Sensationally, in the wake of revelations by Sir John Stevens of extensive army and police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, it now transpires that the man who controlled internal IRA security for almost two decades was a highly-paid informer run by British intelligence under the code-name Stakeknife.
For some time, suspicions have been rife that the IRA had been penetrated at the highest level. In a scenario reminiscent of a John le Carré novel, this now appears to be confirmed. However, in assessing information currently being leaked, a strong dose of caution is warranted, as nothing can be taken at face value in the murky world of espionage.
Whatever the truth of this affair, the chilling difference between fiction and the events now unfolding is that Stakeknife may have been responsible for many murders. In addition to members of the IRA, innocent people may also be among his victims, seemingly with the full connivance of military intelligence anxious to cover his sinister double life.
This extraordinary case goes to the heart of debate about the morality of Britain’s orchestrated campaign of murder in the North, a shocking saga of violence perpetrated by the state in the name of counter-terrorism.
It reflects the endless cynicism of the British Establishment in deliberately turning justice on its head regarding the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry when soldiers killed 13 people and wounded a further 14, one of whom died later.
In addition to defending the indefensible lies of the Widgery report, which sought to exculpate the actions of the British army, the Establishment continues to stone-wall the present bid by the Saville Inquiry to discover the truth of what really happened.
London has also persistently thwarted attempts to find the truth about an alleged involvement of British army intelligence in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which claimed 33 lives 29 years ago next Saturday.
As evidenced by the army’s spiriting away of Stakeknife, the deadly game of undercover warfare is still being waged. It would be naive to pretend otherwise.
There can be no justification whatsoever of the sacrificing of innocent civilians simply to provide convenient cover for a terrorist who had been turned.
In view of the findings of the Stevens Inquiry to date, there is no doubt that collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries resulted in the murder of lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.
The question currently haunting republicans is how many people have been jailed, tortured or killed in order to conceal the activities of Stakeknife, a man who counted among his friends leading members of Sinn Féin, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
The latest revelations will prompt nationalist families whose loved ones have been executed by the IRA to ask hard questions of the republican movement.
Questions will also be asked about the timing of information now being leaked. Arguably, it could destabilise the peace process by giving hardline republicans an ideal opportunity to return to violence.
There is an onus on the British government, from Prime Minister Tony Blair down, to ensure that the Stevens Inquiry is afforded every possible co-operation in this affair, so the truth about British army collusion with terrorists can finally be brought into the light of day.