TRANSCRIPT: Belfast Media’s Abysmal Reporting

TRANSCRIPT: Belfast Media’s Abysmal Reporting
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
29 March 2014

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview author, journalist and former director of The Belfast Project Ed Moloney (EM) about the Boston College tapes.

(begins time stamp 31:58)

SB: We’re talking to Ed Moloney, the author of Voices From the Grave (and) A Secret History of the IRA. And Ed was the director of what was called The Belfast Project. It was a unique oral history of The Troubles speaking to people from the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force who actually did the fighting.

And now, if you are a regular listener to the show you know, those tapes were handed over the the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and now they’ve been used to charge Ivor Bell, former Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army, with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville. Ed, thanks for being with us and what can you tell us about that?

EM: Which bit, Sandy? There’s a lot there.

SB: About the use of the tapes from the project you directed to charge Ivor Bell.

EM: First of all there is no evidence that this is Ivor Bell that was interviewed.

As I understand it one of the reasons why the police have let it be known that they want to question Anthony McIntyre, the interviewer, is to provide evidence about the identity of someone who’s only known in court as “Z”, “Interviewee Z”.

And they’ve also let it be known that if they do proceed to trial on this they will identify the person “Z” by what they call “the jigsaw method”.   I’m not exactly sure what that means.

But there is no confirmation, believe it or not, despite all the media reports that this is actually Ivor Bell that is featured in this interview at the center of this court case. So that’s point number one. And that should be borne in mind.

There’s a great deal sloppy journalism and reporting about this case and that has to be up there at the top of the list I think.

SB: And what tapes were actually handed over the the Police Service of Northern Ireland?   Was it all the tapes from The Belfast Project?

EM: No, no, no, no indeed. As you said in your introduction that the Boston College tapes were handed over as if all them were handed over.

My estimate is that maybe two to three percent of the archive has actually been handed over to the PSNI. A very small fraction – much, much less than the PSNI were actually seeking in the first place and a very, very small number of interviews. I mean, if the police had been trying to get say all of a person’s interviews that they gave to the Boston College (archive) they were refused that.

They were only allowed interviews which actually made mention of the Jean McConville case or associated elements of it and that dramatically reduced the number of interviews that were actually handed over.

So again, I was watching news reports in Belfast during the week which were saying that the PSNI now have full access to Boston College archives. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’ve got as I said my estimate is about two to three percent – very small number – eleven in total – and that is very small.

JM: Ed, you were speaking about how it was covered over in Ireland. We’re going to go to two clips now: ne from Ulster Television and the other from RTÉ and this is how they covered it.

(Audio clip of two news broadcasts by UTV Reporter Sharon O’Neill and RTE Northern Editor Tommie Gorman)

JM: And that was two news clips about how it’s being reported over there.

Also Ed, what’s coming out now is how Sinn Féin is going on the attack, particularly of you and Anthony McIntyre, calling the Boston tapes a “touting programme” on one hand and then Gerry Adams issuing statements that if anyone has any information on the killing of Jean McConville to please come forward to the PSNI.

So, they want it both ways.

EM: So what’s your question, John? I don’t quite follow you.

JM: How did you perceive the two clips there? Were they accurate? And Gerry Adams’ hypocrisy on telling people to come forward and then criticising the tapes themselves.

EM: Both of those reports were just so full of inaccuracies that it highlights exactly what I’m talking about here.

In Belfast at the moment we do not have a fully functioning media.

First of all, Paul Bew’s involvement in this project, which is now being highlighted by Gerry Adams, was marginal. He was a message boy from Boston College to a number of people in Belfast back in 2000- 2001.

If anyone had any ideas for projects or things that Boston College could do commemorate the peace process – to record The Troubles – Paul Bew would pass on their ideas to Boson College and we were one of the ideas that was put forth.

So his role is marginal but is being played up by Gerry Adams because he was also at one stage advisor to David Trimball so he’s trying to make this appear to be a Unionist plot of some sort which it is absolutely not.

Secondly, I was never an interviewer. I coordinated the project. The interviews were conducted on the Republican side by Anthony McIntyre and on the Loyalist side by Wilson MacArthur. So again, another inaccuracy.

And Sharon O’ Neill, the UTV person, is the one I was referring to who said that The Belfast Project, the archives at Boston College, that the PSNI now have full access to them.

I rang her up and I said: Sharon, that is not true and I repeated to her what I just repeated to you, that they got a very tiny percentage of the reports.

And she said: Oh, terribly sorry, Ed, it was because it was a live report. In other words when you go on live reports for UTV and you’re the Justice Correspondent you’re apparently allowed to say the first thing that comes into your mind and accuracy is a second option as far as people like that are concerned.

And this is part of the problem. You’re getting just absolute rubbish journalism covering this story.

If this was the United States of America and it was happening by this stage, for example, The New York Times and The Washington Post – I would certainly hope and I think they probably would – would have had a team working on the story:

Is it possible to get a conviction?

Would a case like this even go trial on the basis of the evidence that we have?

And the evidence? Let me just go through it:

We have this interview or portion of an interview, small portion of an interview from someone called “Z” who the police are claiming is Ivor Bell.

That was an interview that was not taken under caution such as most police statements have to be in order to be presented into court.

