by Trowbridge H. Ford
The fog has never really cleared since an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed through it on the Hill of Stone at the Mull of Kintyre on June 2, 1994, killing all 25 intelligence agents and the crew of four on board while on its way to Fort George in Scotland to attend an annual conference on counterterrorism. While the incident is of more recent vintage than Bloody Sunday when British soldiers, epecially of the Parachute Regiment, cut down forteen civilians after shots were fired by unknown parties, the helicopter crash caused 29 victims. In addition, the Army massacre occurred in an area where plans had long been made for meeting some such incident, the crash came as a complete surprise. Ultimately, both incidents were the subject of several inquiries which resulted in quite changing explanations of the tragedies. The only sure thing is that Bloody Sunday helped usher in direct rule from London while the helicopter crash helped usher it out.
During 1971, the Official and Provisional Irish Republican Armies had established "no-go" areas in Derry, much unlike the situation in Belfast, and much to the British Army's disgust. London's introduction of internment without trial earlier had been in the hope of seperatiing the troublemakers from the general Catholic population in the expectation of re-establishing some kind of stability but it wasn's working in Derry.To deal with the problem, London adopted the plan of Commander Land Forces, Major General Robert Ford, of carrying out a search and control operation for the gunmen while clearing away the barricades.(1)
In explaining the policy, Ford and lower commanders made it increasingly possible that protesters might be aimed at, and shot in any confrontation over its implementation. This occurred when protesters marched on January 22, 1972 to Magilligan Point to show their opposition to internment Then after the Provisionals shot dead two Royal Irish Constabulary (RUC) police officers, the first in the growing conflict, the Brish Army tried to prevent a similar march from reaching Derry's Guildhall Square a week later by employing the First Parachute Regiment to help "scoop up" the troublemakers.
All hell broke loose on January 30th when a crowd of 10,000 protesters started marching on the City Centre, and a group of troublemakers broke off from the main group as it neared it to confront the barricading soliders. At the same time, straggers started engaging the Paras who had taken up position on the high wall behind the William Street Presbyterian Church. Then shots were exchanged, six in all, one apparently by the Offical IRA, and the other by the British Army, hitting two persons who they falsely claimed to be nail-bombers, and only one of whom was involved in the IRA in the march. Then the military forces behind the barricades, assisted by the Paras, executed a pincer movement against the rioters who were confronting them. In the ensuing mele, a youth was killed in the courtyard of the Rossville Flats."The other tweleve victims of 'Bloody Sunday' died elsewhere." (2) Again, it was a question of who had fired first, if at all on the marchers' side, and how many rounds.
The tragedy was investigated by Lord Widgery, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and he rushed to judgment in no uncertain terms on the side of the forces, merely compounding what was seen by almost all as a outright victory for the Provisionals, as direct rule on London soon followed.
The only trouble was that the IRA, instead of sitting on their laurels and waiting for the British chickens to come home to roost, went on the offensive, culminating in their own Bloody Friday which turned the tables back in Britain's favor. The Offical IRA set off a bomb on February 22nd at the Paras' headquarters in Aldershot, killing five cleaning ladies, an Army chaplain, and a gardener.(3) Then there was a bombing in Derry, and a killing of a young Royal Irish Ranger which caused such blowback against the Officials that they were obliged to call a ceasefire. While the Provisionals were soon obliged to follow suit because of similar mistakes, the whole situation changed for them when they caused Bloody Friday on July 21st - setting of twenty car bombs in Befast, killing nine people and injuring 130.
