Clever Counterterrorism Tactic

Used against the IRA:

One of the most interesting operations was the laundry mat [sic]. Having lost many troops and civilians to bombings, the Brits decided they needed to determine who was making the bombs and where they were being manufactured. One bright fellow recommended they operate a laundry and when asked "what the hell he was talking about," he explained the plan and it was incorporated -- to much success.

The plan was simple: Build a laundry and staff it with locals and a few of their own. The laundry would then send out "color coded" special discount tickets, to the effect of "get two loads for the price of one," etc. The color coding was matched to specific streets and thus when someone brought in their laundry, it was easy to determine the general location from which a city map was coded.

While the laundry was indeed being washed, pressed and dry cleaned, it had one additional cycle -- every garment, sheet, glove, pair of pants, was first sent through an analyzer, located in the basement, that checked for bomb-making residue. The analyzer was disguised as just another piece of the laundry equipment; good OPSEC [operational security]. Within a few weeks, multiple positives had shown up, indicating the ingredients of bomb residue, and intelligence had determined which areas of the city were involved. To narrow their target list, [the laundry] simply sent out more specific coupons [numbered] to all houses in the area, and before long they had good addresses. After confirming addresses, authorities with the SAS teams swooped down on the multiple homes and arrested multiple personnel and confiscated numerous assembled bombs, weapons and ingredients. During the entire operation, no one was injured or killed.

Posted on October 13, 2008 at 1:22 PM • 67 Comments

Comments

dragnetOctober 13, 2008 1:46 PM

Ah, warrantless wholesale surveillance at its best. In those days techniques for DNA analysis were rudimentary. Nowadays, not only your clothing will be analyzed for chemical residue, clothing will also be inspected for hair follicles, skin fragments, etc., so that the DNA could be amplified and data could be entered into "the government is here to protect you" database.

For those interested, I highly recommend watching "Minority report" and reading "Rainbows End" - as far as our slide into panopticon is concerned, Phillip K. Dick / Spielberg and Vernor Vinge got it exactly right.

AFedchuckOctober 13, 2008 1:58 PM

dragnet, you clearly haven't actually read the short story written by Phillip K. Dick. The conclusion of the story is markedly different to the film. And is the better for it.

TwixOctober 13, 2008 2:03 PM

@dragnet: Warrantless? They were in a city where civilians and soldiers were regularly being killed. I'm all for privacy and minimal Government interference, but if it were truly warrantless they wouldn't have found anything.

Nick LancasterOctober 13, 2008 2:09 PM

I wonder if there's a transcript of the panel on Security v. Freedom from WorldCon 2002, which included this guy named Bruce Schneier and an author named Vernor Vinge ...

(The other panelists were Hugh McDaniel and author David Brin.)

pedanic correctionOctober 13, 2008 2:21 PM

Warrant, n.
@Twix: "if it were truly warrantless they wouldn't have found anything"
2. Justification for an action or a belief; grounds: “He almost gives his failings as a warrant for his greatness” (Garry Wills).

@dragnet: "warrantless wholesale surveillance"
4. An order that serves as authorization, especially:
2. Law. A judicial writ authorizing an officer to make a search, seizure, or arrest or to execute a judgment.

Andre LePlumeOctober 13, 2008 2:40 PM

Yet another example of how inexpensive, reliable home washers and dryers help terrorists. When will we learn???

SecureAppsOctober 13, 2008 2:46 PM

I don't know. Seems to me like there would be no expectation to privacy when dumping things off at a laundry mat and they would have every right to inspect the items to ensure no damage to their equipment. A laundry mat would be operating at a high risk if they didn't empty pockets and such.

JasonOctober 13, 2008 2:48 PM

Great, now the "war on terror" is going to the laundry room. Everyone buy a new cheap washer/dryer combo while you can still get them!

Jose SilvaOctober 13, 2008 2:57 PM

You can avoid detection by not washing clothes, then? So that's what all those people along Market St are doing! I thought they were bums, but in fact they are really terrorists avoiding detection.