It was not a sworn statement. It was conducted by someone who was an academic researcher and not someone who was a forensic interrogator from the RUC. Or PSNI. (excuse the Freudian slip.)

There’s no supporting evidence. There’s no forensics evidence. There’s no ballistic evidence.

And most crucially of all: there is no admission by anyone, least of all “Z”, least of all whoever “Z” is, if it’s Ivor Bell or not I don’t know.

There’s not a lawyer that I have talked to in the week or so since Ivor Bell was arraigned on these charges who believes: a) that this could secure a conviction and many of them believe this won’t even go to trial.

Yet none of this is reflected in the media coverage. Not one journalist as far as I can make out has made an issue of trying to examine what are the real legal possibilities of even going to trial on something like this never mind securing a conviction.

And on the basis of that the PSNI have been allowed to present a fantastic triumph – breaking, cracking the case of Jean McConville’s disappearance – when in fact as I think events will ultimately prove – you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Now in relation to what Gerry Adams is calling for well, we’ve gone through this before. And we’ve gone through all the attacks that he has launched against Boston College and against this particular project.

I’m asking, or I’m saying this very simply:

if anyone was to conduct a serious history of the Provisional IRA during The Troubles and decided to leave out, because they have fallen out of favor, people like Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price…

…incidentally it would help if Tommie Gorman could actually pronounce her name – it’s not Dolers or Dolores – it’s Dolours. It means sadness. He couldn’t even get that basic fact right.

But if he were to try to construct a history of the Provisional IRA during The Troubles and you left those people out – Dolours Price was in charge of the first bombing team that attacked London back in 1973.

Brendan Hughes was at the side of all the Belfast Commanders from the early 70′s onward including Gerry Adams. He was the closest friend of Gerry Adams. He shared a cubicle with Gerry Adams in a hut in Long Kesh during internment.

He led the 1981 hunger strikes.

He led the debate inside Long Kesh which led to the reorganisation of the IRA in the mid and late 1970′s.

He was involved in all the major phases of the Republican struggle.

And one’s supposed to leave someone like that out because Gerry Adams doesn’t like or didn’t like Brendan Hughes’ attitude towards him and towards the peace process?

I don’t think so.

I think if you were an historian and you left those sort of people out of any attempt to chronicle the real story of the IRA you would be accused by historians of utmost bias.

We went and we sought people like Brendan Hughes because of their value and the totality of what they could contribute in terms of their knowledge of the IRA and their knowledge of the Provisional’s and their history.

And the sections in which he criticises Gerry Adams actually, when you look at the totality of these interviews, were very small indeed. The rest of it, in relation to the Gerry Adams was either neutral or in fact very pro, because he was very close to Gerry Adams and very fond of him and said many, many nice things about him as well as being critical of him.

SB: Ed, getting back to Gerry Adams: I find it very interesting that Ivor Bell is charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville.

As far as we know Gerry Adams has not even been questioned about that. But both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price said he gave the orders for that.

Why is it do you think he doesn’t even get questioned?

EM: I don’t know what’s happening on that particular issue, Sandy, because Gerry Adams issued that offer, if you want to call it that, to the PSNI a couple of days ago and the PSNI have been conspicuous in their silence since.

Some people have said this is a very clever move by Gerry Adams because it will force the PSNI to say “no” we don’t want to interrogate or question Gerry Adams.

But on the other hand the PSNI might consider it wiser to leave the option open and not to give him an answer at this stage. What all that is about I am not entirely sure.

But from what we know – and incidentally – the only person who has actually linked Gerry Adams to the Jean McConville disappearance in our interviews that I know of is Brendan Hughes. Everyone seems to forget this.

Dolours Price DID NOT MENTION the Jean McConville business in her interview with Anthony McIntyre.

Not once did the words “Jean” and “McConville” leave her lips!

She did not talk about her disappearance. She did not talk about the woman. She did not talk about how she was killed or anything like that.

That’s forgotten. It’s just assumed – as was assumed in those reports – none of which are based upon any research. None of those journalists bothered to ring me up, the director of this project, to ask basic, factual questions before they went on air.

I mean it’s astounding! The abysmal standard of journalism that we have in Northern Ireland these days. And that’s a perfect example.

There is only one person who has actually linked Gerry Adams to Jean McConville and that is Brendan Hughes.

Yes, Gerry Adams is coming on and painting with this hugely broad brush about what was said about him and Jean McConville in the Boston archive in fact it comes down to one person out of all of the ones that have been talked about.

Where do you hear that mentioned in the media reports? Not at all. It’s disgraceful!

JM: Ed, you’re talking about the small percentage of the tapes that were handed over. And it seems to be there might be six other people involved.

Do you know what the process that Boston College went through of the editing of these tapes? And who sat down and picked out which parts were going to be handed over?

EM: This is the interesting story, isn’t it?

As you know myself and Anthony McIntyre tried to get included in the case and we were consistently rebuffed. First of all at the district court level, then at the First Circuit level and then we tried to get into the Supreme Court and apparently we quite narrowly failed on that as well.

We were trying to argue that we had certain rights and what have you – those were not recognised by the courts. So the entire case in relation to dealing with the tapes was left to Boston College.

