British Military Intelligence Systems in Northern Ireland

British Military Intelligence Systems in Northern Ireland

British Military Intelligence Systems in Northern Ireland is a term used to describe various HUMINT, ELINT, and SIGINT systems used by the RUC and British Army Intelligence in Northern Ireland. There have been a number of systems with only some described below. It is unclear which of these systems are still in operation or which have been upgraded to more sophisticated systems. It is suspected that Thiepval Barracks British military HQ and Knock Barracks (RUC HQ) form the primary processing hubs for these systems.

Military context

By 1994 the British military, intelligence and police apparatus in Northern Ireland had over thirty-seven separate intelligence gathering computer systems operating. Their focus was detection before, during and after paramilitary activity, with a particular focus on the activities of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).

Vengeful & Crucible

Vengeful is dedicated to tracking vehicles of suspects. [Suspects being those under suspicion of involvement with paramilitaries, or any vehicle deemed a 'target' and thought operationally fruitful to track via the system.] Vengeful's counterpart, (for logging and classifying the names and locations of people connected to the vehicles), was a system titled "Crucible". Vengeful is fully integrated to the Northern Ireland vehicle licensing office (DVLNI). Crucible operates in tandem with Vengeful, holding a personal file containing a map/picture showing where suspects live as well as details of their family and past.

cope of Vengeful

Together the two systems extend a blanket coverage of surveillance over the movement and activities of the entire population of Northern Ireland. [Geraghty estimated in 1999 that 1 million people (living) appeared in Crucible] Intelligence data gained via the systems is graded from a basic, 'Green Army' Level III, available to ordinary line battalions, to Level V (brigade headquarters and above) to a level of joint Intelligence which, in theory at least, is the pinnacle of sensitive information provided by 14 Intelligence Company, MI5 and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch.

Examples of data held in Crucible & Vengeful:
*The lowest level information would note that 'Mr. X and Mr. Y meet in a certain bar and have drinks'. Information like this could be gained from a Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR)/RUC patrol/checkpoint.
*At a higher level, Mr. X would be noticed in an area where he is not usually noticed. Information like this could originate from an Army/RUC watchtower, helicopter, bugging, informer, etc.

Details on both contacts would be relayed back to the Intelligence processing centre for storage and processing.

Top-level data, that is data considered 'Secret', would be mostly handled via the Joint Action Unit, (Northern Ireland JACUNI). Information JACUNI is believed to have handled include the PIRA attack on Loughgall in May 1987. JACUNI are believed to have been aware of the attack before it happened, allowing a trap to be sprung. [In his book "The Irish War" 1988 Tony Geraghty alleges that the PIRA volunteers who took part in the attack in Loughgall were set up by an informer within the attacking unit. This informer being inadvertently killed on the day of the attack. Writing in the 2004 book "Stakeknife" the Force Research Unit (FRU) agent using the pseudonym "Martin Ingram" disputes this and says that the operation did not have a mole and was uncovered prior to the attack by bugging.]

There are strong rumours that this system is also in operation, and has been for some time, within mainland UK.

GLUTTON Data capture

By the time of the PIRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997 - 1998, the British army had modernized its systems. The scale and cost of this programme reflected the army's belief that it would continue to fight an Intelligence war in Northern Ireland for years to come and that the surveillance war would increasingly become part of normal life in England as the PIRA launched new attacks in Britain. As a result of budget increases various attempts were made to create an overarching system encompassing HUMINT, ELINT, and SIGINT streams which also collated and analysed within a short time frame.

The first move towards this was to unify vehicle data held in Vengeful with cameras able to read vehicle number plates at public locations (ANPR). Once these details were captured and stored they could be linked to the suspect data held in Crucible. The automatic number plate registration cameras were code-named 'GLUTTON'. During 1997, eighty overt GLUTTON cameras were switched on at unidentified public sites in Northern Ireland. Another twenty were covert. The covert data capture for Vengeful was to be collected at surveillance points on routes which suspects would likely use to avoid RUC and British Army checkpoints.