Seriously, I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, there is the bigbrotherish aspect of having your clothing scrutinized (especially in this age of cheap mass spectrography and DNA sequencing); on the other, rampant terrorism is a very bad thing and if unchecked leads to anarchy, which in the balance is worse than minor intrusions on privacy...

Rich BOctober 13, 2008 3:02 PM

"Hey, esteemed co-worker, we do all our own laundry at my home, but I got this great coupon in the mail... I'll give it to you."

Brandioch ConnerOctober 13, 2008 3:09 PM

@Jose Silva
"Seriously, I'm of two minds about this."

I'm okay with this approach.

#1. They did not care WHO brought in clothing. They could NOT match a shirt to a person (other than the basics of "no ticket, no shirt").

#2. The clothing that was tested "clean" was not entered into any database.

#3. They took MULTIPLE cycles to narrow their investigation.

Now, if OUR "anti-terrorism" people had this idea they'd have a different approach.

Since terrorists wash clothes, and to wash clothes they need laundry soap, and to get laundry soap they need to go to a store ... we'll put everyone's name on a list and then monitor them to see which stores they go to.

That way, when we find a terrorist, we can find which store he went to AND everyone else who went to that store.

SkorjOctober 13, 2008 3:28 PM

This is good investigative work, basd on *probable cause*. Imagine that. Profiling in general is a lost cause, but deeply investigating people who have bomb-making residue on their clothing in an area where bombs are being made is legitimate police work, and well done in this case.

Still Anonomous?October 13, 2008 3:38 PM

the whole warrant issue is laughable. The British Government had infiltrated the IRA at the highest levels. While allowing them to actually set off bombs, torture people, ect to keep their cover.

From what I've heard, the Goal of the US at one point was to duplicate their plan.

Timmy303October 13, 2008 3:48 PM

This is such a sweet story. Awesome stuff. And they'd probably be in the clear even in the US, since it's doubtful that a court would find that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy via their clothes that they voluntarily surrendered for service to a laundromat.

ukscepticOctober 13, 2008 3:57 PM

Please note this Army led activity was wayback in the early 1970's and is commonly known as Four Square Laundry. A quick check on Google will find Ricks article is far from a good account.

Did the British Army have the scientific knowledge and skilled staff to really obtain intelligence, let alone evidence in this method? I doubt it and how the 'Laundry' came to a bloody end is ignored, plus the intelligence conflict with the Provisional IRA.

The author should do better.

NateOctober 13, 2008 4:17 PM

Reminds me of Jack Ryan's "canary trap" of Tom Clancy lore: put out ostensibly identical copies of information (in this case, coupons) encoded with some minor variation (color), and watch to see what happens to each version.

Clive RobinsonOctober 13, 2008 4:42 PM

I wonder if the laundry did well because of another army policy...

It was said that a certain explosive cord looked exactly like a washing line and that the locals where hiding the cord by using it as a washing line.

Therefore "squadies" where encoraged to cut the washing line in every house they visited to inspect it to see if it was washing line or explosive cord.

Now your average "squadie" is not realy going to need any encoragment to do such an inspection and obviously it is easier to cut if it's loaded down with freashly washed laundry...

The result of this policy was a very large number of disgruntaled locals in grubby clothing...

Peter E RetepOctober 13, 2008 5:28 PM

Dear Bruce,
Panels are usually recorded, so there is likely ateast an audio, if not a video.

Panels I was on that had sensitive or controversial topics were recorded.

dragnetOctober 13, 2008 6:19 PM

@ AFedchuck

Dear Sir/Madam,

I marvel at your powers of deduction. Would you be so kind as to explain, in the simplest terms possible, how did you arrive at a conclusion regarding my ignorance of PKD's published work, starting with my statement that film "Minority Report" nicely shows our slide towards surveillance society?

dragnetOctober 13, 2008 6:32 PM

@ Twix

I assume that pedanic correction was correct and you use word "warrant" in a sense #2. Consider this: there are, on average, multiple murders, rapes, and robberies occurring in New Your city every day (to use your language, we have a city where civilians are regularly being killed). Some of these crimes are not solved by means of "regular" police investigations. Clearly, we need to do something (I hesitate to use adjective "irregular") to bring perps to justice. Would you say that the situation warrants fingerprinting every single person, taking DNA from every single male? Some of cold cases could be solved with a help of good ol' dragnet, I'm sure.

