauthorised efforts to obtain or thwart intelligence were haphazard on both sides, and the greatest risk to someone like PJ was coming to the attention of another undercover agency or a paramilitary gang. But PJ kept his wits about him and, patiently over time, succeeded in forging a drinking companionship with one of the many engaging characters in the clubs and bars of Belfast frequented by Republicans. PJ carefully nurtured this contact, sinking pints until the early hours, and over time their relationship matured into mutual friendship and trust. Neither PJ nor his companion was to know that one day the latter would occupy a position of trust and influence at the very heart of the Provisional IRA.

When the potential significance of PJ’s access was eventually recognised, he was redeployed from his humble role as Battalion Intelligence Sergeant to a higher level, working directly under brigade control. This meant that when his Devon and Dorset colleagues completed their six-month tour and returned to Germany, PJ remained in Belfast. He was content to do so, for he relished the excitement and scope of his work and enjoyed his new status and responsibility.

If the relationship between a prospective source and a potential handler is to develop successfully, their chemistry must be right. This was where PJ’s personality was significant, for there was –and still is today –something unusual about the man. He hasa twinkle in his eye, a casual and unhurried manner, and a wry disrespect for authority; his whole personality attracts those who enjoy mystery and intrigue.

Certainly PJ’s new Republican friend, himself unconventional, was attracted from the outset by this rebellious streak. He would have realised that PJ was not local but, in view of his friend’s familiarity with all things Irish and the quality of his ‘craic’, there was no reason to suspect PJ was in the Security Forces, still less a soldier on duty. Moreover, PJ’s relaxed and easy manner was unthreatening. He did not talk, act or walk like a soldier and he never once asked a direct question or pressed for information. Hence, the Irishman felt under no pressure or obligation. Yet, his curiosity was aroused and he became intrigued by this engaging, hard-drinking friend.

Drinking companions at ease in each other’s company tend to exchange confidences during convivial evenings. It did not take long, therefore, for PJ to sense that his new friend, despite being a Catholic, a Republican and a committed Nationalist, was unsympathetic to the aims and methods of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). This was not inconsistent. PJ knew the IRA was factional and riddled with dissent. Gradually it emerged that his companion had access to them, and occasionally was active on their behalf, albeit at a low level. Equally, at some stage, it must have dawned on the Irishman that his new friend was connected with the Security Forces.

Like a skilled and patient fisherman, PJ read the water well. He bided his time until, intuitively, he judged the moment right to cast his fly. He then hooked and landed his fish. This fish represented the Security Forces’ biggest intelligence breakthrough at the time and, arguably, the Army’s most significant single contribution to the whole campaign. PJ had secured a priceless asset that would run and run.

Within the intelligence community a formal process is routinely undertaken to upgrade a casual contact into a declared source. Its purpose is to register new informants, to verify their identity and authenticate them; to determine their potential value and to decide how and by whom the source was to be ‘run’. This process was conducted at a level far above PJ. It was partly procedural –the proper legal checks and clearances had to be obtained –but also it was to ensure the best outcome by devising suitable cover stories and protection, for both source and handler. Sometimes the intelligence community was faced by circumstances that required normal practice to be modified. For example, agent handlers from the RUC’s Special Branch and from the Security Service, who constitutionally had responsibility for the job, could not effectively run informants everywhere, because they were unable to work alone safely in hard Republican areas. So some operations were passed to the Army, who could function anywhere, and who trained soldiers like PJ (and other service personnel) to undertake these dangerous tasks.

There were other inhibitions too. Some Republican sources refused to deal with any RUC officer because they distrusted members of what they perceived to be a hostile and sectarian force. Likewise, there were other informants who did not relish being ‘run’ by the Security Service because, they claimed, they had little affinity with university graduates, or others with unfamiliar backgrounds with whom they would have to work. Such perceptions and attitudes may seem absurd, but at ground level they were real enough, and their consequences created suspicions and jealousy and impeded the overall intelligence effort.

