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Intelligence What do we know, need to know, and how do we get there?

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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #1
davidbfpo
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Default ‘The neglected cure’ to the Irish insurgency: intelligence

I recently read a brilliant, new book (272 pgs) by a RUC / PSNI veteran of 'The Troubles': 'Secret Victory: The Intelligence War That Beat the IRA' by William Matchett and available via:http://www.secretvictory.co.uk/ Plus the usual outlets.
It is worthy of a new thread, especially as the US Army adopted the 'Attack the Network' theme - which was taken from Northern Ireland.

As the title suggests this is about the missing dimension of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland 1969-1999. The author served for thirty years, mainly in the police’s intelligence department, the Special Branch and then became a police adviser in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.

For many, notably politicians, especially Provisional Sinn Fein, The Good Friday Agreement 1998 (which led to a peace settlement in 1999) was a successfully negotiated compromise between the paramilitaries, Ulster political parties, the British and Irish governments. The author argues strongly that was not true: The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) by the early 1990’s ‘had run out of road’ and needed a face-saving exit. Half the IRA was in jail and most of the rest fugitives living in the Irish Republic (pg.8).

The author’s argument is that a rule of law approach endured – and the best weapon in the counter-terrorism armoury was the intelligence war conducted by the Special Branch (SB). Not to neglect the role of the Army, who had primacy over the police for seven years (1969-1976); with 30,000 serving in 1972, dropping to 15,000 in 1998. The police grew from 3,000 to 13,000 in the same period (pg.146) and in 1986 the SB had 640 officers or 5% of the force (pg.206).

The beginning of the end was the PIRA attack on Loughall police station, the PIRA attack was identified – minus many details – and the SAS ambushed them, killing eight hardened killers. PIRA was totally clueless how the SB knew. Attacks would still happen and 85% of mainland attacks were prevented (pg.219).

There is a mass of detail. I would draw attention to him writing 60% of gathered intelligence came from agents (pg. 22), 20% technical, 15% surveillance and 5% routine policing & open sources (pg. 98). Arrests occurred 96% of the time (pg.23) and the specialist uniformed support unit (E4 HMSU) had an impressive record: 99.5% of covert operations confronting armed terrorists resulted in arrests (pg.220). PIRA volunteers knew in a year’s time they would behind bars or dead. The SAS who dominated covert operations along the border between 1986-1992 killed twenty-one of PIRA’s top operators (pg.231) and in 1997 in South Armagh, the heart of ‘bandit country’ a PIRA sniper team were arrested by the SAS and E4 HMSU.

‘Agents were the decisive factor’ and eventually surveillance, armed response and tactical co-ordination were added – a combination that forced PIRA to capitulate (pg.112)

Much has been written on ‘suspect communities’ and today is often applied to Muslim communities in the UK. The author argues what emerged, under PIRA leadership and strategy, were ‘counter-societies’ that harnessed subversion and political militancy to accompany and support terrorism (pg.69-71). The aim was to make Nationalist areas un-policeable and therefore ungovernable.

The criminalization policy, also known as “Ulsterisation”, led to the PIRA recognizing the criminal justice system and having to defend their actions in criminal courts (minus juries) under public scrutiny (pg. 157). Behind the scenes and yet to become public documents were seven reports by senior Security Service authors (pg. 163).

There are chunks of the book which are controversial, the "shoot to kill" episode and the book fades out as peace approached. Perhaps it is too early even today to place more information in the public domain?
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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #2
Azor
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Default RE: Intelligence in Northern Ireland

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
The author argues strongly that was not true: The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) by the early 1990’s ‘had run out of road’ and needed a face-saving exit. Half the IRA was in jail and most of the rest fugitives living in the Irish Republic (pg.8).
It is my understanding that the situation was a stalemate prior to the Good Friday Agreement. In addition, I had understood that the Loyalist/Unionist politicians and paramilitaries were not consulted as equal partners, and that the Agreement was mainly between the PIRA and the UK, and that it was imposed on the Loyalists/Unionists by the latter. If the PIRA was truly depleted then why make any concessions and why not allow the Protestant Northern Irish to impose their will, as they had on the Catholics in the 1950s-1960s?

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
The author’s argument is that a rule of law approach endured…
I don’t see what “rule of law” has to do with “shoot to kill”, which is exactly what the SAS and special units of the RUC did.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
…the best weapon in the counter-terrorism armoury was the intelligence war conducted by the Special Branch (SB). Not to neglect the role of the Army, who had primacy over the police for seven years (1969-1976); with 30,000 serving in 1972, dropping to 15,000 in 1998. The police grew from 3,000 to 13,000 in the same period (pg.146) and in 1986 the SB had 640 officers or 5% of the force (pg.206).
What about the SRU and FRU, both of which were vital to I/CI efforts in Northern Ireland, and both of which were military?

