Double Blind

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

Some things he confesses, some he doesn’t. “I can’t admit to individual things,” he said, for fear of prosecution. “But I won’t lie to you.” Over the course of our time together, he developed a winking non-denial answer: “No comment.”

I asked if he had killed Eoin Morley.

“No comment.”

I asked if it was true that he had personally killed eleven people, not mentioning the uncounted bomb victims.

“No comment.”

I asked if that bothered him.

“You cannot pretend to be a terrorist,” he told me. “I had to be able to do the exact same thing as the IRA man next to me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be there.”

Fulton harbors complex feelings about the British spy services. His handlers in Northern Ireland abandoned him after his encounter with Scappaticci. His special toll-free number suddenly stopped working and eventually became the hotline for a forklift company. Fulton suspects that once the IRA loosed Scappaticci on him, his handlers decided he would make a good sacrifice: another mark of credibility for their prize agent, Stakeknife. His handlers betrayed him.

“He trusted the people he worked for,” Jane Winter told me. She heads a human-rights organization called British Irish Rights Watch, one of the few authorities respected by people on both sides of the continuing conflict. “He believed that he was doing something that—although it was difficult and unpleasant—was necessary and right. And then he found out the people that he trusted were not worthy of his trust. I think that must be very difficult for anybody.”

Scappaticci, too, eventually fell. In 2003, Francisco Notarantonio’s family instigated a police investigation that soon exposed the existence of the agent Stakeknife. Like Fulton, Scappaticci fled Northern Ireland. Rumors circulated that he had gone to Italy, specifically to a certain Hotel La Pace in Cassino, a hillside town between Naples and Rome. The manager at La Pace told me that yes, he remembered Scappaticci arriving from England, but no, he knew nothing of his next destination. That’s where Freddie Scappaticci’s trail goes cold.

In Belfast, I met with Scappaticci’s attorney, Michael Flanigan. In a neighborhood known as an IRA stronghold, we sipped coffee in a shop that had once been a Presbyterian church. I asked about Scappaticci’s career as a spy, and Flanigan shook his head. He has previously called the allegations “misinformation” and told me it was all British propaganda. The British, he said, just wanted to embarrass the IRA by pretending they had penetrated it. When I suggested that the Stakeknife affair might reflect as poorly on the British as on anyone else, he smiled.

A few weeks later, back in the United States, I received a phone call early one morning from a source in the United Kingdom. He said, “Yer man Denis Donaldson”—the legendary IRA hunger-striker who had met with me in his kitchen—“has just been expelled from Sinn Féin, about three minutes ago. For being a British spy.”

Donaldson, it turned out, had been spying on the IRA for two decades.

After my last visit with Kevin Fulton, we walked through London on a route that took us past Chelsea Barracks, a sprawling compound of bunker-like brick buildings not far from Buckingham Palace. The British army has stationed soldiers there for a century and a half, but the neighborhood has changed around it, and now Londoners consider it an eyesore. The Ministry of Defense plans to move its soldiers to another base and sell Chelsea Barracks for retail development. The site has outlasted its usefulness.

Fulton feels an affinity for the place.

In 1981, early in his stint as a terrorist, the IRA bombed the barracks, killing two people and injuring more than three dozen. As he and I approached the barracks, Fulton pointed out little strips of clear tape stuck to streetlights, electrical boxes, telephone poles—anything with a hinge or slot. Each piece of tape bore a serial number, he told me, and was meant to seal a potential hiding place for a bomb.

As we passed the Chelsea Barracks entry gate, Fulton noticed a sign announcing that this was Open Day, the annual recruitment day. Over the compound’s high walls, I could see little boys inside, scurrying up a recreational rock-climbing wall. Fulton’s eyes flashed. “You want to go in?” he said. “Let’s go in.”

We wandered in. Uniformed men and women staffed booths arrayed in the courtyard. As we picked our way through the displays, Fulton began looking for members of his original regiment, the Royal Irish Rangers. “Where’re the Royal Irish?” he asked passersby. “Have ye seen the Irish?” I noticed that Fulton wore a tiny green pin on his collar that read ROYAL IRISH RANGERS.

At last we saw a group of men sporting green plumes and tending a booth that featured terrorist bombs. On display were explosive devices from insurgencies around the world: Algeria, Palestine, Iraq. Fulton picked through them with a certain efficiency, looking for something. He grew more agitated by the moment. “Jaysus,” he grumbled to himself. “They’ve got nothing from Northern Ireland here.” He was searching, I realized, for his handiwork.

He strode up to a smiling, broad-chested soldier with red hair. “Have ye nothing from Northern Ireland?” he barked. “Nothing? Nothing a-tall, then?”

Fulton’s tone, his brogue, and the keenness of his interest focused the soldier, whose smile disappeared. “No, sir,” he said. “We haven’t.” His eyes traveled down and back up Fulton’s stocky frame.

Fulton caught himself and stuffed his hands into his pockets, and he turned to walk away. “Well,” he said. “If they weren’t such fecking terrorists, then maybe they could have a spot, aye?”

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