British spooks regain a 'Licence to kill' 


Richard Bennett: AFI Research


09/02/03: The  world of counter-terrorism is certain to take a further step into the downward spiral of hit-teams and assassination as the Western Intelligence services try to find the means to defeat Al Qa'ida and its myriad of extremist offshoots. The CIA and MI6 freed of many of the political and legal shackles imposed in the latter years of the Cold War are expanding their covert capability and the means to use 'executive action', a euphemism for assassination, to defeat the greatest threat to democracy since the collapse of Communism. The main source of the experience and influence on operational tactics is perhaps one of the more surprising aspects of these developments.


Israel has played a significant and largely secret role within the dark world of Britain's covert operations against terrorist groups.  As long ago as the very early 1970's Rafael Eitan,  the then head of the Israeli hit-squad known as the 'Kidon' toured Northern Ireland and later the SAS base in Hereford. Rumour has it that Eitan was less than impressed with British training, tactics or their 'kill' rate. Within months of his visit there began a number of fundamental changes in security policy and operations in the province.  More SAS were to be posted to the province and a number of specialized anti-terrorist groups would eventually be formed ranging from the 14th intelligence and Security company, once described as the 'Thinking Mans SAS' to the Mobile Reconnaissance Force or MRF which would later become the Force Reconnaissance Unit . The FRU were to be  later involved in the targeting of suspected Republicans for assassination by the infamous Loyalist Death Squads.


Indeed Britain's overall counter-terror organization was held in such poor esteem by the experienced Israeli's that Mossad's Kidon hit-team took the law into their own hands by assassinating two of the Palestinian terrorists suspected of involvement in the Black September Massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. One was found dead in his London hotel room, while the second fell under the wheels of a car in High Holborn, much to the annoyance of MI5 and the fury of Whitehall.  The 1988 killing of three IRA members in Gibraltar by the SAS was reportedly viewed as a bungled operation by Mossad who had originally tracked the Irish terrorists who they suspected of running guns from the Lebanon. Wishing to avoid further problems with London by not  attempting to kill or capture them on British soil, the surveillance operation was handed over to MI5 and of course later to the SAS whose heavy handed approach finally prevented the interrogation of the suspects.


Under Tony Blair, Britain's official approach is far more co-operative and Mossad have apparently met with little opposition to their clandestine centre operating in London with some 15 intelligence officers and 2 or 3 members of the Kidon. The Israeli's are thought to have a hit-list of around50 Islamic and Palestinian terrorists believed to be currently living in Britain. Most of these radical's are, to use Israeli parlance, to be 'disposed of' and it is believed that a number have either fled the country or gone under deep cover in consequence. According to Gordon Thomas, one of the world's leading experts on Israeli and British intelligence in particular, the highly effective Kidon is directly controlled by the Israeli Intelligence Service, Mossad. It has some 38-40 highly trained assassins and includes at least four women. They operate throughout the world and where-ever a potential or actual threat exists to the interests of Israel or its people. David Kimche, a 30-year veteran of Mossad and its Deputy until his resignation in 1980 was largely responsible for the formulation of the Kidon philosophy that it must be 'Israel first, last and always'


It is this deadly capability that both the CIA and now MI6 are apparently seeking to emulate as they face the growing menace of Islamic terrorism. Though the CIA had a long track record of assassinations its claws were drawn by successive US administrations with their fear of damaging publicity and international anger, ending with a legal ban on such action which has only recently been lifted. Britain on the other hand has no such legal complications, as long as the killing takes place on foreign soil. Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, MI6 officers have immunity from prosecution for crimes committed outside Great Britain. Although The Criminal Justice Bill of 1998 makes it illegal for any organization in Great Britain to conspire to commit offenses abroad, Crown agents still have immunity. With the end of World War Two the SOE (Special Operations Executive) undoubted ability in both subversion and assassination was absorbed into the Secret Intelligence Service and for many years afterwards Britain is believed to have made regular, if sparing use of assassination to further its foreign policy aims.


