03/31/06 - the IRA

In today's excerpt - the hideous moral dilemma of the counter-insurgency against the IRA.  The British army had infiltrated the IRA by recruiting spies from among their members, a strategy ultimately deemed effective.  But to be convincing, those spies had to kill British soldiers.  One such spy recruited in 1971 was IRA foot soldier Freddie Scappaticci:

"The IRA swelled in power, money, and numbers.  Its members executed increasingly ruthless operations against Protestant groups and British forces, but Scappaticci gradually began to notice a disturbing pattern: hot-blooded young men were sent headlong into dangerous missions, but their leaders stayed safe in their pubs back home.  And when these foot soldiers died or landed in prison, the leaders sometimes showed up around town with the missing men's wives. ... To Scappaticci, their behavior seemed more like robbery than revolution. ... Scappaticci, the British intelligence services quickly recognized, had the makings of a perfect agent.  A local man, born in Belfast.  A credible IRA member.  A disillusioned foot soldier. Beaten down. Ready.

"In 1980, after a couple of years of working as a British spy—arranging meetings, handing over tidbits—Scappaticci joined the IRA's internal security unit, which IRA men called the Nutting Squad. 'Nut' is Irish slang for head. When the Nutting Squad found a snitch or a British spy, its interrogators typically tortured him, squeezed him for information, then 'nutted' him with a pair of bullets to the brain. ... The position gave him access to the IRA's innermost secrets ... over several years he helped foil numerous killings and kidnappings. ...

"Moreover, his position atop the Nutting Squad made him untouchable. ... If his own activities ever drew suspicion, he could simply divert attention by fingering an innocent man.  Some British press reports estimate he killed as many as forty people. ... Each night [these spies rocked themselves] to sleep repeating the mantra their handlers had given them:  'The greater good.  The greater good.'  ... Scappaticci engaged in difficult mathematics, a calculus of souls.  If a man kills thirty people to save 3,000, has he done right?"


Matthew Teague


'Double Blind'


The Atlantic


April 2006


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