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Irish Independent 17th May
The spy who almost came in from the cold
THE STAKEKNIFE SCANDAL
Alfredo 'Freddie' Scappaticci stepped out of the shadows this week to deny he is the notorious IRA double agent called Stakeknife; and after days of media speculation only two things seem clear: Stakeknife does indeed exist, but his identity remains a mystery. But what broke the story in the first place?
'He was a walk-in. He literally walked into a (British) army base far from where he lives and offered to work for us. He knows he can leave any time. He has a small fortune to spend and he could go anywhere in the world. But he's always lured to stay with the promise of more money and the excitement of the deadly game he plays. He seems to really enjoy it. It's almost like an addiction now."
That was how an anonymous British soldier from the sinister espionage Force Research Unit described its most precious IRA informant, the man code-named Stakeknife, to the Sunday People newspaper. The source was speaking as recently as last June, giving the impression that the now notorious Stakeknife was, even at that stage, still a treasured and productive spy at the epicentre of the IRA.
After a week of hair-raising media revelations inspired by shadowy deep-throats, there are only two certainties. One: there is an informer called Stakeknife who has rubbed shoulders with Republican leaders and who has probably acted as judge, jury and executioner of paramilitaries and the innocent alike. Sir John Stevens, London's Metropolitan Police commissioner who has spent much of the past 14 years investigating State collusion in Northern Ireland with loyalist paramilitaries, confirmed Stakeknife's existence last month.
Two: a low-sized 60-year-old Falls Road resident called Alfredo 'Freddie' Scappaticci denies he is the one.
But before any of the myriad murky riddles are contemplated, the fundamental question begging to be answered is why the Stakeknife story suddenly erupted like a rash in the media six days ago. There can be no doubt that it was a deliberate plant, as four Sunday newspapers (the Sunday World, the Sunday Tribune, the Sunday People and the Glasgow Herald) ran simultaneously with it last weekend, all providing the same basic information.
The editor of the Glasgow Herald said during the week that he had the strong impression the British Government wanted Stakeknife's identity made public. The newspaper has been investigating British covert operations in Northern Ireland in recent years and had often been stymied by court injunctions prohibiting it from publishing what it knew.
Yet, before running the Stakeknife story, the paper had contacted the Ministry of Defence to ascertain what would be the consequences of naming him. The answer was that it would probably be safe to do so, if Scappaticci had already been named in another jurisdiction.
Photocopies of the World, Tribune and People stories - whose reporters were assured that the man they were naming would be spirited out of the North to safety by the time the papers hit the streets - were faxed through to the Glasgow Herald before its own presses started rolling.
The revelations of British state-sponsored assassinations instantly put lives at risk. In the wider political context of a place where human life has been expendable in the past, it had the potential to collapse the entire peace process.
Sinn Fein's reluctance to accept the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be hardened by this and dissident republican organisations might expect to swell their ranks with those newly-disaffected by the disclosure that some of their colleagues may have been sacrificed to protect the worst traitor of all.
Most crucially, it has the power to undermine the current leadership and the objective of peace. The discovery that Britain's 'dirty war' campaign had infiltrated the IRA's inner sanctum would vindicate those of its members who subscribed to the age-old belief that the British are not to be trusted.
The first to be blamed for leading them into the trap would be Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. The absence of the two men - until Adams' reappearance yesterday - has been glaring throughout the week. It was left to Sinn Fein's policing spokesman, Gerry Kelly (relatively uncontaminated by that period as he had been in jail during much of Stakeknife's spying), to bat for the republicans with provocative talk of "securocrats" and "faceless agencies".
It was Adams himself who established the IRA's internal security unit, aka the Nutting Squad, in the late 1970s. It was a dedicated cadre tasked with countering espionage. It vetted every recruit and investigated every failed operation, hunting down and summarily executing informers within the ranks. In short, its job was to identify, torture and kill traitors.
The Nutting Squad conducted its business with trademark ritualism. Informers had their confessions video-taped before they were shot through the head, their bodies stripped of clothing, their arms bound and their heads wrapped in black bin bags. They were then dumped on lonely country roadsides.
Freddy Scappaticci is believed to have been second in command to a now dead IRA man, John Joe Magee, in the Nutting Squad. The former IRA member, Eamon Collins, who was shot dead while walking his dog near his Newry home in January 1999, wrote about John Joe Magee and his right hand man, whom he called Scap, in his book Killing Rage, an insider's account of an organisation he no longer admired.