An extraordinary photo of Martin McGuinness and Freddie Scappaticci protesting the RUC presence at the 1987 funeral of IRA member Larry Marley. Marley had been assassinated by Loyalists and his family suspect he was set up by an IRA informer. Marley was a key IRA figure who was the brainchild of the 1983 Maze prison escape. At this time Scappaticci had been working for Peter Jones for at least a decade.

Having been formally checked out, PJ’s source was given the codename Kerbstone to protect his real identity. This was standard procedure, which ensured that only a handful of people knew an informant’s real name and personal details. Those holding high office were not among them; no government minister, civil servant or military commander would automatically be privy to an agent’s true identity for good reason: source protection and credible denial. The well-tried ‘need-to-know’ principle was widely adopted, and was strictly observed at all levels. Moreover, speculation within the Army about a source’s identity was considered –as it still is –highly unprofessional. As a consequence, the identity of almost all the Army’s Republican agents remained secure throughout the campaign.

The motives of informants varied. Some were at ideological odds with the organisation or cause they once espoused, and wished to harm or destroy it. Others sought personal revenge against an individual or group, for past wrongs or present grievances. Yet others became informants for financial or material reward –though large sums were rarely offered –or through fear or favour. The principal motivation was often to take part in a clandestine enterprise; those living dull, humdrum lives in drab surroundings found the notion of pitting their wits secretly against others irresistible. Almost every source was driven by one of these motives. Kerbstone was no exception, although in his case financial enrichment did not feature prominently.

The credibility of the agent’s handler –male or female –depends on the quality of the informant’s ‘product’, and his or her survival. The handler’s very reputation depends on the delivery of timely and accurate information. Equally, the source has needs too, such as the constant and credible reassurance that he has not been compromised or endangered. All informants agonise about their security being in safe hands. Some imagine that powerful forces are poised atinstant readiness to pluck them from harm; and sometimes this may be true. Good handlers encourage such notions, positively radiating confidence, developing trust and getting to know their sources intimately.

As PJ put it succinctly: ‘In this secret world, the relationship between agent and handler is a marriage –but, a one-sided one. The handler must know everything about his agent: his fears, his personal problems, his concerns about money, how often he has sex, and with whom; his relationship with his wife; and, who he hates within the IRA, and who he likes.’

Most sources want to feel that what they are doing is right, or is at least justifiable in the circumstances; and that their contribution is properly valued. Moreover, they assume that their information is being acted upon. If they perceive that it is not, their morale and commitment is undermined.

PJ’s and Kerbstone‘s partnership flourished. They met regularly in prearranged circumstances, their meetings initiated by either party. What passed between them remains secret. They were both aware of the dangers they faced: of Kerbstone‘s being compromised in circumstances he could not explain and of PJ’s running into a trap and being exposed. The result in either case would be torture and death. Both took prudent precautions under the supervision of an experienced controller or case officer. These extra pairs of ears and eyes, and the additional input to the planning and monitoring of each meeting, or ‘meet’ as it was termed, was reassuring, as was knowing that the resources of one of the Army’s most professional and wiliest organisations were dedicated to their safety. Much thought and care, backed by the latest technology, supported every small detail of their meetings.

The plaque of the Force Research Unit, formed in 1980, at which point Peter Jones was transferred to it.

Their ‘meets’ might take place in pre-arranged locations, in vehicles perhaps. Each party might approach, as if by chance, on foot or by car from a different direction, and unseen back-up teams would check that neither man was being followed. These back-ups would then secure the meet within a cordon sanitaire. Well-rehearsed procedures existed for aborting meets if there was any question of a compromise. Finally, the informant would always be furnished with a credible explanation for his movements and activities. Nothing was left to chance.

Even so, informants remained anxious, and with good reason. They dreaded falling under IRA suspicion in the aftermath of a failed terrorist operation which could only be explained by some leak or betrayal from within. Traditionally, the IRA’s factions were so prone to dissent and betrayal that suspicion was endemic, and investigations by its sinister ‘Nutting Squad’, charged with carrying out interrogations and executions, were in almost continuous session.