Instead of the Provos, and the Brits for that matter, admitting their mistakes, and seriously chaning their ways, they just refined them, focusing them more on military targets, and trying to reduce the collateral damage. The battle, consequently, waxed and waned for both sides. The British had the upper hand most of the time, and only losing it when they overplayed their military advantage. This was most obvious during the SAS operations all over the province in the late 1970s after its introduction into South Armagh, Operation 'RANC' against selected targets by Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins' Army after the assassination of Airey Neave,and the cull of Provisionals after the Olof Palme assassination failed to trigger a non-nuclear conculsion to the Cold War at the Soviets' and Gaddafi's expense. About suich shoot-to-kill operations, Father Raymond Murray grimly concluded in The SAS in Ireland that there was no UK solution to the Troubles since the military was on a war footing, and given a license to kill.(4)
Surprisingly, this prediction did not prove to be true, showing once again that even the best informed experts are little better than laymen in predicting the future. Murray's failure was compounded by the fact that he had relied upon the most involved, dedicated politician in making it, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At the Brighton Conservative Party Congress in 1988, the town where she had almost been assassinated just four years earlier, and after the SAS had shot dead those three Provo volunteers at Gibraltar, she declared: "We shall never give up the search for more effective means of defeating the IRA. If the IRA think that they can weary or frighten us, they have made a terrible miscalculation. People sometimes say that it is wrong to use the word 'never' in politics. I disagree. Some things are of such fundamental importance that no other word is appropriate. So I say once again today that this Government will never surrender to the IRA. Never." (5)
Margaret Thatcher proved to be her own political gravedigger in making Murray wrong, and she herself right. It all started when the Prime Minister went beserk when Captain Simon Hayward' biography, Under Fire: My Own Story, appeared. Hayward, apparently Olof Palme's assassin who had subsequently been set-up on a drug-smuggling charge in Sweden to conveniently get him out of the way for the still unsolved crime, had written most bitterly about how the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence personnel had dealt with his problems there, and now Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe had allowed it all to be made public - what could only arouse questions about what else was going on.(6) Seemingly out of the blue, the Prime Minister sacked the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of Defence George Younger had resigned in protest over Howe's treatment.
While this profound shake-up was never explained, only crudely covered up by her underlings, and in her autobiography, it had long-term consequences upon her tenure as Prime Minister. Howe, demoted to Leader of the House of Commons, a completely useless post, was most bitter about his treatment, waiting for a chance to get even. The loss of Younger was even more important since he had handled Thatcher's re-election the last time she was up for party leader. Without Younger, there was no one willing to mobilize support for her, and in a growing political vacuum, she isolated herself even more as her closest adviser on Northern Ireland, Ian Gow, was assassinated in July 1990 in a way which most recalled Airey Neave's murder.(7) It seemed hardly deserved after the British had allowed the IRA's last flying column attack on its Derryard outpost to escape without loss after it had killed two soldiers of the King's Own Scottish Bordereres.
The attack was the long-delayed 'tet' offensive, designed to spark an uprising in the North to join the Republic - what had long been delayed by the capture of the Eksund, loaded wíth Libyan weapons for the Provos. Since the SAS culls of their volunteers, culiminating with the one on The Rock, the Brits had had to play it cool because they overdid it, losing their prime source in the PIRA Council, aka "Steak Knife", in the process. He helped organize the booby trap which killed six British soldiers in Lisburn in June 1988, and the Semtex improvised explovie device which killed another eight along the Ballygawley-Omagh Road two months later.
Peter Brooke had taken over as the Northern Ireland Secretary of State by then, and stunned the public on November 1st that if the IRA stopped their violent activities, the Government might well be obliged to negotiate a settlement with it.(8) This was taken by the Provos as a sign of weakness by the British, so they carried out an attack on the mainland, killing 11 Royal Marine bandsmen at Deal, Kent in following September.
The attack on Derryard, near Rosslea, on December 13th proved how wrong they were. The surprise attack by about 20 volunteers from Fermanagh in the Republic was heavily armed with a flamethrower, and two heavy 12.7mm DShK machine guns mounted on armored vehicles. Others with armed with 11 AK-47s and grenades. No sonner had the attack started, Moloney has written, than "...the column itself came under attack. Heavy gunfire was directed at its members from fields about fifty yards away, while a British army Wessex helicopter appeared from nowhere over a nearby hill. the column fled, leaving behind the primed van bomb." (9)
It was the greatest humiliation that the Provos ever suffered during the Troubles, and this once it could not be blamed on any tout, especially 'Steak knife", tipping off the Brits as he had participated in the attack. The British had learned of it by military eavesdropping in Ulster on their preparations. Its 'Vengeful' system of computers checked on the movement of vehicles concerned while the 'Crucible' one followed the movements of its personnel.(10)
The fallout from the fiasco was so damning that the Provos were obliged most reluctantly to declare a three-day-ceasefire over Christmas - what the media chose to see as a response of Brooke's offer. (11) This revived peace talks which had been dormant for a decade. Only this time, it was "Steak Knife" himself who was dealing with the leading MI5 official John Deverell in Derry rather than MI6's Michael Oatley under now the excuse that the PM was still not interested in talking to the Provos because it would be seen as an obvious U-turn by the *Iron Lady'.