dragnetOctober 13, 2008 7:36 PM

@ Brandioch Conner
(and people who say there is no expectation of privacy vis-a-vis laundry):

Consider the following scenario in the New York city (why oh why spellchecker lets "New Your" go where "New York" is mean to be?). There is a serial killer at large (Gasp!), operating in the vicinity of Central park. There seem to be reasons to suspect that it is just one person, who uses subway. Also, police have some fingerprints from crime scenes, but nobody matching them in databases.

Hence, the dragnet: some of bars in turnstiles in subway stations in vicinity of Central Park are equipped with hidden fingerprint readers. The readers do an instantaneous comparison of the print being read to the police-provided targets from murder scenes, and in case of the match - signal police squad nearby. The system doesn't do anything else: does not look for matches in other unsolved crimes, does not enter non-matching fingerprints into any database (identical to Brandioch's point #2), police are not standing there staring at or harassing people, they only get involved in any way after the system signals the match (authorities with the SWAT teams swoop down on the suspect).

Please, don't tell me that this is made up movie plot scenario imitating (poorly) a "Law and Order" episode. It is. On the other hand, actual laundry-vs.-IRA trick was an ingenious real life operation. Nonetheless, to me these two situations appear identical from ethical and legal (supposing, for the sake of argument, they were in the same jurisdiction) standpoint. Fingerprint taking, telecommunications data wiretapping or even retention, testing for residual chemicals in my possessions - any of this should only be allowed with a specific warrant.


As an aside, I think Matthew Skala could do with with some advertising here: if you check a puzzle "Which Canadian Supreme Court Justice are you? version 2" on his webpage, there is a case where the court had to decide on whether dog sniffing at the bus station was a reasonable search. Seems germane to present discussion.

NeighborcatOctober 13, 2008 8:17 PM

I think explosives residue might occupy a special niche where illegal substances and just cause for a search intersect. This may be very presumptive of me, but I'm guessing if you are dabbling in explosives, you don't intend to use them in the privacy of your own home.

I think the technique described is brilliant, particularly in light of the rights we have cheerfully given away in the US to enable methods with zero efficacy in catching criminals.

I would take the opposite view if the target of the sting was, for instance, drug use, where there is the distinct possibility you may be hurting no one but yourself, if even that.

RoxanneOctober 13, 2008 8:19 PM

I guess this was back in the day when not every home had its own laundry. I think today folks would know not to send the poisoned clothing out to the cleaners. But it's really got points for style and cleverness.

PeterOctober 13, 2008 9:01 PM

The laundry tactic is about the first thing I've read about the UK security services that I actually think is a good idea. Yeah, its not going to catch every budding bomb maker out there, but at the time it was implemented it would have been a cheap and easy way to flag up a fair number of them. The main plus side is that the only people's privacy that's getting invaded is of those who are at a fairly high certainty of meddling with exposives. Is a pleasant change to hear of evidence led investigations rather than whole-sale surveillance (unlike the other tactic described at the end of the article about bugging every new car in NI.... arrggg).

Michael AshOctober 13, 2008 9:30 PM

It's hard to see how anyone could have a problem with this tactic. If you *bring your evidence straight to the government*, then you deserve whatever you get. The police do not need a warrant to obtain or use evidence which you willingly hand them over. That it was not advertised that this business was a government front doesn't change things.

Rick CainOctober 13, 2008 9:57 PM

That can work both ways. Israel in 1947 used laundromats to hide underground arms factories. The noise of the washing machines and dryers drowned out the machines making bullets and rifles.

MoreOctober 14, 2008 2:02 AM


The problem always is, "we" learn, "they" learn.

Any tactic like this is going to have a short lifespan as it is figured out, and you can bet that the hapless locals in the laundry (the ones who were not under cover) would be the victim of reprisals (no matter how much they say they were not involved, "they" would have treated them as collaborators).

