Writing on Tuesday with his characteristic panache, investigative journalist Chris Floyd took as his point of departure a Feb. 4 Sunday Telegraph article about a British unit working in Iraq. -- Where the Sunday Telegraph sees “one of the Coalition's most effective and deadly weapons in the fight against terror,” Floyd sees “the dark muck that lies beneath the high-flown rhetoric about freedom and civilization forever issuing from the lips of the war leaders.” -- Floyd believes it is no coincidence that it was “in early 2005 — not long after Bush's directives loosed the ‘Salvador Option’ on Iraq — [that] the tide of death-squad activity began its long and bloody rise to the tsunami-like levels we see today. Ironically, the first big spike of mass torture-murders, chiefly in Sunni areas at the time, coincided with ‘Operation Lightning,’ a much ballyhooed effort by American and Iraqi forces to ‘secure’ Baghdad, . . . [which] was almost exactly the same plan now being offered as Bush's ‘New Way Forward,’ the controversial ‘surge.’" -- Floyd cites investigative reporter Max Fuller’s “detailed examination of information buried in reams of mainstream news stories and public Pentagon documents” and conclusion that “the vast majority of atrocities then attributed to ‘rogue’ Shiite and Sunni militias were in fact the work of government-controlled commandos and ‘special forces,’ trained by Americans, ‘advised’ by Americans and run largely by former CIA agents. As Fuller puts it: ‘If there are militias in the Ministry of Interior, you can be sure that they are militias that stand to attention whenever a U.S. colonel enters the room.’” -- What this means for distant observers like ourselves is obvious. -- At present “it is simply impossible to determine the genuine origin of almost any particular terrorist outrage or death squad atrocity in Iraq. All of these operations take place in the shadow world, where terrorists are sometimes government operatives and vice versa, and where security agencies and terrorist groups interpenetrate in murky thickets of collusion and duplicity. This moral chaos leaves ‘a kind of blot/To mark the full-fraught man and best indued/With some suspicion,’ as Shakespeare's Henry V says.” -- The Sunday Telegraph that inspired Floyd’s piece is also posted below. ...
ULSTER ON THE EUPHRATES
By Chris Floyd
** The Anglo-American Dirty War in Iraq **
February 13, 2007
PAINT IT BLACK
Imagine a city torn by sectarian strife. Competing death squads roam the streets; terrorists stage horrific attacks. Local authority is distrusted and weak; local populations protect the extremists in their midst, out of loyalty or fear. A bristling military occupation exacerbates tensions at every turn, while offering prime targets for bombs and snipers. And behind the scenes, in a shadow world of double-cross and double-bluff, covert units of the occupying power run agents on both sides of the civil war, countenancing -- and sometimes directing -- assassinations, terrorist strikes, torture sessions, and ethnic cleansing.
Is this a portrait of Belfast during "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland? Or a picture of Baghdad today? It is both; and in both cases, one of Britain's most secret -- and most criminally compromised -- military units has plied its trade in the darkness, "turning" and controlling terrorist killers in a dangerous bid to wring actionable intelligence from blood and betrayal. And America's covert soldiers are right there with them, working side-by-side with their British comrades in the aptly named "Task Force Black," the UK's Sunday Telegraph reports. [See #2 below.]
Last week, the right-wing, pro-war paper published an early valentine to the "Joint Support Group," the covert unit whose bland name belies its dramatic role at the center of the Anglo-American "dirty war" in Iraq. In gushing, lavish, uncritical prose that could have been (and perhaps was) scripted by the unit itself, the Telegraph lauded the team of secret warriors as "one of the Coalition's most effective and deadly weapons in the fight against terror," running "dozens of Iraqi double-agents," including "members of terrorist groups."
What the story fails to mention is the fact that in its Ulster incarnation, the JSG -- then known as the Force Research Unit (FRU) -- actively colluded in the murder of at least 15 civilians by Loyalist deaths squads, and an untold number of victims were killed, maimed, and tortured by the many Irish Republican Army double-agents controlled by the unit. What's more, the man who commanded the FRU during the height of its depredations -- Lt. Col. Gordon Kerr -- is in Baghdad now, heading the hugger-mugger Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), a large counter-terrorism force made up of unnamed "existing assets" from the glory days in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
This despite the fact that a 10-year, $100 million investigation by Britain's top police officer, Lord Stevens, confirmed in 2003 that the Kerr-led FRU "sanctioned killings" through "institutionalized collusion" with both Protestant and Catholic militias during the 1980s and 1990s. Stevens sent dossiers of evidence against Kerr and 20 other security apparatchiks to the Blair government's Director of Public Prosecutions, in the expectation that the fiery Scotsman and the others would be put on trial.