"Scap was small and barrel-chested, with classic Mediterranean looks - olive-skinned with tight black curly hair. He was the son of an Italian immigrant. John Joe was freckled, puffy-faced, with bags under his eyes. He was a sort of chief executioner and witchfinder general rolled into one, and he loved his job."
Collins followed this with an account of a conversation that ensued when he once asked the pair if they always told their victims they were going to be shot.
"He (Scap) turned to John Joe and started joking about one informer who had confessed after being offered an amnesty. Scap told the man that he would take him home, reassuring him that he had nothing to worry about. Scap had told him to leave the blindfold on for security reasons as they walked away from the car. 'It was funny,' he said, 'watching the bastard stumbling and falling, asking me as he felt his way along railings and walls, 'Is this my house now? And I'd say, 'No, not yet, walk on some more'.' 'And then you shot the f----r in the back of the head,' said John Joe, and both of them burst out laughing."
Last Wednesday, Freddie Scappaticci sat beside his solicitor in the latter's west Belfast office at a media conference attended by two personally invited journalists and denied he had ever been involved in criminal activity. His republican involvement, he said, ended 13 years ago.
That would have been 1990, the year Sinn Fein's press officer, Danny Morrison, was sentenced to eight years in jail for the false imprisonment of Alexander 'Sandy' Lynch at a house in Carrigart Avenue, Belfast.
Freddie Scappaticci's name was repeated over and over again during the trial, though he was never arrested. He has said he went on the run in the Republic at the time. It has been disclosed since the arrests that, throughout the three days when Sandy Lynch was being interrogated by the IRA's Nutting Squad in Carrigart Avenue, the RUC and the British Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) had been monitoring what was going on in the house. Officially, they were credited with 'rescuing' Lynch from certain death.
Several aspects of this week's revelations are implausible. The informant known as Stakeknife was reportedly receiving £80,000 sterling a year, lodged directly to a bank account in Gibraltar by her majesty's government. Freddie Scappaticci, however, continues to live modestly in the nationalist area of west Belfast. There have been no reports of conspicuous consumerism or offshore fortunes.
The story of Stakeknife is familiar to PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde. In his previous role as the day-to-day operational head of the Stevens Inquiry, Orde showed a keen interest in the 1987 murder of 66-year-old Francisco Notorantonio. Though Notorantonio had not been active in the IRA since the early 1970s, he was shot to death in his bed. A former FRU soldier, going by the alias of Martin Ingram, told the Andersonstown News in March 2000 that the FRU had encouraged the UDA (where the double agent, Brian Nelson, was the chief intelligence officer) to target the Ballymurphy grandfather.
A dossier was compiled on the older man and passed to the UDA when it was discovered that the man believed to be Stakeknife was on a UFF death list. In January 2001, Hugh Orde told the Notorantonio family that he had uncovered details of a high-level informant fitting Stakeknife's description.
Bertie Ahern admitted this week that, any time he asks the British about undercover operations, he comes away more confused than ever. There is probably good reason for that. The FRU, one of three army-backed intelligence units, was a secret mission of about 100 soldiers set up in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. Its purpose was to run its informants under a single command structure.
A former member told Ulster Television that the unit operated a policy of "shoot to kill by proxy". He described its work as "immoral and probably unlawful". Martin Ingram said that the handling of Stakeknife would reveal law-breaking "10 times worse" than in the Nelson case. It has also been reported that, of the 13 or 14 people who died through the FRU's collusion with loyalists, as many as four or five were "innocent Catholics".
Closer to home for the Taoiseach is the claim that the FRU also ran spies in the Republic, that the murder of Tom Oliver in County Louth may have been commissioned by Stakeknife, and that the FRU frequently crossed the border to plant listening devices in public houses and in arms dumps in the southern jurisdiction.
It is unclear who was in control of the FRU, which has since been re-named the Joint Services Group. A source has confirmed that intelligence reports forwarded by Stakeknife, who is said to have been responsible for up to 40 murders, are "being read by government ministers".
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The Sunday Times - Ireland
May 18, 2003
Focus: Scappaticci's past is secret no more
Liam Clarke reveals how he discovered the identity of the British
Army's prize 'mole' but could not reveal it throughout four
He didn't look like a monster or a superspy, just a frightened,
thickset, middle-aged brickie with an unseasonable sun tan. Was this
Britain's top secret mole in the IRA, who had haunted me for two
When Freddie Scappaticci, a stocky, second-generation Belfast
Italian, surfaced in his solicitor's office last week, he had the
cuddly paunch and grizzled curls of a Mediterranean grandpa, but his
puffy eyes were those of a man on the edge of a breakdown.
