Double Blind

The untold story of how British intelligence infiltrated and undermined the IRA

British intelligence services, in an effort to control IRA techniques through collaboration, secretly passed along a solution for the problem: a new technology—the infrared flash—that could be acquired only in America. Fulton’s handlers offered to facilitate an undercover IRA shopping mission to New York, and an MI5 officer flew across the Atlantic on the Concorde to make arrangements with American services in advance of Fulton’s arrival. “This was a terrorist organization operating in the United States,” Fulton told me, and it required cooperation. “It was a pretty big thing.”

Fulton traveled to New York with several thousand dollars, met secretly with his handlers, arranged the purchase, and returned to Northern Ireland, ready to create a deadly new weapon. The IRA embraced the innovation, and it worked so well that other terrorist groups soon took notice and adapted the infrared photo-sensor bomb to their own wars. Today, Iraqi insurgents wield it against British and American troops in Iraq.

The British and American strategy—tracking insurgents by abetting them—seemed to follow a convoluted logic: that of a fighter who, trying to zero in on his opponent, waits for a few good shots to the nose. When Fulton traveled to New York with his handlers, he provided valuable inside information about the IRA’s new tactics. But as each such step offered insight, it demanded another step, and another. The information came at a high price.

In Newry, for instance, not long before Fulton’s trip to New York, a policewoman named Colleen McMurray and her colleague, Paul Slaine, were driving past the canal that runs through the center of town. Across the water, an IRA man triggered a flash unit, and a hidden rocket—called a “doodlebug”—burst from the grill of a car he had planted. It slammed into McMurray’s car, injuring Slaine—he lost both legs in the attack—and killing McMurray on the spot.

As Fulton and I surveyed the bloody plain of his career, he said that McMurray’s death was the only one he truly regretted. I asked why, and his hands traced the universal hourglass symbol for “woman.” It seemed almost as though he didn’t want to say it aloud: he had constructed a moral code as a bomber and spy, some unspoken list of atrocities he refused to commit, and apparently it included killing a woman.

Other people paid a price, too. Consider the case of Eoin Morley, a member of Fulton’s bomb squad. After six years as a low-level IRA man, Morley quit and turned away from the IRA. Maybe he did it for the love of his girlfriend, and for her tiny children from a previous relationship. Maybe he did it because of an intra-IRA dispute. Maybe he did it because he already felt old at twenty-two.

That Easter Sunday night, Morley and his girlfriend put the children to bed and then turned their attention to a sink full of dishes. She washed, he dried. Someone knocked at the door. His girlfriend dried her hands, crossed the room, and opened the door. Two armed, masked men burst past her and grabbed Morley. They dragged him out into the garden and forced him to lie down. One of the masked men—Fulton, sources say—raised a high-powered assault rifle and shot Morley twice. The first bullet entered the back of his left thigh. Automatic rifles tend to rise as they’re fired; the second bullet thumped into Morley’s lower back.

As quickly as they had arrived, the men disappeared.

An ambulance took Morley to the hospital. His mother, Eilish, having gotten word of the incident, arrived soon after. Shootings were a way of life in Northern Ireland, and she expected him to rise from his bed and walk out—just like his relatives, just like his friends, just like Lazarus. But then a nurse burst into the waiting room and said, “Would you come quickly?”

Eilish moved to the door of the surgery theater, but someone stopped her at a red line painted on the floor. She wasn’t sterilized and might infect the patient. Her son lay on a table in the center of the room. A doctor approached and said, “We couldn’t save him. It’s only a matter of minutes.” She suspects now that the doctor kept her behind the line not because of infection but to spare her the sight of her son’s body laid bare, bristling with instruments, tubes, wires.

Eilish told me this sitting in her living room, and throughout the story she stared at a spot on the floor just in front of her feet. Her voice strained. “I can see it here—a red line,” she said. She moved her hand in the air just before her knees, as though tousling a small boy’s hair. “I had to stand at that red line, and he died … it probably took five minutes, but to me it was five hours … I wasn’t allowed over the red line.”

She sat there for a long time after saying this, tousling an invisible boy’s hair and staring at a nonexistent red line. At that moment, both seemed more real than anything else in Northern Ireland.

"I know what yer done, boyo.”

In the Belfast safe house, in 1994, Scappaticci continued to grill Fulton. The interrogation centered on something about a van. A phone. An assassination.

Fulton had pieced it together. In addition to his work as a bomber for the IRA, he specialized in procuring supplies: electronics, weapons, vehicles. Sometimes he stole the goods; other times, as in his trip to the States, his British handlers provided them. In 1994, when the IRA’s leaders needed a “basher”—a mobile phone with no traceable bill—and a clean van, they turned to Fulton. No problem. Fulton got both from his handlers, who outfitted them with snooping equipment. Not long after, the IRA attempted to kill Derek Martindale, a senior police detective; but armed officers managed to arrest the would-be assassins in their van near Martindale’s home. It was Fulton’s van. The IRA, suspecting that a snitch had betrayed the mission, launched a massive internal investigation.

Meanwhile, the police arrested anyone who might have been even remotely connected to the case, including Fulton. “Who do you work for?” they demanded. Fulton sat silent.

Eventually the police released him, and right away the IRA ordered him to the Belfast safe house, where Scappaticci interrogated him. A close relative of Fulton’s sat in another room, also awaiting time with Scappaticci.

The interrogator prodded Fulton: “What did you tell them?”

“Nothing.”

Fulton was telling the truth. He hadn’t known anything about the assassination attempt.

Scappaticci didn’t believe him. He suspected Fulton of being involved in more than just the Martindale betrayal, in fact.

“You provided both the phone and the vehicle used in the job. Couldn’t be a coincidence.”

Fulton denied everything, because he had no other choice. To confess anything—anything at all—would mean instant execution.

The denials worked. Scappaticci wasn’t sure. He needed more time. So he told Fulton to come back a couple of days later for a second round of interrogation. And to bring his relative.

Right away Fulton called for a meeting with his handlers and delivered what he thought was alarming news: Scappaticci was on to him.

“Oh, we’ve got the inside track,” they told him. “Don’t worry about it.”

Fulton had no choice but to return with his relative for the second interrogation. Again Scappaticci pressed him hard. Again Fulton kept up his denials. Scappaticci released Fulton again and told him to come back one more time.

As Fulton and his relative drove away, Fulton complained about having to come back for a third interrogation. The relative looked at him blankly. “What third interrogation?” A siren sounded in Fulton’s head. He’d been called back for a third round, alone. Later that day a British handler, but not his own, contacted Fulton secretly to offer a private warning. “Don’t go to the last meeting,” he said. “You won’t go home.” Fulton blew out of Belfast and went into hiding.

After several meetings on Platform 13, Fulton invited me to his home. It’s an expensive flat, with heavy security, overlooking a well-known London landmark.

Inside the apartment, Fulton cooked a steak pie. While it baked, he put out laundry to dry. Then he took the plastic collar off a six-pack of canned beer and used a dainty pair of scissors to snip the rings. It’s better, he said, for the “wee fish and creatures of the sea.” He heard himself and grinned. “I’d make a fine housewife, wouldna?”

Over dinner he talked about New York, how he’d like to see it again. Outside the window, a construction crew worked near the entrance to the apartments. Fulton told me he won’t go out while they’re working, for fear one of them might be a boy from back home.

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