GLUTTON was also put into operation in Britain. The sites Glutton initially operated were in England and included unspecified ports on the east and west coasts. Intelligence gathered from this effort was to be categorized as:
*'coarse-grain' - overt framework operations which record the movements of suspects through predefined associates and any "suspicious activity",
*'fine-grain' - covert, point-targeted, as tasked by the RUC/RUC Special Branch.

Caister & Calshot

'CAISTER' (similar to C4ISTAR) was a new Intelligence focused computer system predicated on a Knowledge-based system (KBS) architecture. It was designed to replace Crucible in sifting personal information about suspects. Caister and its variant 'Calshot', identified significant links between one suspect and another instead of leaving the intelligence officer to establish arbitrary relationships in a database. As with Crucible, Caister would have had access to the files on everyone noted as being 'in' or 'connected with' the conflict in Northern Ireland. According to a source quoted in Geraghty's book, a single document would utilise processing suites at Thiepval Barracks and Knock to sift data. These bases were in turn connected to up to 350 terminals spread out over Northern Ireland. Each terminal was able to retrieve data up to "Secret" level depending on the clearance a particularly user had. The system reportedly averaged a response time of ten seconds for a single enquiry with over 192 concurrent references.

Effigy & Mannequin

In 1997, after the successful trial of another Artificial Intelligence system codenamed "Effigy", the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched an attempt to integrate "Effigy" with Vengeful. This was done under the code-name "Mannequin". The new system was expected to be put into service by 1998 and its aim was to leverage the maximum from data collected and stored on British Military and Intelligence systems, with a reasonable response time, up to 'Secret' level.

Impact of computer systems on the PIRA

As the new systems were being trialled, a Welsh Guards sergeant, dumped his unwanted secret papers in an unclassified dustbin instead of the shredder at the end of his tour of duty in South Armagh in September 1997. The documents, together with computer disks, were taken to a civilian dump and later found their way to the PIRA. In January 1998, "An Phoblacht", exposed the material including aerial photographs and maps showing the homes of twenty-one alleged PIRA suspects and details of the Vengeful system. One of the suspects was Pat McNamee, a Sinn Féin councillor in Crossmaglen, County Armagh. He said the documents showed that the army had never called a ceasefire and had exploited the IRA's truce to infiltrate nationalist areas. He added:

"This calls into question the commitment of the British Government to the peace process. The really scary thing from a personal point of view is that these documents could have fallen into the hands of Loyalist assassins. Given the history of collusion between British forces and Loyalist killers, there is obvious concern that this material could have fallen into the hands of loyalist killers."

A 1997 G2 (branch of Irish Intelligence) report also quoted in "The Irish War" states:

"Integral to surveillance is monitoring and manipulating all terrorist communication and information systems. In Northern Ireland this is conducted by special troops and controlled at strategic level."

Advancements in surveillance in Britain

In the early 1990s £20 million was invested in the Metropolitan Police Crime Report Information System, CRIS, while HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) was then in use in both London and Manchester, major target areas for the PIRA. [HOLMES had been switched on in London & Manchester in 1986 and was used in all major incidents including serial murders, multi-million pound fraud cases and major disasters including bombing attacks.] Surveillance cameras around sensitive areas such as the City of London, linked to computers which automatically identified suspect vehicles within four seconds, evolved into computerized, digital maps of human faces. Among the first PIRA volunteers to be captured as a result of this systems use in Britain were the Harrods bombers, Jan Taylor, aged fifty-one, former army corporal, and Patrick Hayes, aged forty-one, a computer programmer with a degree in business studies. [The particular attack on Harrods both men were involved in happened in 1993, detailed [ here] . In 1994, the Metropolitan Police in London decided to create HOLMES 2.]



* [ Information regarding the murder of Pat Finucane]
* Tony Geraghty: "The Irish War" Johns Hopkins University Press 1988
* Article by Duncan Campbell on the attempt to prosecute Geraghty & his source [,2763,391398,00.html here] and [,,292939,00.html here] .
* Guardian bio of Nigel Wylde, Geraghty's source [ here] .

ee also

*Martin Ingram
*Force Research Unit

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