But instead prosecuting Kerr, Blair promoted him: first to a plum assignment as British military attaché in Beijing -- effectively the number two man in all of U.K. military intelligence, as Scotland's Sunday Herald notes, then, with the SRR posting to Baghdad, where Kerr and his former FRU mates now apply the "methods developed on the mean streets of Ulster during the Troubles," as the Telegraph breathlessly relates.
The Telegraph puff piece is naturally coy about revealing these methods, beyond the fact that, as in Ireland, the JSG uses "a variety of inducements ranging from blackmail to bribes" to turn Iraqi terrorists into Coalition agents. So, to get a better idea of the techniques employed by the group in Baghdad, we must return to those "mean streets of Ulster" and the unit's reign of terror and collusion there, which has been thoroughly documented not only by the exhaustive Stevens inquiries, but also in a remarkable series of investigative reports by the Sunday Herald's Neil Mackay, and in extensive stories by the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and others.
We will also see how the operations of the JSG and "Task Force Black" dovetail with U.S. efforts to apply the lessons of its own dirty wars -- such as the "Salvador Option" -- to Iraq, as well as long-running Bush Administration initiatives to arm and fund "friendly" militias while infiltrating terrorist groups in order to "provoke them into action." It is indeed a picture painted in black, a glimpse at the dark muck that lies beneath the high-flown rhetoric about freedom and civilization forever issuing from the lips of the war leaders.
WHACKING FOR THE PEELERS
Gregory Burns had a problem. He was one of Gordon Kerr's FRU informers planted deep inside the IRA, along with two of his friends, Johnny Dignam and Aidan Starrs. But as Mackay noted in a February 2003 story, the already-partnered Burns had acquired a girlfriend on the side, Margaret Perry, 26, a "civilian" Catholic with no paramilitary ties. Forbidden fruit is sweet, of course -- but pillow talk is dangerous for an inside man. "Burns didn't keep his mouth shut and [Perry] found out he was working for British intelligence," an FRU officer told Mackay. "He tried to convince her he was a double-agent the IRA had planted in the [British] army -- but she didn't buy it."
Burns called his FRU handlers and asked to come in from the cold. He'd been compromised, he said, and now he and his friends needed to get out, with new identities, relocation, good jobs -- the usual payoff for trusted agents when the jig was up. But Kerr refused: "He said [Burns] should silence Perry," the FRU man told Mackay. Burns, panicking at thought of the IRA's horrific retributions against informers, insisted: he would have to kill the woman if they didn't bring him in, he told Kerr. Again Kerr refused.
And so Burns arranged a meeting with his lover, to "talk over" the situation. His friends, Aidan and Johnny, volunteered to drive her there: "On the way, they pulled into a forest, beat her to death, and buried her in a shallow grave," Mackay notes. Two years later, when her body was found, the IRA put two and two together -- and slowly tortured Burns and his two friends to death, after first extracting copious amounts of information about British intelligence operations in Ireland.
"In Kerr's eyes, Burns just wasn't important enough to resettle," the FRU source told the Sunday Herald. "So we ended up with four unnecessary deaths and the compromising of British army intelligence officers, which ultimately put soldiers' lives at risk. To Kerr, it was always a matter of the ends justifying the means."
Then again, Kerr could well afford to sacrifice a few informers here and there to the wrath of the IRA's dreaded "security unit" -- because his own, prize double agent was the head of that security unit. Codenamed "Stakeknife," Kerr's man presided over, and sometimes administered, the grisly torture-murders of up to 50 men during his tenure in the IRA's upper ranks. The victims included other British double agents who were sacrificed in order to protect Stakeknife's cover, as the Guardian and many other U.K. papers reported when the agent's work was revealed in 2003. ("Stakeknife" was later identified in the press as Alfredo Scappaticci -- an Irishman despite the Italian name, although he continues to deny the charge.)
The FRU also "knowingly allowed soldiers, [police] officers, and civilians to die at the hands of IRA bombers in order to protect republican double agents," the *Sunday Herald*'s investigations found. As Mackay reports: "FRU sources said around seven police and army personnel died as a result of military intelligence allowing IRA bombs to be placed during Kerr's time in command of the FRU. They estimate that three civilians also died this way, with casualties in the hundreds."