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
The beginning of the end was the PIRA attack on Loughall police station, the PIRA attack was identified – minus many details – and the SAS ambushed them, killing eight hardened killers. PIRA was totally clueless how the SB knew. Attacks would still happen and 85% of mainland attacks were prevented (pg.219).

There is a mass of detail. I would draw attention to him writing 60% of gathered intelligence came from agents (pg. 22), 20% technical, 15% surveillance and 5% routine policing & open sources (pg. 98). Arrests occurred 96% of the time (pg.23) and the specialist uniformed support unit (E4 HMSU) had an impressive record: 99.5% of covert operations confronting armed terrorists resulted in arrests (pg.220). PIRA volunteers knew in a year’s time they would behind bars or dead. The SAS who dominated covert operations along the border between 1986-1992 killed twenty-one of PIRA’s top operators (pg.231) and in 1997 in South Armagh, the heart of ‘bandit country’ a PIRA sniper team were arrested by the SAS and E4 HMSU.

‘Agents were the decisive factor’ and eventually surveillance, armed response and tactical co-ordination were added – a combination that forced PIRA to capitulate (pg.112)

Much has been written on ‘suspect communities’ and today is often applied to Muslim communities in the UK. The author argues what emerged, under PIRA leadership and strategy, were ‘counter-societies’ that harnessed subversion and political militancy to accompany and support terrorism (pg.69-71). The aim was to make Nationalist areas un-policeable and therefore ungovernable.

The criminalization policy, also known as “Ulsterisation”, led to the PIRA recognizing the criminal justice system and having to defend their actions in criminal courts (minus juries) under public scrutiny (pg. 157). Behind the scenes and yet to become public documents were seven reports by senior Security Service authors (pg. 163).

There are chunks of the book which are controversial, the "shoot to kill" episode and the book fades out as peace approached. Perhaps it is too early even today to place more information in the public domain?
I completely agree with the author that the intelligence-special forces combination was very successful in Northern Ireland. Whereas the regular Army and RUC units’ ubiquitous presence only bred hatred, the intelligence/SOF units inspired fear.

One would have thought these lessons could have been applied in Afghanistan and Iraq: instead of heavily-armed soldiers occupying public spaces, the Coalition should have been largely invisible, except of course, to the enemy. Yet regular army generals are in love with the sight of columns of troops and armor "securing" a town or city...

I would also say that intelligence alone was insufficient: there had to be the reasonable expectation that there were invisible and silent killers out there lying in wait for you or tracking you down. The hunters had to feel hunted.
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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #3
davidbfpo
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Default Infiltration works and death might happen

Thanks Azor for your response and I will try to answer each point:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Azor View Post
It is my understanding that the situation was a stalemate prior to the Good Friday Agreement. In addition, I had understood that the Loyalist/Unionist politicians and paramilitaries were not consulted as equal partners, and that the Agreement was mainly between the PIRA and the UK, and that it was imposed on the Loyalists/Unionists by the latter. If the PIRA was truly depleted then why make any concessions and why not allow the Protestant Northern Irish to impose their will, as they had on the Catholics in the 1950s-1960s?
To be fair I am not well versed on the political and diplomatic aspects of The Good Friday Agreement. Yes there was a stalemate, but in my limited contacts then with a few in Northern Ireland their explanation was that everyone wanted a halt to the violence. PIRA was going nowhere, maybe even in reverse. As the Loyalist paramilitaries were more criminal gangs than a political movement, although capable of sectarian mayhem, they needed to be included and were - even with the late Mo Mowlam visiting the Loyalist prisoners in jail to get their agreement. There was no way the Protestant / Loyalist could impose their will in the 1990's, neither Dublin or London would accept that.

Quote:
I don’t see what “rule of law” has to do with “shoot to kill”, which is exactly what the SAS and special units of the RUC did.
Yes there were incidents that troubled many, notably in one distinct period in the 1980' and it is remarkable as the author states: 99.5% of covert operations confronting armed terrorists resulted in arrests.

Quote:
What about the SRU and FRU, both of which were vital to I/CI efforts in Northern Ireland, and both of which were military?
Both Army units are included, especially the FRU which continued to try to run agents. Plus the author acknowledges their skill set suited the border areas, eventually - even in South Armagh - the RUC and Army could work well together. This is well covered by Toby Harnden's book 'Bandit Country'.

