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14 Company - 'The Det'
14 Intelligence Company - sometimes referred to as 14 INT, 14 Company, or 'The Det' - was a British Army special forces unit, established during the Troubles, which carried out surveillance operations in Northern Ireland.
Before 14 Company was created, undercover military surveillance in Northern Ireland was carried out by a unit known as the MRF (referred to in different sources as the Military Reaction Force, Military Reconnaissance Force or Mobile Reconnaissance Force). The MRF had some success, but it's operations were eventually compromised. 2 IRA double-agents that the MRF had turned were discovered by the Provos and interrogated, spilling the details of a covert MRF operation based out of the Four Squares laundry in Belfast. Using information gleaned from the interrogations, the IRA ambushed a MRF laundry van, killing one undercover soldier.
With the MRF compromised, it was decided that a dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes surveillance operatives should be established for operations in Northern Ireland. 14 Intelligence Company was to be selected and trained by a specially setup training wing of 22 SAS. Additionally, SAS officers would form the unit's command. In 1973, 3 Detachments, or 'Dets' were setup, each within its own sector of Northern Ireland
During the Troubles, men from the SAS and SBS would serve tours with 14 Company. It was good experience for the special forces soldiers, who would not only enhance their assigned Det with their particular skills, but they also would, on completing their tour, return to their units with invaluable operational experience.
Selection to 14 Company was open to all members of the armed services and to all genders. For the first time, women could become members of a UK Special Forces unit. Candidates were required to pass a rigorous selection process, designed to weed out anyone without the necessary qualities to deal with the unique challenges of life as a an undercover operative. Excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress are vital for undercover surveillance work. Since many operations require the operative to work alone, a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance is also a prerequisite.
The training of 14 Company covered all the skills required of a surveillance operators.
Though not quite up to James Bond standards, the Det employed some specialised equipment. Operators wore microphones and earphones hidden in their clothing to enable them to talk on 'the net' whilst in public. Special covert holsters were worn that allowed an operator conceal their pistols in their waistbands.
A flight of Army Air Corps (AAC) Gazelles, nicknamed the 'Bat flight' were frequently used on 14 Company operations. The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear well suited for supporting 14 Company operations. These video and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras were slaved to a sight usually used to fire wire-guided missiles. At least one Det operator would ride in the helicopter and follow suspects through the sighting system, usually high up, out of sight or sound of anyone below. Det helicopter passengers would usually be armed with Hk53 carbines or G3 rifles, ready to engage ground targets from the air, if required, although there is no public record of this ever happening.
14 Company Operations
From their inception until the Troubles played out, 14 Company carried out numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstaking intelligence gathering efforts often led to the arrest of terrorists by the RUC as well as discoveries of weapons caches.
In addition to simple surveillance, they also liaised with SAS teams from whichever squadron was active in Northern Ireland at the time, acting as addition eyes and ears and often providing covert transportation for SAS operations. In the early 80s, a dedicated SAS troop was eventually attached to 14 Company, Together the 2 units formed the Intelligence and Security Group (NI) otherwise knowns Int & Sy Group or just 'the Group'.
read more on 14 Company / SAS activities in Northern Ireland
On rare occasions 14 Company members would end up in firefights with terrorists, usually the result of their covers being compromised. Tragically, several 14 Company operators lost their lives in Northern Ireland.
It's believed that during the nineties the role of 14 Company was expanded to include operations outside of Northern Ireland. It is thought that, amongst other activities, the unit supported NATO efforts to arrest suspected war criminals in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. In such a role, it is likely that 14 Company identified and tracked targets for SAS arrest operations such as Operation Tango.
The unit has now been absorbed into the recently formed Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), with a remit to fight the global war against terror.