Skip to main content

Operation Gladio in Ireland

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.

What was Operation Gladio?

What was Operation Gladio?

Project Echoes

For those anthropologically strange to state-sponsored murder and the phenomena of what has become known as collusion in the north of Ireland, Project Echoes was an alleged secret offensive linked to: Operation Gladio involving Apartheid South Africa's Vlakplaas 'black ops' unit, its Civil Co-operation Bureau (C.C.B.), the R.U.C.'s Special Branch, South Africa's Armscor, U.V.F. and UDA terrorists and members of the British security services (namely MI5 and MI6).

Some of the main players will be fairly well known in the north of Ireland, such as Brian Nelson, the UDA chief intelligence officer and top agent to the British military intelligence's F.R.U. (Force Research Unit—a shady strand of British military intelligence that frequently changes its title). Project Echoes was just one of many of the alleged Gladio-related operations in Ireland.

Other Project Echoes' players from the South African Apartheid regime, such as ex-pat Loyalist Charlie Simpson, Leon Flores, Eugene De Kock, and Pamela Du Randt, will not be household names but they were key players in a murky world of collusion, torture, murder and international intrigue. Former Tory MP for Basingstoke turned Paisleyite and Democratic Unionist Party member Andrew Hunter, who had long been in the pay of British intelligence, also figures prominently in the Project Echoes story.

An important part of the Project Echoes story is the joint operations that resulted in the murders, or attempted murders, of exiled opponents of the Apartheid regime. Arguably at the top of their hit list was Dick Coetzee, a former hitman for the Vlakplass unit, who defected to the A.N.C. in the late 1980s. Although, it should be stressed that Coetzee's defection was more for self-preservation reasons and saving his skin than any ideological conversion to anti-racism or multi-culturalism.

Dulcie September, an anti-apartheid hero, was assassinated by the Vlakplaas unit death-squad.

Dulcie September, an anti-apartheid hero, was assassinated by the Vlakplaas unit death-squad.

Murder Bid on Prof. Adrian Guelke

Apartheid dissident Dirk Coetzee survived several assassination attempts, including one very near miss in London allegedly by a joint RUC/Loyalist paramilitary hit squad. Many others were not so lucky, including the ANC's representative in France, Dulcie September, who was murdered by a similar squad in March 1988.

A South African-born academic, Adrian Guelke, who was a lecturer at Queens University, Belfast, was shot and badly injured by a pro-British loyalist hit squad in the heart of the city's campus area in September 1991. The unsuccessful murder bid occurred at his Fitzwilliam Street home, just off Lisburn Road, in South Belfast. This attempted murder was allegedly a payment in kind to the Apartheid intelligence services by Loyalist paramilitaries based in Belfast and Mid-Ulster.

Another Irish academic, this time at the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster, was also targeted several times by Loyalist paramilitaries at the behest of the Apartheid state. British military intelligence spooks linked to Project Echoes planted false stories in the media, wrongly linking the unfortunate lecturer to armed Republican groups in an attempt to primarily sabotage his career. Their other intention was to further raise his profile as a prospective target for assassination by pro-British Loyalist death squads. In reality, this academic was only involved in anti-South African apartheid campaigns, like so many people in Ireland, including the author.

Members of Apartheid South Africa's  Vlakplaas Unit death-squad

Members of Apartheid South Africa's Vlakplaas Unit death-squad

The Vlakplaas Unit: Apartheid's death squad

The Vlakplaas Unit: Apartheid's death squad


Author Paul Larkin, in an exposé on British military collusion in state-sponsored murder in Ireland, has a chapter on the subject of Project Echoes in his book, A Very British Jihad. The Pat Finucane Centre and the Troops Out Movement also have some material on Project Echoes, which was available on their respective websites.

A name that constantly crops in all areas of this phase of the British Collusion project with Loyalist paramilitary terrorists is Irish born ex-pat, Charlie Simpson. Simpson was a Loyalist paramilitary and British intelligence asset who served with units of the then Rhodesian Special Forces and later in Apartheid South Africa's dirty world of state-sponsored murder. In many respects, Simpson seems to have been the linkman during key stages of Project Echoes, having accumulated years of specialist military training and indoctrination into the far-Right values of the various organs of the Apartheid state.

At some stage, hopefully, there will be a more in-depth, comprehensive insight published into the foul and murky world of British state collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and the murders of Irish citizens, often at the behest of foreign intelligence agencies. These brutal sectarian murders often occurred at the bidding of reactionary, true rogue states, such as Apartheid South Africa and Israel, or as payment in kind for receiving military materiel or training.

Paul Larkin's book mentions assassination attempts on Apartheid South African dissidents and even former London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone by joint RUC/UVF death squads exported to London and guaranteed safe passage back to the North of Ireland. These contract murder attempts, at the behest of Apartheid South Africa, involved the late Loyalist Godfather and British security service asset, Billy King Rat Wright, his boss Robin 'the jackal' Jackson and Mid-Ulster RUC Special Branch members. The attempted hit on Ken Livingstone was allegedly planned to take place as he made his way to work on 'the tube', the city's complex underground rail system, to the then Greater London Council's Headquarters.

Project Echoes remains an element of alleged state-sponsored collusion that has largely escaped the glare of publicity and for many in this supposed era of a so-called 'new dispensation', it will be an inconvenient truth. Mid-Ulster, since the first years of the post-1969 period of conflict referred to as The Troubles, has always been at the heart of collusion between British state agencies and Loyalist paramilitaries. In many ways, that particular area of the north of Ireland, with its blurred lines between policing, British military intelligence and Loyalism, functioned as an open-air, counter-insurgency laboratory. Counter-insurgency tactics used in the North of Ireland's so-called 'Low-Intensity Conflict' were honed and exported to other theatres of conflict that we are familiar with today, such as Syria, Libya and the Donbass.

It can, therefore, be no surprise that some of the North's most prolific and most protected Loyalist serial murderers originated in Mid-Ulster, for instance, Robin the Jackal Jackson and Billy King Rat Wright. The details of Project Echoes may never be fully exposed, and like all dirty state secrets concerning British collusion in Ireland, the British government, although clearly culpable, will censor, obstruct and frustrate those who seek the truth.

Eugene de Kock and Dirk Coetzee, Apartheid South Africa's elite death-squad murderers.

Eugene de Kock and Dirk Coetzee, Apartheid South Africa's elite death-squad murderers.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Liam A Ryan