“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”― Mark Twain
The army asked me to make bombs for the IRA, told me I had the Prime Minister's blessing ... then tried to kill me
Exclusive: confessions of a secret agent turned terrorist
KEVIN Fulton is very clear about where the orders were coming from. 'I was told that this was sanctioned right at the top,' he says, sipping a Pepsi in the bar of a Glasgow hotel. 'I was told 'there'll be no medals for this, and no recognition, but this goes the whole way to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister knows what you are doing.'
This was 1980, and if Margaret Thatcher knew about the activities of military intelligence agents such as Fulton, then she was also aware her own military officers were planning to infiltrate British soldiers as 'moles' into the IRA. These moles were ordered by their handlers to carry out terrorist crimes in order to keep their cover within the Provos so they could feed information on other leading republicans back to security forces.
For almost two years the Sunday Herald has been investigating the activities of the FRU -- the Force Research Unit, an ultra-secret wing of British military intelligence. Fulton worked for the FRU for much of his career as an IRA mole. This unit, which has been under investigation by Scotland Yard commissioner Sir John Stevens for more than a decade, was involved in the murder of civilians in Northern Ireland.
Nicholas Benwell, a detective sergeant formerly attached to the Stevens Inquiry, says the Scotland Yard team came to one conclusion: that military intelligence was colluding with terrorists to help them kill so-called 'legitimate targets' such as active republicans. FRU handlers passed documents and photographs to their agents operating within paramilitary groups detailing targets' movements and the whereabouts of their homes. Pictures were also handed over to help gunmen identify their victims. But there was a problem. The targeting was far from professional and many of the victims of these government-backed hit squads were innocent civilians.
In 1989 the FRU passed information to the UDA which the loyalist gang used to murder the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, who was shot dead in front of his wife and children. Last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged that the Government was determined to uncover the truth about Finucane's murder. The Canadian judge Peter Cory who was called in by the government to investigate the case is expected to recommend a public inquiry. The Irish government is also pressing for an inquiry of its own.
So who was the overall controller of the FRU with its 'licence to kill' republicans? Until now it seemed that responsibility for the activities of the FRU rested on the shoulders of one man -- Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the Scottish officer who led the unit and is now the British military attach? to Beijing. A two-part BBC Panorama programme, concluding tonight, much of it based on the Sunday Herald's previous investigations, puts Kerr squarely in the frame.
But if Fulton's claims are correct, then Kerr, soon to be questioned by the Stevens team, was just one link in a chain of command which went all the way to the cabinet and the Prime Minister. As Fulton says: 'Kerr was just following orders. Soldiers don't make up the rules, they just do as they're told.'
Fulton's story begins in 1979. He was 19, and had just enlisted in the First Battalion Royal Irish Rangers. Kevin Fulton isn't his real name, but a pseudonym used to protect his identity since turning whistle-blower on the activities of the British military, the RUC and the security services in Ulster's 'dirty war'. His work for military intelligence has been confirmed by FRU sources.
Fulton's military file quickly found its way onto the desks of the Intelligence Corps, the regiment which includes the FRU. It made interesting reading. Here was a Catholic from Newry, in the heart of a republican strong-hold, who seemed a loyal servant of the Crown. After only a few weeks in the army, Fulton's staff sergeant approached him. 'I was told that some guys from military intelligence wanted to speak to me,' Fulton says. 'They asked me if I'd like to work for them and I said 'no' as I wanted to remain in uniform. They told me to think about the offer. They added that I shouldn't tell anyone about the visit and that if I was asked I should say they were from a military welfare group. The next time we met they asked me if I'd go to Newry with them. We looked through pictures of local characters and I put names to faces, saying if they had a republican background or not.'
The two FRU officers, one of whom was Scottish, continued to try and persuade him to work with them. 'They confessed they needed guys like me -- Catholics from that part of Northern Ireland -- in order to get inside the Provos,' he says.
Fulton was still unsure, so the FRU asked him if he could help recruit a Catholic civilian in Newry who might be willing to go inside the IRA. He did. It was an old friend, who he refers to as Agent Washington. He and Fulton accompanied FRU members to the army training camp at Ballykinlar in County Down. 'He was given weapons training. They taught him how to fire an M16, AK-47s, Remington wingmaster shotguns, Sterling sub-machine guns and a Browning 9mm,' says Fulton. 'Remember that this was a civilian going inside the IRA.'
Fulton finally decided he'd work with military intelligence. In 1981, he was officially given a compassionate discharge from his regiment on the fictitious grounds that his father was seriously ill. He also received papers claiming he'd been thrown out for republican sympathies -- a great document to present to the IRA men he would soon befriend.
From then until 1995, Fulton remained on full army pay as he worked his way through the ranks of the IRA. He began drinking in republican bars in Dundalk and socialising with senior IRA officers, including Patrick Joseph Blair, who the Sunday Herald named this year as one of the men behind the Omagh bombing. Blair later went on to became Fulton's 'mentor'.