In practice, these personal animosities were the IRA’s Achilles heel, and British intelligence was skilled at exploiting them. It was also adept at supplying credible alibis for sources who might be under investigation or likely to be cross-questioned. For example, a viable justification might be required for an unemployed informant who was known to be broke yet had been seen carrying cash. Even an employed source who was seen to flash unusually large sums of money about might come under IRA suspicion. In such circumstances his handler might provide a winning betting slip so that, when challenged, the agent could explain why suddenly he had money to burn. Furthermore, although informants never knew of the existence or the identity of a fellow source, it could be arranged that one informant would be able credibly to substantiate the alibi of another under suspicion.

An event in May 1977 profoundly shook the Army. Captain Robert Nairac, a twenty-nine-year-old Grenadier Guards officer who had been working undercover in South Armagh on rather too loose a rein, was abducted near the border at the Three Steps Inn at Drumintee, never to be seen again. Investigation revealed he had gone to the pub dressed as a local, and had chatted at the bar. Nairac was a delightful Irish Catholic of singular courage and charm who might have passed anywhere for a Republican, and indeed had done so successfully on many occasions.

It is not known who Nairac planned to meet at the Three Steps that night; possibly, like PJ, he was just hoping to make a casual contact. Whatever his aim, he was identified as an off-duty soldier by a Belfast Republican, who recognised him as a British youth worker who had taught boxing –which Robert indeed had –to lads in the Ardoyne. On impulse several men seized Nairac, bundled him into a car and handed him over to the IRA. After resisting prolonged, brutal interrogation, Nairac was murdered and his body disposed of south of the border. Afterwards, the IRA admitted that he had revealed nothing and had behaved with great courage and dignity.

Fateful swings of the pendulum determine the history of conflict in Northern Ireland and this intelligence setback for the British was counterbalanced by a lucky break in the opposite direction.

Around this time Kerbstone was elevated in the IRA from its fringe to a position where he was privy to its innermost secrets. The rise and fall of IRA volunteers was often abrupt, so this was not unprecedented. But first, the evidence had to be verified. When done, it was apparent that a significant new opportunity for the Security Forces had emerged.

Around the same time, PJ was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM), the first of his two awards for bravery. Instituted in 1974, the award of the QGM is a rare distinction and a mark of special bravery, of which every recipient can be justly proud.

PJ’s citation records that he had run an agent successfully ‘for longer than any other Army handler in the Northern Ireland campaign, and in … particularly hazardous circumstances.’

Back in England for a break from operations and entirely unconnected with events on the ground, PJ’s promotion prospects, future employability and impending retirement routinely came up for review by the Army Records Office, whose important duty it is to plan soldiers’ careers and, as their service nears completion, their transition to civilian life. Ultimately, Records adjudicate between the Army’s needs and the best interests of each soldier, and, as with a football referee, their decisions may not be gainsaid.

Army Records judged that PJ, now a staff sergeant, had the prospect of becoming a Warrant Officer before retirement. This would be a crucial advancement affecting both status and pension. With the end of PJ’s service only a few years away, Records recommended that he be given the opportunity for promotion through wider responsibilities within his current area of expertise. Consequently, PJ became the Detachment Commander of the unit assigned to the secret collection of intelligence in the notoriously hostile area of South Armagh. In terms of professional challenge this was the equivalent of being given the chance to lead an assault on Everest.

Adjacent to the border with the Republic of Ireland, South Armagh was a uniquely hostile area for the Security Forces in which to operate covertly, as the Nairac case had illustrated. PJ’s days as a ‘loner’ were now gone. Henceforth, he would be responsible for the actions of a small, select team working in the toughest part of the Province, where strangers and anything out of place were quickly reported to the IRA.

With PJ in South Armagh, a dilemma confronted those managing the intelligence war: who would take over responsibility for running his most valuable source? It was anticipated that Kerbstone himself, although not consulted, would not relish a new handler; he seemed only comfortable working with PJ. However, he related well to soldiers in general –visualizing himself as one. He would never accept an RUC handler, nor would he welcome being run by the Security Service. Hence, one of PJ’s most significant duties became to persuade his informant, who could be stubborn, to accept change. He managed to do so, and Kerbstone accepted that he must be prepared to work with another soldier. Even so, it took six months to accomplish a smooth and effective transition.

