25 February 2006

British army denies surveillance

Daily Ireland

By Jarlath Kearney

Sinn Féin yesterday disclosed details of a major British army surveillance operation in Co Armagh.
During a press conference in Belfast, Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy revealed a British army document which appeared to show that a dozen cameras are trained on Dromintee GAA club from Faughil mountain in the Dromintee area of south Armagh, as well as local homes.
All the homes belong to people who are members of Dromintee GAA club.
Mr Murphy said the one-page document had been discovered by a local farmer on land near the Faughil mountain British army spy installation last week.
“There are at least 30, possibly over 30, fixed spy cameras located on the top of Faughil mountain. This reference document shows you the location of 12 of those only and we can only speculate as to where the other 20-plus cameras are fixed on,” Mr Murphy said.
“Some of them are not in use, according to the British government’s own document here, but most of them are spying on individuals in their homes.
“Equally worrying is that one of the cameras was fixed on the GAA club in Dromintee which services all of the community in that area and has a substantial membership in the community.
“It begs the question as to what the nature of this spying activity was for. I think this points to what has been a very intrusive British army spying operation for many years.
“This points up very clearly, that the focus of that spying was not on what British army people would allege were IRA activities, but on the entire community and south Armagh area,” Mr Murphy said.
Mr Murphy said that his party will be raising the ongoing spying activities with British prime minister Tony Blair during a meeting next week.
Mr Murphy’s party colleague, councillor Patrick McDonald, was the only Sinn Féin member targeted in the surveillance operation. The Sinn Féin press conference was also attended by Dromintee GAA club spokesperson Declan Fearon and Sinn Féin assembly member Davy Hyland.
Speaking to Daily Ireland yesterday, a British army spokesperson refused to comment on the document.
“We do not comment on alleged operational activity,” the spokesperson said.
The grid-type document released by Sinn Féin was headed R21M Pathfinder Camera Reference Guide. A British army insignia of a sphinx over the title ‘EGYPT’ was visible in the top-left hand corner of the original document.
A total of 12 cameras were detailed on the document by reference to the domestic or social locations associated with surveillance targets. Each location was cross-referenced with a numbered camera, believed to be mounted on the Faughil Mountain spy installation. Four of the cameras were marked ‘not in use’.
The Pathfinder camera system is an ‘intelligent’ video motion sensor system which reacts only to the movement of people or vehicles, but is not affected by environmental movement from foliage or climate changes. Pathfinder can loop a large number of cameras onto a single monitoring system.
When a Pathfinder camera detects movement within its field of vision, it can automatically display images of the scene which has been activitated onto a monitor.
However, Pathfinder is also the name of a special forces unit within the Parachute Regiment which has close links with the SAS.
The Para’s Pathfinder Platoon is a key surveillance and covert reconnaissance unit which specialises in the “location and marking of drop zones, tactical landing zones and helicopter landing sites”.
Despite the prevalence of helicopter activity in south Armagh, a British government source yesterday adamantly denied that the Pathfinder Platoon has ever been deployed in Ireland.
While the insignia of a sphinx is used prominently by the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry, it also features as an integral part of the badges and colours of some other units of the British army.
Both the Parachute Regiment and the Blackwatch – which is currently stationed in South Armagh – have ‘Sphinx’ batteries attached to them. The Royal Artillery’s 4/73 (Sphinx) Special Observation Post Battery is also known to have been involved in staffing spy posts across the North.

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