George Young in 1956, at the time Deputy Chief of MI6, quite openly advocated the killing of the Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser and in September 1960 the senior foreign office official, Howard Smith who was later to become the Director General of MI5 argued in an official documentfor the assassination of the young Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba  "I see only two possible solutions to the [Lumumba] problem. The first is the simple one of ensuring [his] removal from the scene by killing him.". Closer to home the Littlejohn Brothers were recruited in 1972 by John Wyman of MI6 who handled a number of agents in Northern Ireland and paid them substantial sums of tax payers money to infiltrate the IRA and to act as agent provocateurs, organising and conducting bank robberies and bomb attacks in the Republic of Ireland. Wyman told them that there was "going to be a policy of political assassination" for which they were to make themselves available.  "If I was told about any illegal act before it happened, I would always discuss it with London. I was always told to go ahead" said Kenneth Littlejohn who went on to claim that the MI6 Officer told him 'If there is any shooting, do what you've got to do'." Wyman indeed gave the Littlejohn's a list of IRA leaders to assassinate; these included Seamus Costello, Sean Qarland and Sean McStiofain. After Littlejohn passed on the name of Joe McCann, a leading Republican, to his MI6 handler, McCann was shot dead by British paratroopers a few days later as he walked, apparently unarmed, through the Belfast market area.

In more recent times the maverick former MI5 Officer David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson of MI6 have both vigorously argued that Britain's Intelligence Services had attempted to assassinate Libya's Colonel Gadaffi in February 1996 in a plot organized by MI6 officers DAVID WATSON and RICHARD BARTLITT and had planned a similar fate for both the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1991 and Serbia's Slobodan Milosovic in 1992. Whatever one may think of such claims, there is now at least official confirmation from the Steven's Inquiry into the 'Shoot to Kill' policy in Northern Ireland that British security officials were indeed deeply involved in the assassination of a number of Catholics in the province. The Guardian in April 28th 2001, headlined its article Sinister role of secret army unit: Police investigate claims of collusion with paramilitaries describes the organisations involved in covert British operations in Ireland “The FRU was one of three army-sponsored undercover intelligence squads in Northern Ireland. The others were 22 Squadron(sic) SAS, and 14 Company. The FRU, which was set up in Northern Ireland in 1980, dealt with recruiting and handling agents in paramilitary organisations.“14 Company specialised in surveillance while 22 SAS undertook 'executive actions'. 'That means they killed people,' said an army source. Many outside observers remain convinced that this is merely the tip of an iceberg and much is still being hidden by an ongoing official cover-up.


Another advantage for SIS is that they have a number of SAS personnel trained to work with the intelligence service and always available for any its needs. This group known as 'The Increment' and is used for assassinations, sabotage or other dangerous jobs, such as arresting war criminals in the Balkans said James Dunnigan, the renowned author of 'How to Make War' (now in its Fourth Edition), adding that every SIS Station chief has a direct line to the SAS headquarters at the Duke of Yorks Barracks in West London and a good working relationship with these covert action experts.  Ex-SAS mercenaries have also been blamed for several assassinations on the African continent and a purported former member of the Regiment, Tyrone Chadwick, was imprisoned in South Africa after admitting to a London-based journalist his and other former SAS mercenaries’ leading role in several murders during the apartheid era according to a commentary on the Strategy Pagein June 2003. SIS has developed a reputation for going outside the agency and its military executive arm to hit some targets. Friendly foreign intelligence agencies have been used on a number of occasions and MI6 has shown a willingness to 'sub-contract it to Mossad' according to a former British agent quoted by Peter Hillmore and Ed Vulliamy in 'Spies: the Beautiful and the damned' (The Observer 12th October 1997), adding that the assassination in Belgium of the British inventor of the Iraqi 'Supergun', Gerald Bull, is widely believed to have been just such an act. While yet further speculation still surrounds the 'suicide' of Jonathan Moyle, the twenty-eight-year-old editor of the British trade journal Defence Helicopter World. In March 1990, he was found hanging in a closet in a hotel room in Santiago, Chile. Intelligence sources have long suggested that there was an SIS involvement in Moyle's death as his 'Iraqgate' investigations were believed to be uncovering highly embarrassing facts for the senior management at Century House, then the headquarters for MI6 and the Conservative Government of Magaret Thatcher.


