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. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

"A legalised Death Squad" - Killing For Britain, 2016 edition

Another of our authors, an ex-SAS soldier who was in the MRF in Belfast in 1972, actually said to me, "we were a legalised Death Squad." 

(Killing For Britain 2016 edition is published 12th March on Kindle for the first time)

Killing For Britain 2016 on Kindle

John Black was a former UVF member from Belfast. I interviewed him dozens of times over a two-year period in preparation for publishing Killing For Britain, his own account of his time in Belfast in the early 1970s.  

Black lived quite close to me around 2006 and I got to know him very well. It was hard to believe that the frail man approaching old age could have been involved in an organisation that committed terrible crimes in early 1970s Belfast. The UVF were by no means alone in committing terrible crimes against civilians. The IRA, the UDA and others were responsible for the deaths of civilians as they prosecuted their wars. The responsibility for the creation of these wars will provide debate from now to eternity. But that civilians, as always, bore the brunt is indisputable. And, what is becoming clear as research into Collusion (between British Army and Loyalist killers) continues decades later, is that the British Army not only killed civilians "by accident" but actually planned the killing of civilians as a tactic. This is why, according to John Black, the army's secretive MRF (Military Reaction Force) used loyalists to target Catholics in Belfast in the 1970s.  

The idea was to put pressure on Nationalist communities to stop them either supporting or tolerating the IRA. The logic was that if Nationalist suffered enough bereavement and grief as a community then they'd insist the IRA ceasefire. This is not a uniquely barbarous method of madness. This is a common military tactic when armies seek advantage over enemies, not that this fact is ever used in recruitment ads. War is brutal so no one should be surprised by its brutality.

This was the context for British Miltary Intelligence to approach loyalist paramilitaries like John Black and convince them that they were aiding the British army by carrying out "dirty actions" in the dirty war. As I said on George Galloway's Press TV show some years ago, if it wasn’t John Black, it would have been John Brown, or Fred Brown, or whoever. The actions would have been performed regardless because they were planned.

Collusion was a dirty word when the first edition of Killing For Britain was published in 2008. In my own research I came across former members of the MRF from that period. One of them described the unit he worked in then as a "legalised death squad".

There was a Panorama documentary on the Military Reaction Force a few years later and one of the participants was one of the MRF members I'd discussed the period with. So, there is no doubt that the unit existed and targeted various people for extra judicial executions. It’s hard to write off these claims off as "Republican Propaganda" when terms like "legalised Death Squad" was the description of the MRF by one of its own members.

British Military intelligence utilised the MRF and other strands of activity relating to putting pressure on the IRA and Nationalist communities. It is our contention that the term MRF was used by John Black's military contact ("Mike") as a handy tag to pin on their activities, like a brand name almost for much of the "secret squirrel" activities which ran concurrent to the MRF activities in the Panorama documentary.

John Black's claims benefited from our research finding the "Mike" character in the book - at least, that is our certain belief. See the extract from the book below this blogpost.

Killing for Britain is a harrowing account of murderous times and none of the participants, Loyalists, Republicans, or the British Army, can claim to have clean hands.  The author was traumatised by the events, although not as traumatised as innocent victims of the period, a fact he readily agreed with. While the author will always be a committed loyalist, his hope was that the awful events and attitudes highlighted in the book would make anyone thinking of following in his footsteps think again. 

Extract from 2016 edition of Killing For Britain, by John Black

"Initially, the author's claim having been taken out in uniform by the British Army on Bloody Sunday was considered doubtful but, on consideration, it had to be either the truth, or a downright lie – there was no in-between regarding this claim. The author would therefore benefit from receiving some corroboration. As well as the author himself, the other main personality in the book is the author's British army contact, "Mike". Post-publication of the first edition of this book we made attempts to locate the now infamous "Mike".


British army sources had, upon reading the manuscript, suggested a likely profile of “Mike”: a senior NCO, late 20s, early 30s, certainly with specialist weapons training, and probable Special Forces involvement.

