17 November 2005

SF says ‘400 on loyalist hit list’

Daily Ireland

Sinn Féin leader among 50 targeted

Martin McGuinness is demanding a public inquiry after more than 50 people and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams were notified yesterday that their personal details are on a ‘military intelligence targeting list’ in the hands of loyalists - A full public inquiry has been demanded into how the details of scores of Republicans and residents of the Short Strand were taken from British Army offices in Castlereagh last year

Jarlath Kearney

Sinn Féin yesterday demanded a full public inquiry into the circumstances in which over 50 residents from Short Strand in Belfast were notified their personal details were in the possession of loyalists.
PSNI members visited dozens of addresses on Tuesday night to advise residents that a top-secret military intelligence document had been discovered in the possession of paramilitaries.
Sinn Féin also confirmed party president and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams was notified yesterday that his details were found on the military intelligence targeting list which unidentified loyalists possessed.
A PSNI spokesperson said on Tuesday night that, “police have recovered what is believed to be a document linked to a breach of internal security in British Army offices at the Castlereagh complex in July 2004.
“As a result, police are contacting a number of people about their personal security,” the PSNI spokesperson added.
The intelligence document is believed to contain the personal details of 400 republicans targeted by the British government’s intelligence-gathering services over recent years.
In the days after the document’s disappearance in July 2004, British government officials began directly contacting newsrooms and members of the media in Belfast to advise them that the security breach was “a non-story”.
Then, on July 21, 2004, after a meeting at Stormont specifically about the developing scandal, Sinn Féin policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly declared that British minister Ian Pearson told him, “this will be a very short meeting on Castlereagh because there’s no story here”.
Mr Pearson was accompanied by three senior civil servants and a note-taker, but refused to confirm or deny any details about the affair when pressed by Mr Kelly.
Later that day Mr Pearson issued a written statement denying that there was any prospect of collusion:
“I have confirmed with senior officers that there are no indications that material has fallen into the hands of paramilitaries.”
SDLP Policing Board member, Alex Attwood, also commented on the affair, explaining that a senior PSNI member blamed the document’s disappearance on over-zealous “research” by British soldiers.
“One senior officer advised me that one line of inquiry was that the document was taken for ‘research’ purposes,” Mr Attwood said.
With the British government actively lobbying to prevent the full ramifications of the incident becoming public, the malign hand of Special Branch and British Intelligence was apparent - particularly in the context of a previous alleged burglary at Castlereagh barracks on March 17, 2002.
On that occasion, the emerging picture after St Patrick’s Day quickly suggested the incident was “an inside job”.
A senior official source later revealed to this reporter that “for the first nine to ten days after the alleged break-in (in 2002) a substantial part of the investigation was directed at disgruntled police or army involvement”.
In those initial stages, 14 PSNI detectives were assigned to investigate the ‘inside job’ theory.
However that all changed on Thursday, March 28, 2002, when the PSNI major investigation team, commanded by Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, made a decision to target republican activists over the alleged burglary.
Within forty-eight hours, the number of detectives on the case had been increased to 24.
On the morning of Easter Saturday, March 30, 2002, a massive PSNI/British Army operation codenamed Hezz resulted in six arrests and 28 raids against prominent republicans across the North.
Three other arrests and at least a dozen extra raids took place in the following two weeks.
Not a single item of evidence was recovered in relation to the alleged Castlereagh burglary and none of those arrested faced charges over the incident.
One former republican prisoner, John O’Hagan, was held for prolonged questioning.
He was subsequently charged, inter alia, with possessing documents likely to be of use to terrorists, including the biographies of former British prime minister John Major and former Chancellor Norman Lamont.
He was also charged with possessing an article from New Statesman magazine published in 1988. Mr O’Hagan was convicted at Belfast Crown Court in July 2004.
However, in a significant development, two reliable sources subsequently disclosed that on March 31, 2002 - the day after the Easter Saturday arrests - a senior detective formally confirmed that at least three-quarters of the PSNI investigation was still focused on “disgruntled police or army involvement”.
Sinn Féin yesterday said that the facts about the 2002 affair - taken together with the subsequent disappearance of the intelligence document from Castlereagh barracks in July 2004 - raise serious questions about the veracity of claims alleging republican involvement in the first apparent burglary.
Such questions are heightened by this week’s PSNI admission that loyalists have in fact obtained official British government intelligence documents detailing hundreds of nationalists.
Moreover, it’s worth recalling that news about the July 2004 incident only leaked out during the middle of the North’s official summer holiday fortnight.
On the evening of July 11, 2004, the PSNI issued a brief statement that the force “had been called to investigate” an alleged internal breach of security at Castlereagh barracks.
It was then reported that a member of the British Army had been arrested and was being questioned about the incident at the Military Intelligence site on the base - known as the ‘Green Huts’.
Although that suspect was released the following day, within the following 48 hours a number of broadcast newsrooms received telephone calls from a man claiming to be a British soldier.
The caller alleged that the person arrested was a member of the Royal Irish Regiment, formerly known as the Ulster Defence Regiment. This fact was subsequently confirmed by the British government.
Thereafter, 28 members of the RIR - ranging in rank from private to major - were removed from sensitive intelligence duties, including the staffing of spy installations.
At that time, the RIR was responsible for intelligence-gathering at the Divis Tower installation in west Belfast.
The involvement of the RIR in the affair raised alarm bells throughout the nationalist community, given the regiment’s sectarian reputation.
Significantly, however, there were no high-profile PSNI/British Army raid and arrest operations designed to lay the blame with any individual or group.
Nor was there any British government inquiry, akin to the “audit of security” conducted by former senior NIO civil servant John Chilcott to “make recommendations over the handling of sensitive material” which was instigated after the apparent burglary in March 2002.
Four months ago, in July 2005, Daily Ireland exclusively revealed that – barring three initial searches and one arrest – the PSNI failed to order any follow-up searches or arrests of any kind regarding the July 2004 incident. Nor has anyone ever being charged with responsibility for the document’s disappearance from Castlereagh.
A British Army spokesperson declined to elaborate on the current assignments of the 28 RIR soldiers who were temporarily removed from intelligence duties over the affair.
“We just gave them other jobs. I don’t know what they’re doing now.
“It would be unfair of me to speculate on what they’re doing now,” the British Army spokesperson said.
Speaking yesterday, Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness demanded a full independent public inquiry into the entire affair.
Mr McGuinness also highlighted wide-ranging concerns about the activities at Castlereagh barracks and he urged the Irish government to intervene.
“There should actually be a public independent inquiry into what took place because it’s quite clear to everyone that both the PSNI, the British security services, the NIO and British government are all complicit in this cover-up and that effectively equates to their active participation in collusion,” Mr McGuinness said.
“That’s how serious a matter we’re actually talking about. We have serious question marks about what was precisely going on in this complex at Castlereagh, given that the people who had the run of the place were effectively all attached to the British intelligence services, to the RIR, to the PSNI and formerly to the RUC.
“Balance this affair against the way in which republicans have been targeted over the course - not just of recent weeks and recent months - but recent years, with huge wholesale arrests taking place and many people dragged to interrogation centres and the vast majority of them effectively released without charge,” Mr McGuinness said.

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