There is in fact a long list of suspicious deaths linked to British Government or Defence Industry since 1970 including


A) Defence, Computers and Electronics (Scientists, Technicians and Administrators)
Robert Wilsort 1973,Gerard Darlow 1973,Prof Keith Bowden 1982,Lt Col Anthony Godley 1983
Dennis Skinner 1983,Jonathan Wash 1985,Vimal Bhagvangi Dajibhai 1986,Arshad Sharif 1986
Dr John Brittan 1986,Mark Wisner 1987,David Sands 1987,Peter Peapell 1987,David Greenhalgh 1987
Michael Baker 1987,Richard Pugh 1987,Shani Warren 1987,Victor Moore 1987,Trevor Knight 1988,

Brigadier Peter Ferry 1988,Alistair Beckham 1988,Dr Gerard Bull 1989,Jonathon Moyle 1990
Dr David Kelly 2003


B) SIGINT(GCHQ-Computers)
Jack Wolfenden 1982,Ernest Brockway 1982,Stephen Drinkwater 1983,George Franks 1984,Stephen Oke 1985


C) Protesters/Lawyers/Politicians
Airey Neave MP 1979 (purported to be the victim of a highly sophisticated INLA bombing),Hilda Murrell 1984,

Willie McRae 1985,Pat Finucane 1989 (one of perhaps a hundred or so 'suspicious' deaths linked to

British Special Forces Hit Squads or based on information illegally supplied to Ulster murder gangs by MI5,



D) Foreign targets.
Assassinations of major foreign political leaders (such as President Nasser 1950's, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and President Milton Obote 1960's, Prime Minister Ghaddafi and President Slobodan Milosevic 1990's) and political opponents or extremists have been planned or carried out on numerous occasions over the last fifty years in Iran, Egypt, Congo, Libya, Uganda, Serbia and Ireland among others


Last year Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed General Meir Dagan, his friend and close colleague to head the Mossad. Security sources confirm that Dagan, a noted hawk, had served in the 1970's as head of the 'Rimon'undercover anti-terrorist unit which is widely suspected of killing militants wanted by Israel. Following his retirement from the Army in 1995 Dagan became Mossad's deputy Chief.  His appointment and past track record suggest that while the Sharon Government may be publicly willing to sign up to President Bush's 'road-map' for a Middle East peace it will be allied to a deadly new secret campaign to destroy the terrorist infrastructure and eliminate its leadership. Leading Israeli politician Moshe Arens said.“Dagan is one of the old Sharon’s assets. They got to know each other 33 years ago when Sharon, then head of Southern Command, cleared Gaza of ‘terrorists.’ Dagan led a commando unit called ‘Rimon’ which was known, how shall I put it, for its unconventional methods.” General Dagan is known to be keen to promote the Israeli-way of dealing with terrorism and quicklypaid an official visit to the CIA Director George Tenet in September last year and before his promotion had even been confirmed.  According to usually reliable intelligence sources, it can be taken as highly significant that the CIA formally established an assassination team in November, less than two months later.  This may be seen as not only a positive US response to the sharing of Israeli experience and expertise, but also as a direct result of the recent lifting of the US Presidential ban on 'executive action' following the Al Qa'ida attacks of 9-11.


General Dagan and Mossad's growing influence on the Western Intelligence Community was further strengthened by meetings held in Britain in January of this year with Eliza Manningham Buller, the Director General of MI5 and more importantly with Richard Dearlove, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. It now seems likely that in the wake of these discussions Britain's MI6 was further encouraged to rebuild its muscle power through the expansion of its Special Operations Directorate to include a genuine anti-terrorist 'Hunter-Killer' capability. Though 'C' has been traditionally able to call upon the services of the SAS and 'The Increment', a small Special Forces unit dedicated to secret intelligence, an ever increasing number of covert and potentially politically explosive operations required the use of  contracted 'retired' officers operating within commercial  paramilitary companies; organized crime assets or even 'friendly' foreign intelligence agencies. The SIS  has apparently decided that it must have its own operatives to do  much of the 'dirty work' . In common with their colleagues at the CIA,  the senior management at Vauxhall Cross are now busily returning the service to the bad old days of 'Political Action' and assassination as the official, though of course deniable, policy for dealing with external threats. It now seems certain that a limited number of selected and highly trained MI6 officers once again have a 'licence to kill' and perhaps courtesy of the Israeli Secret Service.




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