PJ’s marriage to Margaret had produced one daughter, Jenny. But it became a casualty of his unusual job and lifestyle. They had been living an ostensibly normal life in safe Donaghadee, a dormitory of Belfast, where on days off PJ played for the local rugby club. But his long, anti-social hours at work were not conducive to a stable marriage, his move to South Armagh widened further the gulf between them, and their relationship ended in divorce. As the year ended, PJ’s focus was on taking command of what he assessed to be a somewhat demoralised Detachment in South Armagh, working from a damp, dark basement in Bessbrook Mill. The Mill was a former flax-processing plant near Newry, which had been requisitioned in the mid-1970s as the Army’s main operating base in South Armagh. The Mill itself was massive and forbidding, conjuring up the ‘dark satanic mills’ of Blake’s Jerusalem.

Commanding soldiers engaged in secret operations (‘covert ops’, as the Army terms them) is not straightforward. The unusual ways of the men and women involved –their initiative, independence and guile –made them uncomfortable bedfellows when living (as was the case in Bessbrook Mill) alongside more conventional soldiers, whose work was a great deal more monotonous. Furthermore, PJ’s detachment was answerable to some distant power, hence the local CO had no authority over them. The potential for trouble existed.

Covert operators in civilian clothes, often unshaven and with long hair –coming and going in unmarked cars at all hours –were often dismissed as ‘cowboys’ by the Bessbrook regulars. In turn, the ‘cowboys’ tended to call anyone in authority ‘Boss’ rather than ‘Sir’ –something which particularly tried the patience of any traditionally-minded regimental sergeant major.

Whereas the need for good intelligence was widely understood, the practicalities of obtaining it and the decisions on whether to withhold or to disseminate it –fully or in part –were often criticised by conventional soldiers. Because of ‘source protection’ the ‘Green Army’ could seldom see any direct, practical benefit to themselves from the effort devoted to intelligence gathering; moreover, when these same soldiers were sustaining casualties tension ran high. This further aggravated the relationship between those operating covertly and those working conventionally.

Whatever the perceptions, the reality was that PJ’s detachment worked extremely long hours under intense pressure and at considerable risk. Evidence shows that he and his team were successfully saving lives and thwarting the terrorists. His citation for the Queen’s Gallantry Medal confirmed it:

‘Under Jones’s leadership his team produced a number of highly valuable items of pre-emptive intelligence, including details of planned targeting of members of the Security Forces, bank robberies and locations of wanted terrorists.’

An incident involving a well known terrorist, Dominic McGlinchy, illustrated the hazardous nature of PJ’s work. McGlinchy, nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’, was a notoriously hardened terrorist who was for several years the successful leader of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a rival Republican terrorist grouping to the IRA. It was INLA who in March 1979 were responsible for the murder of Margaret Thatcher’s good friend and colleague, Airey Neave, then Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, by detonating a bomb under his car at the House of Commons.

A long-term task of PJ’s detachment was to collect intelligence on McGlinchy, which was achieved in part through an INLA informant. Falling under suspicion, the informant was pulled in for questioning by McGlinchy, whose favoured method of inducing suspects to talk was to sit them on the two hobs of an electric stove, then turn the power on.

By this means McGlinchy extracted the time and location of the next ‘meet’ between the source and his handler, and determined personally to assassinate whoever turned up. Volunteering for the role of ‘tethered goat’, PJ took up position at the RV on the Newry Canal, covered by hidden ‘backup’. The plan was that Dominic McGlinchy’s ambush would itself be ambushed. This was a very risky operation and therefore required authorisation from the highest operational level. Waiting there alone, PJ felt distinctly exposed.

