Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Level of contact focus of UK Stakeknife spy case

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The exposure of the army's top agent within the IRA will intensify pressure for a full inquiry into his activities by Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Sir John, the UK's top policeman, has been investigating collusion between the security forces in Northern Ireland and paramilitary groups for the last 14 years, focusing to begin with on the links between loyalists, the army and the police in the death of the Belfast solicitor, Patrick Finucane.

However, when Sir John published his interim report in mid-April, he confirmed that he was concentrating much of his effort into unravelling the "legend of Stakeknife," the army's top spy within the Provisional IRA.

He hinted that Stakeknife, named as Alfredo Scappaticci, would be questioned about his role within the IRA, the information he provided to his army handlers, and the activities he was sanctioned to do by them to ensure that he was not suspected of being an agent.

The weekend's revelations have pre-empted Sir John's move, but may make his job easier in the long run, by allowing him to gain access to Scappaticci.

Much of the ongoing inquiry has looked into the behavior and strategy of Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the officer in charge of the army's agent-handling division, the Force Research Unit. Then a colonel, Kerr was in charge of the FRU during the late 1980s and early 90s, and would have overseen the handling of Scappaticci and all other army agents within the IRA.

Sir John has already concluded that some elements of the FRU were effectively out of control during this period, and has forwarded files to Northern Ireland's director of public prosecutions recommending charges against a number of soldiers.

Should Scappaticci be prepared to answer questions, he could provide information that further embarrasses Kerr, who is now the UK's military attache in Beijing.

The army is not the only organization that will feel threatened by the new focus on Scappaticci. The security service, MI5, must have known about the agent. An MI5 officer was stationed at FRU headquarters and had access to all the reports filed by handlers after meetings with agents.

Stakeknife was "the jewel in the army's crown," according to Ingram, and an entire section within FRU was dedicated to analyzing his reports.

It is inconceivable, therefore, that MI5 did not know about him.

Sir John has said MI5's role in Northern Ireland is another strand of his inquiry, and that he has -- so far -- received cooperation from the security service. However, he will now want to know with some urgency what MI5 knew, and how far up the chain of command the information went.

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