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Deadly mole ira { May 12 2003 }

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Double life of the spy linked to 40 killings

By Joe Gorrod and Stephen White

STAKEKNIFE, the IRA chief executioner involved in the deaths of more than 40 victims, was the Army's leading mole inside the terrorist organisation.

The Army's Force Research Unit, which schemed with loyalist killers to target Catholic victims, kept him under cover for 20 years as he played a double game of murder and treachery.

They allowed him to kill other informers to protect his own identity under his codename while he named leading IRA members and leaked information about their operations.

Intelligence dossiers based on his spy reports were read at Cabinet level. But Ministers had no idea how he was being handled by the men who pulled his strings or that they were paying him 80,000 a year.

The revelations will put new pressure on the FRU secret intelligence unit - described by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens as "a disaster" - and its commander Brigadier Gordon Kerr, now British Military Attache in Beijing.

Sir John, who has reported on shocking levels of FRU collusion with loyalist killers, wants to quiz Stakeknife within days about a spate of sectarian murders, including claims that innocent Catholics and other agents were killed to protect his identity.

Republicans in Belfast and Dublin were stunned by the revelations about the man who was head of the IRA's Internal Security Unit and a member of its General Headquarters Staff.

Anthony McIntyre, a former prisoner who quit the Provisional movement over the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, said: "This is potentially devastating for the IRA.

"If it's true then it's a major coup for the British. It would mean they have been steering republican strategy for years."

Spy chiefs have been battling to keep the mole's identity secret since disgruntled former agents threatened to name him months ago.

They fear the IRA terrorists he betrayed will stop at nothing to hunt him down.

One security source said: "Republicans will be appalled by his 20 years of treachery and the fact that he killed others to cover his own back.

"Killing him could be worth breaking the ceasefire, especially since it would not be considered a hostile activity."

Belfast-born Stakeknife began his career as a spy after being the victim of an IRA punishment beating. He walked into an Army base to offer his services.

He was active in the IRA when internment was introduced in 1971. While he was in Long Kesh he became firm friends with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. He became head of the IRA's Civil Administration team, the rough justice outfit feared in Catholic neighbourhoods as the Nutting Squad.

IRA veterans feared being summoned by Stakeknife because it usually meant a death sentence. He had been sent to Libya to learn how Colonel Gaddafi's police persuaded suspects to talk. Many corpses he left in his wake had cigarette burns on their bodies or fingernails and teeth missing.

He once said: "I left them dead and walked away laughing."

Stakeknife is said to have provided the information which led to the Death on the Rock killings, when IRA volunteers Sean Savage, Mairead Farrell and Danny McCann were shot in Gibraltar by the SAS in 1988.

He set up Sinn Fein publicity chief Danny Morrison when the FRU wanted him out of circulation. Stakeknife tortured suspected informer Sandy Lynch for three days.

Morrison was lured to a house in Belfast in 1990 on the pretext of organising a press conference. Stakeknife left before police and troops swooped - andd Morrison was jailed for eight years for falsely imprisoning Lynch.

Stakeknife personally executed other Army agents, finding out if they were able to expose him before shooting them in the head.

He callously wiped out one team planted into the IRA by his Army handlers after they murdered a girl who knew their role.

Aiden Starrs, Gregory Burns and John Wignam spent years working with agents on operations that almost wiped out the IRA in mid-Ulster. Burns split from his girlfriend Margaret Perry, who knew his secret, and the others killed her with a spade so she could not betray them.

A year later Stakeknife forced taped confessions out of them with a red hot poker and shot them in the head. He also kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and IRA men suspected of being informers.

The FRU even turned their friends in loyalist killer squads on an innocent pensioner to smokescreen Stakeknife.

The unit had a Stakeknife team with a fleet of vehicles dedicated to protecting him.

A group of soldiers turned spies claim their safety was sacrificed to save him.

They say MI5 encouraged members of the Royal Irish Regiment to infiltrate the IRA and Sinn Fein in the 80s with a brief to thwart terrorist attacks.

They include the man known as Kevin Fulton, who joined the Provisional IRA.

Fulton, who says British intelligence was prepared to fight an "unscrupulous and dirty" war against the IRA, believes the group's fate was ignored to protect Stakeknife.

They claim the Government reneged on promises of new identities after the years they spent risking their lives as double agents.

They want the Ministry of Defence to relocate them with new names, careers and full military pensions.

But the Northern Ireland Office has refused Fulton's request because police say he is not at risk.

Fulton said: "We put our lives on the line and they are throwing us away."

The FRU claims Stakeknife saved more lives than he took and that he was part of a strategy to beat terrorists at any cost.

But when Sir John Stevens published his report last month he said his long investigation had discovered only two cases where such contacts saved lives.

Danny Morrison, now an acclaimed writer, refused to believe the claims about Stakeknife until they had been independently verified. He said: "Unless proved otherwise, I'm sceptical of allegations which have as their source British intelligence."

Labour MP Stephen Pound called for an inquiry into the paying of agents. He said: "Anyone with even nodding acquaintance with democracy will be deeply alarmed by this policy of state sponsored terrorism."

But Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble defended the tactic.

He said: "It is the key way in which the paramilitaries have been groujnd down and brought close to defeat."

Sinn Fein refused to comment. A spokesman said: "There won't be anybody saying anything about this."

Downing Street also refused to comment. Asked if Tony Blair knew intelligence came from paid paramilitaries, a spokesman said: "We do not comment on security or intelligence matters."

And asked whether the Prime Minister knew that Stakeknife was involved in murders, he said: "We do not comment on security or intelligence matters."

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