As so often happens at tense moments, the unexpected occurred. PJ remembers a black Ford Fiesta approaching. Stopping, the occupants asked PJ the way to Newry. Was this, perhaps, part of McGlinchy’s plan –a reconnaissance, or a distraction of some sort? Was it the trigger for the action to start? Perceptively, PJ quickly assessed that these were lost tourists –the driver a schoolteacher from Kent, accompanied by his young family–genuinely seeking directions. So to prevent his ambush being sprung, PJ barked the code to abort action into his radio, only to find that communications had failed. Fortunately, the back-up covertly protecting him had assessed the situation correctly and remained out of sight.

Dominic McGlinchy never showed up. Perhaps he had seen the car and the exchange and sensed a trap or something else amiss. Whereas that operation was called off, similar ones were mounted later, with PJ invariably acting as tethered goat. As for ‘Mad Dog’, he was subsequently murdered by an unknown IRA assailant in a revenge killing.

PJ’s tour in South Armagh came to an end on completion of his twenty-two years of military service, and was marked by a rare award of the George Medal. In the words of his official citation:

‘Warrant Officer Class 2 Jones has provided an outstanding example of leadership, courage and skill to the entire unit. Tasked with the improvement and expansion of the agent network within the terrorist gangs of South Armagh, he has worked tirelessly and with great success.

‘He has led countless patrols with the aim of improving local contacts … in an area where roulement units spend 4 ½ months [against Jones’s 3 ½ years] this has led to his identification by local terrorists. Despite this, he has on innumerable occasions returned to the area covertly and in civilian clothes to meet informers and agents.

‘Warrant Officer Class 2 Jones personally directed an operation occasioned by information from his own agent, which resulted in the capture of two terrorists, the subsequent arrest of twelve more and the recovery of a large quantity of weapons and explosives.’

On PJ’s last day of service, he was invited to HQ Northern Ireland by a senior member ofhis regiment, (1) ostensibly to bid him farewell at the end of his service, but in fact to throw a celebratory party on the award of his George Medal, in which the Devon and Dorsets took natural pride.

As champagne corks popped, his host, who refrained from asking intrusive questions, assumed that PJ, as a civilian, would somehow be absorbed into the intelligence community to recommence the running of Kerbstone and others. In fact, PJ was to be interviewed that very afternoon for such an appointment. But, having celebrated too liberally, he made a poor impression. Nevertheless, on the strength of his reputation, he was invited back for another interview. But PJ, a proud man as well as an unconventional one, figured that if they did not want him tipsy, they couldn’t have him at all. And so he returned home to Bournemouth without attending another interview.

Now a civilian, he was accountable only to himself. No one in Bournemouth knew of his past, and he mentioned to no one his plans –such as they were –for the future. Moreover, after years of living in danger and under the pressure of being responsible for others, he was enjoying his freedom.

However, he needed a job because he could not survive on an Army pension alone. So he capitalised on his two principal attributes: his ability to relate to people and his powers of persuasion. He approached Allied Dunbar, the local insurance giant, where on interview he was appointed as a self-employed representative selling life insurance.

PJ was a shrewd, hard-working salesman and, as insurance companies generally pay generous commission (sometimes up to 150% of first year premium) to their best people, PJ began to attract a substantial income. But he failed to declare his earnings to the Inland Revenue –not as deliberate evasion, but more through neglect.

For four years PJ prospered, but he lost touch with most of his former colleagues, not because he no longer valued them but because he was too absorbed by making money. Those friends who remained in touch presumed he was working for one of the various security agencies –under the credible cover of being an insurance ‘rep’ –and enquired no further. But eventually the Inland Revenue caught up with PJ and demanded a massive £ 85,000 in arrears of tax. A troubled PJ confided in no one; he began to drink heavily and to sleep rough. Then he lost his job.

In due course he reached a settlement with the Revenue by agreeing to repay a crippling £ 600 per month. But to clear his debt he had to resort to selling his medals. Devoid of cash, assets, employment and friendship, PJ had hit a low. PJ’s George Medal was subsequently purchased by the Lord Ashcroft Trust (the Conservative peer being a well-known collector of VCs and conspicuous bravery medals; his book Special Forces Heroes features PJ and his George Medal).

