The Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (internally “The Det”) was a part of the British Army Intelligence Corps involved in plain-clothes operations in Northern Ireland from the 1970`s on-wards.
The unit conducted undercover surveillance operations against suspected members of Irish republican and loyalist paramilitary groups. Its troops were recruited from line battalions and trained in an eight-week course by the Special Air Service (SAS).
An initial deployment of 120 men took place in November 1972. Allegations of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries were made against the unit. In 1987, the unit became part of the newly formed United Kingdom Special Forces directorate.
The unit was amalgamated with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment or SRR in 2005.
The Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as 14 Intelligence Company was the successor to the Military Reaction Force (MRF).
“Special Reconnaissance Unit” is the term appearing in official documents from the 1970s. An April 1974 briefing for Prime Minister Harold Wilson states:
The term “Special Reconnaissance Unit” and the details of its organisation and mode of operations have been kept secret. The SRU operates in Northern Ireland at present under the cover name “Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Teams (Northern Ireland)” – NITAT(NI) – ostensibly the equivalent of genuine NITAT teams in UKLF and BAOR.
Authors claiming to be former members of the unit describe an organisation with a depot in Great Britain and four operational detachments in Northern Ireland.
Main Det (Headquarters), RAF Aldergrove
East Det, based at Palace Barracks, Belfast
North Det, based at Ballykelly, County Londonderry
South Det based in Fermanagh
Selection and training of personnel from all arms of the British Armed Forces was conducted in a number of locations in Great Britain. Candidates, both male and female, volunteered for special duties for periods of 18–36 months, before being returned to a parent unit.
Trained surveillance operators could volunteer for re-deployment after a period with the parent unit, with potential opportunities to serve in command, staff or training roles within the organisation or higher command structure.
14 Intelligence was accused of acting in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries by former intelligence personnel Fred Holroyd and Colin Wallace in regards to the death of senior Provisional Irish Republican Army member John Francis Green, the Miami Showband killings and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
14th April 1974: Captain Anthony Pollen was shot dead in Derry while carrying out undercover surveillance on a Sinn Féin event. He was shot twice in front of a crowd of more than 150 people.
15th May 1977: Captain Robert Nairac kidnapped and shot by the IRA.
14th December 1977: Corporal Paul Harman was shot dead by the IRA in west Belfast. Harman was undercover when he stopped his red Morris Marina on Monagh Avenue. An IRA unit approached the car and shot him in the head and back and torched the car.
11th August 1978: Lance Corporal Alan Swift was shot dead while undercover in the Bogside area of Derry City. Two IRA members fired into the corporal’s car with automatic rifles.
6th May 1979: Sergeant Robert Maughan was shot dead outside of a church in Lisnaskea
21st February 1984: Sergeant Paul Oram was killed in an incident in mainly nationalist Dunloy, Ballymoney when he and a colleague were surprised in the dead of night by an IRA unit operating in the area.
Sgt Oram and his colleague drew their pistols and engaged the men, striking Declan Martin (18) and Henry Hogan (21).
Sgt Oram was killed almost instantly. According to his colleague, the two IRA members fell to the ground and were still alive, but he killed them as, in his opinion, they still constituted a threat. Oram’s colleague was seriously wounded but team-members stationed nearby assisted, and he survived.
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The Force Research Unit (FRU) is a covert military intelligence unit of the British Army part of the Intelligence Corps. It was established in 1982 during the Troubles to obtain intelligence from secretly penetrating terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland by recruiting and running agents and informants.
It worked alongside existing intelligence agencies the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and MI5. In 1988, the All-Source Intelligence Cell was formed to improve the sharing of intelligence between the FRU, Special Branch and MI5.
The FRU was renamed to the Joint Support Group (JSG) following the Stevens Inquiry into allegations of collusion between the security forces and Protestant paramilitary groups.
The FRU was found to have colluded with British loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of civilians. This has been confirmed by some former members of the unit. From 1987 to 1991, it was commanded by Gordon Kerr.
In the mid 1980s, the FRU recruited Brian Nelson as a double agent inside the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
The UDA was a legal, Ulster loyalist paramilitary group that had been involved in hundreds of attacks on Catholic and nationalist civilians, as well as a handful on republican paramilitaries.
The FRU helped Nelson become the UDA’s chief intelligence officer.
In 1988, weapons were shipped to loyalists from South Africa under Nelson’s supervision. Through Nelson, the FRU helped the UDA to target people for assassination. FRU commanders say their plan was to make the UDA “more professional” by helping it to kill republican activists and prevent it from killing uninvolved Catholic civilians.
They say if someone was under threat, agents like Nelson were to inform the FRU, who were then to alert the police. Gordon Kerr, who ran the FRU from 1987 to 1991, claimed Nelson and the FRU saved over 200 lives in this way.
However, the Stevens Inquiries found evidence that only two lives were saved and said many loyalist attacks could have been prevented but were allowed to go ahead.
The Stevens team believes that Nelson was responsible for at least 30 murders and many other attacks, and that many of the victims were uninvolved civilians.
One of the most prominent victims was solicitor Pat Finucane. Although Nelson was imprisoned in 1992, FRU intelligence continued to help the UDA and other loyalist groups.
From 1992 to 1994, loyalists were responsible for more deaths than republicans for the first time since the 1960s.
Allegations exist that the FRU sought restriction orders in advance of a number of loyalist paramilitary attacks in order to facilitate easy access to and escape from their target.
A restriction order is a de-confliction agreement to restrict patrolling or surveillance in an area over a specified period.
This de-confliction activity was carried out at a weekly Tasking and Co-ordination Group which included representatives of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, MI5 and the British Army.
It is claimed the FRU asked for restriction orders to be placed on areas where they knew loyalist paramilitaries were going to attack.
Alleged infiltration of republican paramilitary groups
FRU are also alleged to have handled agents within republican paramilitary groups. A number of agents are suspected to have been handled by the FRU including IRA units who planted bombs and assassinated. ?
Attacks are said to have taken place involving FRU-controlled agents highly placed within the IRA. The main agent to have been uncovered so far was codenamed “Stakeknife”. There is a debate as to whether this agent is IRA member Freddie Scappaticci or another, as yet unidentified, IRA member.
“Stakeknife” is thought to have been a member of the IRA’s Internal Security Unit – a unit responsible for counter-intelligence, interrogation and court martial of informers within the IRA. It is believed that “Stakeknife” was used by the FRU to influence the outcome of investigations conducted by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit into the activities of IRA volunteers.
It is alleged that in 1997 the UDA came into possession of details relating to the identity of the FRU-controlled IRA volunteer codenamed “Stakeknife”. It is further alleged that the UDA, unaware of this IRA volunteer’s value to the FRU, planned to assassinate him.
It is alleged that after the FRU discovered “Stakeknife” was in danger from UDA assassination they used Brian Nelson to persuade the UDA to assassinate Francisco Notarantonio instead, a Belfast pensioner who had been interned as an Irish republican in the 1940s.
The killing of Notarantonio was claimed by the UFF at the time. Following the killing of Notarantonio, unaware of the involvement of the FRU, the IRA assassinated two UDA leaders in reprisal attacks. It has been alleged that the FRU secretly passed details of the two UDA leaders to the IRA via “Stakeknife” in an effort to distract attention from “Stakeknife” as a possible informer.
FRU and the Stevens Inquiry
Former FRU operative Martin Ingram asserted that the arson attack which destroyed the offices of the Stevens Inquiry was carried out by the FRU to destroy evidence on operational activities collected by Stevens’ team.
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