But some of the worst excesses came from the FRU's handling of operatives on the other side, in the fiercely pro-British Protestant militia the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). Here, among the Loyalists, Kerr's top double agent was Brian Nelson, who became head of intelligence for the UDA. As John Ware put it in the *Guardian*: "Kerr regarded Nelson as his jewel in the crown . . . For the next three years [from 1987], Nelson colluded with murder gangs to shoot IRA suspects. Month after month, armed and masked men crashed into homes. Sometimes they got the wrong address or shot the wrong person."
A wrong person like Gerald Slane, a 27-year-old Belfast man shot down in front of his three children. A gun had been found dumped on his property; this, and his Catholicism, was enough to get him assassinated at the order of Kerr's man Nelson. Afterwards, it was found that Slane had no IRA connections.
Another "wrong person" killed by the FRU's agents was the Belfast attorney Pat Finucane, who was shot 14 times in front of his wife and children. Finucane was a civil rights activist who had defended both Catholics and Protestants, but was considered an IRA sympathizer by Loyalists -- and a thorn in the side by British authorities. He was killed at Nelson's order by a fellow FRU informer in the UDA, Ken Barrett, who was convicted of the murder but freed last year as part of an amnesty program in the Northern Ireland peace process. Barrett was unapologetic about his FRU "wetwork" on Finucane. "The peelers [authorities] wanted him whacked," he told a BBC documentary team after his release. "We whacked him and that is the end of the story."
Kerr gave Nelson packages of intelligence files to help facilitate the assassination of UDA targets, including at least four "civilians" with no IRA ties, the Stevens inquiry found. The FRU also obtained "restriction orders" from other British security and military units in Northern Ireland, whereby they would pull their forces from an area when Kerr's UDA agents were going to make a hit there, allowing the killers to get in and get out without hindrance, investigator Nick Davies reports.
Yet the FRU was wary of sharing its own intelligence with other security services -- which was the ostensible reason for running the double-agents in the first place. Instead, Kerr engaged in fierce turf wars with other agencies, while "stovepiping" much of his intelligence to the top circles of the U.K. government, including the cabinet-level Intelligence Committee chaired by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, when Nelson was finally exposed and brought to trial on five counts of conspiracy to commit murder, Kerr testified in his behalf, noting for the court that Nelson's intelligence "product and his reporting was passed through the intelligence community and at a high level, and from that point of view he has to be considered a very important agent."
As one FRU man told Mackay: "Under Kerr's command . . . the mindset was one of 'the right people would be allowed to live and wrong people should die.'"
This is the "mindset" now operating in the heart of the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the JSG is carrying out -- as we are told in glowing terms -- precisely the same mission it had in Ulster. A unit which has allowed its agents to torture, murder, and commit acts of terrorism, including actions that killed local civilians and the soldiers and intelligence operatives of their own country.
THE WHITE HOUSE GREEN LIGHT
Of course, Kerr and his Baghdad black-op crew are not alone in the double-dealing world of Iraqi counterinsurgency. The Pentagon's ever-expanding secret armies are deeply enmeshed in such efforts as well. As Sy Hersh has reported ("The Coming Wars," New Yorker, Jan. 24, 2005), after his re-election in 2004, George W. Bush signed a series of secret presidential directives that authorized the Pentagon to run virtually unrestricted covert operations, including a reprise of the American-backed, American-trained death squads employed by authoritarian regimes in Central and South America during the Reagan Administration, where so many of the Bush faction cut their teeth.
"Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" a former high-level intelligence official said to Hersh. "We founded them and we financed them. The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A Pentagon insider added: "We're going to be riding with the bad boys." Another role model for the expanded dirty war cited by Pentagon sources, said Hersh, was Britain's brutal repression of the Mau Mau in Kenya during the 1950s, when British forces set up concentration camps, created their own terrorist groups to confuse and discredit the insurgency, and killed thousands of innocent civilians in quashing the uprising.
Bush's formal greenlighting of the death-squad option built upon an already securely-established base, part of a larger effort to turn the world into a "global free-fire zone" for covert operatives, as one top Pentagon official told Hersh. For example, in November 2002 a Pentagon plan to infiltrate terrorist groups and "stimulate" them into action was uncovered by William Arkin, then writing for the *Los Angeles Times*. The new unit, the "Proactive, Pre-emptive Operations Group," was described in the Pentagon documents as "a super-Intelligence Support Activity" that brings "together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, intelligence, and cover and deception."