Then a ruse had to be invented to get her out of the way, and make her subordinates do the dealing. Thiis was kicked off by the former Foreign Secretary Howe
challenging her style of leaderhp in his famous resignation speech in the Commons on November 13th. This was seen as opening the door for Michael Haseltine, her arch enemy, replacing her - what seemed to be happening when his challenge for the party leadership resulted in a second ballot on the issue. She chose to see it as failing a vote of confiden, and resigned, to everyone's surprise, as PM. She even tried to stay on without its support, but her colleagues would not hear of such an unprecedented effort. Perhaps, it was just a ruse to show how committed she was against any dealings with the Provisionals.
With the 'Iron Lady' out of the way, steps to arrange a settlement gathered pace. The most imporant one was to hand over the computers systems to the RUC's Special Branch so that it could stop violent incidents while bringing their perpetrators to account rather than just allowing the covert operators do another ambush or cull. The leader of the new approach was Detective Chief Inspector Ian Phoenix.
He was the last policeman one would expect to get the position - having served nine years in the Parachute Regiment, and well acquainted with its former Commaning Officer Peter Chiswell who in 1982 became Commander, Land Forces, Northern Ireland. Perhaps that was the whole idea bejind his appointment. Despite his career during which he had become a Lance Corporal, he had grown tired of struggles, and was most desirous of achieving a peaceful settlement in the province - what led his colleagues in the SAS on more than one occasion to wonder why they were there then. Phoenix even devised an SAS airborne response to another Derryard assault, one which called for the use of no less than eight helicopters.(12) He even suggested the mounting of Tannoys on them, and the playing of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" if their use had ever become necessary
The ensuing struggle between peacemakers and warmakers in Northern Ireland has been more complicated then than anyone imagined, especially from the British side. While the Provos were slowly brought along, thanks to the convenient imprisonment of '"Steak knife" apparently aka Padraig Wilson so that he would not be assaasinated by his more aggressive colleagues, and could bring imprisoned ones along with the peace process, the British were confronted by keeping it officially going by having still a government in Westminster which would endorse it, stopping the infigfhting by warmakers on the mainland and in the province from continuing their disputes, getting counter insurgency elements in Northern Ireland and on the mainland to go along with a single agenda, and forgetting about complaints all concerned had about changing what they had long been involved in. In all this, despite appearances, Phoenix's RUC Special Branch group, involved in reducing political terrorism to just another form of domestic crime, was most central to the process.
Unfortunately, it got off to a most counter productive start after Private Lee Clegg, along with fellow soldiers, of the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment gunned down Martin Peake and Karen Reilly as they sped past a check point in West Belfast on September 30, 1990. The couple from Fermanagh, along with passenger Markiewicz Gorman, were on a joy ride after having stolen a car but the security forces suspected them of being Provo terrorists. Unwisely, the soldiers involved made out that the stolen car had hit Clegg in the process - what was completely demolished when BBC Panorama reporter John Ware discovered that a "... cardboard cut-out dummy of the Astra, decorated with bullet holes, fixed to the wall of the 32 Para's canteen near Belfast...The caption, on the wall above the dummy...said "VAUXHALL ASTRA: BUILT BY ROBOTS. DRIVEN BY JOY-RIDERS.. STOPPED BY 'A' COMPANY." (13)
The biggest trouble was not only were joy-riders made out to be terrorists, but also Karen Reilly was no Provo volunteer but the adopted daughter, it seems, of RUC policeman, and colleague of Phoenix's, John Reilly whose wife Diane who had been married to James McGrillen when she had Karen.(14) McGrillen, an IRA volunteer, had been shot dead similarly in 1976 for car theft. While the killing of Peake and Karen Reilly had just been a result of the Paras going after alleged Provo terrorists, the Reillys saw it as the result of Pheonix's Special Branch going slow on stopping real terrorism, goading the ´Paras to do more. Despite the fact that Ian and Susan Phoenix tried to band with the Reillys over the tragedy, making out that it was simply an accident, and even Ian attending her funeral despite orders against it (15), the Reíllys would not have any of it. Phoenix, it seems, had made a mortal enemy which norhing could undo.
