I put it to Martin Ingram, the former spy handler, that in the case of Scappaticci, the British strategy had gone amok.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it went very much to schedule.”
“So you think—”
“I don’t think, I know. He was acting to orders.”
So the British government knew of Scappaticci’s killings?
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The one preconception the IRA had is that if you are dirty—that is, if you have killed—then you cannot be an agent.” Scappaticci exploited that misapprehension. “His best protection,” Ingram continued, “was to keep killing.”
If that’s true, the British spy services beat the IRA by appealing to a belief that the United Kingdom wouldn’t sacrifice its own subjects—especially its own agents.
In Belfast I met with Denis Donaldson, a Sinn Féin party leader and an IRA veteran alleged to have run the IRA’s intelligence wing. He’s a folk hero who led hunger strikes early in the Troubles, and British investigators say he traveled the world, cultivating terrorist contacts in Spain, Palestine, El Salvador, and elsewhere: a hard IRA man if there ever was one.
We sat at his kitchen table as he smoked, cursing British “interference” and “collusion.” We had talked for a couple of hours before I noticed that the discreet television in the corner near the ceiling wasn’t a television at all. It was a security monitor, and at the moment, it showed the front door through which I had entered. I noticed, too, a wrought-iron door that sealed off the upstairs, forming a redoubt.
When I mentioned the names of Scappaticci and Fulton, Donaldson’s shoulders slumped. “I still can’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head. “My God.”
His face seemed thin and gray, the face of a man who senses an end looming. A couple of weeks after we talked, the IRA laid down its arms, defeated by a confluence of circumstances: a change in the world’s view of terrorism; apparent gains made by its political partner, Sinn Féin; and the steady infiltration of British spies.
Fulton worked as a painter by day, whitewashing the pocked walls of County Down, Northern Ireland. But secretly he made bombs, as part of a small team of demolitions experts who operated in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Some of their bombs blew up military targets. Others blew up civilians. Fulton could sometimes sabotage missions. Often he could not.
By early 1993, Fulton and his team of bombers had found something less clumsy than wires to use in bomb and rocket detonation. They rigged bombs with photo sensors, which they triggered by popping off camera flashes. The results were lethal. Trouble was, other lights—bright headlights, or a tourist’s disposable photo flash—could set off a bomb prematurely.
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.