Force Research Unit
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The Force Research Unit or Field Reconnaissance Unit (FRU) was a covert military intelligence unit of the British Army that was active during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It was established in the early 1980s by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence and was a successor to similar units such as the MRF and SRU. The FRU was part of the British Army's Intelligence Corps. From 1987 to 1991, it was commanded by Gordon Kerr.
The FRU used double agents to infiltrate Irish republican and Ulster loyalist paramilitary groups. Its existence was revealed in the 1990s by the Stevens Inquiries. The inquiries found that—in its efforts to defeat the Provisional IRA—the FRU used these agents to help loyalists to kill people, including civilians. This has been confirmed by some former members of the unit.
Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries
In the mid 1980s, the FRU recruited Brian Nelson as a double agent inside the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The UDA was a legal Ulster loyalist paramilitary group that had been involved in hundreds of attacks on Catholic and nationalist civilians, as well as a handful on republican paramilitaries. The FRU helped Nelson become the UDA's chief intelligence officer. In 1988, weapons were shipped to loyalists from South Africa under Nelson's supervision. Through Nelson, the FRU helped the UDA to target people for assassination. FRU commanders say their plan was to make the UDA "more professional" by helping it to kill republican activists and prevent it from killing uninvolved Catholic civilians. They say if someone was under threat, agents like Nelson were to inform the FRU, who were then to alert the police. Gordon Kerr, who ran the FRU from 1987 to 1991, claimed Nelson and the FRU saved over 200 lives in this way. However, the Stevens Inquiries found evidence that only two lives were saved and said many loyalist attacks could have been prevented but were allowed to go ahead. The Stevens team believes that Nelson was responsible for at least 30 murders and many other attacks, and that many of the victims were uninvolved civilians. One of the most prominent victims was solicitor Pat Finucane. Although Nelson was imprisoned in 1992, FRU intelligence continued to help the UDA and other loyalist groups. From 1992 to 1994, loyalists were responsible for more deaths than republicans for the first time since the 1960s.
Allegations exist that the FRU sought restriction orders in advance of a number of loyalist paramilitary attacks in order to facilitate easy access to and escape from their target. A restriction order is a de-confliction agreement to restrict patrolling or surveillance in an area over a specified period. This de-confliction activity was carried out at a weekly Tasking and Co-ordination Group which included representatives of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, MI5 and the British Army. It is claimed the FRU asked for restriction orders to be placed on areas where they knew loyalist paramilitaries were going to attack.
Alleged infiltration of republican paramilitary groups
FRU are also alleged to have handled agents within republican paramilitary groups. A number of agents are suspected to have been handled by the FRU including IRA units who planted bombs and assassinated. Attacks are said to have taken place involving FRU-controlled agents highly placed within the IRA. The main agent to have been uncovered so far was codenamed "Stakeknife". There is a debate as to whether this agent is IRA member Freddie Scappaticci or another, as yet unidentified, IRA member.
"Stakeknife" is thought to have been a member of the IRA's Internal Security Unit - a unit responsible for counter-intelligence, interrogation and court martial of informers within the IRA. It is believed that "Stakeknife" was used by the FRU to influence the outcome of investigations conducted by the IRA's Internal Security Unit into the activities of IRA volunteers.
It is alleged that in 1997 the UDA came into possession of details relating to the identity of the FRU-controlled IRA volunteer codenamed "Stakeknife". It is further alleged that the UDA, unaware of this IRA volunteer's value to the FRU, planned to assassinate him. It is alleged that after the FRU discovered "Stakeknife" was in danger from UDA assassination they used Brian Nelson to persuade the UDA to assassinate Francisco Notarantonio instead, a Belfast pensioner who had been interned as an Irish republican in the 1940s. The killing of Notarantonio was claimed by the UFF at the time. Following the killing of Notarantonio, unaware of the involvement of the FRU, the IRA assassinated two UDA leaders in reprisal attacks. It has been alleged that the FRU secretly passed details of the two UDA leaders to the IRA via "Stakeknife" in an effort to distract attention from "Stakeknife" as a possible informer.
FRU and the Stevens Inquiry
Former FRU operative Martin Ingram asserted that the arson attack which destroyed the offices of the Stevens Inquiry was carried out by the FRU to destroy evidence on operational activities collected by Stevens' team.
- Geraghty, Tony. The Irish War: The Hidden Conflict Between the IRA and British Intelligence. JHU Press, 1998. p.155
- "Stevens Inquiry: Key people". BBC News. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- "My unit conspired in the murder of civilians in Ireland". Sunday Herald. 19 November 2000.
- "Obituary: Brian Nelson". The Guardian. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- "Scandal of Ulster’s secret war". The Guardian. 17 April 2003. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- “Deadly Intelligence: State Involvement in Loyalist Murder in Northern Ireland – Summary”. British Irish Rights Watch, February 1999.
- Human Rights in Northern Ireland: Hearing before the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives, 24 June 1997. US Government Printing Office, 1997.
- Clayton, Pamela (1996). Enemies and Passing Friends: Settler ideologies in twentieth-century Ulster. Pluto Press. p. 156.
More recently, the resurgence in loyalist violence that led to their carrying out more killings than republicans from the beginning of 1992 until their ceasefire (a fact widely reported in Northern Ireland) was still described as following 'the IRA's well-tested tactic of trying to usurp the political process by violence'…
- Davies, Nicholas (2000). Ten-Thirty-Three. ISBN 1-84018-343-8.
- Scappaticci denies the allegations and in May 2003 began legal action to force the then NI Secretary of State, Jane Kennedy, to deny he is/was a British Agent. At this point (May 2006) Scappaticci has launched no libel actions against media making the allegations. There is also suspicion in Irish republican circles that the real "Stakeknife" and/or other British agents have yet to be unmasked, this suspicion was compounded by the revelation that Denis Donaldson was a mole within Sinn Féin/the Republican movement, and by interviews given by the man calling himself "Kevin Fulton" in March 2006.
- According to the article title 'My unit conspired in the murder of civilians in Ireland' - by Neil Mackay, the officer in the FRU who passed Notarantonio's details to Nelson was "Captain M" assumed to be Cpt. Margaret Walshaw.
- Details on the Death of Notarantonio available on CAIN Sutton here.
- Stakeknife: Britain's Secret Agents in Ireland, Martin Ingram, O'Brien Press, 2004
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- Pat Finucane Centre
- Activities in Northern Ireland
- Relatives For Justice
- Madden & Finucane
- Brian Nelson
- Transcript of BBC Panorama programme titled 'Collusion', 23 June 2002
- Series of articles appearing in the Sunday Herald about the activities of the FRU.
- Lengthy Interview given by Martin Ingram on Radio Free Eireann describing his FRU activities NOTE: Interview with Ingram starts around 25 minutes into the mp3.
- Transcript of Insight TV documentary : Licensed to Kill - Inside the Force Research Unit