The question is, what is "their" supply of bomb makers / users vs. "our" supply of plots to find them.

Who runs out first?

brungleOctober 14, 2008 4:04 AM

I think this account is romanticised or otherwise poorly written, although the debate about civil liberties in the comments is a good one.

Guardian article references "Four Square Laundry." This operation probably did have a 'bloody end' as uksceptic notes.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/sep/30/...

Clive RobinsonOctober 14, 2008 5:09 AM

@ Neighborcat,

"I think explosives residue might occupy a special niche where illegal substances and just cause for a search intersect."

No "explosives residue" are anything but niche chemicals (something like 90% of the population in WASP countries have them on or in them at any one time). Therefor evidence of them is never just cause for a search (just as wearing a coat in cold weather is not just cause).

Explosives are usually made from simple chemical compounds (ie a fuel, an oxidizer or a compound rich in both). And they turn up more frequently on peoples hands cloths etc than you would expect (just like cocaine in US money).

For instance citric acid and geletin are in most food stuffs. Nitrates of various forms are found in foods such as bacon. So most processed foods will show positive for explosives, as will quite a few medicins over and above Tri-nitro-glycerin (blasting oil / heart medication)

Also when food and animal waste rots down (in a midden, compost / dung heap etc) it forms other basic chemicals that (saltpeter) can be used for explosives. And as most are aware most fertilizer contains nitrates in one form or another and used to be made from quano (bird sh*t) and urine etc (always p*ss on your compost heap it improves it's value as a fertilizer immensly 8)

Like wise smoking some cigerets etc that have amonia based compounds in them (added to help "freebase" the nicotein for that better addiction).

Then there are such things as the chemicals used in most household cleaning chemicals (and ironicaly washing powder to launder your cloths).

Further some quite common items are explosives in their own right (nitrates of cotton and celulose etc) and were commonly used where today we would use plastics, in the manufacture of things like billiard balls and transparent finishes or laquers for items that would receive frequent handeling.

Further a lot of these chemicals have a strong affinity for organic compounds such as skin / hair / plant fiber and can only be fully removed by either an appropriate solvent, or physical abrasion.

Which means that people handeling them will end up with "trace evidence" "stuck" on their hands etc. Which can be swabed off with a solvent some considerable time later giving a "false positive" for "handeling explosives".

And this did happen, in 1974 in two central Birmingham public houses (bars) horrendous bomb explosions killed 21 people and injured 182. The bombings were attributed (correctly) to the Provisional IRA.

However due to bad press etc the Police had to act quickly they arrested a group of people (the Maguires) and accused them of running a bomb-making factory for the Provos. Various newspaper articles had titles like "Aunt Aggie's bomb factory".

Although the police searched the house the Maguires and others stayed in they found no traces of explosives or bomb making equipment. However swab tests done on the Maguires hands (supposedly) revealed traces of nitroglycerine.

The group known in the press as "The birmingham six" where convicted and sentenced to long jail terms.

It turns out that the forensic evidence did not show as the jury where told that any of the six had been handeling explosives. But had infact played a game of cards which where coated with a nitro based finish which had degraded.

mickmonOctober 14, 2008 5:20 AM

The fake laundry was rumbled by the IRA after a while. If my memory serves, at least one intelligence operator was killed. This was much written about and a small amount of research would have the full story

NeighborcatOctober 14, 2008 6:19 AM

Clive Robinson:

Yes, many explosives are based on nitrates, and nitrates are everywhere, which is why ion mobility detectors are used to determine the specific molecular weight/charge ratio of the sample in question, i.e. identification of specific compounds, not just "this sample contains nitrates"

Can there be false positives? Of course, but you'll note that in this case, the detection was accurate enough to find the actual explosives and not just packs of playing cards, antique snooker balls, or bacon.

Any investigation method can be abused, but in particular, explosives detection can also be very accurate given a good sample and time. Consider that the authorities in this case had to avoid detection themselves, and so had very good reasons to avoid false positives.

