4 Field Survey Troop

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Northern Ireland.jpg This article is part of SpinWatch's Northern Ireland Portal.
4 Field Survey Troop of the Royal Engineers was a cover name for a British military undercover unit in Northern Ireland responsible for running agents inside paramilitary organisations. It is reported that it operated between 1973 and 1975, was a subsidiary unit of the 14th Intelligence Company and that its staff included members of the SAS. It also seems to have operated under the cover name of Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Teams (Northern Ireland),[1] and according to files at the National Archives was part of an extremely secret unit called the Special Reconnaissance Unit.[2] It is alleged to have been involved in having foreknowledge of loyalist killings and even to have set up such killings.

Ken Livingstone Questions

Ken Livingstone MP used his maiden speech in the House of commons to raise the allegtions made about dirty tricks in Ireland by Fred Holroyd. In subsequent questions he asked specifically about 4 Field Survey Troop. His questions in full were:

Mr. Livingstone To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) which members of the Royal Engineers survey troop stationed at Castledillon in 1974–75 belonged to Army units other than the Royal Engineers;
(2) how many officers and of what rank served in the Castledillon, Royal Engineers survey troop in 1974–75;
(3) what role the Royal Engineers survey troop was carrying out whilst stationed at Castledillon in 1974–75;
(4) how many service men and women served in the Royal Engineers survey troop stationed at Castledillon from 1974–75.
Mr. Freeman Detailed information on this unit, which is not now deployed in the Province, is no longer available. The role of a Royal Engineer field survey is to provide or process aerial photographs, ground surveys and mapping for the Army as required. The strength of such a unit at that time varied between about 30 and 40, depending upon its specific task, and usually included two officers.
Mr. Livingstone To ask the Secretary of State for Defence by what unit the Royal Engineers survey troop stationed at Castledillon in 1974–75 was guarded.
Mr. Freeman The RE squadron based at Castledillon at that time would have been responsible for the overall security of the base.
362W
Mr. Livingstone To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the numerical designation of the Royal Engineers survey troop stationed at Castledillon in 1974–75.
Mr. Freeman 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers.[3]

From these answers we learn that 4 Field Survey Troop was according t the British government in 1988 to 'provide or process aerial photographs, ground surveys and mapping'. Since it is known that undercover operative Robert Nairac worked in this unit and that it was a cover designation, we can also say that the information given to the House in March 1988 was both false and consistent with the attempt to maintain the false cover for the unit.

Robert Nairac

In 2007 the Daily Mail reported on the fact that Robert Nairac worked in the unit:

Nairac volunteered for special duties. It was now that the paths of Nairac and the SAS crossed. The elite outfit were training new units for the risks of a hidden war in the North. One these was 14 Intelligence, nicknamed 'the Det', short for Detachment. The work was exceptionally dangerous. Operators gathered intelligence by frequenting bars known to be used by terrorists. They put tracking devices in weapons found in arms dumps; they tailed known 'players'. A simple slip, a chance discovery, would have been a death sentence. Nairac grew his hair longer and affected a variety of fake Irish accents and cover stories.
Then he moved to 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, based at Castledillon, Co. Armagh. It was a collection of undercover operatives working against both republican and loyalist terrorists. Nairac spent more and more time in bars, his accent now said to be passable. In his book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon recounts that Nairac was able to convince a woman native to Spiddal in Connemara that he was from the same neck of the woods. He told others he was from Westmeath and in a bar in Crossmaglen, his Belfast accent fooled several patrons.[4]

1974 bombings

According to a report in the Boston Herald in 1999 on the British involvement in the 1974 loyalist bombings in the Republic of Ireland:

The most in-depth examination of British intelligence involvement came in 1993, when Britain's Yorkshire Television broadcast a shocking documentary about the bombings. Interviewing Irish detectives and accessing never-before-seen files on the bombings, Yorkshire TV found that eight suspects' names - all of them UVF members from Belfast and Portadown - were given to the RUC within weeks of the bombings. The list included Portadown's Robin Jackson, nicknamed "The Jackal," a UVF man believed responsible for as many as 50 other murders during the war. He died of cancer in October.
At the time, both British intelligence and the RUC were running numerous agents within Portadown UVF. As such, Irish investigators said, attempts to pursue the suspects met with RUC indifference. Yorkshire TV also turned its spotlight on an army unit tagged 4 Field Survey Troop, based in the '70s in Castledillon, County Armagh, "to provide and process aerial photographs, ground surveys and mapping for the army." A former member of the unit told Yorkshire TV, "We were . . . trained in weapons, for sabotage with ex-plosives, and assassination. We also crossed the Irish border with explosives to booby-trap arms dumps and for other missions."
Britain has emphatically denied both charges of covert arm operations in the South and of army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. The British say 4 Field Survey Troop was what it appeared to be - a mapping unit. Unfortunately - and, some charge, quite conveniently - Britain also says all records of the now-defunct unit were destroyed in 1988.[5]

In 2003 the Sunday Tribune revealed that 4 Field Survey Troop ran a number of the suspects for the bombing as agents:

COULD Britain have been behind the single worst atrocity in the history of the Irish Troubles, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which took place in May 1974 and claimed the lives of 33 people, injuring a further 240? ...
While gardai had no prior intelligence that the bombs were planned, the British army and RUC had a number of wellplaced informers within the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force, the loyalist organisation behind the attacks. This newspaper has the names of a number of loyalists suspected of taking part in the atrocities; four of them were former or serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The four can only be identified as Mr H, Mr B, Mr J and Mr M, J, H, M were all working for either British military intelligence or RUC special branch, as was another of the eight-man UVF team behind the attacks, who can only be referred to as Mr D.
A group of undercover SAS soldiers, known as 4 Field Survey Troop, under the command of a named army captain and a lieutenant, were running M, B and J both before and after the bombings...
The Dublin bombings also involved an expertise in bombmaking that was far more sophisticated than loyalists showed either before or after the atrocity. Lieutenant colonel George Styles, former head of British army bomb disposal, commandant Patrick Trears, a senior Irish army bomb disposal officer, and former garda commissioner Eamonn Doherty, one of the officers who led the initial inquiry, all agree that the 1974 bombs were more sophisticated than any other explosive devices used by loyalists. A former RUC officer has also claimed in a statement that a named captain in the UDR supplied the explosives for the bombs. At least four British army intelligence officers and an RUC special branch officer are believed to have been involved in planning the attacks.[6]

Notes

  1. Fred Holroyd, War Without Honour, Medium Publishing, 1989, p47.
  2. Defensive Brief D Meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach 5 April 1974 Army Plain Clothes Patrols in Northern Ireland, National Archives PREM 16/154.
  3. Royal Engineers Surrey Troop, Castledillon HC Deb 28 March 1988 vol 130 cc361-2W 361W
  4. John cooper 'Robert Nairac was a ruthless English army officer whose reckless bid to spy on the IRA may have ended with his body being fed into a mincing machine. But did he also help loyalists massacre the Miami Showband?' Daily Mail (London) November 1, 2007 Thursday, SECTION: IRE; Pg. 36
  5. Jim Dee, 'Survivors seek whole truth about deadly 1974 bombing', The Boston Herald April 25, 1999 Sunday ALL EDITIONS, SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 023
  6. Neil Mackay 'Barron "pulls no punches" in report' Sunday Tribune, December 07, 2003, SECTION: Pg. 11