LONDON, May 12 (UPI) -- In one of the most explosive developments in 30 years of the dirty three-way war between the IRA, the British government and Protestant paramilitaries, a senior IRA figure allegedly responsible for the murder and torture of scores of people has been revealed as a man paid some $125,000 a year by the British government to be a double agent.
Alfredo Scappaticci, code named "Stakeknife" to British security officials, was said to be the "jewel in the crown" to the authorities because he supplied crucial information to them from within a leadership position in the Provisional IRA's vicious internal punishment squad. To protect his cover, the British Army unit that ran him, the now-infamous Force Research Unit, is said to have allowed the murders of dozens of people.
Scappaticci, also known as "Freddie" or "Scap," was reported Monday to have been moved with his family from his home in West Belfast to a military base in southern England by British MI5 agents after he was identified over the weekend on Web sites and in several Irish and Scottish newspapers.
His importance, experts say, is that he appears to able to name names, and to possess a huge amount of information about collusion between Irish terrorist groups and the British government in murder and terrorism stretching back almost 25 years.
This information is deemed to be vital to Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan London's police chief, who for 14 years has been investigating collusion between British intelligence and paramilitary death squads, and whose interim report last month revealed devastating links with Protestant terrorists.
"We will be questioning Stakeknife soon," said Stevens on Sunday. "We fear that other informants have been sacrificed to save him, and we will be asking him about that."
While some British newspapers Monday suggested the revealing of Stakeknife was a major blow to British intelligence and that it could lead to great embarrassment to senior government figures ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, other reports said the IRA was massively shocked at being so deceived by one of its most senior and trusted leaders for so many years.
"If it is true that Stakeknife was the head of internal security, then it is a major coup for the British," former IRA member Anthony McIntyre was quoted as saying by at least three newspapers. "It would mean they had been steering republican strategy for years."
Former IRA double agent Sean O'Callaghan, author of the book "The Informer," was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: "How else can you fight an organization like the IRA in the final analysis. It's easy to condemn in hindsight but you rarely hear about the success of these policies, the lives these people saved, and the IRA operations they stopped."
Scappaticci, according to reports, is the bricklayer son of Italian immigrants to Belfast and was interned as an IRA member at the Long Kesh prison camp, Belfast, in 1971. There he established a long-term friendship with now Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, acting as one of his bodyguards in the late 1980s.
After an argument with a senior Provisional IRA officer in 1978, however, he was subjected to a severe punishment beating, after which he promptly walked to a British army barracks and offered to work for British intelligence.
Hardly believing their luck, the army's secretive Force Research Unit, the FRU, engineered Scappaticci into a senior position with the IRA's internal security unit, otherwise known as the "Nutting Squad."
It was the Nutting Squad that was responsible for hunting down and killing IRA members suspected of being police informers. He was guided in that grisly task by the FRU which, according to one report of an alleged ex-IRA member, "played God" over who would live and who would die.
The army allowed him to continue only because his information was of the highest quality, thwarting dozens of IRA operations, reportedly including one which led the SAS to kill three terrorists in Gibraltar in 1988.
Stakeknife was on the Protestant Loyalists' hit list in 1987, but another FRU agent in the Loyalist UDA, Brian Nelson, is said to have directed the hit men to kill innocent 66-year-old Belfast pensioner Francisco Notorantonio instead.
This is one of the collusion cases that Sir John Stevens is currently examining for FRU involvement. The former head of the FRU, Brigadier Gordon Kerr, is currently British military attaché in Beijing.
The unveiling of Stakeknife at this time, according to reports, came about only because another double agent, a loyalist terrorist, was angry that Scappaticci appeared to be getting a better Ministry of Defense pension and relocation package than he was.
A British intelligence source Monday night said exposure of Scappaticci would not have come from intelligence officials because they are working desperately to recruit agents from Britain's Muslim community for the fight against Islamic terrorism. This would set a bad example of the way British intelligence protects its sources.