They claimed at district court level that the librarian at Boston College when asked by the judge to go through the interviews and to hand over to him those interviews which were respondent to the subpoena he claims, can you believe, that he had not read one of them and didn’t know what was in them.

Now you can take that with as large a pinch of salt as you can possibly manage to get between your forefinger and your thumb.

But anyway that’s what he said so the judge said well in that case I’ll go through them all. Hand over the entire archive to me. So Boston College handed over the entire archive to the judge, Judge Young, in the district court.

When the case was then lost and Boston College announced that it was not going to appeal and the process of resisting the subpoena as far as they were concerned was over there was an outraged reaction from all sorts of people, not least ourselves, leading the criticism of Boston College for abject cowardice.

That forced them into a re-think.

And the re-think was that they then appealed to the First Circuit that only those interviews which actually dealt with and were respondent to subpoena – i.e. dealt with the Jean McConville case – should be handed over.

So originally something like forty-six or forty-seven interviews were to be handed over (if not more) but as a result of that action and the judgment of the First Circuit that was reduced down to eleven out of forty-six.

So as result of that a very, very much smaller number of interviews were put at risk as a result.

But no thanks to Boston College. None of this need have happened. If they had been honest at the outset and told the judge: Yeah – we’ll go away and look at them and we’ll give you over – they could have handed over even less if they really wanted to.

I know, for example, that one of these interviews – it was handed over on the basis of a question and answer which amounted to: did you know anything about the “unknown cells”. (This was unknown cell that “disappeared” people.) Answer: I heard of them but didn’t know anything about them.

And on the basis of that or a question very similar to that an interview was handed over and therefore, in the words of Tommie Gorman and Sharon O’Neill, that is then translated into really crucial, exciting evidence about Jean McConville’s disappearance.

A lot of nonsense being is talked. Very little research, very few questions being asked by the media and the result is what we have.

SB: Ed, thank you very much for setting the record straight. This is an incredibly important case and we’re going to continue to keep on top of it. I think we’ll be back next week with more on this subject. So thank you very much, Ed.

EM: No problem.

(ends time stamp 53:20)

VICE: The Peace Process Is A Sham

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT ARE TRYING TO ACCESS CONFIDENTIAL IRA RECORDINGS
By Danny McDonald
VICE
September 2013

The idea was simple enough: interview paramilitaries from both sides of the The Troubles, record their testimonies and release the interviews sometime after their deaths. For researchers Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, the hope was that the Boston College-funded oral history initiative known as the Belfast Project would bring clarity to what was a particularly murky conflict.

Unfortunately for McIntyre, a journalist and former IRA member who was imprisoned for 18 years, and Moloney, a journalist best known for his coverage of Northern Ireland, shit got complicated. But then it usually does when you mix lawyers, cops, terrorists, academics, politicians and murder.

The researchers now find themselves in a convoluted legal battle where they are pitted against law enforcement authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) want tapes of interviews with paramilitaries that, they believe, relate to the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville. The Belfast mother of ten was abducted and murdered in 1972 by the Provisional IRA after they suspected that she was a British informant.

The PSNI’s request was passed on to the British authorities, who are now trying to exploit an obscure international agreement known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to gain access to the interviews. Due to the terms of this treaty, it now falls to the US Department of Justice to wrest these tapes from Boston College, who are the legal owners. However, McIntyre and Moloney are vehemently opposed to this. They say that any breach of privacy could hinder academic research they want to conduct in the future, given that they’d made agreements with the paramilitaries that they wouldn’t release the tapes till after they’d died.

The complicated legal saga has dragged on since 2011. The matter is still in federal court and there has been much wrangling over how many of the 11 interviews – conducted with seven paramilitaries – are even pertinent to the McConville murder. One that was deemed to be was conducted with Dolours Price – a former IRA member who was convicted of a London bombing in 1974 and spent more than 200 days on hunger strike in a Brixton prison. Price died in Dublin last January, and earlier this year, her interview transcripts were handed over to the PSNI.

So why are the PSNI so keen to get their hands on these tapes? McIntyre has speculated that the pursuit of the tapes may be a political ploy intended to somehow damage Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Adams has never publicly admitted to being in the Provisional IRA, despite plenty of allegations that he was an integral member of the group’s leadership for decades. The Sinn Fein leader has also been linked to ordering the McConville disappearance, but has vehemently denied his involvement. Now, McIntyre suggests the lawsuit may be a case of old score-settling.

“Certainly it was, in my view, an attempt to cause problems for Gerry Adams. They may believe that there could be information linking him to a number of things he has done that he hadn’t been linked to,” McIntyre tells me. “So I suspect there are people out there to make trouble for him.”

In a statement sent to me, the PSNI bat away such assertions, stating it’s all part of the process of investigating a murder:

“Police have a duty in [sic] investigate murder, a duty in law and a duty under the European Convention. This is an explicit duty to investigate and to explore every available investigative opportunity; political considerations play no part in the decision-making process. Detectives from Serious Crime Branch are currently assessing the materials authorised for release by the United States Appeal Court as part of the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville. As police inquiries are continuing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

But McIntyre and Moloney believe that there’s hypocrisy at work. What about all the unsolved murders allegedly carried out by British security forces during The Troubles? Why, they ask, isn’t the PSNI releasing info regarding those? Specifically, Moloney says, they are pursuing crimes that are thought to have been committed by paramilitary outfits like the IRA and the loyalist UVF, while outright ignoring alleged misdeeds of forces like MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and the British Army.

