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Cover Is Blown for Former Top IRA Informer

The man, known by the code name 'Stakeknife,' ran the paramilitary group's internal security while spying for the British, newspapers say.

May 12, 2003|William Wallace | Special to The Times

LONDON — The man who headed the Irish Republican Army unit responsible for torturing and killing suspected informants -- and British soldiers -- for decades was himself a British army agent, Irish newspapers said Sunday.

They identified Alfredo "Freddy" Scappaticci as the notorious IRA mole known as "Stakeknife" and named him as a suspect in as many as 40 killings carried out with the tacit consent of his British army handlers.

Scappaticci's unmasking rocked the government he reputedly served and the paramilitary organization he betrayed. It also forced a man said to be in his 60s and in poor health to scramble into hiding under British army protection, the papers reported.

The question now is whether Scappaticci, his cover blown, will reveal who on both sides was commissioning or condoning killings during the period known as the Troubles.

During its 30-year war with the British state, the IRA characteristically arrested and interrogated anyone -- IRA volunteers or civilians -- it suspected of cooperating with the enemy. Many ended up shot, their bodies dumped along rural roadsides or buried in secret graves.

The bloody business was usually carried out by the IRA's internal security branch, the unit Scappaticci allegedly rose to command during what appears to have been a simultaneous quarter-century career as a British army informant.

Independent investigators have suggested that several killings -- of Protestant gunmen, British soldiers, innocent civilians and even other British double agents -- may have been allowed to take place to protect Stakeknife's cover.

His "outing" adds momentum to recent advances in a long-running inquiry by London Police Chief John Stevens into the collusion between British security forces and Protestant gunmen to kill Roman Catholics they suspected of being in the IRA.

If he was indeed the mysterious high-ranking mole, Scappaticci would have been a valuable -- and costly -- tool for the British. Dublin's Sunday Tribune newspaper reported that he was paid about $130,000 a year for his information, although other papers said the figure was lower.

Profiles of his duplicitous career speculated that his motive was simple revenge.

Scappaticci walked into the British army's hands one day in 1978 on his own accord after suffering a beating at the hands of an IRA man in Belfast, according to the accounts.

A friend of Gerry Adams, the leader of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, he rose steadily over the years, finally heading the IRA's security unit in Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s, the reports said.

It was a sensitive post. Scappaticci would have been privy to the lists of IRA gunmen and bombers, and would have had responsibility for vetting recruits. One of his main tasks would have been to investigate botched or aborted IRA operations to ferret out possible informers.

Those tasks made the security branch a prime target for infiltration by the British, and they appear to have succeeded.

For years, the IRA has been rattled by the likelihood that an informer was operating at its heart. In fact, some observers attribute its decision in the mid-1990s to declare a cease-fire and eventually endorse the "Good Friday" peace agreement to the fact that the British had compromised the IRA.

The existence of Stakeknife -- or at least his alleged existence -- has been openly talked about for the last four years. Speculation on who the informant was became a sort of sinister Northern Ireland version of guessing Deep Throat's identity.

IRA members were calling for an internal investigation after the revelations, reports said.

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