On an institutional level, matters were just as bad in the province and on the mainland because MI5 aka the BOX thought that the RUC was not doing enough to stop Provo terrorism when it was actually doing more despite appearances. MI5 officials were completely turned off when they discovered while on a vist to the province, Phoenix and his agents having a champagne briefing in the morning during which 18 bottles were consummed for an SAS colleague who was leaving (16). Still, the unit, soon upgraded, was providing 80% of the intelligence which was stopping terrorist attacks. The biggest bone of contention between the BOX and Phoenix's unit was over who was directing the ASUs in Britain which were causing most of the havoc.MI5 believed that it was Sean McNulty in North Shields, and Phoenix's SB unit thought it was Phelim Hamill of Queen's Univeristy.
The biggest asset Phoenix had in stopping IRA killing was Martin McGartland aka 'Carol'.(17) McGartland began informing on the activities of 'H' whose ASU specialized in booby-trapping cars. Thanks to his leads, Ian's people prevented a Ulster Defence Regiment soldier from being blown up in North Down, prevented the blowing up of a policeman and a shopping center on November 1, 1990, and then it almost caught 'H' red handed with his bomb making factory.In all, McGartland was credited with having saved 50 people from death at the hands of the Provos.Ultimately, 'Carol' was captured by the Provos' Civil Administration Team aka the torturers, and only escaped death by jumping out of a windon when they were panicked by a helicopter passing overhead. With his cover blown, McGartland was forced to flee to Britain where he was given a new life as Martin Ashe in Whitley Bay, and £100,000, apparently by MI5.
While the SB unit proved ultimately to be right on the matter, leading to the closing down of Hamill's ASU in England, MI5 took over control from the Mets' Special Branch in May 1992 in stopping Provo operations on the mainland.To gain similar control in Northern Ireland, MI5 wanted to have more direct access to its intelligence - what Phoenix complained to its boss about, and he completely agreed, though it didn't stop. The matter came to a head when the top-secret intelligence conference took place in June 1993 near the Mull of Kintyre at the Machrihanish Air Base in Scotland. "Box claimed that it was not happy," Phoenix recorded bitterly in his diary, "with the Special Branch's 'passage of intelligence' and 'would willingly put some of their people in support of us. Kind of them',"(18) In the spring of 1994, Phoenix discovered that MI5 was carrying out operations which the RUC knew nothing about - what became Standard Operating Procedure after he was no longer there to stop it.(19)
Ian continued his fight against the Security Service by socialing more with the province's secuirty people, and increasing the unit's ability to gather intelligence about intended violence through electronic and human sources. On the day before he went to the 1994 top-secret security conference in Fort George, he even got
£2,000 for a handler to recruit a new Provo source.(20) Then Ian asked an alleged trusted colleague, apparently Reilly, if he could borrow his best Barbour jacket for the trip as he planned to do some hiking between conference meetings. Ian then met him over coffee, and "they briefly discussed the PIRA peace moves and how they might be pushed forward."(21) Then he went home at 2 PM to have lunch, and pack for the 5:45 PM from RAF Aldergrove, only to have the Reilly call again. "Have a good weekend. See you Monday." (22) It seemed a bit contrived, like someone wanting an alibi while being involved in some unknown covert action.
"In an interview hours before the crash, the Head of Special Branch (Bob Fitzsimmons) had told Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke that Adams was trying to end the violence: 'However, he questioned Adams's ability to do so, and believed that a final decision to stop the killing would not be taken until security forces had weakened the terrorist structure.' " (23) Seems that Fitzsimmons' confidence was based upon the security establishment in Northern Ireland having resumed contact with McGartland, and he was on the ground at the Mull of Kintyre to be picked up so that he could be taken to the conference. He would tell it that the Provos were on the ropes, thanks to what he and Phoenix's people had done - what would be a great embarrassment and set-back to the BOX.
When the Chinook was loaded at Aldergrove, there were 25 secuirty officers on board - ten from the RUC, nine from military intelligence, and six from MI5 - plus a crew of four to fly the machine. After it had been airborne for 13 minutes, its passenger list was put through the shredder for secuirty reasons to help hide what was really going on.(24) Just before impact, the pilots changed the way point (WP) to the one at Corran, removing their immediate postion at the Mull of Kintyre from disclosure(25) The flight was then obliged to use a Covert Personnel Locator System (CPLS) where persons on the ground with a portable handset steered the helicopter in for the landing by a UHF radio signal which is received onboard. The only trouble was that it wasn't the landing pad they wanted but a "vertical corner" which forced it into crashing into the Mull's Hill of Stone, killing twenty nine people whose bodies were found on the ground.(26)
The person they planned to pick up, apparently Martin McGartland, witnessed the crash and was horrified by it. Instead of the conference being obliged to work on closely with the RUC, especially its SB, it just acknowledged that MI5 ran everything now because there was really no one else. The source who McGartland wanted to develop, whoever it was, didn't need to be told that the Provos best hopes in a settlement had been greatly reduced by the crash. Little wonder that three months later, after everyone had been consulted on the mainland and back in Ulster, those in prison and those not, the Provos announced their long-awaited ceasefire. Under the circumstances, Prime Minister John Major, who had taken over for Howe when Maggie sacked himl, was quite subdued about the situation, doubting that it would hold up, but it did.
