If things continue as they are it might only be a matter of time, and without much tongue in cheek, before the investigative journalist Darragh MacIntyre finds himself described as the greatest living threat in Ireland to the British state. A sobriquet once reserved for Martin McGuinness before he was co-opted, and on occasion for the late Brian Keenan, might just find its way to a new standard bearer.
Last night, via BBC Spotlight, for the second time in as many weeks, MacIntyre stepped into the ring, metaphorical fists at the ready to fight shadows, spooks, smoke and mirrors, ring craft, dissembling, subterfuge, veils, labyrinthine trails littered with chicanes and diversion signs thrown up to deflect the spirit of free inquiry away from its task of scrutinising government. The investigative journalism of MacIntyre and others is peeling away the camouflage beneath which lies a sordid history of a dirty war from which the stench of British state terrorism is emitted with all too recurring frequency.
Professor Henry Patterson might well worry that the history of the northern conflict is being rewritten by nationalists to the point that the formal statistic that "deaths by the state were far, far lower" is no longer as boldly inscribed in the narrative. To the extent that such apprehensions are well founded, it may be argued that hard evidence rather than nationalist alchemy is driving the restorative work currently underway. Such graft is incrementally but inexorably restoring the British state to its rightful place in the matrix that was the Northern conflict. Britain was no compere, gallantly and impartially holding the ring, but a pugilist in the middle, gouging, biting and kicking as much as the other contestants. Now that it finds itself on the ropes, too bad.
"Deaths by the state were far, far lower" is the cloak of legitimacy that the British state does not wish to be denuded of. It is content for society never to find out the full extent of the state's terrorism and the victims that it produced. The state's real death toll might well be lower but by how much? Can it be said any longer with a straight face that all the ostensibly IRA killings that vex Professor Patterson were exclusively IRA acts?
It is precisely this type of problematic that has made BBC Spotlight a thorn in the side of the British state in recent months. Chris Moore exposed the machinations of the sinister Weapons & Explosives Research Centre (WERC), a RUC Special Branch ballistics unit, which existed for the purpose of the forensic manipulation of evidence. Vincent Kearney opened a window called Gary Haggarty through which the viewing public could observe the wholesale rubbishing of the professed but dishonest commitment of the PSNI to be an impartial police force in the business of justice delivery.
Last night’s “date with the state” examined how British state terrorist strategy found expression through the activities of Freddie Scappaticci, aka Stakeknife. Scappaticci was a key – just not the master key - British agent within the Provisional IRA, having been recruited in the 1970s by the British Army.
Spotlight combined the forensic pursuit of its quarry, Scappaticci, with a parallel narrative that told the sorrowful story of Caroline Moreland, for the most part articulated by her daughter Shona and made all the more powerful and poignant by the use of footage of the Moreland family recorded shortly before Caroline was shot dead 6 weeks short of the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Her killing seemed to be one of the organisation’s more strategically gratuitous acts of violence, spurred by either personal vindictiveness or a display of chest beating just to let the doubters know that despite the peace shenanigans the IRA hadn't gone away, you know. Yet it seems highly likely that while the IRA may have thought it alone was responsible for the death of Caroline Moreland, the hidden hand of the British state was present, with the downward thumb posture maintained to the very end.
The central question raised by Spotlight is why the state armed with the information it had in its possession, courtesy of its own agent who was responsible for hunting down prey like Caroline Moreland, did nothing to prevent her death or the deaths of so many others accused by informers within the IRA of ... being informers within the IRA. Kafkaesque for sure, but it was nothing less.
We might never find out but the suspicion remains that amongst his many tasks, Scappaticci was a vacuum for hoovering up what the British state had determined human asset detritus: people whose cover had been blown or who were coming to the end of their shelf life as agents: allowing them to be compromised and killed, a much less costly enterprise than relocating them and their families to England.
In the face of PSNI prevarication and procrastination, investigative journalists are now openly challenging the dominant British state narrative of the conflict. The PSNI tactical paradox of rushing in the “investigative delay" mechanism, so palpably absent in its pursuit of the Boston College oral history archive, in the hope that things can be strung out to 2040 as estimated by the North's Lord Chief Justice, shows there is no dark side to the reconfigured RUC. It is all dark.
Spotlight and Darragh MacIntyre by their unrelenting investigation are denying
British state terrorism the cover of PSNI darkness.