The key phrase in the example you give is "...the police had to act quickly..." i.e. the results of explosives residue testing had nothing to do with who they prosecuted. You've given an example of abuse of police powers, not inaccurate methods.

You can't argue against a test method based on the possibility of false results, only the PROBABILITY of false results, which in the case of explosives detection, can be as low as you care to make it.

billOctober 14, 2008 7:36 AM

A report biased from the perspective of the 'terrorists' -
http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/6727

So, let's brucify it:
Q1) What problem did it solve?
ID bomb makers who don't do their own laundry.

Q2) How well did it solve it?
Pretty well for the short term, and probably kept others unhygenic in the long term.

Q3) What new problems does it add?
- Army suddenly responsible for washing colours and lights, not just dark.
- Placed army specialists in harms way with little opportunity to escape. A brittle security model.

Q4) What socioeconomic costs?
- Economic costs of running a bogus laundry
- risk of loosing expensive soldiers.
- you'll never trust any govt who messes with your undies.

Q5) Given all of the above, was it worth it?
Highly doubtful, but it was cool.

ripOctober 14, 2008 8:12 AM

Gsr. tests look for barum amoung other things, the common tests for supposed explosive residue as they were back in the 70's would have also flagged every person who works around automobile exhaust systems or who had handled a used muffler.
The false positives in these types of tests are still happening. these are screening tests, not definative tests. They will always have more false positives than actual hits. Ordinary people are just more common than people who make bombs. however the bombers will be washing clothes and taking more baths.

bobOctober 14, 2008 8:13 AM

Also:

-Did the laundromat turn a profit?

I would assume after they had busted no more than 3 bomb factories they would have had to shut it down [not merely resell it to someone else!] to avoid the inevitable "hmmm. every time we do laundry here after making bombs we get arrested. We should do something terrorist-like at that facility."

John CampbellOctober 14, 2008 9:32 AM

I recall this used in a book named "Overload".

In any case, this does qualify as a fishing expedition... though, at the time, wasn't Northern Ireland not far from qualifying as a war zone? Where soldiers were getting combat pay?

The real problem w/ mining everyone's implicit data shadows is that fishing becomes trivial.

For instance, from what I've been hearing regarding the Casey Anthony story around Orlando, FL, is that AT&T is releasing the cell-tower "footprint" of her activities over the period of interest. From the material discussed (which I overhear as my wife watches is) on Nancy Grace (being struck deaf during these shows sounds good to me) it sounds like a tower-trace over time rather than which towers specific calls and/or texts came from.

For now, this information is apparently coming via a subpeona... but could this data be mined w/o judicial oversight? And how deeply?

What boggles my mind is the amount of data being STORED...

Davi OttenheimerOctober 14, 2008 1:56 PM

Interesting how someone already knew IRA laundry was done at random laundry shops. Without that clue, the plan would have been pointless. Definitely a soft-security/cultural insight.

Wonder why they did not setup a car mechanic, or even bicycle mechanic, with similar sniffing tools.

Personally I'm just glad that the tube of toothpaste I have had in my carry-on bag for months has finally been confiscated by an excited and perhaps even "clever" TSA employee. America is safe again. Fortunately for me it was almost empty.

Now if I could only get the TSA to do my laundry while I fly...

John CampbellOctober 14, 2008 3:08 PM

@Davi Ottenheimer

This would be an interesting test... if you are travelling "homeward" and have no dirty laundry for them to wash for you, you must be guilty of *something*.

(worries that this might actually be seen as part of the screening process, requiring us to arrive more than an hour earlier so that they have time to run through both the wash and rinse cycle before getting to the gate... with nudity in the security line to ensure that they have time to do a thorough inspection of clothing and other items.)

NeighborcatOctober 14, 2008 8:09 PM

Davi Ottenheimer:

TSA doing laundry: It calls up a mental image of my childhood, me standing there getting ready for a bath, my mom saying "Now take off those (clothes) and give them to me to put in this load." Only now she's wearing a polyester uniform and throwing the toiletries in the trash as she speaks...

zzyxxOctober 15, 2008 12:13 AM

Gee, why didn't they just put video cameras on very corner and spy on everyone all the time and...oh, right, that wouldn't have worked.