One day a fellow down-and-out drunkenly extolled to PJ the merits of bankruptcy which, under recent legislation, had eased the recovery from debt. PJ duly went into voluntary liquidation, and, coincidently or otherwise, his luck changed.

He fell under two powerful influences. The first was an intelligent and pretty young undergraduate, Sarah Pennock, who became his girlfriend. The second was a successful former Devon and Dorset, Keith Crawford, who had retired from the Army and had enriched himself by means of some shrewd property redevelopment.

Sarah helped to stabilize PJ emotionally and to control his drinking. Crawford put PJ back on to his feet financially. By embracing these twin influences, PJ slowly regained his confidence and self-respect. He took a job as a Royal Mail postman and, in his spare time,started to write poetry. He wrote Jenny, an apology to his daughter –who he realised had been the real casualty of his broken marriage –for his long absences and his drinking:

The eleventh hour

eleventh day, a

child of mine

saw the world

as cows do.

She will never know

the father who did

not come home and

cannot give the

warmth of his skin.

Jenny plays the games

others will not,

their fathers

will never shout

“ready or not”.

I had a good war

afterwards

fed my scarred ego

with drink.

Inwardly Jenny carries my

red poppy, feeling

the dilution into her blood.

With his dyslexia now understood, and the past behind him, he began to ponder the future. He enrolled at university as a mature student reading English literature and creative writing, the latter including prose, history and poetry. For a man of so little formal education, he found structured learning intriguing and satisfying. He was also stimulated by working and living alongside young undergraduates, and Sarah, at half his age, helped overcome any generational barriers.

In his new surroundings and in a climate conducive to learning, he began to record respectable academic results. He was suited to the process of continuous assessment, as opposed to the instant nature of the school exams he remembered of old. Moreover, as a diligent student who delivered his work on time, he enjoyed the support and encouragement of his tutors.

On graduation PJ gained a Second Class Honours degree. Subsequently he obtained a Masters degree in screenwriting at another university. He had come a long way since thieving from a beach kiosk in Poole half a century before. He served his country with singular distinction and fulfilled his personal aspirations.

As for Kerbstone, he continued to provide invaluable information to the Security Forces after PJ had left the Province. He derived wry satisfaction from being told one day, by one of the few Army officers able to identify him and know of his remarkable contribution, that he was every bit as courageous as PJ, and as such merited equivalent recognition. But neither Kerbstone nor anyone aware of his circumstances imagined that such recognition could ever be bestowed.

(1) The author.

Chris Matthews On ‘Wag The Dog’ Theory For Trump’s Syria Raid

Apologies to readers. It seems that at least one mainstream US journalist did suspect that Trump’s bombing raid on Syria was not about concern for those ‘beautiful babies’ killed in the alleged gas attack by Assad but was motivated more by an opportunity to put clear blue water between himself and Russian leader Vladimir Putin,

Here he is on his MSNBC show before US tomahawk missiles were launched  suggesting that Trump’s need to get out from under the burgeoning Putin scandal might be his motivation:

Why The US Media Loved Trump’s Strike In Syria

Former Public Editor for The New York Times and currently media columnist for The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan explains why the American media are such suckers for a missile explosion or two.

Exactly the same mechanism enabled Bush and Cheney to sell a false bill of goods on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and the world is still paying the price. Trump has found the best way to silence his media critics; don’t call them names, just fire Tomahawk missiles at brown-skinned people in far off places.

The media loved Trump’s show of military might. Are we really doing this again?

Media Columnist April 8 at 1:37 PM

The cruise missiles struck, and many in the mainstream media fawned.

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” declared Fareed Zakaria on CNN, after the firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian military airfield late Thursday night. (His words sounded familiar, since CNN’s Van Jones made a nearly identical pronouncement after Trump’s first address to Congress.)

“On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” read a New York Times headline.
“President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens — a frequent Trump critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist. He added: “Now destroy the Assad regime for good.”

Brian Williams, on MSNBC, seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word “beautiful” three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons” — without apparent irony.