Not long after his discharge, he told one prominent IRA man that he wanted to join the organisation. He was taken to a room above a bar and confronted by a number of men in balaclavas. 'I'd told them that I'd been kicked out of the army and they started shouting at me saying 'So you're telling us you'd shoot your f***ing comrades if you saw them in Crossmaglen?' I said 'Yes, of course'.
'They started calling me a tout (republican slang for an informer) and saying they were going to shoot me. Eventually, they dragged me outside. They told me to kneel and say the Act of Contrition. I heard a huge bang behind me. It was them banging a big bit of wood on the ground to pretend to be a gunshot. They were testing me. They told me to come back when I was ready.
'My handlers thought this was great. I offered my services to the IRA saying I'd help carry out robberies to fund them. This was all with the knowledge of my handlers in the FRU. I made pals with a prominent Sinn Fein councillor in Newry who suggested I hijack a lorry carrying TVs. I knew that this would give me credibility, so that's what I did. I took a lorry in Belfast with about £100,000 of TVs inside.'
Fulton was later arrested for the robbery and served a year in the Crumlin Road prison in Belfast. Because of his republican connections he was denied the usual privileges of an ODC -- an ordinary decent criminal. This also gave him additional credibility with the IRA.
Fulton was released in 1986 and inducted straight into the IRA. 'My handlers told me to do anything to win their confidence. That's what I did. My brief was that if I got into a situation where I couldn't get to my handlers but I had to break the law, I was to try not to take a life. I was to shoot high or blow up a bomb prematurely. But that isn't always possible. If I f***ed up all the time, then the IRA would shoot me. Don't forget I also ran the risk of getting shot by the army and the police. I mixed explosive and I helped develop new types of bombs. I moved weapons. If you ask me, 'Did I kill anyone?' then I will say 'no'. But if you ask me if the materials I handled killed anyone, then I will have to say that some of the things I helped develop did kill.
'I reiterate, my handlers knew everything I did. I was never told not to do something that was discussed. How can you pretend to be a terrorist and not act like one? You can't. You've got to do what they do. The people I was with were hard-hitters. They did a lot of murders. If I couldn't be any good to them, then I was no use to the army either. I had to do what the man standing next to me did.'
This took an especially dark turn when Fulton became a member of the IRA's 'internal security squad' -- also know as the 'torture unit' -- which interrogated and executed suspected informers. 'I remember once when a guy had been questioned for three days in a safe-house in the Republic,' says Fulton. 'They eventually rolled out a sheet of plastic and decided we were going to 'nut' him. We drew straws to decide on who would do the shooting. Luckily, I didn't draw the short straw.'
In 1992, Fulton told his handlers -- this time in both the FRU and MI5, that his IRA mentor Blair was planning to use a horizontally-fired mortar for an attack on the police. His handlers did nothing. Within days, Blair fired the device at an armoured RUC Land Rover in Newry, in the process killing policewoman Colleen McMurray. Another RUC officer lost both his legs.
Fulton then travelled to the US and helped develop light-sensitive bombs, activated by photographic flashes, to overcome the problem of IRA remote-control devices having their detonation signal jammed by army radio units.
'I broke the law seven days a week and my handlers knew that. They knew that I was making bombs and giving them to other members of the IRA and they did nothing about it. If everything I touched turned to shit then I would have been dead. The idea was that the only way to beat the enemy was to penetrate the enemy and be the enemy. At the time I'd no problem with this way of thinking.'
The claim that the cabinet and Thatcher knew of these types of operations is startling. Thatcher's office has refused to comment on Fulton's claims. It is known, though, that intelligence supplied by other British army moles inside the republican movement was being read at cabinet level. One such mole, Willie Carlin, was flown out of Northern Ireland in Thatcher's Prime Ministerial jet in 1985 after his cover was blown. As chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which met weekly at Number 10, Thatcher was kept informed of FRU activities. Whether this ran to the day-to-day details of agent-handling is not known. Thatcher did grant the FRU extra funding to recruit agents in the wake of the IRA's Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen.
Fulton split with both the IRA and military intelligence in the mid-1990s after a number of terrorist operations went disastrously wrong. Once his handlers told him to get a mobile phone and a car for a planned hit in 1994 on a senior RUC officer in Belfast. The IRA team was arrested on its way to carry out the murder.
Fulton believes his handlers thought he had outlived his usefulness and deliberately linked him to the operation before tipping off the police about the plan. By then, the army had secured a far more highly-placed mole within the IRA -- a man still active and codenamed Stakeknife. Fulton is sure that he was compromised, so the IRA would kill him and believe they were free of informers, allowing Stakeknife to pass top-grade information to the military without risk of being detected. 'If I was dead that would have been the end of it,' he says. 'There would have been no embarrassment to the army.'
From 1995 until now Fulton has been fighting the MoD -- demanding they clear his criminal record, give him a new identity, a relocation package and provide a military pension. 'If they hadn't screwed me, then I wouldn't be screwing them now,' he says. 'If the IRA ever find me I'm dead. I accept I'm a marked man, but I intend to take everyone down with me who was in on this -- no matter how high up the stink goes.'