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The Sunday Herald
By Neil Mackay
A FEMALE military intelligence officer is at the centre of the Scotland Yard inquiry into collusion between the British army and loyalist paramilitaries in the murders of Catholics in Ulster.
The officer - who can be named only as Captain M to avoid a Ministry of Defence gagging order - allegedly handed information to loyalist killers which resulted in at least 14 deaths, including five Catholics with no terrorist links. 'M' is expected to be arrested after the Stevens' inquiry into collusion between loyalist terrorists and the British army in Ulster ends.
Over the last two weeks, the Sunday Herald has exposed how Scottish intelligence officer Brigadier Gordon Kerr commanded the army's Force Research Unit (FRU) - the covert military intelligence operation in which Captain M worked. The FRU is the subject of the investigation by Sir John Stevens, Scotland Yard's commissioner.
Sources close to the Stevens inquiry have revealed that at least three FRU officers will be charged within three months. One former FRU officer has already been charged in connection with the investigation for allegedly intimidating a former colleague who is now the main whistleblower in the police inquiry.
Last week three men were arrested in Belfast by Stevens' detectives as part of their ongoing investigations into the murder of the Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane. Finucane, who had a number of prominent republicans among his clients, was shot dead in front of his wife and children at his Belfast home in February 1989 by UDA gunmen allegedly using information provided by the FRU.
The three were arrested for ''possession of documents containing information likely to be useful to terrorists in planning acts of violence.'' Two were released - one pending a report being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions - and a third, a 51-year-old former British army soldier called Kieron Dalton, was charged and remanded in custody forpossessing information likely to be used by terrorists.
Between 1986 and 1990, Captain M - then a sergeant - and another FRU officer, known as ''Geoff'', were the primary handlers of Brian Nelson, a former Black Watch soldier, who was then the UDA's chief intelligence officer.
Nelson was later jailed for his terrorist crimes. ''Geoff'' subsequently joined the RUC and is currently suspended from police duties pending the outcome of the Stevens' inquiry.
At the time Captain M - also known as Mags to Stevens' detectives - answered directly to Gordon Kerr, a former Gordon Highlander from Aberdeen who was then a colonel and the commander of the FRU.
Highly-placed military intelligence sources say Captain M actively colluded with Nelson in the murder of Catholics and republicans. At times the victims were IRA men and active republicans, but the dead also include innocent civilians.
FRU sources told the Sunday Herald: ''It was a perfect military plan. We got to take out Provos, and the UDA carried on with their operations. Of course, intelligence can be faulty and 'ordinary' Catholics died.''
Sources claimed up to five 'ordinary' Catholics were murdered as a result of FRU collusion, adding: ''Captain M facilitated the UDA's targeting by producing maps, photos, details of routes to the scene of the assassinations and information of targets' movements.''
Although the FRU actively colluded with loyalists, they also deliberately withheld information from police which could have saved lives. In 1988, Gerald Slane was gunned down by the UDA even though M had advance knowledge that he was marked for assassination.
''Sometimes innocent people were allowed to die in order to keep double agents like Nelson in business. If Slane had lived suspicion might have fallen on Nelson that he was working for us,'' a source said.
The same policy ended in the death of Francisco Notorantonio, a Catholic taxi driver who was sacrificed to protect a senior IRA man, codenamed Steak Knife, who was a FRU double-agent and intelligence asset.
Notorantonio's details were passed to Nelson by Captain M as a replacement victim for Steak Knife when the FRU discovered loyalists were planning to murder the IRA man.
M also had prior knowledge that Brian Robinson - a UVF man - was planning a sectarian gun attack in Belfast in September 1989. The FRU allowed Robinson to kill 43-year-old Patrick McKenna before ordering an undercover army unit to open fire on him as he fled the scene. Robinson was shot dead even though he could have been wounded and arrested.
Another innocent Catholic set up by M and Nelson was Terence McDaid. He died when accidentally mistaken for his brother by loyalist gunmen. The army also allegedly supplied the loyalist killers of Louglin Maginn with documents.
The Stevens' inquiry is also investigating allegations that M handed over photos and details of routes to Nelson as part of the UDA officer's planning of the murder of Pat Finucane.
The RUC are also alleged to have failed to act to stop Finucane's killing despite having had advance warning from three separate loyalist sources that his execution was planned.
Military intelligence sources said Captain M's British Empire Medal was granted as a direct result of her undercover work in Ulster, proving her alleged illegal operations were sanctioned by military top brass and the government.
M, who was commissioned as a captain in 1998, was not a rogue agent, sources said. ''She was directly answerable to Gordon Kerr. Anything she did was okayed by the establishment.''
Although the FRU was thought to have disbanded in 1991, it merely changed its name to the Force Reconnaissance Unit and is still operating in Ulster. M is no longer in Ulster. However, her location is known to the Sunday Herald.
M has already been questioned twice by Stevens' detectives, and is due to be interrogated again before the planned arrests of FRU officers. ''Her role as Nelson's main handler puts her at the centre of the entire inquiry,'' a source said.
The MoD said Captain M will remain in post with the Intelligence Corps pending the outcome of the Stevens' inquiry, as will Brigadier Gordon Kerr, who is currently the British military attache to Beijing in China.
As part of the collusion, M arranged for two computers to be bought - one for Nelson and one for the FRU. Information held on the military computer on potential targets could then be downloaded onto floppy disks for Nelson which he could study at home and use to draw up assassination plans.
The FRU could also upload information known to the UDA when Nelson met with his handlers. This reduced the risk of Nelson being caught with incriminating documents on him.
P cards - or personality cards - comprising photos and personal details of targets were also handed to Nelson by the FRU. M became an FRU instructor with the Intelligence Corps in 1990 after leaving Ulster.