The author had described “Mike” as being around 6ft with "a decent head of hair", capable of affecting an “Ulster” accent, one from "out in the country somewhere”, rather than from Belfast. “Mike”, according to the author, had claimed to be Irish originally and had moved to England as a child and grown up in the North East of England before joining the army there. British army sources further suggested that “Mike” was unlikely to have been officially connected to the MRF but was in fact more likely to have been involved in some concurrent operation, one that felt it convenient to use the tag, or catch all “brand name”, of the MRF. Sources further suggested that “Mike” may have been what they called a “secret squirrel”. (Admittedly, other sources though, who were in the MRF in Belfast at that time, deny ever knowing a character such as “Mike”. However, they didn’t have an overview of all Military Intelligence options in play at the time). The shots allegedly fired by "Mike" in the book are clearly those of an uncommonly skilled marksman.

The book was published before we had found “Mike” but with having a firm belief he existed. We believed most of the other claims (apart from the Bloody Sunday ones) could be stood up. Concerns regarding the sheer scale of the amount of so-called OOBs (Out Of Bounds orders) were put to British army sources who responded that if “Mike” existed, there was nothing to stop him claiming to the author that OOBs were in place when none actually were. It was suggested that “Mike’s” job may have been to convince people like the author that their activities were approved of, and supported by, official security forces. In other words, “normal”. This is not unusual where a colonial power has co-opted and encouraged the murderous impulses of “reliable natives”, many of whom develop feelings of doubt, then guilt and then become “unreliable”. Reinforcing their belief that they were in some way, however abstract, part of the army’s efforts stemmed guilt and doubt. It also reinforced their belief that they deserved to be the dominant community. The author’s claims of an OOB being in place are based simply on “Mike” telling him they were. Sources suggested the term OOB might have been a corruption of various terms. It was also suggested that “Mike” could have called them anything he wanted. As far as the author was concerned “Mike” was the army. It must also be said that some sources indulged in something like a campaign of misinformation when responding to our queries.

In the text the author describes being briefed at Palace Barracks. He mistakenly IDs an officer’s rank, misreading his “pips”. The author’s lack of knowledge of the ranking system or emblems does not mean his claims are not real. It just means he never studied rank.

The author claims the Palace Barracks compound was walled by a “wooden fence”. It was in fact walled mainly by corrugated iron fencing. Post publication of the first edition we put this to him. He replied that his memory struggled here but he was certain that it was at least some combination of both. Subsequently, we were shown photos from the period by an army source, who was there at the time, showing the wall to be indeed corrugated iron but with some wooden supports at points.

Post publication we believe we found “Mike”.

Warrant Officer Michael Norman was a sniper of exceptionally high skill to the point that he ended up a sniper instructor at Warminster. He had served in Ireland during the period covered in the book. He was 62 years old in 2005, making him late 20s early 30s in the early 1970s. From North East England, he’d spent time in Ireland as a child where his family had land in Roscommon (according to his ex-wife). He’d joined the Coldstream Guards, as other Geordies had done. Michael Norman was an anonymous witness called by the Bloody Sunday Enquiry, surely only because he was there on that fateful day.

Michael Norman had in his possession photographs relating to the Springhill Massacre when he was found shot dead in his car not far from a police station in Hounslow in April 2005, around 6-8 months after he’d met the author in Ayr, Scotland, in an effort to dissuade him from writing his book. Detectives initially suspected foul play (a so-called IRA “revenge squad” being suspected). Scotland Yard took over the investigation, reportedly “due to the sensitive nature” of Mike Norman’s “work in Ireland”. His death was eventually ruled suicide.

Initial reports stated that a 9mm pistol was found in the car when the body was discovered. However, a police source told us in 2010 that the weapon was actually a shotgun which had been registered to Mike Norman and that he’d shot himself in the stomach. The same source stated that there had been NO photos of the Springhill Massacre in the car at the time, contrary to initial reports on the public record. The source added that Norman had become a quite unstable in later life. It seemed this source might be trying to discredit Norman.

1. Why would a renowned weapons expert decide to maximise his suffering by shooting himself in the stomach, and with a shotgun at that?
2. Was Mike driving to a police station?  If so, why do that with a shotgun, or, for that matter, a 9mm?
3. Why was the weapon changed from a 9mm to a shotgun in different reports? It’s not like they are similar.
4. Why was the presence of photographs from the Springhill Massacre initially claimed at all if they had not been there. As one police source said, “it’s a strange thing to report in the first place if it wasn’t true.”
5. Why was Michael Norman called to give evidence to the Bloody Sunday Enquiry?"