You’ve heard about the Special Air Service (SAS). Perhaps you’ve heard about their maritime brethren, the Special Boat Service (SBS). Chances are, however, you haven’t heard about their youngest sibling, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR).

And for a good reason. Created in 2005, this shadowy unit is the equivalent of America’s Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), aka the Activity.

Insigne Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR).svg
Special Reconnaissance Regiment’s Emblem (Wikimedia)

Like the Activity, from the few things publicly known, the SRR specializes in, but certainly is not limited to, Human Intelligence (HUMINT). It’s seen combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, among other places.

But before it, there was another unit.

If we’re to judge a unit’s “tier” by the number of its cover names, then the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) had to be Tier 1 plus something. Over the years, it went under many names: the 14 Intelligence Company, the Det, Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Team, Joint Communication Unit Northern Ireland, Argus, and Ajax.

The 14 Int, as it was more commonly known, emerged in 1972 following the need for effective covert surveillance on both Catholic IRA and Protestant loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland. The “Troubles” between the two communities were fuming. And the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were trying their best but falling short.

With around 120 operators, both men and women from all branches of the military, it split into four detachments, the Dets, each with its slice of the province’s toughest areas: Antrim, Londonderry, Belfast, and Newry.
Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The 14 Int had its safehouses dispersed throughout. (Independent News and Media/Getty Images)

They ran plain clothes covert surveillance, bugging, reconnaissance, and sometimes direct action operations.  Subject to both civil and military law, thwarting terrorist plots was a constant legal nightmare.