Ireland: Wilderness of mirrors

On Sunday May 11 we awoke to the news that the British army's top agent in the north of Ireland had been named by newspapers in Belfast and Dublin, writes Michael Malkin

We were told with all the sonorous authority of BBC Radio 4 that he had consequently been exfiltrated from the ‘province’ to a safe house somewhere in England, where, after the customary extensive debriefing, he would be given plastic surgery, loads of money and a new life. Pretty exciting news for an otherwise dull weekend.

Alfredo ‘Freddie’ Scappaticci, allegedly code-named ‘Stakeknife’ by his British army intelligence corps handlers from the notorious Force Research Unit, but just known to his mates in west Belfast as ‘Scap’, was revealed as the supposed jewel in the crown, the ace double agent who for 25 years had given the Brits the sort of intelligence that was so hot it needed a special cabinet office committee just to read it and very carefully disseminate it. Forget Bletchley Park and ‘Enigma’ - this was the real stuff. At least, that was the ludicrous hype.

‘Stakeknife’ had allegedly been at or near the top of the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s northern command, with a key post in the internal security department, salivatingly dubbed by the credulous and cretinous press as the “nutting squad”, because its function was, reasonably enough, to identify and eliminate those members of the IRA who, for whatever reason, had become informers for the RUC special branch, the army or MI5.

The papers told us that, when not supplying his handlers with absolutely vital, breathtaking intelligence about current operations, ‘Stakeknife’ was travelling up and down the country with his boss John Joe agee (name thrown in to add realism by journalists who had read the crap book Killing rage by the now defunct Eamon Collins), gleefully headjobbing anybody they thought was a tout for the Brits - 40 ‘executions’ was the ball park figure quoted. ‘Stakeknife’ was clearly a chip off the old Sicilian block - though even the tabloids didn’t have the bottle to do the obvious and link him somehow with the mafia.

A wilderness of mirrors, indeed. But what about the truth? What does ‘Stakeknife’ signify, apart from the fact that his handlers, the press or both cannot spell the name of a routine kitchen implement?

Let us start with a bit of political perspective. First, ever since the latest ‘troubles’ began in 1969, the British have been saying, through chosen media sources, that they had successfully penetrated the highest levels of the Provisional IRA. Then, as now, their aim was to destabilise and demoralise the armed forces of Irish republicanism. They did not succeed then and they will not now - certainly not when the IRA’s ruling body, the Provisional Army Council, has made it clear that for them, undefeated on the field of battle, the war is over.

Who knows the truth of the British allegations about ‘Stakeknife’ and other supposed ‘star agents’, some of whom are now cribbing about the price they were paid for their treachery? But isn’t it strange that all the operational successes (gongs all round to the Julians and Jeremys of the inner circle) somehow failed to stop the IRA’s military campaign; that a relatively small number of dedicated and brave volunteers, many paying with their lives, kept the occupying enemy at bay; that the whole bloody war ended for the Brits in a tired, debilitated and humiliating stalemate?

Secondly, the Stevens report (Weekly Worker April 24). Despite the best efforts of police and military intelligence organisations on the ground - efforts apparently including burglary and arson - the facts are inexorably emerging. Facts which show that for decades during the troubles, the RUC special branch and its counterparts from the FRU, 14 Intelligence Company, or whatever it was calling itself at the time, systematically colluded with their paid agents among the loyalist paramilitaries to kill catholics.

We only got a tantalising, 20-page foretaste from Stevens of what is to come, but it was clear that one of the FRU’s main agents, the Ulster Defence Association’s ‘intelligence’ officer Brian Nelson, was somehow involved in an operation that led to the shooting of 66-year old pensioner Francisco Notorantonio, a much loved father and grandfather with no current paramilitary connections whatsoever.

