09 December 2005

What was Operation Torsion?

Daily Ireland

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Police leave after raiding Sinn Fein office at Stormont

The only detailed account about Operation Torsion is contained in a book by the BBC’s Security Editor Brian Rowan.
Although he first exposed the existence of Operation Torsion in BBC news reports on November 12, 2002, Mr Rowan printed a much more detailed version in his book, An Armed Peace, which was published in September 2003.
According to Brian Rowan, the raids on October 4, 2002, took place only after Special Branch tapped phones, installed listening and tracking devices, engaged in widespread surveillance, relied upon the role of an agent, covertly broke into unidentified private premises, and even handled, removed and replaced evidence – supposedly central to the prosecutions.
Despite all of the defendants now being declared innocent and with the allegation of a so-called ‘Stormont spy-ring’ in tatters, the information revealed by Brian Rowan about Special Branch’s activities leaves many unanswered questions.
Mr Rowan’s version of Operation Torsion suggested that a plan was hatched by the PSNI after the apparent burglary at Castlereagh Special Branch offices on St Patrick’s Day, 2002.
According to Mr Rowan, within days of the apparent Castlereagh burglary, the so-called “security assessment” shifted emphasis from investigating the “inside job” theory to focussing on blaming the IRA’s alleged ‘Director of Intelligence’.
Mr Rowan referred to this figure as a “West Belfast man with a big republican reputation”. After this person was arrested amid widespread allegations of media leaks, along with five others on March 30, 2002 – the PSNI released him without charge. Republicans called the arrests a “propaganda exercise” and a “fishing expedition”. One man was subsequently convicted on unrelated charges.
Mr Rowan alleged that Operation Torsion was then conceived by the PSNI and subsequently managed by Belfast Special Branch Head, Chief Superintendent Bill Lowry, who allowed it to “breathe” in the hope that “the IRA Director of Intelligence would walk into his surveillance net”.
“Seven months before the public revelations of alleged IRA intelligence-gathering inside Castle Buildings, the Special Branch had been embarrassed by all that had happened inside Castlereagh. But Operation Torsion had allowed Lowry an opportunity to return the serve on the IRA and he did so, he claims, against the wishes of the British security services,” Mr Rowan wrote.
With confirmation yesterday that the remaining defendants have been found not guilty, significant questions still remain about Operation Torsion.

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