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Infamous terrorist was army plant { March 4 2001 }

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Sunday Herald - 04 March 2001
Infamous terrorist was army plant

"IT IS as simple as this," the former intelligence officer says. "The British Army took an honest soldier, paid him to become a terrorist and then fed him the information he needed to set up Catholics for assassination. We turned an ordinary man into a monster."

The honest soldier is Brian Nelson - perhaps the army's most infamous agent ever to operate in Ulster. His journey from ordinary man to monster begins at the fag-end of a five-year stint in the Black Watch regiment. It was then that the call came through from the shadowy Force Research Unit, the army's ultra-secret intelligence outfit in Northern Ireland.

They wanted to see Nelson. They had a proposition for him. It was 1977 and FRU officers asked him one question: would he be prepared to give up his career in the prestigious Scots regiment and return to his home on the Shankill Road in Belfast?

There was only one catch - he had to go back as a terrorist. The FRU wanted Nelson to accept a discharge from the army and join the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association. They had big plans for him.

Nelson was handled by Colonel Gordon Kerr, an Aberdeen man and former Gordon Highlander who came to command the FRU. Over the years, the FRU passed Nelson the names, addresses and photographs of nationalists and Catholics. Nelson took this information and passed it to loyalist murder gangs, who used it to carry out assassinations on at least 14 people.

Until now it was thought that Nelson was recruited after he left the army. But the Sunday Herald has discovered that he was recruited and encouraged into his criminal and terrorist career, while still a soldier, by senior officers in the army.

As FRU sources told the Sunday Herald: "If Nelson had been recruited when he was in the UDA, all that would have happened is that the army turned a terrorist, who once happened to be a soldier, into a double agent. That happens all the time.

"However, the truth is much worse. We took an ordinary soldier and turned him into a criminal. We took a man, told him to become a terrorist and then supplied him with the information he needed to be a good terrorist - namely intelligence used to take out Catholics.

"This is probably the worst case of the use of an agent provocateur ever undertaken by the army - and there were actually anywhere between 16 and 20 agents similar to Nelson operating in Ulster. That means we put at least 16 decent soldiers into Northern Ireland and told them to commit terrorist crimes."

Over the past five months the Sunday Herald has investigated the actions of the FRU in Northern Ireland under the command of Colonel Kerr, who is now both a brigadier in the Intelligence Corps and the British military attachˇ in Beijing.

Our investigations, which have earned us two threats of being gagged by the Ministry of Defence on the grounds of national security, show how Nelson was passed information by a female FRU officer about the nationalist solicitor Pat Finucane, who was shot dead in front of his wife and children by a loyalist murder gang in 1991.

The most disturbing evidence surrounds the use of British soldiers as agents provocateurs. Between eight and 10 soldiers with Irish Catholic backgrounds were discharged from the army and told to join the IRA at the request of the FRU. The same number were recruited into loyalist para military organisations.

A number of these agents carried out terrorist actions in order to preserve their own cover, in which they both injured and killed civilians, RUC officers and army personnel with the fore-knowledge of their FRU handlers.

"It is hard to get your head around", said one FRU source. "To ordinary punters it is inconceivable, because it shows that the British were actually fighting the British. We were putting our agents into terrorist organisations in an attempt to beat terrorists, but then allowing them, and encouraging them, to carry out the crimes we wanted to stop in the first place. We were allowing them to kill - even allowing them to kill our own - and helping them work as terrorists. It's through-the-looking-glass stuff. It seems the army are the terrorists and the terrorists are the army. It is a policy without any morality."

The Sunday Herald has also spoken to British soldiers who were discharged from the army and then joined the ranks of the republican movement. One such man was Willie Carlin, who rose high in Sinn Fein. Another, whom we can name only as Kevin, was a leading Provisional.

Both, like Nelson, were passed information by the British so they could rise through the ranks. The details on prominent Catholics and nationalists that were passed to Nelson allowed him to become the UDA's chief intelligence officer, and Carlin was manoeuvred, with the help of information passed to him by military intelligence, into the position of Martin McGuinness's right- hand man.

As one FRU source put it: "It's about total penetration of your target. To be able to beat the enemy, you actually need to be the enemy."

The FRU is currently under investigation by Sir John Stevens, the Scotland Yard commissioner, over collusion with loyalist terrorists. Kerr and the female agent- handler are to be questioned by the Stevens team.

In 1991, Nelson was arrested for a catalogue of crimes and eventually served eight years of a 10-year prison sentence for terrorist offences, including five charges of conspiracy to murder.

During Nelson's trial, Kerr - who gave evidence under the name Colonel J - praised Nelson for his bravery. Nelson revealed nothing about his collusion with the army during the trial and was given more than £200,000 by the army to re-start his life on release. He is now thought to be in hiding in New Zealand.

Copyright © 2001 smg sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088

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