Conditions got worse for MCGartland when a board of inquiry reported without pointing the finger at the pilots, only to have two senior RAF officers add just that. The inquest could not come up with any answer either for the crash.
When the sabotaging of the Chinook seemed well and truly buried, MI5's Director General at the time was allowed the unprecedented liberty of publishing her intelligence memoirs, Open Secret, and, of course, she nothing of substance about it, only that she was most upset about the deaths of the RUC officers, especially that of Bob Firzsimmons, the head of its SB. The names of her own staff lost, particularly that of DCI John Deverell, was never mentioned.
Then Annie Machon, with help from David Shayler, added complete fiction about the confrontation in Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers where the RUC was hardly mentioned at all, and its Special Branch and Ian Phoenix never. The struggle with the Provisionals was seen as all a mainland matter, and its slowness in dealing with the challenge timely and properly. The only time Northern Ireland was mentioned in any serious regard was when collague William Perkins - name changed on orders of Mi5, and apparently Jonathan 'Bob' Evans who is its Director General - was obliged to go to the province just before the crash, apparently to make the necessary arrangement. There can be no doubt that Perkins is Evans after she wrote this: "He looked much older than his age, 38, as he was almost totally bald on top and had a Zapata moustache, which also dated him."(27)
The best example of the cover up occurred when Perkins was sent off to Northern Ireland on this note by his head of section: "And what ca we say about Bill? He has had to suffer the double misfortune of being posted to Northern Ireland wihtout his wife and of having broken his right wrist." (28)
The best evidence of McGartland being the man to be picked up is how the Provos have gone after him, once he became known to the public in the Northeast when the NOrthumbria police caught him speeding, and discovered who he really is. Provos almost killed him for it in 1999, shooting him six times. By this time, he had written about 'Carol's exploits against them, Fifty Dead Men Walking, which was recently made into a successful film, though McGartland didn't like it.
He did go out of his way to say that the pilots of the Chinook must be cleared, and when judge Lord Philip did just this last July, he was ecstatic on facebook: "True Heroes Place Themselves at Risk for the Benefit od Others, to save lies. Many of those who died were leading anti-terrorism experts who had made such a valuable contribution to defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland and on the UK mainland." (29)
Only time will tell if those who sabotaged the Chinook are finally brought to justice.
1. Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, p. 85.
2. Ibid´. p. 99.
3. Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, p. 111.
4. p. 454.
5. Quoted from ibid.
6. For more, see my article at: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5318.html
7. Paul Routledge, Public Servant, Secret Agent, p. 350ff.
8. Taylor, op. cit., pp. 313-4.
9. Moloney, op. cit, p. 334.
10. Tony Geraghty; The Irish War, pp. 158-9. It is interesting to note that after the book appeared in 1998, and the eaverdropping role in achieving a settlement became better known, Geraghty was prosecuted, and almost sent to prison for discussing these systems which were so important in bringing the Provos to heel.
11. See, e. g., Taylor, p. 315.
12. Jack Holland and Susan Phoenix, Phoenix: Policing The Shadows, pp.249-51.
13. Geraghty, op. cit., p. 104.
14 Ibid, p. 108.
15. Holland and Phoenix, op. cit., pp. 276-7.
16. Ibid., p. 240.
17. For more, see ibid., p. 262ff.
18. Ibid., p. 324.
19. Ibid., p. 326.
20. Ibid., p. 331.
21. Ibid., p. 332.
22. Quoted from ibid.
23. Quoted from Mark Urban, UK Eyes Alpha, p. 277
24. Holland and Phoenix - op. cit., p. 333.
25. Ibid., p. 350.
26. For more, see this link: http://globalresearch/PrintArticle.php?articleId=27828
27. p. 98.
28. Quoted from ibid.