07 May 2006

IRA mole seeks to stop DiCaprio film

Sunday Times

Jan Battles and Enda Leahy
May 07, 2006

A MOVIE to be made by the actor Leonardo DiCaprio about British spies infiltrating the IRA is being threatened with legal action.

The Hollywood star is working on the drama for Warner Brothers, with a script based on an American magazine article that told how British intelligence planted spies in the terrorist organisation.

DiCaprio’s film company, Appian Way, is one of three producers that teamed up to make The Infiltrator after each sought the film rights to the article. The 31-year-old star of Titanic, who later portrayed Howard Hughes in The Aviator, has first option on playing the lead role.

The companies are working for Warner Brothers, which optioned the rights to the cover story in April’s Atlantic Monthly of an interview with Kevin Fulton, a former British soldier who turned bombmaker but spied on the IRA. Now he is threatening legal action if the movie goes ahead.

Last week he told the movie companies that he would sue them, and Matthew Teague, the author of the Atlantic article, for copyright theft. Fulton said the writer did not have permission to sell the film rights.

He warned Warner Brothers by e-mail that he had not signed a waiver in relation to the magazine report, and strict instructions were given to Teague that no further media rights were available.

In the article, Fulton said that MI5 arranged a weapons-buying trip to America in which he obtained detonators later used by terrorists to murder soldiers and police. He alleged that the FBI and British intelligence co-operated to ensure that his trip to New York in the 1990s went ahead without incident so that his cover was not exposed. The trip will feature in Fulton’s own account of his double life, his autobiography, Unsung Hero, to be published on Friday.

A separate legal action is also threatened against the movie studio by the authors of Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, who say their book was a source for much of Teague’s article. The story of Freddy Scappaticci, the British agent at the heart of the IRA, also featured in the Atlantic Monthly story, entitled Double Blind: The untold story of how British intelligence infiltrated and undermined the Irish Republican Army.

The Stakeknife book was written by Martin Ingram, a former military intelligence officer, and Greg Harkin, a journalist. They refused to sign a waiver for the Atlantic Monthly story when asked. Both have engaged a copyright lawyer at Yanny & Smith in Los Angeles, and have told the film companies that they intend to sue because they hold the copyright in America to their book.

Ingram said: “We made clear no other media rights were involved and Teague couldn’t sell anything. I don’t have a problem with Atlantic Monthly, but selling the film rights is an altogether different scenario. He doesn’t have those rights.”

Ingram, who is said to have breached the Official Secrets Act to reveal how he handled agents within the IRA, said he was interviewed by Teague and the journalist was given a copy of the book and cuttings of Harkin’s newspaper articles. Warner Bros requested copies of this material.

“It’s an important story and we want to have guardianship of the project,” said Ingram. “I wouldn’t want Leonardo DiCaprio playing the major part in it. I want a serious actor because it is a serious subject.

“State collusion in the killing of its citizens is extremely serious. It should be treated that way and I am not convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio is the right person to do that.”

Scott Rowe, senior vice president of corporate communications at Warner Brothers, confirmed that the studio had been contacted by the authors and Fulton regarding acquisition of The Infiltrator story. “We are very early in this process and, as is routine whenever we purchase scripts, books, articles or stories, we will conduct a full review of the chain-of-title.”

Harkin, a journalist based in Northern Ireland, said he was delighted that Warner was taking their complaint seriously.

Several Hollywood companies have considered making the Stakeknife story into a film, with Danny DeVito rumoured to be interested in playing the role of Scappaticci.

Teague, a freelance writer, has had work published in Esquire and GQ magazine, including a story about a triple prison escaper that was also optioned for film.

Speaking to Philadelphia magazine, which he recently joined, Teague said that he likes to write about “people under pressure because it always heightens the drama. People’s personalities always rise up when they’re under pressure. Which means I end up writing about people in jail, people at war, people in trouble”.

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