Clashes within the State
In the final part of this series, we look at the clashes between different elements within the British State’s intelligence services.
After the killing of Lord Mountbatten and that of 18 British soldiers on the same day in August 1979 by republican units, Margaret Thatcher called in the recently retired head of MI6, Maurice Oldfield, to sort things out in Northern Ireland. Oldfield has frequently been seen as the prototype for Alec Guinness’s portrayal of George Smiley in the BBC’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Oldfield had worked in British Army counter-intelligence in Egypt during the Second World War. After the War, he was involved in attempting to counter the Zionist terror gangs in Palestine. He was to talk cheerfully about the techniques used by British Army intelligence to extract information from Jewish suspects, which involved brutal beatings and immersing their heads in buckets of water. He joined MI6 in 1947 and was involved in countering Communist guerrillas in Malaya in the 1950s. Oldfield rose quickly in the ranks of MI6 to become a chief spook. He spent four years in Washington and firmed up the relationship of MI6 with the CIA. On his return he became deputy head of MI6, becoming its director in 1973 and retiring in 1979. He was known as a formidable opponent of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service.
Thatcher appointed him Security Director in Northern Ireland and his task was to coordinate the work of MI5, the British Army’s own intelligence unit the FRU, and the RUC’s intelligence units. His attempts at coordination caused resentment within these agencies. A year later, Oldfield was to be the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the ‘Ultras’, the right wing faction within MI5. One former intelligence officer later alleged that they were aided in this by RUC Special Branch. Why was this? Because Oldfield was seen as meddling in the activities of MI5 and the FRU.
A story was leaked to the Sunday Times and the journalist Chapman Pincher that Oldfield had propositioned a man in a toilet in Northern Ireland, whilst acting as Security Coordinator. The story was probably not true, but it revealed Oldfield as a homosexual. At the time, being gay was considered a security risk for those working in the intelligence services, as it was considered that the KGB could use this for blackmail. Thatcher forced Oldfield to resign. Later, on 23rd April, 1987, Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons stating that, “reports were received which caused his positive vetting clearance to be reviewed. In March 1980, in the course of that review, he made an admission that he had from time to time engaged in homosexual activities. His positive vetting clearance was withdrawn. By this time he was already a sick man; he finally ceased to serve as Security Co-ordinator in Northern Ireland when a successor took over in June 1980; he died in March 1981”.
John Stalker, the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, was put in charge of an investigation in 1984 into allegations of a deliberate ‘shoot to kill’ policy against unarmed IRA members rather than arrest. Both the RUC and MI5 were concerned that Stalker would expose their part in the shooting of Michael Tighe, a seventeen year old with no connection with paramilitaries, in Lurgan in 1982. A listening device was hidden in the hay shed where Tighe was killed. The RUC later destroyed a tape a few hours later, and a copy held by MI5 was destroyed some years later. Eighteen days after Tighe’s killing, the same RUC unit shot dead two unarmed members of the Irish National Liberation Army, and they had shot dead three other republicans. It is clear that the RUC were operating a death squad with the collusion of MI5.
Stalker was suspended in June 1986 when allegations, later proved to be unfounded, were made that he had connections with the Manchester group of criminals known as the Quality Street Gang.
The then Chief Constable of the RUC, Jack Hermon, his deputy Michael McAtamney, and leading Special Branch officer Ronnie Flanagan were concerned that Stalker would discover the truth. Flanagan was later to serve as RUC Chief Constable between 1996 and 2002. This dirty tricks campaign scuppered Stalker’s investigation, which was 90% complete and the report on Tighe’s death was never published. Stalker went to his grave without revealing his findings. He was to go on record as saying: “I was breaking new ground in my demands for access, and anti-terrorist operators within MI5 and the Special Branch were bitterly unhappy about even speaking to me”.
Colin Wallace worked for the ‘psychological operations’ unit of the British Army and liaised closely with MI5 in acting against both republican and loyalist paramilitaries. In 1975 he was forced out of the Army for refusing to take part in Operation Clockwork Orange. This was another dirty tricks campaign intended to bring down the Labour government led by Harold Wilson. Another reason for Wallace’s departure was his investigation into systematic abuse at the Kincora boy’s home in East Belfast. Wallace had informed heads of intelligence services about these abuses as early as 1974. However, the boy’s home was not closed down until 1980.
This was because MI5 and the FRU wanted to maintain the home and allow the abuses to continue, so that they could use its housemaster, William McGrath, to provide information on Loyalist politicians who were involved in these abuses. McGrath was himself a hard-line Loyalist, member of the Orange Order, and paedophile. In his book The Dirty War (1999) Martin Kerr alleges that McGrath was in the employ of MI5 since the sixties, because of his extensive connections with Loyalist paramilitaries.
Ironically, Wallace became a victim of the same disinformation that he was employed to carry out. He was disciplined for leaking a secret document to a journalist. Wallace had a writ served on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in late 2021 alleging that the disciplinary hearings were a “sham” and that he had been instructed by the MoD on several occasions to leak secret documents.
Margaret Thatcher was forced to admit in 1990 that her government had misled Parliament and the public about Wallace’s job. An inquiry led by David Calcutt QC found that MI5 had interfered in the disciplinary proceedings. Wallace then received £30,000 compensation.
In 1980 Wallace was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the manslaughter of his friend, the antiques dealer Jonathan Lewis. He had been having an affair with Lewis’s wife.
Wallace was released after six years when his conviction was quashed after new forensic evidence was revealed. In his book Who Framed Colin Wallace? Paul Foot made the allegation that Wallace may have been framed by the intelligence services to silence him.
Wallace is now pursuing legal proceedings against the MoD because he feels that the full facts about Kincora have been covered up. This is despite three insubstantial inquiries. Wallace hopes to obtain the disclosure of documents that the MoD is sitting on. He is also seeking damages.
One final thing, which brings us full circle in this series investigating the murky activities of the State’s intelligence services. Maurice Oldfield and his boss, Dick White, both admitted that MI6 had recommended that President Nasser of Egypt be murdered by the use of nerve gas. White also told his biographer Tom Bower that other schemes had included a hit squad to kill Nasser and the possibility of a military coup in Egypt.
The nerve gas that was had in mind would have been manufactured at Porton Down, the subject of the first part of this series. The ex-MI5 spook Peter Wright describes an experiment he witnessed at Porton Down on a sheep using a poison dart. Despite MoD denials that Porton Down is only used to manufacture antidotes against germ and chemical warfare, it is clear that the establishment is used to manufacture lethal chemical weapons for use by the British intelligence services. Incidentally, every year, several thousands of animals, including marmosets and rhesus monkeys are slaughtered in Porton Down’s experiments.