Later, in August 2004, then deputy Pentagon chief Paul Wolfowitz appeared before Congress to ask for $500 million to arm and train non-governmental "local militias" to serve as U.S. proxies for "counter-insurgency and "counterterrorist" operations in "ungoverned areas" and hot spots around the world, Agence France Presse (and virtually no one else) reported at the time. These hired paramilitaries were to be employed in what Wolfowitz called an "arc of crisis" that just happened to stretch across the oil-bearing lands and strategic pipeline routes of Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
By then, the Bush Administration had already begun laying the groundwork for an expanded covert war in the hot spot of Iraq. In November 2003, it created a "commando squad" drawn from the sectarian militias of five major Iraqi factions, as the Washington Post reported that year. Armed, funded, and trained by the American occupation forces, and supplied with a "state-of-the-art command, control, and communications center" from the Pentagon, the new Iraqi commandos were loosed on the then-nascent Iraqi insurgency -- despite the very prescient fears of some U.S. officials "that various Sunni or Shiite factions could eventually use the service to secretly undermine their political competitors," as the Post noted.
And indeed, in early 2005 -- not long after Bush's directives loosed the "Salvador Option" on Iraq -- the tide of death-squad activity began its long and bloody rise to the tsunami-like levels we see today. Ironically, the first big spike of mass torture-murders, chiefly in Sunni areas at the time, coincided with "Operation Lightning," a much ballyhooed effort by American and Iraqi forces to "secure" Baghdad. The operation featured a mass influx of extra troops into the capital; dividing the city into manageable sectors, then working through them one by one; imposing hundreds of checkpoints to lock down all insurgent movements; and establishing a 24-hour presence of security and military forces in troubled neighborhoods, the Associated Press reported in May 2005. In other words, it was almost exactly the same plan now being offered as Bush's "New Way Forward," the controversial "surge."
But the "Lightning" fizzled in a matter of weeks, and the death squads grew even bolder. Brazen daylight raids by "men dressed in uniforms" of Iraqi police or Iraqi commandos or other Iraqi security agencies swept up dozens of victims at a time. For months, U.S. "advisers" to Iraqi security agencies -- including veterans of the original "Salvador Option" -- insisted that these were Sunni insurgents in stolen threads, although many of the victims were Sunni civilians. Later, the line was changed: the chief culprits were now "rogue elements" of the various sectarian militias that had "infiltrated" Iraq's institutions.
But as investigative reporter Max Fuller has pointed out in his detailed examination of information buried in reams of mainstream news stories and public Pentagon documents, the vast majority of atrocities then attributed to "rogue" Shiite and Sunni militias were in fact the work of government-controlled commandos and "special forces," trained by Americans, "advised" by Americans and run largely by former CIA agents. As Fuller puts it: "If there are militias in the Ministry of Interior, you can be sure that they are militias that stand to attention whenever a U.S. colonel enters the room." And perhaps a British lieutenant colonel as well.
With the Anglo-American coalition so deeply embedded in dirty war -- infiltrating terrorist groups, "stimulating" them into action," protecting "crown jewel" double-agents no matter what the cost, "riding with the bad boys," greenlighting the "Salvador Option" -- it is simply impossible to determine the genuine origin of almost any particular terrorist outrage or death squad atrocity in Iraq. All of these operations take place in the shadow world, where terrorists are sometimes government operatives and vice versa, and where security agencies and terrorist groups interpenetrate in murky thickets of collusion and duplicity. This moral chaos leaves "a kind of blot/to mark the full-fraught man and best indued/With some suspicion," as Shakespeare's Henry V says.
What's more, the "intelligence" churned out by this system is inevitably tainted by the self-interest, mixed motives, fear, and criminality of those who provide it. The ineffectiveness of this approach can be seen in the ever-increasing, many-sided civil war that is tearing Iraq apart. If these covert operations really are intended to quell the violence, they clearly have had the opposite effect. If they have some other intention, the pious defenders of civilization -- who approve these activities with promotions, green lights, and unlimited budgets -- aren't telling.
TOP SECRET ARMY CELL BREAKS TERRORISTS
By Sean Rayment
Sunday Telegraph (UK)
February 4, 2007 (updated Feb. 5)
Deep inside the heart of the "Green Zone," the heavily fortified administrative compound in Baghdad, lies one of the most carefully guarded secrets of the war in Iraq. It is a cell from a small and anonymous British Army unit that goes by the deliberately meaningless name of the Joint Support Group (JSG), and it has proved to be one of the Coalition's most effective and deadly weapons in the fight against terror.
