Sunday Life

Orde set to branch out
Drive to recruit former elite RUC cops to plug 'intelligence gap'

Exclusive by Alan Murray
13 February 2005

CHIEF Constable Hugh Orde has launched a drive to recruit ex-Special Branch officers in a bid to smash the IRA's Northern Bank robbery team.

The ex-RUC veterans are being brought in on short-term contracts, as cops desperately try to crack the top Provo gang suspected of a series of high-profile raids.

Security sources say the ex-Branch investigators have been given a brief to resurrect former touts, and gather intelligence about the plans and activities of paramilitary groups.

One source claimed the move was designed to "bridge the intelligence deficit", which critics say now exists inside the new-look police service.

The move, which the PSNI declined to discuss, underlines the scale of the problem facing the force's intelligence gathering section, now known as C-3 Intelligence.

Since the signing of the Agreement in 1998, around 400 experienced 'Branch' officers have left the force.

And around 300 informers were dumped last year, in a move to purge the PSNI of touts involved in criminal activities.

But critics say the policy has been exposed as seriously flawed over the last six years, as paramilitary killers on both sides have escaped prosecution.

And they point to a specialist IRA unit based in Belfast, which has pulled off robberies netting millions of pounds worth of cigarettes, electrical goods and cash.

Mr Orde has strenuously denied that the fact police had no prior hint of the Northern Bank heist, revealed shortcomings in its intelligence gathering.

But subsequent searches of homes and business premises have so far failed to uncover the trail of the stolen cash.

One informed security source said: "Experienced former officers have been recruited to help with bridging the serious intelligence deficit currently existing, and which is causing major problems.

"Some have been engaged on six-month contracts and given the task of reactivating former sources, and trying to make inroads into the tight circle of IRA activists who have been planning and carrying out the big robberies."

The police refused to comment on claims that it has recruited former Special Branch officers in a bid to regain the intelligence initiative.

In a statement on Friday, the PSNI would only say that it required individuals with a range of specialist skills to perform its role in the community.

"However, we are unable to discuss appointments to individual posts within the police service," the statement added.

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