Quite the pivot, for some. Assessing Trump’s presidency a few weeks ago, Zakaria wrote that while the Romans recommended keeping people happy with bread and circuses, “so far, all we have gotten is the circus.” And the Times has been so tough on Trump that the president rarely refers to the paper without “failing” or “fake” as a descriptor.

 The Department of Defense released video of the U.S. military launching cruise missiles in Syria after President Trump ordered the strike on April 6. (Department of Defense)

But after the strikes, praise flowed like wedding champagne — especially on cable news.

“Guest after guest is gushing. From MSNBC to CNN, Trump is receiving his best night of press so far,” wrote Sam Sacks, a Washington podcaster and journalist. “And all he had to do was start a war.”

Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?

“There is no faster way to bring public support than to pursue military action,” said Ken Paulson, head of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

“It’s a pattern not only in American history, but in world history. We rally around the commander in chief — and that’s understandable.”

Paulson noted that the news media also “seem to get bored with their own narrative” about Trump’s failings, and they welcome a chance to switch it up.

But that’s not good enough, he said: “The watchdog has to have clear vision and not just a sporadic bark.”

 Clara Jeffery, editor in chief of Mother Jones, offered a simple explanation: “It’s dramatic. It’s good for TV, reporters get caught up in the moment, or, worse, jingoism.”

She added: “Military action is viewed as inherently nonpartisan, opposition or skepticism as partisan. News organizations that are fearful of looking partisan can fall into the trap of failing to provide context.”

And so, empathy as the president’s clear motivation is accepted, she said — “with no mention of the refugee ban keeping those kids out, no mention of Islamophobia that has informed his campaign and administration. How can you write about motive and not explore that hypocrisy?”

Mocking “the instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader,” Glenn Greenwald in the Intercept recalled John Jay, one of the Federalist Papers authors, who wrote more than 200 years ago: “However disgraceful it may be to human nature . . . nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it.”

In fact, Jay wrote, “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it” — except, of course, to scratch that eternal itch for military glory, revenge or self-aggrandizement.

Groupthink, and a lack of proper skepticism, is something that we’ve seen many times before as the American news media watches an administration step to the brink of war.

Most notoriously, perhaps, that was true in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the start of a long disaster there.

Stephen Walt, Harvard professor of international affairs, thinks the press and the public should have learned some things by now.

“Syria remains a tragedy because there are no good options,” he wrote in Foreign Policy, and America’s interventions in the Middle East very seldom end well.

Walt later told me that the news media now must look forward and ask deeper questions.

Missile strikes may seem thrilling, and retaliation righteous.

But journalists and commentators ought to remember the duller virtues, too, like skepticism, depth and context.

And keep their eyes fixed firmly there, not on the spectacular images in the sky.

Trump’s Syrian Strike: The Onion Breaks US Media Silence On The Real Motive

As most of the mainstream US media greets Trump’s strike against Syrian leader Bashar Assad with almost orgasmic glee and as a comforting sign that the new resident of the White House will turn out to be every bit as brutish to black and brown foreigners as any of his predecessors, it has been left to the satirical website, ‘The Onion’ to tell the story of what may be the real reason for the attack. Enjoy:

Trump Confident U.S. Military Strike On Syria Wiped Out Russian Scandal

WASHINGTON—After ordering the first U.S. military attack against the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Donald Trump held a press conference Friday to express his full confidence that the airstrike had completely wiped out the lingering Russian scandal. “Based on intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all discussions and allegations about my administration’s ties to the Russian government,” said Trump, adding that at approximately 4:40 a.m. local time, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval ships obliterated all traces of the widespread controversy in news outlets across the media. “Ordering this strike was not a decision I took lightly, but given that it was the only way to decisively eradicate any attention being paid to congressional investigations into possible collusion between key members of my staff and high-ranking Kremlin officials, I decided it was a necessary course of action. If we learn that any remnants of this scandal remain after this attack, I will not hesitate to order further strikes.” Trump went on to say that he is leaving the option open for a potential ground invasion of Syria if any troubling evidence emerges that the Russian government manipulated the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.