“That’s really a declaration by the British that the war with the IRA is still ongoing and that the peace process, in that regard, is a bit of a sham,” says Moloney. A genuine peace process, he continued, would have done one of two things: established a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate everyone or wiped the slate clean of past atrocities in the hope of progressing toward a “greater good”. Neither of those things, he says, is currently happening.

Some of the outstanding question marks, according to McIntyre, include Paddy McAdorey, an IRA member who was killed by a British Army sniper in 1971; Michael Donnelly, who was killed by a plastic bullet in 1970; and Sadie Larmour, who was killed at her home by a UVF gunman in 1979. Information regarding all three of those murders is being withheld by the government, according to McIntyre. That shows the PSNI is motivated by politics, not justice, he says.

Ironically, McIntyre and Moloney are trying to pry information from the very government that is pushing for the release of segments of their own work. The duo have filed Freedom of Information requests seeking war diaries of a British regiment that was stationed in West Belfast for three years during the early 70s. The diaries aren’t scheduled to be made public for decades.

McIntyre says the government wants to control the history of conflict in Northern Ireland.

“Law enforcement wants to be in charge of all information pertaining to the past,” he told me. “They can’t stand for intellectual pluralism. They want a sort of a monopoly over everything and that would mean law enforcement would be investigating law enforcement, which simply doesn’t work.”

Asked if he fears for his safety should the paramilitary interviews be released, McIntyre says, “There’s nothing specific, but one has a general feeling of foreboding of this process, that’s there’s not going to be a good end-result. I think, objectively, it enhances the risk not only to me, but also to the people who participated in the project.”

FOI Request for British Archive War Diaries

PRESS RELEASE FROM ED MOLONEY & ANTHONY McINTYRE
July 14th, 2013

Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre are today announcing their intention of lodging a Freedom of Information request with the British government archive at Kew, Surrey seeking the lifting of an 84 year embargo on the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment compiled in 1972 and 1973. The diaries, which record daily military events during a regimental tour, cannot be opened until January 2059.

The First Gloucesters served in the Divis Flats area of west Belfast at the time Jean McConville came under IRA suspicion of working for British military intelligence and was subsequently abducted, murdered and her body hidden in a secret grave.

They are the only regiment to have served in Divis in these years whose war diaries have been embargoed in this way.

Moloney & McIntyre have approached the family of the late Jean McConville seeking their support while former police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan has said she would, in principle, support the opening of the war diary.

The detailed case for lifting the embargo on the First Gloucestershire Regiment files is outlined by Ed Moloney below.


FOI Request for 1972 War Diaries
Bid For British Army Papers
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow

Today myself and Anthony McIntyre are extending an invitation to members of Jean McConville’s family to join with us in lodging a Freedom of Information request at the British government’s archives at Kew in Surrey to obtain the release of the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment, which served in Divis Flats at the time, in early 1972, that Jean McConville allegedly came under IRA suspicion as an informer for the military.

The First Gloucesters, one of the oldest and most battle hardened regiments in the British Army, was the only one of the nine regiments to have served in the Divis district of West Belfast during the early 1970’s whose war diaries have been embargoed and closed to the public, in that regiment’s case for an exceptional 84 years, until the year 2059. Under the 30 year rule the war diaries should have been made available by now but an extra embargo of over 50 years was imposed. It is our understanding that the British Ministry of Defence has the final say in such decisions.

We are also planning to ask that the war diaries for 39 Brigade of the British Army, that is the Belfast command of the military, between August 1st, 1971 and September 30th 1971, and between June 1st 1972 and June 30th 1973 be opened for scrutiny. These documents have been embargoed for between 84 and 100 years.

We will be filing the requests in order to see if the war diaries, which are a daily account of a regiment’s military activity, contain any information which might indicate what happened to Jean McConville, the widowed mother of ten who was abducted from her apartment in the Divis Flats complex by the Provisional IRA in December 1972, taken across the Border to the Dundalk area, shot dead and her body secretly buried in a beach on the edge of Carlingford Lough.

Questions

In particular the request might settle for once and for all the question of whether the IRA killed Jean McConville because she worked as an intelligence source for the British Army.

Significantly, Nuala O’Loan, the former NI Police Ombudsman who investigated the Jean McConville ‘disappearance’ and whose report challenged suggestions that she had been a British Army informer, told thebrokenelbow.com in a phone interview this weekend that she had never heard of these war diaries until now.

She said that she would be ready to lend her support to our efforts to get the embargo lifted. “I am always ready for documents to be examined but I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know why they have been embargoed. I think I could be supportive of getting the documents out. I think there may be issues attached, there may have to be sections redacted. But I think that would be my only proviso.”

We wish to stress that we are not conducting this exercise to prove that the IRA was telling the truth when it claimed that Jean McConville was killed because she was working for the British Army. We have enormous respect and understanding for the family’s view that their mother was killed and disappeared for reasons unconnected to any military exigency on the part of the IRA.