Its members -- servicemen and women of all ranks recruited from all three of the Armed Forces -- are trained to turn hardened terrorists into coalition spies using methods developed on the mean streets of Ulster during the Troubles, when the Army managed to infiltrate the IRA at almost every level. Since war broke out in Iraq in 2003, they have been responsible for running dozens of Iraqi double agents.
Working alongside the Special Air Service and the American Delta Force as part of the Baghdad-based counter-terrorist unit known as Task Force Black, they have supplied intelligence that has saved hundreds of lives and resulted in some of the most notable successes against the myriad terror groups fighting in Iraq. Only last week, intelligence from the JSG is understood to have led to a series of successful operations against Sunni militia groups in southern Baghdad.
Information obtained by the unit is also understood to have inspired one of the most successful operations carried out by Task Force Black, in November 2005, when SAS snipers shot dead three suicide bombers.
The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq up until his death in June last year, followed intelligence obtained by the JSG, as did the rescue of the kidnapped peace campaigner, Norman Kember.
"The JSG is the coalition's secret weapon," revealed one defence source. "Their job is to recruit and run covert human intelligence sources or agents -- we never use the term informer. The Americans are in awe of the unit because they have nothing like them within their military."
During the Troubles, the JSG operated under the cover name of the Force Research Unit (FRU), which between the early 1980s and the late 1990s managed to penetrate the very heart of the IRA. By targeting and then "turning" members of the paramilitary organisation with a variety of "inducements" ranging from blackmail to bribes, the FRU operators developed agents at virtually every command level within the IRA.
The unit was renamed following the Stevens Inquiry into allegations of collusion between the security forces and protestant paramilitary groups, and, until relatively recently continued to work exclusively in Northern Ireland.
The JSG recruits men and women of any rank from all three services up to the age of 42. Volunteers attend a two week pre-selection course where those not in possession of the unique set of skills required to handle agents successfully are weeded out.
Candidates who get through pre-selection then spend the next four months at the Intelligence Corps headquarters at Chicksands, Bedfordshire, being taught driving and close-quarter battle skills -- operators must be capable of using a wide variety of weapons but must be expert shots with a pistol.
But most important of all, volunteers must be able to befriend people they may actually despise, win their trust and persuade them to become agents, which in some cases will mean getting them to inform on friends and relatives. Those who eventually pass the course can expect to be posted to Baghdad, Basra, and Afghanistan.
Sources have told the Sunday Telegraph that in Baghdad intelligence is obtained in a variety of ways. Some of it comes through phone calls to a confidential hot-line where callers can either talk to a member of the JSG or arrange a meeting inside the "Green Zone." It is too dangerous for operators to meet agents at a secret rendezvous in other parts of the city.
With so many Iraqis entering the zone every day, those who want to pass on information can do so with a certain amount of anonymity. But a risk still remains. All potential agents are warned that anyone suspected of being a coalition spy will be tortured before being murdered. If he is married, his wife will be gang-raped in front of their children, who will in all probability also be murdered, they are told. Despite the risks, JSG operators deal with dozens of Iraqis every week who are prepared, for a variety of reasons, to become informers.
"Some Iraqis come to us because they are simply fed up with the violence," said one source. "They may have had members of their families murdered, tortured or kidnapped. Unlike much of the middle class which has already fled the country, they may be too poor to leave and so they come to us to see if they can make a difference.
"They may have a little bit of information or detailed knowledge of a planned attack. We also have to deal with terrorists and that presents us with a difficulty. We are happy for them to pass us information but it is made absolutely clear to them that as a member of a terrorist group they are criminals and they should cease all activity immediately -- we have had cases where Shia or Sunni men have provided us with information and as part of the debriefing process we have discovered that they are terrorists themselves. We warn them that they are running the risk of being killed or captured and that they should get themselves into a position within the organization where they will not be directly involved in murder."
To senior American officers in Baghdad, the JSG is playing a vital role in the most important theatre of the war on terror.
"In many respects, Afghanistan is a side issue and that is something the Americans understand better than British politicians," said a source. "Ask any senior officer in Baghdad, given a choice, which war would they be prepared to lose and they will say the war in Afghanistan.
"In many respects the war in Iraq has redefined insurgent warfare. Think of the very worst of Northern Ireland combined with the very worst of the Balkans and you are coming close to life on a daily basis in Baghdad. The situation is chaotic and bordering on being hopeless. The Iraqis have absolutely no faith in their army or police force because they are all or nearly all linked to militias.
"Only the coalition forces can bring real security -- if the war is lost chaos will reign and the whole of the region will be dragged into a bloody and catastrophic ethnic war."