Monday 20 May 2019

Murder, mayhem and killing: the sick Scappaticci scenario

Deborah Orr

WE have, apparently, two other disgruntled double agents to thank for the unmasking of Stakeknife. The pair, Kevin Fulton and Samuel Rosenfeld, passed his real name, Alfredo Scappaticci, into the public domain, because the British Ministry of Defence was refusing to provide them with pensions. That men can spend their lives killing, maiming and double dealing, and then go i

WE have, apparently, two other disgruntled double agents to thank for the unmasking of Stakeknife. The pair, Kevin Fulton and Samuel Rosenfeld, passed his real name, Alfredo Scappaticci, into the public domain, because the British Ministry of Defence was refusing to provide them with pensions. That men can spend their lives killing, maiming and double dealing, and then go into a huff of such massive proportions because they can't secure a comfortable retirement out of it, is quite an indication of their banal amorality.

Among the many revelations that have flooded from his identification, is the news that Mr Scappaticci himself decided to turn after he received a severe beating from his own side after a row with a senior IRA man. Again with banal amorality, his response to this was to become an agent, particularly concerning himself with rooting out, beating, torturing and murdering other informers. Connoisseurs of black irony may be fairly tickled by that one. For the rest of us though, Mr Scappaticci's Damascene conversion is grotesque beyond reason.

There's not much news in the fact that IRA men can occasionally appear to be lacking in any sort of moral compass. If the Troubles bear out anything, it is only the old proverbs, like "bullies are always cowards". The historic little decisions of all three of these men (if we assume any of this stuff to be true), all seem to have been motivated by self-pity. We can be sure though, that they were all pitiless enough when it came to considering the victims of their machinations.

Indeed, one of the most repulsive aspects of the IRA, and all of the other paramilitary organisations that have operated in Northern Ireland, is that the actions of those involved can only be explained in one way. Many of these men are in these organisations for the thrill of the murder, the mayhem and the killing. The appended political goals acted merely as a cloak of, if not respectability (although within the communities in which they operated they certainly got that), then at least of twisted, sick legitimacy.

There are many who will argue that for Mr Scappaticci, the legitimacy was neither twisted nor sick, because he was working against terror. Instead though, it is plain that he, like many others, was working for himself, motivated by his own petty reasons to inform to the British, while at the same time strengthening his own ability to satisfy his pathological leanings.

The worrying thing is that the same sort of thing might be said for the Force Research Unit (FRU), the British army undercover unit at whose door the allegations emerging from Sir John Stevens's investigations into security force co-operation with terrorists are being laid. This unit, it is coming to light, was not much more concerned with right and wrong than the people it was "handling". It is one thing to infiltrate an enemy organisation to obtain intelligence, but quite another to infiltrate one and become implicated in its chain of command.

Mr Scappaticci is a serial killer. What difference does it really make that he was Britain's serial killer? Mr Scappaticci, the more lurid reports tell us, was himself involved in more than 40 murders, while dozens more people may have been allowed to die in order to protect his cover. One, Francis Notarantonio, a 66-year-old who had been an IRA member in the 1940s, appears to have been shot in his bed by loyalists acting under the guidance of the FRU, because he too had a long Italian name. Another, farmer Thomas Oliver, was tortured and killed simply because as a good citizen he was complaining to the gardai about cross-border movements which might have implicated Mr Scappaticci.

What we're now asked to consider is whether all or any of this matters in the "dirty war". The very nature of the battle meant that double agents had to be cut from whatever cloth was available, say the advocates of the "by any means necessary" approach. Since this cloth was generally pretty coarse, then so were the events conjured up to keep it patched and darned.

There is a powerful romantic ideal of how a double agent ought to be motivated; through conviction rather than petty vengeance, and with a moral underpinning that allows him to shrink from committing dreadful acts unless he has no alternative. The activities of Mr Scappaticci, and those undertaken in his name, do not fit into that pattern.

The important thing to remember, say enthusiasts of such skulduggery, is that while intelligence forces may have overseen and orchestrated killings, they have to be weighed up against lives that were saved. Even if you are willing to swallow such bleak moral relativism, the "numbers game" in Mr Scappaticci's case seems particularly difficult to argue. After all, as deputy head of the IRA's internal security unit, known with rough-hewn colloquial charm as the Nutting Squad, Mr Scappaticci's cover must have included killing other informers who might, at some point in the future, have obtained information much more valuable than anything Mr Scappaticci turned up.

Likewise, those for whom the end justifies the means, point to years of ceasefire, and the continuing pursuit of a political solution, as proof of the efficacy of British techniques. There were eventually so many informers in the IRA that it could no longer function, runs this logic. Paying men £80,000 a year (?110,000), and letting them carry on killing, may have been repugnant but effective.

The allegations against the FRU that it "played God" or "decided who would live and who would die", speak of an organisation that lost all perspective. The FRU, and all others concerned, are not at all happy with the idea that they might be held accountable for their actions. If these actions are indeed permissible within the context of war against terrorism, then why the coyness?

If the actions of the FRU were indeed permissible within the context of the situation they found themselves in, then surely there is nothing to be ashamed of in the public exposure of these techniques? There is certainly much to gain from the development of a more realistic picture of what it is to be, or to handle, a terrorist, a paramilitary, or a double agent. There are plenty of young fools still keen to be seduced by the glamour of terrorism. Any depictions of its unvarnished reality should therefore be solemnly disseminated. (© Independent News Service)

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