Nor do we wish our proposal to be regarded as an attempt to vindicate this heinous act by the IRA. What happened to Jean McConville was not only unjustified but was callous, cynical, barbaric and unnecessary and both of us are on public record repeatedly as saying so. I have also written that in my view her killing was a war crime; so has Anthony McIntyre. Strikingly, a significant number of former IRA activists have told me this is their belief also, and that they are ashamed that this act was carried out in their name.

There is no doubt either that certain key figures in the IRA of that time have lied about their part in Jean McConville’s disappearance and have done so repeatedly and grossly. Nor can there be doubt that such lying has infected the IRA’s account of Jean McConville’s death and the reason for her murder.

At the same time two credible IRA figures have come forward both to denounce that lying and also to say that her role as an informer was the reason Jean McConville was killed. Both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price are now dead and cannot be quizzed about their versions of events but they both gave lengthy, credible and coherent accounts, Hughes in the book Voices From The Grave, which was derived from his interviews with Boston College, and Price in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

On the other hand, the former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan has reported that from her inquiries in security circles she could find no evidence to verify the allegation that Jean McConville worked as an agent for the military or any other branch of the British security apparatus. But she has declined to go into detail and has, for instance, refused to say who in security world she spoke to or at what level.

No-one can doubt Nuala O’Loan’s integrity, nor that what she reported she genuinely believed to be the truth. But at the same time, if the IRA account is true, some in the British Army and others in the intelligence and political hierarchy may have had as much reason to lie and dissemble to the Police Ombudsman as does the IRA’s then Belfast leadership to the people of Ireland.

Remember Brendan Hughes’ account. According to his version, Jean McConville was uncovered as a spy when a radio transmitter was found in her apartment. According to Hughes she admitted her role when confronted with the evidence but because of her family situation, she was given a so-called ‘Yellow Card’ by Hughes and let go. But later the IRA discovered evidence she had resumed spying and that sealed her fate.

Nobody knows whether Brendan Hughes’ account is accurate but if it is, it means that the British Army continued to use as an agent someone whose cover had been blown, thus putting the agent’s life in great peril. And, if Hughes’ account is accurate, the army would have known Jean McConville’s cover was blown because her radio had been confiscated by the IRA.

If all this is true the British Army contributed significantly to the series of events that led to her murder. If all this is true the British Army acted recklessly and selfishly and was at least partly responsible for ten children losing their mother. If all this is true then British soldiers, possibly senior ones, had good reasons to lie and to keep these facts from the public and the McConville’s. And the McConville family have good reason to seek the maximum redress.

It should also be remembered that the British Army has a track record of telling lies, in one notorious case a massive lie, about its intelligence operations. When John Stevens, the former Cambridgeshire Deputy Chief Constable was sent to Northern Ireland in 1989 to investigate intelligence leaks to Loyalist paramilitaries he was told at a high level military briefing that the British Army ran no intelligence agents in Northern Ireland.

In fact, as he soon found out, the army not only ran agents but it had an entire dedicated detachment, the Force Research Unit, which did nothing else except run agents. The British Army lied then to cover up its role in the UDA murder of Pat Finucane; in such a context it is not inconceivable that they may have lied to cover up the death of Jean McConville.

Conflicting Accounts

So we have conflicting accounts, dead witnesses, lies told by one side and possibly lies told by the other. What we do not have enough of is truth that can be backed up by independent, contemporary evidence. That is why today we are announcing our plans to seek the opening of British Army files and asking the McConville’s to join us.

We are seeking only the truth. It may be that the files contain nothing of interest or significance and if that is the case, then so be it. It may be that the files support Nuala O’Loan’s suggestion that Jean McConville never worked for the British Army. It may be that they show she did but that her handlers exploited her and helped usher her to an early death. If that is the case, then so be it.

Over the past two years, the PSNI and the British government have sought to obtain interviews lodged in the archive of the Belfast Project at Boston College in their search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance. We also seek to obtain files lodged in the UK’s archives at Kew in our search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance.

With the appointment of Dr Richard Haass as the new US Special Envoy with the brief of charting a way to deal with the past, it is becoming clear that any effort to find out what happened during the Troubles will be fatally flawed unless there is absolute balance between competing sides, between paramilitary groups and security forces. The leadership of the Historical Enquiries Team is currently learning the hard way what happens when a process of investigating the past become tainted with double standards.

And so, if the PSNI is to be allowed access to Boston College’s files by the US courts, then we who were responsible for creating them should be allowed access to the British Army’s archive. Otherwise we have an investigatory process that is doomed to be one-sided and whose conclusions will be respected by only one part of the community. Such an outcome can only breed mistrust and further division.

So, why do we single out the First Gloucestershire Regiment in this Freedom of Information request?

The first reason has to do with the unusual act of requesting an embargo on the regiment’s war diaries and the length of that embargo, eighty-four years. This means that unless the embargo is successfully challenged the diary will not be opened until January 1st, 2059, by which time most of those reading this article will be long dead.

To put the embargo into context, it is the same length or just slightly shorter than the embargo placed on 39 Brigade war diaries at a time when the Brigade commander was Brigadier Frank Kitson and he was busy creating the Military Reaction Force (MRF), a super secret undercover unit which allegedly was involved in a series of drive by shootings and killings in Belfast.