As well they might: he had been outed in the press as Stakeknife,
jewel in the crown of British military intelligence in Northern
Ireland, an allegation he denies but which I pursued from the early
1980s until finally learning his name four years ago.
The evidence against him is sufficient for Sir John Stevens, the
London police commissioner, who heads the long-running official
investigation into collusion between the security forces and
paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, to want to interview him.
The unmasking of Stakeknife marks a seismic moment in the Northern
Ireland process: the beginning of the end for both the IRA and the
Force Research Unit (FRU), the controversial British Army undercover
unit that handled him.
The IRA leadership is thoroughly discredited for trusting him for so
long; all their talk of secrecy and security is exposed as a sham.
And on the army's part, all the FRU's embarrassing secrets are
to come tumbling out under the spotlight of the media and the
His unmasking is also the trigger for some disturbing questions.
Within the IRA, Stakeknife had the task of rooting out informers in
the ranks. The IRA must ask itself if any of its volunteers were
wrongly killed with the connivance of the British, and the army
itself must ask if others could have been saved.
But who is Scappaticci? Are his denials to be believed? I have had
nearly 20 years to mull over this extraordinary enigma.
I FIRST heard the codename Stakeknife in the early 1980s, when an
informant told me that he was the army's top agent within the IRA.
was not part of the political leadership, my source said, but was a
hard-line military figure whose identity "you would never guess at".
And he had such a stunning overview of the organisation that a whole
British intelligence unit was devoted to handling him.
His output was so prolific that two handlers and four collators
worked full-time on his leads. His source reports were read by
ministers. Army careers were built on his information.
I wrote about Stakeknife, or "Steak Knife" as I assumed it was
in the Northern Ireland newspaper I worked for at the time, and
occasionally I dropped the codename into conversations at military
and police gatherings to test the reaction.
Generally I got funny looks and raised eyebrows, but occasionally
there were nuggets of information. A handler was mentioned, and I
learnt that Stakeknife was from Belfast and had been recruited in
But who was he? Time gradually narrowed the field: by the late
death, retirement and imprisonment had taken its toll on the 1970s
IRA leadership. Fewer and fewer people fitted the Stakeknife profile
I had built up.
Still, I kept guessing wrongly until more details came my way in a
series of interviews with Martin Ingram, the pseudonym of a retired
member of the FRU who had recruited and run agents in the IRA.
Although Ingram knew Stakeknife's identity, he would not reveal it.
He did tell me, however, the story of how Stakeknife used his
FRU "get out of jail free card" after being arrested by the RUC.
Ingram said he was on night shift at the British military
intelligence headquarters in Northern Ireland when one of the phones
rang. It was the hotline, a number known only to, and reserved for,
The RUC sergeant at the other end of the line blurted out. "We have
arrested a Mr Padraic Pearse (not his real name) and he gave us this
number to contact. He says he works for a man called Paddy", giving
the cover name of a military intelligence handler. Stakeknife was
released a few hours later.
When The Sunday Times published that story in August 1999, adding
further details, including the revelation that the army had paid
Stakeknife up to £60,000 a year, a man suspected of being Ingram was
arrested and I was questioned for a suspected breach of the Official
Gradually further pieces fell into place, however. Unexpected
came forward and within weeks I believed I had the name: Freddie
Scappaticci, a former internee who was described as the deputy head
of the "nutting squad", the IRA's feared internal security division,
responsible for interrogating suspected informers. Once I had
indicated who I thought Stakeknife was, and suggested a name to my
sources, a select few all but confirmed it, if only to warn me how
dangerous this information was. "If the Provos think you know who
agents are they will grip you, and it won't be too nice talking to
them," a senior source warned me as he gripped me by the arm to
underline his point.
Scappaticci had all the right credentials. He had been interned
without trial in the 1970s, sharing a cage in 1975 with such
legendary IRA figures as Owen "Jug Ears" Coogan, who had led the
British bombing campaign for years, and Con "Bald Eagle" McHugh.
Michael Donnelly, a veteran republican from Derry, was also a fellow
internee. He recalls "Freddie Scap" as "short-tempered and quick to
throw a punch . . . If he had been a foot taller he would have been
dangerous bully, but as it was he usually had one or two with him
when he did throw his weight about and he didn't do much damage."
