Category: Archive

Special Branch to be ‘boxed’ in

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

Britain’s internal security service, popularly known as MI5, is taking over responsibility for "counter-terrorism" in Northern Ireland, a reliable source has confirmed.

The London Sunday Times first reported the story last weekend. According to the Times report, the move is part of a plan to reduce the traditional role of the RUC’s Special Branch in the war against the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries. The Special Branch is to be placed under the authority of the assistant chief constable of the Criminal Investigation Department, Ray White.

It is thought that the police reforms will be included in the implementation plan for the controversial Police Bill. Last week the bill became law after fierce criticism from nationalists who contend that the bill deviates from the Patten Commission’s report’s recommendations for reforming the RUC upon which is it based. The British government believes that reducing the Special Branch’s role might help deflect nationalist attacks on the new police provisions and convince the SDLP to support them.

However, the new role for MI5 has far wider implications.

Known to the intelligence community as BOX (thanks to a box number it shared as an address with MI6, which is responsible for overseas intelligence operations), the security service has been expanding its role in covert operations since the early 1990s. In April 1992, it took over counter-terrorist operations from the Special Branch in London, following a series of IRA bombings. Later, it assumed responsibility for anti-drug operations throughout the UK.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Between 1993 and 1994, BOX tried to usurp some RUC Special Branch operations in Britain and Northern Ireland. Some senior officers in the RUC suspected that BOX, following the British government’s political agenda, would restrict RUC access to certain types of intelligence. At first police resistance succeeded in blocking the takeover. But by late 1994, BOX had gotten what it wanted.

The latest move is seen an indication of the British government’s concern to ensure that its intelligence-gathering agencies will be under its firm control.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese