Monday, 28 March 2016

COLLUSION - Northern Ireland’s own Stay Behind Armies and Strategy of Tension

When “Collusion” between loyalist paramilitaries and the British Army was first suggested it was dismissed as republican propaganda or weird conspiracy material. Indeed, to ask serious questions about it meant that, if you were any kind of investigator or researcher, you could be easily ridiculed and therefore ignored if you had suggested Collusion was real. I remember trying to interest some journalists about this in the early 1990s when I was first in Northern Ireland with a view to doing a book on the subject. I was struck by how determined some were to dismiss the notion. One did suggest that his career would certainly be hurt if he was seen to be pursuing it even if he did believe it was real. As it happened he didn’t believe it was anything other than “rotten apples.” So the subject remained at best on the periphery of mainstream reporting, despite massing evidence that Collusion was not only taking place but had to have some kind of structure and official support.

Rotten Apples
Those involved in creating modern Collusion in Ireland were very careful to cover their tracks. They had experience of doing this all over the world over decades. So, they knew what they were doing. In fact, in this context, you can see that had Collusion NOT occurred in Ireland then that would make Ireland the exception when one looks at Malaya, Kenya, Aden and other theatres.

Should any part of the trail became exposed to public view due to some operational carelessness or some investigative journalist taking his/her role seriously, then the first “explanation” was the Rotten Apples theory, as in, “Yes, there was some co-operation between rogue RUC (or Army) personnel and we’re dealing with that.” Then the inevitable excuses for these rogues’ motivation would be trotted out. “You’ve got to understand that these people have seen their community hurt by terrorists. So, naturally, a rotten apple might let emotion guide him.”

The second line of defence was “Ok, perhaps it was more than one rotten apple in that area. Maybe a few of them there took the law into their own hands.” And there were other lines of defence grudgingly offered but usually only years after any potentially illuminating event. So context would be lost and we’d be left looking at, ostensibly, a series of unconnected events performed by a rogue and/or rogues. But the truth was much darker, much more obscene and, much more horrifying.  One day, it will be commonly accepted Collusion was official military policy.

Strategy Of Tension and Stay Behinds
It is worth reading books like Killing for Britain by UVF man John Black in the context of not only Ireland but also of Western Europe in the post-war Cold War.

Every major NATO country had a contingency plan catering for a successful Soviet Russian invasion of Western Europe, perfectly natural given there was a real fear in the minds of NATO planners that the Communist hordes were intent in invading the West. After all, Russian land forces were the largest on the contentment and had not long defeated the mighty German Wehrmacht. They were literally on the border of Western Europe. And, given the tension between the two power blocks of East and West, it was not inconceivable that one of these blocks might give into itchy trigger syndrome in panic, thus starting a war.

Should that result in Russia overrunning Western Europe, the NATO planners devised what became known as NATO Stay Behind Armies, roughly based on the concept so well executed by the French Resistance and elements of British special forces during the brief Nazi reign of Europe from 1940-45. 

In the ideological context of the time, NATO planners looked specifically for committed pro-state and anti-communist sorts to become operatives in their secret army. All this might still be secret were it not for the statement of Italian Prime Minister GiulioAndreotti revealing it to the Chamber of Deputies on October 24, 1990 which sparked a flurry of investigations which detailed the Italian Operation Gladio.  However, Gulf War One soon blew the story off the world’s media headlines - that and NATO covering the tracks.

This meant NATO getting into bed effectively with many right wing elements, including pro-Nazis who now saw NATO as the best guarantor against the feared Russian invasion. As well as many Nazi scientists and intelligence agents going on to form the nucleus of NATOs nuclear and European intelligence agencies, many more became senior figures in the formation of the Stay Behind Armies whose role would be to become the anti-Soviet resistance in any territories the Soviet armies conquered.

However, in an effort to forestall either a Soviet advance, or the development of sympathy for communism in Western Europe, the NATO Stay Behind Armies often played covert roles in subverting democratic votes in especially Italy and France as well as other countries where Communists had strong democratic mandates.

One key method of reducing public sympathy for Leftist politics was to discredit Communist or socialist groups. This could be by humiliating some leaders with scandals and such like. But a much more horrific modes operandi was to perpetrate no warning terrorist outrages resulting in civilian deaths and then blaming these on leftist groups. The NATO countries intelligence agencies could either tap into the genuine terrorist instincts of some leftist groups, or it could infiltrate these groups and guide them to terrorist actions, or they could simply use their own Stay Behind operatives to place bombs in public places and massacre civilians. This would create fear and panic in the populace and result in people insisting their government implement extreme security measures, thus allowing even easier monitoring of the leftist groups that “threatened” to undermine the state in the hope of gaining power themselves or of instigating a Soviet invasion. The placing of these bombs, which killed scores of civilians in Italy, created a climate of near paralysis. This was a result of the implemented Strategy Of Tension.

Consider then what preparations would the NATO planners of the Stay Behind Armies in continental Europe have made in Northern Ireland – unless you think it too far-fetched for these meticulous chaps to have noticed that Northern Ireland was a potential trouble spot and a security Achilles Heel with its anti-state insurgency potential.

Going by the form established in Germany, Italy, Belgium and others, the NATO planners would have ensured the selection of appropriately pro-state types in Northern Ireland and who could be relied upon to co-operate with covert state forces in order to protect the state and challenge any insurgency.

Killing For Britain by John Black in this context does not seem quite so far-fetched as some would have liked to suggest when it was first published in 2008, especially in the light of the subsequent finding of Mike Norman, thought to be the pivotal “Mike” in John Black’s account of his time as a UVF member working with British Military Intelligence in Belfast in the early 1970s.

Several British Military and Intelligence contacts, who kindly assisted me when writing The Hunger Strikes and when researching other books including SAS Warlord and John Black’s Killing For Britain, emphasised the importance of the Cold War in their thinking regarding “Ulster”. One of these contacts was a senior Military Intelligence operative with strong SIS links. He insisted the Cold War aspect is always underrated as a key factor in British State thinking on Northern Ireland. 

But, when one considers this, and considers NATO Stay Behind Armies - and further considers the whole concept of Collusion between pro-state terrorists and state forces in Northern Ireland and Western Europe - then one can clearly see an important pattern. When studied in this context, it would be remarkable if Northern Ireland was the one potential conflict zone in Western Europe where such collusion was NOT a reality. In fact, any contention that Collusion in Northern Ireland did not take place or that it was not sanctioned at official levels is simply unrealistic. 

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