Donnelly said Scappaticci "hung around with the Ballymurphy team who
were led by Gerry Adams". He was particularly touchy about his name,
which many of his fellow inmates mispronounced. "He would stamp his
feet and shout, "It's scap-a-tichi, scap-a-f******-tichi!"" Donnelly
In the years after his release he had become a feared figure,
regarded as a man whose accusations could lead to IRA members being
demoted, ostracised or, some believed, shot. One republican told
me: "Having someone like that near you was like Germans having a
Brown Shirt or a Stasi officer at the end of the street. You were
nice to him, you tried to keep on the right side, but it was through
fear, you couldn't relax or get close."
Despite the image, some former republicans, among them Eamon
a sometime IRA intelligence officer from Newry, told me of moments
kindness from 'Scap'. He had a stern exterior, they said, but was
often willing to cover for the mistakes of others.
It also emerged that there was intense rivalry for Stakeknife's
services between FRU and the RUC Special Branch, which had tried to
recruit him on several occasions. One source claimed that the RUC
threatened him with exposure unless he worked for them.
I told senior figures in The Sunday Times about Scappaticci, and for
obvious legal and security reasons we decided to wait and watch. If
he died or was exposed, we would tell the story.
Around last October, Scappaticci's name started circulating among
journalists. At the same time, more seriously, Stevens's inquiry
seized the records of his meetings with his army handlers.
Kevin Fulton, a former army agent within the IRA, appears to have
learnt Stakeknife's identity and lodged it in sealed affidavits in
court as part of a campaign to persuade the army to give him a
OCCASIONALLY, I rang Scappaticci, and he didn't seem to fit the
stereotype of an IRA hardman. He arranged to meet me once but pulled
out citing ill health. I learnt he was being treated for depression
and was thinking of moving to southern Italy where his family
It was only when he was outed last weekend and appeared on
that I could fully humanise him. True to his IRA training, he
admitted his name but nothing else. "I am telling you I am not
of these allegations," he intoned solemnly as his solicitor stood
beside him threatening to sue. The uncomfortable truth is that both
sides have to ask themselves where his true loyalties lie.
Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA commander turned academic, has
published an article about Stakeknife on the internet which raises
the possibility that "the IRA already knew his identity, debriefed
him some time ago and have remained silent since, a bit like the
British did in the case of Anthony Blunt".
On the British side, there were suspicions about him since shortly
after Stakeknife walked into an army base and offered his services
the late 1970s. A senior intelligence officer warned both Special
Branch and the head of military intelligence that he believed the
informer was using his relationship with the army for the benefit of
the IRA, that he was in effect a double agent.
The officer said: "He was able to tell us where bodies were to be
found but not to tell us how to prevent the murders. On a couple of
occasions, he told us of planned IRA bank robberies but when we
deployed undercover surveillance units no robberies took place.
Instead, the IRA recceed the banks and observed how we deployed.
Nobody acted on it: he was too good, nobody wanted to see the
Yet there was serious damage to the IRA. Much of it sprang from the
roles that Scappaticci and his boss John Joe Magee had in carrying
out postmortems on failed IRA operations, after bombs failed to
detonate or arrests were made, for instance.
They had a right to walk into any IRA unit, find out who the bomb
makers were, who planted the devices, where the explosives were
hidden and to suggest changes. Knowledge in the IRA is normally
strictly compartmentalised on a need-to-know basis, but Scappaticci
and Magee could ignore that rule, getting a complete overview of an
operation, which could be passed on to the British army.
Scappaticci was routinely shown British Army surveillance devices
that IRA units had discovered, information that could be reported
back to the army so that the devices could be made more secure.
Specialist army units could go to weapons dumps pointed out by their
agent and bug or disable the weapons. They could also target
vulnerable individuals for recruitment as agents and dangerous ones
for surveillance and harassment.