In other words to qualify for an 84 year or 100 year embargo as 39 Brigade has, the activities in question need to be the sort that you really don’t want the world to know about, at least for a very long time, and long after those responsible have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The full list of 39 Brigade embargoed war diaries is below. By contrast British Army brigade war diaries in Europe and Britain are open for public inspection:


So what was it that soldiers from the First Gloucestershire Regiment did in Divis Flats in 1972 and also in 1973 that they want hidden until 2059?

None of the other military units that served in Divis during these years felt that way. According to records compiled by our resourceful researcher Bob Mitchell, nine British regiments served in Divis Flats between October 1970 and April 1975. The list can be seen below in the graphic and it records that only one regiment cannot be traced in the Kew archive, the Third Battalion Light Infantry. Of the other eight, all can be traced and aside from the Gloucesters, none asked that its war diary(ies) be embargoed or were ordered by the MoD to be embargoed even though some of them, like the Royal Green Jackets and the Royal Anglian Regiment were posted to Divis during the worst periods of violence.

So what was it that the First Gloucesters were involved in, in Divis Flats that made them so different from seven of their brother regiments?

Our research also brought us to journals and magazines produced by British regiments during the 1970’s which describe in sometimes fascinating detail their activities while posted to Northern Ireland. The Royal Green Jackets (RGJ) Chronicle is a particularly rich source of information.

The RGJ were posted to Belfast for the second time in August 1973 and a single company, ‘B’ Coy, was sent to Divis where, according to the account produced in that year’s Chronicle, priority was given to cultivating sources in the local population. While the Chronicle makes light of the way this was done, it seems that female residents of Divis were especially targeted. The account, which can be read in full below, concludes: “….by the end of the tour, all sections had established a friendly contact here and there.”

Standard Practice

So cultivating and recruiting intelligence sources from the population of Divis Flats, and possibly from female residents, appears to have been standard operating practice for British units, which common sense suggests would be the case. It is something the British would have done as a matter of course and not just in Divis.

A key part of Brendan Hughes’ story concerned the radio that was allegedly discovered in Jean McConville’s flat and with which she is supposed to have communicated with her handlers in Hastings Street RUC station which had become the British Army’s local HQ. In his interview with Boston College, Hughes did not describe the radio in any detail but it appears that it was what most people would know as a walkie-talkie type radio, small and compact, easy to hide and use.

The problem is that some people have raised doubts about whether the British Army had access to such equipment in the early 1970’s and that the only radios in use at that time were heavy, bulky sets totally unsuitable for use by an agent such as Jean McConville. In fact that is not true and the source for this is the Saville report on the Bloody Sunday killings of January 1972.

Paragraph 181.13 of the report reads:

“We should also record that there is evidence that before Bloody Sunday some of the resident battalions were, at platoon level only, using portable Stornophone radios in place of Larkspur radios. A number of former soldiers serving in Londonderry recalled having Stornophone radios available on 30th January 1972. Often nicknamed “Stornos”, these radios, like the Pye radios discussed above, were a commercially produced system purchased by the Army. There is little doubt that the use of Stornophone radios was a consequence of the fallibility of Larkspur radios in built-up areas.”

Stornophone radios were ideal for agent use. Manufactured by the Norwegian Storno Company, the average set was 10” long. 2.5” wide and 1” thick, it had a rechargeable battery pack and a simple ‘push to talk’ operation. The question then is whether Stornophone radios were available to British troops in Divis in early 1972 and the answer is yes.

The answer comes from the ‘Soldiers of Gloucestershire’ website, which is dedicated to all things to do with the Gloucestershire Regiment, including a massive collection, dating back to the 18th century, of paintings, prints and photographs of the regiment during its various campaigns and wars, including its various tours to Northern Ireland.

One photograph shows a soldier from the Gloucesters on patrol in Divis Flats in 1972 holding and maybe using a Storno-type hand held radio.

Here is the photo:

be9divis-patrol-c-apr-1972

So a hand held walkie-talkie type radio of the sort that Brendan Hughes said was found in Jean McConville’s flat was in use by soldiers from the First Gloucestershire regiment in Divis Flats in 1972, the year she was abducted & killed, and the war diary for that tour has been embargoed until 2059. A cloud now hangs over the Gloucestershire regiment which can only be dispelled by full disclosure of the unit’s archives.

Military Sources

There is one final issue that arises out of the Police Ombudsman’s report on Jean McConville’s disappearance. It derives from a section of her report dealing with intelligence reports on the whereabouts of Jean McConville after she disappeared from Divis. That section was summarised in a press release dated August 13th, 2006 from the Police Ombudsman’s office. Here is the relevant section:

“There is no intelligence about or from Mrs McConville until 2 January 1973. An examination of RUC intelligence files show that the first intelligence was received on January 2 1973 when police received two pieces of information which said that the Provisional IRA had abducted Mrs McConville.

“On January 16 1973, Mrs McConville’s disappearance and the plight of her children were reported in the media. A police spokesman was quoted as saying that although the matter had not been reported to them, it was being investigated.

“RUC intelligence files show that the next day police received two pieces of information about the disappearance: One claimed that Mrs McConville was being held by the Provisional IRA in Dundalk. The other also alleged that the Provisionals were behind the abduction and suggested it was related to drug dealing.

