IRA torturer was in the Royal Marines
However, court documents leaked to the Sunday Herald show that Magee, head of the IRA's infamous “internal security unit”, was trained as a member of Britain's special forces. The IRA's “torturer-in-chief” was in reality one of the UK's most elite soldiers.
The documents, lodged as part of a court action being taken against the British government by a disgruntled military intelligence agent, name Magee as a “former member of the Special Boat Squadron”.
The SBS is the marine equivalent to the SAS, with many in its ranks drafted from the Royal Marines, as in Magee's case. IRA sources say that Magee had left the SBS by the time he joined the Provisionals. However, the public disclosure of his time as a member of the special forces will fuel speculation that Magee was an informer for the British.
Magee died recently in Dundalk, Ireland, from a heart condition. Since his death, the IRA has been embroiled in a catalogue of disclosures that some of its most respected members were working for British military intelligence.
Magee led the IRA's internal security unit for more than a decade up to the mid-90s – most of those he investigated were usually executed.
Magee's unit was tasked to hunt down, interrogate and execute suspected British agents within the IRA. The revelations about Magee's time in the SBS came from a court witness statement by a British soldier who spent years working undercover inside the IRA for military intelligence.
In it, the soldier, referred to as KF, says: “I am a former member of the British Army and in hiding from the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other terrorist groups.
“In 1979 I was approached by the Intelligence Corps, a branch of the British Army, whilst serving with my regiment the Royal Irish Rangers in Northern Ireland.
“I was asked to infiltrate a terrorist group, namely the PIRA during this time as part of my undercover work for the Force Research Unit [the FRU is a covert intelligence gathering wing of the British army]. I was active in the commission of terrorist acts and crimes …
“During this time my handlers were fully conversant with my activities and had guided me in my work which included the security section of the PIRA. The commanding officer of this section was John Joe Magee, a former member of the Special Boat Squadron.
“The purpose of this unit was solely to hunt out agents and informers of the British state. The suspected agents would be … tortured and murdered after obtaining any information.”
Soldier KF filed the witness statement on behalf of a former British spy, who can only be identified as Agent F. Due to court gagging orders obtained by the Ministry of Defence the names of those involved cannot be revealed.
Agent F worked for the FRU in Ulster in the late 1980s and 1990s gathering information on republican paramilitaries, without the knowledge of the RUC. He was later arrested because of his activities. During a raid on his home his eight-month pregnant girlfriend was confronted by RUC anti-terror officers armed with machine guns. She miscarried as a result.
Agent F has lodged lawsuits against Tony Blair for “withholding information from [him] regarding the death of [his] daughter”. Blair is also being sued for “breaching [his] duty of care to [Agent F] and … wilfully causing [him] to suffer mental anguish and financial loss as a result of the negligence and indifference of [Tony Blair] and his government”.
Agent F is also suing the MoD, a former RAF officer who acted as his contact point with the FRU, a major in the FRU and an FRU agent handler. In a previous court document, Agent F named the FRU major as the officer who was the handler of the British army's most infamous agent inside the IRA – a man codenamed Stakeknife.
Stakeknife is one of Belfast's leading Provisionals. His military handlers allowed him to carry out large numbers of terrorist murders in order to protect his cover within the IRA.
The activities of the FRU, which was headed by Brigadier Gordon Kerr, a Scottish officer, are the subject of long-running investigations by Scotland Yard. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens is investigating whether the army used agents in terrorist organisations to carry out proxy assassinations for the British state.
The most high-profile killing linked to the FRU is that of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was killed by the UDA in 1989. Details on Finucane were passed by the FRU to Brian Nelson, a British soldier who had infiltrated the UDA. Nelson then supplied UDA murder teams with the information.
In his witness statement to the High Court, the former British soldier KF, who worked inside the IRA's internal security section, says: “My unit had received instructions in 1993 to search for and abduct an agent known [to the IRA] as ‘Rosebud' … I now know this to be [Agent F]. I believe that [his] life and that of others is and has always been at risk from terrorist actions, clearly [the MoD] has a responsibility to all its intelligence contacts both past and present.
“[The MoD] has deliberately sacrificed the lives of intelligence agents and has wilfully, through covert action, allowed lives to be taken. [The MoD] has a history of abandonment, wilfully placing the lives of intelligence agents at risk. ”
KF goes on to accuse the British government of “giving terrorists a mandate to abduct, interrogate and murder sources of intelligence”, citing the 1999 assassination of Charles Bennett, a Belfast taxi driver who was killed for being a police informer, as an example of an agent being abandoned by handlers.
KF says that Agent F's life is at risk and that “terrorists will attempt to abduct him … extract information from [him] … and murder [him]”.
The revelations made by KF about John Joe Magee's years in the British special forces sparked a new round of speculation within republican ranks about the possibility that Magee was a double-agent.
One source close to the IRA said: “Magee had the power over life and death. If you were taken for questioning by him, he could fix it so you lived, or he could make sure you died. He was in a prime position to work for the British.
“When an operation went wrong, he took statements from everyone involved and decided whether or not to launch an inquiry into possible leaks. This would have made great reading for the Brits … He could have saved informers or made sure real IRA volunteers were wrongly killed.
“There was a lot of talk that Magee would torture people … but I never saw proof of this for myself. He certainly was a brutal man, however. But he's dead now and the truth about his life is probably buried with him.”
15 December 2002