This killing had all the hallmarks of a classic UDA random sectarian shooting, like hundreds of others, but retrospectively we were told that the FRU directed the UDA to kill Notorantonio so as to protect their prized asset ‘Stakeknife’ from the murderous attentions of loyalist gunmen. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, prior to the publication of Stevens’s interim disclosures certain elements in British army intelligence apparently let it be known that, if faced with prosecution for their collusion in the murder of, among others, Pat Finucane, they would blow the gaffe on the real identity of ‘Stakeknife’.

What is clear, despite the miasma of lies and disinformation which are our daily diet in the bourgeois press, is that certain aspects of the British/Orange collusion in the murder of innocent catholics, faced with the scrutiny of Stevens and a media feeding frenzy, have begun to spin wildly out of control.

Their only answer, like that of Dr Göbbels himself, is to use their channels to tell an even bigger lie. Take those intrepid reporters from The Times, David Lister and Ian Cobain (you need two journalists for a story this big).

On Tuesday May 13, when our heroes told us that ‘Stakeknife’ was “under guard” at a former air base in the “home counties” - Chicksands in Bedfordshire, reputedly the home of a spiffing outfit called the Defence and Intelligence Security Centre - they were obviously sincere and well informed. How else could they have got the inside knowledge that Mr Scappaticci would be housed in an obscure 12th century priory, “said to be haunted by nine ghosts, including a suicidal baronet and a woman who was forced to witness her lover’s execution before being sealed alive in a wall”. This is The Times, for christ’s sake, the supposed newspaper of record.

So let us record what the paper had to say a mere couple of days later. Far from being incarcerated in his medieval priory, with or without its attendant ghosts, ‘Stakeknife’ had, as Lister and Cobain put it, “popped up” in Belfast, and had obviously never left the Six Counties. Messrs Lister and Cobain now graciously appended the term “alleged” to Scappaticci’s title as “Britain’s most important agent inside the IRA”, and told us how he had “emerged from hiding”. One minute “in custody”, the next minute “in hiding” - so much for such pathetic journalistic prostitutes, who will act as the conscious or (to be very charitable, unconscious) tools of the secret services, basically being shafted and writing anything for money. What does it matter to them? Nothing.

But it matters a great deal to the real Freddie Scappaticci, the bricklayer from Andersonstown. For him it is literally a matter of life or death. On May 14, there he was, this notorious “British spy”, having “popped up” in Belfast, sitting next to his solicitor Michael Flanagan in a less than baronial office on the Falls Road, literally a gunshot away from scores of republicans. Did he have a death wish? No, he just wanted to tell the truth. Was he ever a member of the IRA? Yes: “I was involved in the republican movement 13 years ago, but I have had no involvement this 13 years ... I am not guilty of any of these allegations. I have not left Northern Ireland since I was challenged by reporters on Saturday night [May 10]. Nobody has had the decency to ask me if any of these allegations were true and why the police did not want to question me” (The Times May 15).

Freddie had not run away from his home and family; though he had been forced to seek a safe hiding place away from the media frenzy, he was still in touch with the ones he loved. Does this betoken a ‘traitor’?

And then there is his reference to ‘decency’. The very naivety of this concept in relation to the Six Counties and all that catholics have gone through in the last three and more decades tells us a lot about Freddie and whether he was or was not a leading figure in the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

Provo? Yes, and by his own admission - something to be proud about and tell your grandchildren. Tout? If he had been, he would already be sitting comfortably in a bijou detached house somewhere in Surrey, not giving press interviews down the Falls. If he does eventually end up with a bullet, it will not be courtesy of the Provisional Army Council, but thanks to some jerk who reads the papers and believes what he reads.

Back in the real world, as our readers will certainly have noticed, prime minister Blair decided to ‘postpone’ elections to the Northern Ireland assembly. The Ulster Unionist Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party, representing ‘moderate’ loyalist and nationalist support for the peace process, must be saved at all costs. Now, as always in Ireland, the interests of British imperialism must be pursued, however ruthlessly, to their logical conclusion.