“The RUC intelligence files also show that the police later received two separate pieces of information from military sources which suggested that Mrs McConville was not missing: The first was received on March 13 1973 and suggested that the abduction was an elaborate hoax. The second piece of information, which was received 11 days later, said that Mrs McConville had left of her own free will and was known to be safe.”

There is a clear pattern here. Intelligence coming in to the RUC in the first weeks after her disappearance was remarkably accurate. The Provisional IRA had abducted her. Check. Jean McConville was being held in Dundalk. Check. A second report again said that the Provisonals had abducted her. Check. The same report claimed a drug connection which was clearly wrong. But this is the only piece of inaccurate intelligence coming into the RUC at this time.

But then in mid-March the story changes dramatically. Two separate pieces of intelligence from military sources throw cold water on the abduction explanation. One, on March 13th, says that the story of Jean McConville’s kidnapping was “an elaborate hoax”. A second report on March 24th claimed she had left Belfast of her own free will and was safe.

So who were these military sources?

Nuala O’Loan does not tell us. But here is an interesting coincidence. On April 2nd, 1973 the First Gloucestershire Regiment arrived in Belfast for a four month tour – their second since late 1971, early 1972 – and two days later took over duties from the Queens Lancashire Regiment.

It was standard operational procedure for advance parties to arrive several weeks ahead of the main regimental force and included in them would be an intelligence unit. This was done so that the new regiment would be able to ease in to its new duties. So an intelligence unit from the 1st Gloucesters would likely have been in West Belfast when those reports were sent to the RUC saying that Jean McConville was safe. Did the 1st Gloucesters create those intelligence reports or have any hand in them? We don’t know. Perhaps the information is contained in those embargoed War Diaries. That’s another reason they should be opened.

As I say, the war diary may reveal absolutely nothing about Jean McConville at all, in which case her surviving family have everything to gain by knowing this. And so do the First Gloucesters, whose name deserves to be cleared if the regiment is innocent of any suspicion attached to it.

But if the diary does reveal information that the family would probably regard as unwelcome then they and everyone else will have to deal with it. We need to know the truth about what happened to Jean McConville. Hiding facts behind embargoes is unacceptable when others are being forced by legal measures to disclose theirs. Equally, lying about the past by those involved in these events is as intolerable as continuing to exploit an agent whose cover has been blown.

One way or another we need to know what is written in the embargoed War Diaries of the First Gloucestershire regiment.

Dáil Questions: Data Protection & the Boston College Case; HET jurisdiction

9 July 2013
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Data Protection

Addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

416. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to any instances in which the American National Security Agency and-or the British use of National Security Agency records has compromised any Irish citizens and-or their lawyers; if he will raise the issuance of the second subpoena of the Boston College oral history archives, as a result of electronic eavesdropping on Irish citizens and their lawyers, with his counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): As I have indicated to the House previously I, of course, fully understand the concerns which have arisen in the wake of recent media reports about the PRISM programme. These concerns mainly centre on data privacy rights not being adequately respected. I raised these concerns with the US Attorney General Eric Holder at my recent meetings with him in Dublin. At these meetings, the US Attorney General provided clarity on a number of issues, in particular with regard to the nature of the information collected and processed, i.e. phone numbers, duration of calls etc – but not the content of calls. He also advised that the data was collected under judicial authority and only where there was a reasonable suspicion of serious crime, such as terrorism or cybersecurity/cybercrime.

We cannot ignore the very important fact that there is a recognised need to protect our citizens from terrorist threats and dealing with that does require access to certain data. In doing so, however, it is necessary to ensure that the information used is properly obtained and subject to appropriate safeguards. The importance of protecting individual rights to privacy and ensuring respect for individual human rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights was emphasised to the US side, as was the crucial need to ensure that any security surveillance undertaken is balanced and proportionate. The US authorities have indicated that their practices are proportionate to the threat they are trying to deal with.

In this country we have data protection legislation to protect individuals against unwarranted invasion into their privacy. Access to telephone call content is governed by the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and may only take place under Ministerial warrant. Access to retained telecommunications data in this jurisdiction is governed by the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011. Under the Act access may only be granted following a request to the particular mobile phone company or internet provider in connection with the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence, the safeguarding of the security of the State or the saving of human life.

The operation of both Acts this is subject to judicial oversight and there is also a complaints procedure which individuals can avail of if there is a concern that the Acts have been breached in relation to their calls or their data. There are also procedures in place under Mutual Assistance legislation to cover requests to and from other countries for this type of information. I am not aware of any instances of the kind referred to by the Deputy. My Department has no function in relation to the Boston College oral history archive.

Boston College Case

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 9th July, 2013.

133. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will, on the back of the revelations of the extensive spying by the American National Security Agency, which has also been revealed to be used by the British GCHQ, raise the issue of the second Boston College subpoena with his counterparts in the United States and United Kingdom; if his attention has been drawn to any instances, including any relating to the Boston College subpoena case, where Irish citizens and/or their legal representatives have been compromised.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): The allegations of surveillance of EU premises, if true, are of concern to all EU Member States, including Ireland. The EU’s External Action Service has sought clarification of the situation in both Washington and Brussels. High Representative Ashton has also spoken directly about this matter to Secretary of State Kerry and at a press conference, President Obama emphasised the importance of the US relationship with Europe and gave a firm undertaking to examine these allegations and to provide “all the information that our allies want”. I welcome this clear statement and undertaking.