JasonOctober 15, 2008 1:02 PM

Have you ever read the disclaimer at a laundromat / dry cleaners?

"We are not responsible for any items left in pockets. We are not responsible for weaknesses in fabrics or dyes. We are not responsible for items not picked up within 30 days."

Just add "we are not responsible for arrests made due to chemical residue on clothing" and no one would be accused of violating anyone's privacy.

Mr. BotOctober 15, 2008 1:34 PM

There are a few things that justify this to me. First off there was a real "terror" threat. The IRA commonly perpetrated many atrocities. Often killing British opposes and any related entities. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_(1920)] Bloody Sunday is one such example. The IRA was a real threat in Britain. There was a real need to capture any related parties.
Current day inspections and data mining are all a part of security theater and motivated by some political or financiall reason. The threat exists today of "real terrorism" but the steps to prevent it are terrible at best.
The analyzing of clothes to detect common explosive particles is a decent technique; if implemented properly.

1) Washing machines were not widespread at the time, laundry's were common community establishments. The equivalent of today's airports and trolley stations. Commuting is an important part of this day and age, analyzing people at common community gathering points is a perfect idea from a data mining point of view.

2) The laundry was transparent to the user. The IRA (and most of the laundry personnel) were none the wiser. This prevented any circumventing measures to be applied to this technique. Common day airport inspections are there for theater, Many terrorists will come up with alternative methods to cause harm. Shoe bombs, and liquid explosives,...they are common examples of exploits to the system. and we have all seen this [http://www.i-hacked.com/content/view/267/48/]. They are eventually adapted to, but then new techniques are adapted, such is the game of security.

3) The laundry refined their searches, and made multiple attempts at identifying the substances. This significantly cut down on false positives. Now days technology is so sensitive and technology is held in such a high regard that "if it says its explosive, it must be explosive". I have had a backpack set off TSA's explosive sensor numerous times. I have never stored explosives or any major bomb making ingredients in it. (After the initial alarm I just sit back and have a good chuckle at the theater that proceeds, a TSA informs me that there is a need to "swab" my bag, and proceeds to lob my bag up onto a table in a very unceremonious way, and wipes it down again. It sets off the alarm again and they hand it back to me.)

4) There was a level of anonymity. Say for example a pair of pants sets off the sensor, and these pants are from one sector. Everyone in that sector was not unduly searched. Another pass was made to identify the area, and the exact address to search. Now as [Rich B] pointed out there could have been false positives at this level. I agree, but this increases the level of anonymity, a person is not "required" to bring their clothes to the laundry with a signed slip detailing the owner and his whereabouts and a host of other unnecessary information to be put into a third party database to be mined for reasons other than intended. No test is 100% accurate, but this test is as accurate as needed, without unduly invading the life and freedoms of citizens.

Now many security advocates can argue against the data mining technique that was used. I agree it was used appropriately. There was a real threat, an accurate way to test for possible suspects, and a level of anonymity.

This is the way it should be done. Unfortunately political theater and financial issues make security a joke nowadays.

MaxOctober 15, 2008 7:40 PM

What is with the coupons? Couldn't they have just followed the people that picked up the laundry that turned up positive?

Jim BolesOctober 16, 2008 4:26 AM

RE: Warrants, you forget, that this did not take place in the US and thus many of your comments relating to admissibility are irrelevant, different legal system.

As for the ethics of the tactic, who cares? At the time of this particular conflict my friends and fellow soldiers and the people of my country were being killed by groups of fanatics who were often armed and financed by contributions from the US. Something that's oftern forgotten when Dubya moans about financing terror etc.

Thus any tactic that stopped their (And I mean Nationalist OR Loyalist) efforts and disrupted their aims is fine by me and let's not forget, their people were hardly ethical were they now?

As for the oft quoted argument (Usually heard in Boston pubs) about freedom fighters, well they seemed to have carried on in the present day as drug runners and extorionists, not exactly what you'd expect from "freedom fighters" is it?

We let them into government even though they won't swear an oath of loyalty to the country that they are part of governing! I fail to see how we can be any nicer to the bastards....

