Martin Galvin speaks to award-winning journalist, author and historian, Ed Moloney, via telephone who provides analysis on Freddie Scappaticci in the wake of the BBC airing the Panorama special entitled ‘The Spy in the IRA‘. (begins time stamp ~ 38:44)
Audio: Clip of the BBC Panorama special, The Spy in the IRA, is played. (audio ends)
Martin: And welcome back. Ed, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann. We’re talking to Ed Moloney. He is an author and award-winning journalist with the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune and also – Ed, you’re an author of a couple of books, A Secret History of the IRA, and after watching the documentary from Panorama it seems that the history, or the secrets, were only secret from people like me who were supporters or people who were members or people who were sympathisers – it didn’t seem like there were any secrets from the British Army.
Ed: Well, yes. Sure, they would have known an awful lot about what was going on inside the IRA thanks to Freddie Scappaticci but there would still be a limit to what they would know. I mean they wouldn’t necessarily know what the deliberations of the Army Council were and what the policies were going to be unless, somehow, Freddie Scappaticci had been made privy to that. My own view about the value of Scappaticci rests on the powers that the internal security department were given when it was set up the late 1970’s which was basically to investigate every IRA operation that went wrong to see if there was a traitor in the ranks and that meant that – so they had a brief which extended and expanded right across the entire organisation in terms of the Active Service Units (ASU) and would know who was who in the IRA and with that information the British Army and the intelligence services would have full knowledge of the IRA’s battle order and would have a very good idea of what the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of individuals were perhaps, thanks to Scappaticci, and would therefore be able to really infiltrate and recruit informers on a much wider basis and from that, maybe, they would then learn about plans like, for example, the Eksund shipment of arms, which was betrayed by a traitor somewhere in the ranks. So that was the value, I think, of Scappaticci – is that he opened a door to the British which they clearly were eager to facilitate and that way they, I think, got in deep into the IRA.
Martin: Okay. How did this man from The Markets, somebody whose father was an Italian immigrant, that’s the name ‘Scappaticci’, get into this position where – again he was called, there might be some hyperbole in the trailer for the programme, but he was said to be the most important British spy since World War II. How did he rise up and get into that position?
Ed: Well we’re not entirely sure because there are conflicting accounts of how he became an informer in the first place.
I mean I count three different versions and not all of them can necessarily be correct. One is that he was what they call a ‘walk-in’ – that he decided to volunteer his services to the British because he had been badly beaten up by a member of the IRA, senior member of the IRA, and this was his way of getting revenge – that was the account which, or the version of his recruitment, which was current for many, many years. Then we had another account which came, more authoritative I think, came from a former GOC (General Officer Commanding), British Army commander of British troops in Northern Ireland, in the early 1990’s – a character called Sir John Wilsey, who wrote about, in a very heavily disguised way, wrote about Scappaticci in a book of reminiscences of his time in Northern Ireland as a serving soldier and he devoted an entire chapter to the handler who he says recruited and ran Scappaticci for many years – a guy called Peter Jones who, you know, is traceable – you can find him on the internet, etc – and according to Wilsey this was the man who was responsible for getting Scappaticci to work for the British. And then you have this latest version, which I think is really – I have difficulty with it – it’s from John Ware on Panorama in which he says that the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Fraud Squad initially had Scappaticci on their books and they handed him over to the British Army – that is not plausible because there was a huge rivalry between the RUC Special Branch and British Intelligence (and it was a major obstacle to the functioning of intelligence down the years) and the idea that the RUC would hand over an agent like that to the British Army rather than give it to the Special Branch – who would know all about him, incidentally, because everything that happens in the RUC would have been known by the Special Branch – I don’t find that terribly plausible. Maybe I’m wrong – we’ll wait and see what the evidence is – so how he became a spy like that is really a matter of at least three different versions, three different theories – so which one is correct we don’t know yet.
Martin: Okay. And how did this Internal Security Unit (ISU) come about and how did Freddie Scappaticci come to head it – to get at this key area where he could be the crown jewel of British intelligence during the struggle?
Ed: Well you know, the function of hunting spies and traitors in the ranks was really not something that the IRA prioritised in the early days of The Troubles. And my own theory for that is that they sort of half-believed that The Troubles wouldn’t last long enough – that they’d overwhelm the British – and we’re talking about the early ’70’s when that was a plausible thing so they really left that to individual intelligence officers, at company level mostly, to see if there was anything going on and if they discovered something suspicious follow it up but they didn’t have a systemic or systematic way of tracking possible informers and infiltrators. When it became clear to the IRA that this was now going to be a long war then the notion of protecting themselves against infiltration became very important and the Internal Security Unit evolved out of the various discussions that took place inside Long Kesh during the mid-’70’s, during that ceasefire, during which the same leadership – the Adams, Brendan Hughes, Ivor Bell leadership, you know – also charted the re-oraganisation of the IRA and the Long War was born out of that and also one product of it was this Internal Security Unit, which came into being in the late 1970’s; the date I’ve heard is 1979. Now how Scappaticci became head, or became first a senior member of it and then eventually the head, is again one of these mysteries that we really don’t know much about. Obviously one question is that: If John Wilsey’s, the GOC’s, account of his recruitment is correct then he was working for the British Army two or three years before the Internal Security Unit was set up. Was he then steered towards it by his handler – which is the sort of thing of course you would do – you would want to place an agent, a valuable agent like that, in the most important place and, as Anthony McIntyre described there, the Internal Security Unit was a junction box in the sense that everything that happened in the IRA had to be investigated for potential informers would be known by the Internal Security therefore their knowledge would be huge so you would try to put him in there. But whether that happened or whether he was talent-spotted by the leadership – we just don’t know. That is one of the unknowns.
