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COUNTER-GANGS: A history of undercover military units in Northern Ireland 1971-1976
Last month, the De Silva report into the 1989 murder of Pat Finucane highlighted the scale of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and undercover units of the British Army in the late 1980s.
A new report published today by Spinwatch and the Pat Finucane Centre traces the roots of this covert relationship to the earliest days of the Northern Ireland conflict.
COUNTER-GANGS: A history of undercover military units in Northern Ireland 1971-1976 shows how the application of colonial counter-insurgency theory led to the recruitment of paramilitaries by plain-clothes army units in the early 1970s
The author of COUNTER-GANGS, Margaret Urwin is secretary of Justice for the Forgotten, an arm of the Pat Finucane Centre which works with victims of cross-border bombings in the 1970s.
Her report is based on years of work including interviews with former members of the security forces and extensive documentary research. Among its key findings:
Senior Army officers at Headquarters Northern Ireland instructed subordinate commands in late 1971 to develop informal contacts with loyalist paramilitaries, described as ‘unofficial unarmed bodies... ...working in the public interest.’
The Army created plain-clothes Military Reaction Forces (MRF) in late 1971. The subsequent exposure of MRF activities led to their replacement a year later by a larger and more professional organisation: the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU).
The SRU relied heavily on SAS manpower. Successive governments went to great lengths to conceal this fact from Parliament and the media in order to be able to deny an SAS role in Northern Ireland.
Deliberately misleading information about the undercover units was fed to the press as part of a black propaganda campaign. The resulting press stories included information that would have enabled the IRA to identify Louis Hammond as an MRF agent in their ranks. Hammond was shot shortly afterwards.
COUNTER-GANGS is the most comprehensive study available about the Military Reaction Force and its successor the Special Reconnaissance Unit.
The report is the first of the State Violence and Collusion Project, an online research collaboration between SpinWatch and the Pat Finucane Centre, established with funding from the Scurrah Wainwright Charity.
The report is available for free download here.