Quote:
I completely agree with the author that the intelligence-special forces combination was very successful in Northern Ireland. Whereas the regular Army and RUC units’ ubiquitous presence only bred hatred, the intelligence/SOF units inspired fear.
I understand attitudes to the Army and RUC were very different across Northern Ireland; they also varied according to anniversaries and events. Yes there was hatred, but even in Londonderry there was a longstanding unofficial PIRA ceasefire. The Army's urban presence was minimal for a long time, although oddly the last big deployment was to back up the RUC confronting Loyalist violence over schooling in Belfast.

Quote:
One would have thought these lessons could have been applied in Afghanistan and Iraq: instead of heavily-armed soldiers occupying public spaces, the Coalition should have been largely invisible, except of course, to the enemy. Yet regular army generals are in love with the sight of columns of troops and armor "securing" a town or city...
Some of the lessons could have had application, but the level of civil violence and insurgent attacks alongside the absence of effective, indigenous security forces meant a military response was the option taken.

Quote:
I would also say that intelligence alone was insufficient: there had to be the reasonable expectation that there were invisible and silent killers out there lying in wait for you or tracking you down. The hunters had to feel hunted.
Plus the knowledge that insurgents, whether PIRA or Loyalists paramilitaries, had been so infiltrated their activities were exposed to a high risk of failure, arrest and potentially death.
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Old 2 Weeks Ago   #4
Azor
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Default To davidbfpo RE: Northern Ireland

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
PIRA was going nowhere, maybe even in reverse.
Possibly, but consider the sheer scale of the British and Northern Irish manpower tied down in the 1990s by 750 to 1,000 “active service unit” members and non-combat support personnel. Yet as we and the author all seem to agree, most of that manpower was unnecessary, and in my own view, may have worsened the situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
As the Loyalist paramilitaries were more criminal gangs than a political movement…
Which now applies to the remnants of the Catholic Republican paramilitaries post-1999 it would seem. With the power of the Northern Irish state on their side and benign neglect and collusion from the British one, the Loyalists had no need for competence. As for the PIRA’s exploits, necessity is truly the mother of invention.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
Yes there were incidents that troubled many, notably in one distinct period in the 1980' and it is remarkable as the author states: 99.5% of covert operations confronting armed terrorists resulted in arrests.
That is a very, very interesting statistic. Arrest rates are not exactly sexy, but prisoners are as much part of irrecoverable losses to a fighting organization as deaths.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
Both Army units are included, especially the FRU which continued to try to run agents. Plus the author acknowledges their skill set suited the border areas, eventually - even in South Armagh - the RUC and Army could work well together.
Ah, I see. So rather than drawing a clear line between military and police, the author is drawing a line between the regular military and the blended units that were the tip of the spear…

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
I understand attitudes to the Army and RUC were very different across Northern Ireland; they also varied according to anniversaries and events. Yes there was hatred, but even in Londonderry there was a longstanding unofficial PIRA ceasefire. The Army's urban presence was minimal for a long time, although oddly the last big deployment was to back up the RUC confronting Loyalist violence over schooling in Belfast.
I understand that following Operation Motorman, the Catholics were relieved because they had thought that the British Army had deployed to protect them. This lack of understanding prior to deployment is no doubt familiar to anyone also familiar with Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
Some of the lessons could have had application, but the level of civil violence and insurgent attacks alongside the absence of effective, indigenous security forces meant a military response was the option taken.
Interestingly, Dublin was concerned about the possibility of cross-border activities by the PIRA and its use of the Republic as a base provoking London into a war. The Irish reckoned that they stood no chance against the British and did take action against the PIRA on their side of the border, albeit with less enthusiasm than say the Army and RUC did on theirs. In contrast, Pakistan had no qualms about the Taliban or Al Qaeda operating in its ungovernable north, and indeed preferred that Pashtun organized violence be directed at heretics and infidels in Afghanistan than toward Islamabad.

The pacification of Iraq was made utterly impossible by the sheer stupidity of the CPA’s de-Ba’athification program, which as an aside, seemed to be more thorough than the original program it was modelled upon.

Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbfpo
Plus the knowledge that insurgents, whether PIRA or Loyalists paramilitaries, had been so infiltrated their activities were exposed to a high risk of failure, arrest and potentially death.
Exactly. Moreover, the British could increasingly rely upon their own intelligence/SOF units rather than colluding with the Loyalists…
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