A QuinnOctober 16, 2008 5:43 AM

Quick question.

Were the men who fought in the American War of Independance against the British "Freedom Fighters" or "Terrorists"?

Curious
South Armagh

ddOctober 16, 2008 9:19 AM

Pi ss on civil rights. It is more important to catch the indiscriminate killers than it is to take care not to step on civil rights.

"Were the men who fought in the American War of Independance against the British "Freedom Fighters" or "Terrorists"?"

This is a red herring question. This question has been blessed by being asked in the UN itself. Do you know of any American war of independance fighter who strapped bombs to himself and killed indiscriminately. Any time you say terrorist, it NEVER means a freedom fighter. Freedom fighters don't kill children and attack non military targets. Get your moral compass right.

ddOctober 16, 2008 9:23 AM

One mans terrorist in NOT another mans freedom fighter. A terrorist is (or should be) a terrorist everywhere.

Clive RobinsonOctober 16, 2008 11:23 AM

@ A Quinn (of South Armagh),

"Were the men who fought in the American War of Independance against the British "Freedom Fighters" or "Terrorists"?"

It is a quick question but with a very complex series of conflicting answers.

It depends not only who you ask but when and what they belive they know.

First off under the definition held at the time the forces representing the English King where actualy portraied as the Terrorists.

However the meaning of terrorist has changed since then and is still rapidly changing today as Bruce has has noted.

Also you need to be aware when asking the question of the knowledge or lack thereof the person has of the events you are asking about, which is why you will get a multitude of often conflicting answers.

In the case of the "War of Independance" again by the definitions of the time it was not a war but civil insurection.

Often people will tell you about the unfair taxation burden the English imposed on the poor founding father colonists etc etc and quote "no taxation without representation".

Most of it is little better than a rose tinted view of the past events prejudiced by selected sound bites.

There was without doubt provication and bestial acts performed by the three main non indigenous beligerents (did you know about the French connection?) either directly or through their agents.

Essentialy at the start the English politicians felt that having largly paid for the invasion, setting up of the American colonies and suppresion of the indigenous population they where entitled to some return on the investment.

The majority of the people in the colonies did not like or want to have anything to do with those pushing for indipendence (they still regarded those out side the colonies as hostile and felt the need of protection of the English forces).

And the French saw it as a glorious oportunity to play international politics and therby tweek the nose of "le beuf" and increase their sphere of influence.

Initialy those colonists pushing for indipendence did things in silly ways and unfortunatly things either got out of hand or were pushed that way.

There are for instance recorded instancies of snow balls being thrown at soldiers wearing English uniforms, of one or more shots being fired by persons unknown and soldiers beliving they were under attack firing into the crowd which resulted in injuries and loss of life.

As you are probably aware there are also written acounts of those seeking independence dressing up and pretending to be something other than what they where. What is not known is the actual why of it.

Over a period of years the various independent colonies went through various phases of debate and suppresion of the indigenous population etc. But interestingly even today documents are turning up that show things where not as we where taught at school.

As you are aware from where you "post marked" your post bringing soldiers into a political situations even for the best intent has the potential to turn into a disaster.

I personaly try not to polarise the people involved but examine their actions in the context of the time and place, and hopefully gain insight to prevent almost identical events happening over and over again.

RamOctober 18, 2008 11:43 PM

we all know that a bad guy needs to be successful only once, however security guy needs to be successful all the time.

A bad guy is on the lookout for that one mistake by the security guy.
Counter terrorism - is always on the lookout for that one mistake by the bad guy. This story is a good example to explain this.

A QuinnOctober 21, 2008 10:16 AM

"One mans terrorist in NOT another mans freedom fighter. A terrorist is (or should be) a terrorist everywhere.

Posted by: dd at October 16, 2008 9:23 AM"

This black and white stuff is what causes most of the problems. I suppose you talk to God too? The Christian God or whatever?

P O'NeillOctober 22, 2008 4:52 AM

On 2 October 1972, 32 years ago, IRA Volunteers struck a significant blow to the heart of the British Army’s undercover Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) in Belfast.

