'Special Branch' informer tactics revealed
While the use of informers by the police is not new, little is known about the secret and often dangerous world within which they and their handlers operate. A recently obtained secret recording now lifts the lid on some of the tactics used by the PSNI as they attempt to recruit what they believe is a north coast based drug dealer and tackle the increasing penetration of illegal drugs into the north. Connla Young reports.
The recording of a 40-minute meeting between a suspected dealer and two police officers who claim to be members of the PSNI’s intelligence branch - known as C3 - is believed to have been made in the Portrush area in March.
During the meeting one officer drops a bombshell claim that members of ‘special branch’ believe some police officers may be working for a man they claim is a major drug dealer on the north coast.
We have called this man Target 1.
One officer also told the alleged drug dealer - known as Suspect 1 - they were prepared to overlook his activities and offered him up to £15,000 for information that would lead to the arrest of Target 1.
Unknown to the officers the suspect recorded the entire conversation - a recording that later made its way to Target 1’s legal team.
It provides a fascinating insight into the methods used by the undercover officers as they attempted to lure the suspected drug dealer with the promise of cash and protection.
The names of everyone mentioned in the recording have been omitted.
During the expletive-ridden conversation an officer, who we have called Policeman 1, repeatedly names several suspected drug dealers on the north coast.
Policeman 1 opens the conversation by telling Suspect 1 that police are aware he is a drug dealer and that he will be protected if he agrees to work for them.
Policeman 1: “I’ll be honest with you lad, I know you do a bit of drug dealing, I don’t give a f**k, in a way we will protect you, it’s up to you what you do,” he said.
The officer plays down Suspect 1’s role and says he will be offered protection
“If you do what we say you will not come on the police radar, the police will just forget about (Suspect 1),” he said.
“What happened in the last month, the police have been sorta (sic) looking after ye, the threat management process.
“You are not looked at from a police point of view as anybody of any great interest or any great significance.
“You’re in the light of that f**king rocketship (Target 1).”
The officer then makes a series of claims about Target 1.
“I know he thinks he’s playing a really good game, he keeps himself off the radar - NCA, Socca, MI f**king 5 and us are all over the c**t, right.
“What we do not want to do is end up taking the low hanging fruit, boys who are easy boys he is putting in the firing line, boys like you.”
Policeman 1 revealed that he works in a “totally independent” team of four people who are mostly based in Derry, although they sometimes travel to Coleraine.
“What we do is we gather intelligence, using people like yourself,” he said.
“People who are in the mix, people who have the knowledge and we seek to use that information to take out the people that we are really interested in taking out.”
During the conversation the suspected drug dealer asks the police officer “what’s in it for me?”
The officer reveals that the value placed on information about suspected drug dealers can vary depending on who is being targeted.
“Right, if you were to give us a job on (Target 1), even if he is only taking out half a key (kilo) of green, £3,000 or £4,000 worth, if even that, we would be looking at probably giving you three or four grand in cash.
“Right, three or four grand, right, because of who he is.
“If you were to give us half a key (kilo) of green from f**kin, I don’t know, (named withheld) or f**kin’ (name withheld), or any of those boys we are not as interested in you wouldn’t be getting as much.”
Suspect 1 then demands to know how much cash he will receive if he informs on Target 1
“What happens if I was to get you it from (Target 1)?” he said.
The policeman replied: “(Target 1), you are talking £10,000, £15,000 - you are talking big money.
“You are talking enough money big man that you could actually change whatever it is you want to change.”
Astonishingly, Policeman 1 tells Suspect 1 that if he decides to provide information the finger of blame can be pointed at an innocent person.
“You give us a few things and we prove that we do them in the right way there’s no suspicion come back to you,” he said.
“In fact the suspicion can be directed upon somebody else whether it’s (name withheld), fat (name withheld) himself, f**king anybody that you thought (Target 1) was suspicious of, we put f**kin’ suspicion towards them.
“Right, (name withheld is) a c**t. Why not f**kin put it onto (name withheld)
“(Name withheld is) not family.”
Policeman 1 later returned the conversation to Target 1.
“But we are talking about motivations,” he said.
“How f**kin’ satisfying is it whenever (Target 1) is taken out?” he said.
“Whether it’s sitting in Malaga whether it’s f**kin’ in (withheld), wherever, and in the washout you’re hearing he’s f**kin’ blaming (name withheld), he’s blaming him, he’s blaming him, in reality it’s only you, it’s you.”
The officer tells Target 1 that if he agrees to work for police he will get his “expenses covered” including cash to pay for fuel and to top up his phone.
He is also assured Suspect 1 the “rewards are good”.
During the conversation he also revealed that police have a hierarchy when it comes to dealing with republican and loyalist suspects.
“I promise you we have looked at the IRA, we have looked at the UDA, see now the way the f**king thing is,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong dissidents, we still f**king wreck their lives - loyalists to a degree.”
The policeman also claimed informers who are eventually exposed only have themselves to blame.
“Just as an example (Suspect 1) I’ll tell you what I want you to do. I want you to think about this, right,” he said.
“Think about it but you say f**k all to anybody because the only person, not that we have lost any sources, but sources have been lost in the past but do you know why?
“Because of their own mouths.
“That’s the only reason, right.