Martin: Alright. Now Ed, one of the things that you wrote about on your blog, Ed Moloney, The Broken Elbow, is how far up Scappaticci’s activities had to be approved by the British government. And again, John talked about there are people now who, it appears, were totally innocent who were killed as informers just to cover Scappaticci’s tracks, there are ways in which he was involved with people that he knew, friends – or would laugh about it – there just seems to be some kind of psychological difficulties that he had – he was able to use torture to get some people and then say ‘they confessed’, how high – and he’s now under investigation for something between minimum of eighteen might be as many as fifty murders – how high up within the British government would he have to have been approved?
Ed: At Prime Ministerial level. There’s a part of the British bureaucracy known as the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which brings together all the intelligence services, MI5, MI6 GCHQ, Military Intelligence, etc and they sit and they have a vast bureaucracy of their own of committees and sub-committees and what have you and they basically run British intelligence. And what the Joint Intelligence Committee essentially does is to develop policy options for the intelligence agencies which are then submitted to the British Prime Minister and whatever relevant cabinet minister would be involved – let’s say you know, Foreign Minister or the Home Affairs Minister or whatever – and based upon the policy options put forward by the Joint Intelligence Committee a decision would then be taken about particular intelligence operations and that is – I mean there’s absolutely no way that that did not happen with Scappaticci – he was such as an important agent that it would go as high as the Joint Intelligence Committee. They would devise policy on how to use him and implicitly, either by default or – and I don’t think, and given the caution that these bureaucracies are imbued with, I think it’s unlikely that they said: Yeah, were going to authorise him to murder – because you can’t do that. They would just not take a decision I think is the most likely option and allow that to happen but don’t talk about it – but that’s the same thing as approving, of course. And…
Martin: …Ed, one very important thing I want to get to that’s featured in the documentary, it’s also involved with people who’ve been interviewed on this programme: When Steak Knife came to light, and you document this 0n your blog, we had also, Radio Free Éireann, had interviewed Ian Hurst, who’s one of the people on the documentary who’s involved – his reaction was to go in, conduct a press conference, there was an agreement made that he could go in and that’s shown on the documentary – he gives a press conference and just says: Oh, I had nothing to do with the Republican Movement for fourteen/thirteen years and I have nothing to do with this and that was put through, that version, it was hosted at the Sinn Féin offices and that version was actually put forward to protect, to cover in some way, or consistent with defending Freddie Scappaticci from the idea that he was an agent and a spy, which is very different than many of the – anyone else would have happened. How did that happen? How as able to remain? And why was he protected at that time?
Ed: Well one could only guess about this but first of all: There was no press conference as such. A press conference is something where you invite all the media to come to a particular location and something will be announced and questions and answers will follow. That did not happen at this event which was I think actually hosted in Andersonstown News‘ offices rather than Sinn Féin’s offices. Only two journalists were invited; both of them – one of them was Brian Rowan of the BBC who was a sceptic about Steak Knife and Scappaticci so he was essentially someone who was almost ready to believe there was no such thing and the other one was Anne Cadwallader who you know is pretty friendly towards Sinn Féin as well but no other journalists were allowed there. And then when they start to ask questions, I think after two or three questions the thing ended, and the impression I get – and I wasn’t there at the time when this happened so I’m going very much by second-hand, is that this was something that was set up between Scappaticci and Sinn Féin – the idea of minimising the damage. Scappaticci had been sacked from the IRA in about ’92 or ’93 when he attempted to interrogate members of the Army Council and he was sacked by the then Chief of Staff and he returned to Belfast and resumed a quieter life. I mean, there is this idea that he was discovered as a spy way back then. He wasn’t. It was when, thanks to Ian Hurst and everything that followed from Ian Hurst, that Sinn Féin, like the rest of us, discovered that there was this spy – Scappaticci was at his work or had been at his work for such a long period of time – that’s when Sinn Féin discovered him. When then his name was published, in I think it was a Scottish Sunday paper, it hit the proverbial fan and Sinn Féin reacted – I think there are reports that there was a meeting between Scappaticci and people from Sinn Féin and one of the outcomes of it was that there would be this press conference and then Scappaticci would slowly fade from the scene and…
Martin: … Alright Ed, I’m sorry, we’re – this is a story we could go with for a long period of time…
Ed: …I know, forever.
Martin: We are out of time. (ends time stamp ~ 55:16)