Under the control of General Sir Harry Tuzo, the main work of the MRF — a forerunner of the Force Research Unit (FRU) — was to gather, collate and analyse intelligence on the republicans and on the IRA in particular.

The most devious example of an MRF undercover operation was the Four Square Laundry. The Four Square did business as a real laundry. Laundry vans are usually big, so there was a good excuse to have a vehicle capable of holding several men and their equipment. The van toured nationalist areas of Belfast, soliciting custom at a cheaper rate than other laundries and making collections and deliveries. The washing was sent out to another laundry under contract to the British Army.

Using this cover, intelligence was accumulated in a number of ways. The laundry staff, consisting of a driver and a woman, would chat with locals and obtain apparently insignificant bits of information, which could be of great importance when placed together later. Meanwhile, two SAS soldiers hidden under the roof of the van photographed the occupants, houses and vehicles of known republicans.

Once back from their tour, laundry lists were compared with previous ones. A difference in the size of a man’s shirt could indicate the presence of a second man staying in a house. A woman whose husband was in jail or had been killed, giving a man’s clothes for laundering, could inadvertently give away the presence of an IRA Volunteer on the run. The clothes were also scientifically analysed for traces of blood, gun oil, gunpowder and explosives.

The Four Square Laundry was simple, yet highly sophisticated, and it took several months for the IRA’s Intelligence Department, with the help of a double agent, to unmask it. At 11.15am on 2 October 1972, a green Morris laundry van — bearing in large white letters the words ‘Four Square’ — approached the Twinbrook area of Belfast. As it drove through Juniper Park, it was ambushed by Volunteers of a special intelligence unit of the IRA, who machine-gunned the van, killing two British Intelligence Officers lying under the roof in a compartment specially designed as an observation post. The driver, Sapper Stuart, who was on loan from his parent regiment to the SAS, was also killed.

The female member of the operation, belonging to the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC), ran screaming into a local’s house claiming that loyalist gunmen were trying to kill her. The residents of the house, not knowing her true identity, gave her brandy and a sedative until a plain-clothes RUC member came to collect her. Eighteen months later, she became the first WRAC to receive the military medal for an undercover operation in Ireland.

Within hours of the attack on the laundry van, the IRA shot dead two other MRF members who were operating a massage parlour — the Gemini Health Studios on the Antrim Road. The following day, the British, realising that their covert operations were blown, admitted to the death of the van driver and the aim of their operation. They failed, however, to disclose that not one but five MRF/SAS soldiers had been executed by the IRA on this October day in Belfast.

stiabhanOctober 24, 2008 6:38 AM

> Any time you say terrorist, it NEVER means a freedom fighter. Freedom fighters don't kill children and attack non military targets.

Neither should armed forces but recent experience has US forces doing just that. How many of those have been convicted for their terrorist acts?
Terrorism is not the exclusive preserve of the suicide bombers. Attacks from an F16 or using a cruise missile has the same effect but the moral compass there seems a little askew.

Ex ParaMarch 4, 2009 11:47 AM

I had friends who were in the MRF and I wouldn't quite define it as a forerunner to the FRU- more like a forerunner to 14 Int. The MRF was not staffed from the SAS but by volunteers from other units (None of the people I knew who had served in the MRF were from the SAS) Whatever one hears (and likes to believe) the SAS were not deployed in Ulster this early in the troubles. And if you think Four Square and the MRF were where it was at covertly at the time you ought to look into "The Freds".........

And as for the American Revolutionary War; as I see it most of the colonists were duped by a bunch of rich land owners who started the war to evade paying for the costs incurred by the British Government during the French Indian Wars, which those same land owners had demanded the Government fight so that they would keep their land and their riches. So maybe not terrorists but a bunch of lieing shites- by the way, when are you lot going to pay for the war?

Robert SmithJuly 2, 2009 10:48 AM

I'd like to chat to ex-Para as i too knew some who served in the MRF in Ulster, and one was ex-SAS. And i knew one SAS officer who was there in 1969, in what capacity though i dont know.

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