One such target was Dan McCann, a Falls Road IRA man who took part
a hard-line 'heave' against the leadership in the mid-1980s and was
for a time suspended from membership. McCann later made his peace
with the leadership but, for a time, the suspicion of disloyalty
over him. He was vetted by Scappaticci and Magee and cleared for
terrorist 'active service' overseas, but put under surveillance by
The surveillance later resulted in the deaths of McCann and two
IRA members, Sean Savage and Mairead Farrell, in Gibraltar on March
14, 1988, when they were gunned down by the SAS as they attempted to
bomb a changing of the guard ceremony. Farrell had also been vetted
by the IRA's internal security unit and found to be reliable in IRA
terms and a dangerous militant in British Army terms. The families
those killed by the IRA as informers, often mistakenly, have many
questions to ask. Mary Finnis, whose son Rory was murdered by the
as an alleged informer on June 6 1991, suspects that he was a fall
guy executed to save a higher level informant. Similar suspicions
swirl around the case of Paddy Flood, at one time the IRA's main
maker in Londonderry, who was abducted and tortured before being
murdered in July 1990.
Authoritative security sources say that neither Finnis nor Flood
supplied information to the police, although Flood had confessed to
doing so after nearly seven weeks in IRA custody. His abductors
threatened to kidnap his wife if he didn't talk.
Senior detectives defend Stakeknife's role in retrospect. One
said: "It was probably not on every occasion that he could say I
don't want to be involved in an interrogation.
"I am sure that on many, many occasions when he was involved he
alerted people at a very early stage that X, Y or Z was under
suspicion. He was in the business of saving lives."
One such tip-off ended nonetheless in murder. It involved Joseph
Fenton, a West Belfast estate agent who began acting as a Special
Branch informant in 1982. Fenton supplied the IRA with vacant
properties on his books, where they held meetings and stored
The police bugged the gatherings and disabled the weapons or placed
tracking devices in them. Fenton gained considerable satisfaction
from undermining the IRA and profited financially but, by 1989, the
organisation had worked out what was happening.
Scappaticci seems to have been given timely warning and Fenton's RUC
handlers told him to leave Belfast as he was about to be abducted
killed. They offered him a new life in England; but once there he
contacted a Northern Ireland MP and complained that his handlers
too cautious. He convinced himself that he would be able to talk his
way out of any suspicion and asked the MP to speak to the police on
The MP told me some months later: "Special Branch told me that if he
came home he would be killed very quickly. They warned me he was a
marked man and that it was dangerous to be associated with him and I
passed this on to him, but he still went back."
Fenton was abducted, held in a house in Carrigart Avenue, West
Belfast, questioned until he had confessed, and murdered.
had been under suspicion over Fenton's escape to England, but with
the estate agent's death his cover was protected.
A YEAR later a second informer, Sandy Lynch, was brought to the same
house and questioned. Police swooped on the premises, arresting an
entire IRA unit and capturing Danny Morrison, the Sinn Fein director
of publicity, who said he had come to issue a press release but who
the security forces believe was there to pass a death sentence on
Lynch told the police he had been questioned by Scappaticci. But
according to superintendent Tim McGregor, who headed the subsequent
RUC investigation: "Lynch's evidence on this point was totally
flawed. He was talking about a big man with balding, white hair,
which is what John Joe Magee had. We arrested Scappaticci and he had
jet black hair."
Swapping names like this was one of the security procedures adopted
by Scappaticci and Magee and it helped both of them to escape
criminal charges on that occasion.
Morrison and others were jailed, however, and a massive internal
inquiry was launched within the IRA. It was at this point, security
sources say, that Scappaticci started to get frozen out of the IRA's
inner circle, though suspicion also focused on Magee. (Magee died in
1998 of a heart attack.)
Scappaticci said in his brief statement last week that he had
out of republican activity around this time, but sources suggest
he continued for some years, albeit in a less trusted role.
What is known is that, when The Sunday Times published the Ingram
interviews mentioning Stakeknife four years ago, MI5 felt he was
sufficiently under suspicion to offer him a new life under a fresh
identity abroad. He turned this down saying, like Fenton before him,
that he could look after himself.
What now? Although Scappaticci denies that he has been contacted by
the Stevens inquiry, there is no doubt that it wants to interview
him. A spokesman for it said last week: "We are not talking about
this, apart from saying that we intend to interview him. That is
still our intention and we will do that in due course. As for the
timing of that we are not going to discuss that."
For its part, the republican movement is in a quandary, unable to
accept publicly that it could have suffered such a security lapse.
Sinn Fein is struggling hard to portray the whole thing as British
black propaganda. An affiliated website argued last week: "There is
growing suspicion that the story was planted to distract from the
British government's cancellation of elections in the North of
Scappaticci is known to be a compulsive gambler. As the Stevens team
closes in and prepares to arrest him, he continues to stake his life
on his ability to tough it out. Perhaps he has built up favours with
the IRA that we can only guess at.