“We are a tight, tight team.
“There is nobody outside of the four people that know even that we have come to speak to you.”
In another exchange Suspect 1 demanded to know what protection he would receive from other police officers who have targeted him
In a shocking admission the officer reveals he can help the suspected drug dealer ‘disappear’ from the PSNI’s computer system.
Suspect 1 said: “What about if I do this here for you, what about all this trouble with the cops and all.
“Will you tell them to f**k off and leave me alone?”
Policeman 1 replied: “You see, we can’t do that, that’s part of your cover. How does this look, right.”
“The police have an intelligence f**king system….
Suspect 1: “They are f**king terrorising me man.”
Policeman 1: “They are terrorising you.”
Suspect 1: “Over f**k all.”
Policeman 1: “But listen to this, this is part of the f**kin’ process now that will happen, the threat thing.
“Whilst nobody likes getting a threat, it doesn’t do any harm here because the police are looking at you to protect you.
“As time goes on the picture about your criminality will start disappearing, so the police will no longer have any interest in you.
“That takes time.”
After Suspect 1 complained about being singled out by regular officers Policeman 1 responded by launching a foul mouthed attack on his own PSNI colleagues.
“Listen they are w**kers, they are w**kers, right, but you know what, they see, they see low hanging fruit, it’s what I said to you earlier on.
“They see an easy one, they see an easy touch.
“How many times is (Target 1) getting stopped, do you know what I am saying?”
Although the PSNI officer claims to be part of 'Intelligence Branch' he also claims that he works for the CIA and MI5.
Suspect 1 said: “What branch, like what, are youse (sic) just normal police?”
Policeman 1 said: “Naw (sic). Intelligence Branch.
“Do you ever watch, what f**kin’ programme, do you ever watch Homeland?”
Suspect 1: Inaudible
Policeman 1: “Right, have you ever heard of the f**kin’ CIA?”
Suspect 1: “Aye”
Policeman 1: “Have you ever heard of MI5?”
Suspect 1: “Aye”
Policeman 1: “Right, we work for the both of them.”
Suspect 1: “Do ye?”
He later added: “Right, that’s what I am saying, (Target 1), (Target 1) has got himself into that much f**kin’ shit he’s up in that f**kin’ category.
“Don’t get me wrong, the NCA (National Crime Agency) take primacy, they are the one’s that really want to f**king take him out by the b*lls, right.
“But equally, that money is potentially funding the terrorists.
“Potentially, we don’t know, right, but, the government, it’s a bit like… (inaudible).
The officer also tells Suspect 1 that Target 1 is “making f**king immense amounts of money”.
In another exchange he compares Target 1 with Columbian drug lord and mass murderer Pablo Escobar and asks Suspect 1 if he has watched the hit Netflix TV series Narcos, which tells the story of how Escobar was hunted down and killed by authorities.
Suspect 1 reveals he has “watched all of it”.
“I watched every one of them,” he boasted.
The officer then refers to Javier Pena, a character in the show who works for the US Drug Enforcement Agency and who is involved in tracking down Escobar
“You know the black haired cop with the moustache, he spoke Spanish?”
“He ran people, he run sources, that’s this type of business,” the policeman claimed.
The police officer also suggests Target 1 is a major drug dealer and at one point declares: “We need to hurt the c**t”.
He also tells Suspect 1 that if he wants to work for the police should ring a number provided and say his name is Saul and that he is ringing about a car.
Before Suspect 1 leaves the squad car Policeman 1 reveals that he has not arrested anyone in the last eight years.
“That’s not what we do,” he said.
Target 1’s solicitor Ciarán Shiels said some of the contents of the recording “makes for profoundly disturbing listening”.
“Officers make assurances as to how Suspect 1 will be licensed to continue to flood the local area with drugs, how he will be gradually phased off the police radar so he can continue his own criminality in return for information provided in relation to the police Target whom they say they wish to 'hurt'.
“Suspect 1 is offered very sizeable amounts of money for information and assured that efforts will be made by police to divert attention towards other separate individuals, thereby presumably endangering them unwittingly.”
Mr Shiels said the matter will now be referred to the Police Ombudsman.
“We have acted for the named individual for many years and he has never even been arrested, much less charged for any drug offence,” he said.
“We are of the view that serious issues of grave misconduct have been captured in this recording and have been instructed to ensure that the Police Ombudsman is alerted so he can conduct his own urgent and robust investigation."
Professor of Politics at Queen's University Richard English
Professor of Politics at Queen's University Richard English said the use of informers can raise serious questions but is seen as necessary within law enforcement.
“Obviously there are serious difficulties involved for police forces using informers,” he said.
“How reliable is the information that is acquired from the kind of individuals being spoken to?
“Are other scores being settled by them when they give information to the police?
“Who monitors the exact practices of officers as they liaise with criminals about illegal matters?
However, he said intelligence-led policing is seen as necessary.
“On the other hand, many people have come to the view that intelligence-led policing is the most effective way of dealing with serious crime, whether in relation to drugs or organized violence,” he said.
“In relation to terrorism, whether in the North of Ireland or in the different setting of the post-9/11 War on Terror, it may be that intelligence-led policing - for all of its problems - is less damaging and counter-productive than more military means of addressing these threats."