DET14, 1982, COUNTY ARMAGH
The day when MI5, the British Counter-Espionage Unit, failed miserably.
In Code Name Ndebele 14, the CSAR book testing a new concept of rescuing trapped pilots from hostile cities, I found the now-forgotten fiasco which cost several RUC policemen their lives. I thought to repeat it in a blog.
In our world, the words “Det14, 1982, County Armagh” have great meaning and it is a story of incompetence from the British counter-espionage people, MI5. The miserable story, and it is not fiction, shows you what happens when you are too clever for your own good and although still shielded in mystery and unnecessary secret classifications, we know enough to understood what took place.
As far as is known, the IRA stashed many thousands of fertiliser-based explosives inside a shed not too far from Lurgan, County Armagh. This was discovered by British Intelligence – probably the Army’s covert surveillance unit known as “14 Intelligence Company” or “14 Int” or “The Det” and also as “Detachment 14” or “Det14.” All the above refers to the same unit.
(The unit started in chaos, first as the Military Reconnaissance Force or MRF, a unit that was so out of control and quickly blown that it had to be disbanded in disgrace. Det14, as I know them, was never Special Forces rated but classified as part of the British Special Forces Directorate (but not SAS or SBS badged, a very important distinction).
The idea was good. The Army wanted SAS operatives (as well as SBS) on the streets collecting intelligence covertly. Of course, there were not nearly enough lads for this and so the SAS took volunteers from lesser units and trained them in counter-terrorism operations before deploying them on the streets of Northern Ireland together with genuine Special Forces operatives.
The latter course was taken and the bugging experts, MI5, the counter-espionage people we dislike, planted a listening device to ensure that any movement is picked up. The man impressed the Det14 operators to no end and this is sarcastically meant, by testing his bug by reciting nursery rhymes. That was not designed to impress the hard-bitten operators that faced real danger every day and night and they thought he was something of a twat. To be sure, Det14 planted another bug, designed to trigger a signal when the IRA moved the explosives (actually, to be technically correct, the explosives were under bales of hay, and the Det14 bug would be triggered if the bales were moved, Angelique). And then they waited.
All this is pretty standard in any counter-terrorism theatre. We went further in this sphere by ensuring that the weapons had tracking devices (so did the Pommies, see Code Name Cadillac, Angelique), or that certain items known to favoured by robbing terrorists (jeans, inside farm shops, Rhodesian Bush War) were poisoned. Another trick was ensuring that the explosives, be it a hand grenade or limpet mine, explode when activated and much more nastiness. The list is endless in what you can do once you get hold of the enemy’s arms caches. Ask me, we have caches like that across our sphere (another story, see Code Name Moonlight if interested in such caches, we removed one’s contents and explain something of them, also in Code Name Odette, Angelique).
Nothing happened until 27 October 1982, a day of tragedy. Three completely innocent policemen went out to investigate a fake theft, it was a bait call and they died when a 1,000-pound bomb exploded underneath their vehicle. Later investigation showed that the explosives remotely detonated just as the RUC vehicle travelled over it. Unbelievably, the explosives came from the shed. Clearly, the explosives were removed by the IRA and they did so without anyone knowing because the bugs failed and no one knew about it.
As you may imagine, this was a scandal of epic proportions. With further investigation, you have to wonder at such times if the operation was betrayed from within too, it came out that whilst the MI5 bug failed, the Det14 one did trigger as designed but it was dismissed because the MI5 one did not trigger as well. A comedy of errors followed and there is nothing funny about them, a lesson in how misplaced trust can lead to enormous unforeseen consequences. You will recall that no one was observing the shed as would be the case today with small Wi-Fi cameras and motion detectors. In the end, the RUC men died without reason and the cover-up started immediately and is ongoing to this very day because of what happened afterwards. Two weeks later, three IRA men were shot dead, all of them unarmed. Two of them were linked in some way to the roadside bomb (denied by their families, Angelique).
Back in the shed, MI5 planted another bug as did the Det14 lads, this time under a pile of weapons now stored there – three old Mauser rifles. They had reason to believe that the IRA will be back and the alarms triggered shortly after. The RUC anti-terrorist unit moved in, shooting one 17-year-old dead and seriously wounding a 19-year-old. The survivor said that he was ambushed, and not a terrorist to begin with (certainly the deceased youth had no known IRA links, Angelique). Nevertheless, he was charged with the illegal possession of the weapons, the three old Mauser rifles and it came out that there were recordings via the bugs on who said what and did what. His version was that the police arrived and started shooting, the police said no, they heard a rifle being cocked and then “muffled voices.” They shouted: “Police. Throw out your weapons” repeatedly before they went in and saw the two aiming the rifles at them. Thus, they shot one dead and wounded the accused who also said that they discussed executing him whilst he lay wounded.
Since many other IRA men were indeed shot and killed when unarmed, much suspicion lingered but only in 1984 did the existence of the tapes come to the fore. As you may imagine, everyone now wanted the tapes to hear the truth (it is odd, they could also have checked if the youths’ fingerprints were on the rifles, perhaps they had gloves on, Angelique). Alas, the last tape, tape 42 as it became known, would never be found, it was destroyed (MI5 only said this after giving the run around to everyone for 18 months). Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and this must be one of those instances – copies of tape 42 existed. It came out, constant rumours, that copies were made as a “macabre souvenir of death.” When MI5 found that out, senior MI5 officers ordered the copies found and destroyed and they were since not one was ever produced. However, most of those that heard the copies of tape 42 stated flatly that there was no warning before the police opened up. Yet, without evidence, no one was ever prosecuted for murder which many said took place. We can only speculate but there is little doubt in my mind, having dealt with such events many times, that a whitewash took place, murder was committed and gotten away with.
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