While Ireland is not one of the Member States identified in the media reports to date, the Government has already expressed its concerns to the US Embassy in Dublin at a senior official level and looks forward to clarification being provided in response to the EU’s request. Any further steps will be considered in light of the clarification received. Data protection issues are the primary responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, and he has previously told the House of his discussions with the US Attorney General Eric Holder during the EU-US Ministerial meeting and in a bilateral meeting on the issue. It was agreed to set up a working group between the EU side and the US security services to continue dialogue in relation to this matter.


10 July
Dáil Éireann Debate: Written Answers

Northern Ireland Issues

Addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mr. Gilmore) by Deputy Clare Daly for WRITTEN on Wednesday, 10th July, 2013; Transferred (from) Justice and Equality

596. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if in view of recent revelations by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team failed properly to investigate crimes committed by the British military, and in view of the fact that the HET and PSNI have relentlessly pursued confidential tapes held at Boston College to the exclusion of any other line of enquiry regarding offences committed in this State, he is prepared to assert jurisdiction over this matter.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): It is vitally important for the future of Northern Ireland that a stable and lasting peace be firmly established. As stated in the Good Friday Agreement, the tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families.

In the context of the “Together: Building a United Community” initiative by the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly will shortly establish an All Party Working Group under an Independent Chair to consider and make recommendations on issues that cause community divisions, including Dealing with the Past.

The HET has an important role to play in ensuring that the families of all of the victims of violence in the past can pursue the truth of what happened to their loved ones, and it plays a significant part in the pursuit of justice. I am aware of the comprehensive Inspection Report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary into the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team. I believe it is essential that the HET operate to the highest standards of effectiveness and impartiality, so that the people of Northern Ireland – and in particular, the families of the victims whose cases are being reviewed – can have confidence in it. Consequently I welcome Chief Constable Baggott’s acceptance of the Inspection Report’s Recommendations and his commitment to work with the Policing Board on ensuring their delivery.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that there is close and ongoing co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on all aspects of policing. The two police forces have in place a joint Cross Border Policing Strategy which has as its aims to improve public safety throughout Ireland, to disrupt criminal activity and to enhance the policing capability of both police services on the island. The Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI who have responsibility for operational policing co-operation have repeatedly emphasised that the close and high quality co-operation between their forces has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives.

Dealing with the past before it deals with us

Dealing with the past before it deals with us
BY BRIAN ROWAN – JULY 4, 2013
EamonnMallie.com

The Historical Enquiries Team has made itself a victim of our past – made the stick to beat its own back and made the wrong decisions when it came to reviewing conflict killings involving soldiers.

So, it must now hear the words of “no confidence”, and it is hard to see how it recovers from the report of HMIC – but we should also listen to the words of former Chief Constable Hugh Orde.

“It [the HET] was never ever the answer to the past,” he told me in an interview for the Belfast Telegraph.

“It was only ever going to be a tiny part, but there was nothing else,” he continued – “and, even now, there is not much else.”

So, the story can’t just end with the damming criticisms of double standards.

These things were being said before we read them in this latest report, and there are those who could easily say ‘I told you so’.

The challenge is what to do next and who is big enough to do it.

How do you take the past out of the hands and control of the police and intelligence services, and to use the words of Jarlath Burns, how do we deal with it before it deals with us.

Burns was member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group that produced a detailed blueprint back in 2009 and, today, he is arguing we need to get it back on the table.

Orde also asked: “Where is Eames-Bradley?”

Its detailed set of proposals included a Legacy Commission with Investigation and Information Recovery Units.

This was meant to be the structure within which an attempt would be made within a five-year timeframe to try to address many of the unanswered questions.

There was also a recommendation for a Reconciliation Forum, but what do we have today?

A political battle over the Maze/Long Kesh ‘shrine’, Eames-Bradley gathering dust somewhere and the HET being kicked around with calls for it to be kicked out.

Then what?

Who has the big idea – even any idea?

We all know what happened to Eames-Bradley.

It was dismissed in the panic caused by one of its recommendations that a recognition payment of £12,000 should be made to all families who lost a loved one.

“I am staggered that a report was allowed to be hijacked by one issue with everything else discarded,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I assured Lord Eames and Denis Bradley I would be relaxed, indeed relieved, if they took the HET into a wider structure,” he continued.

“That would have increased its independence and transparency,” he said.

Eames-Bradley wanted the work of the HET to become part of the proposed Investigations Unit inside the Legacy Commission, but who even remembers that recommendation.

The proposals weren’t heard above the political shouts of shame.

So, now what?

In the here and now we have yet another mess, but also the reality spoken by Orde that: “To police the future, you have to deal with the past.”

Who wants to deal with it?

There is no sense or suggestion of political will and, almost twenty years after ceasefires, no plan, strategy or structure within which questions can be asked and answered.

In the Belfast Telegraph I wrote that the past is large in the present.

It is not yesterday or yesteryear, but today and tomorrow.

Eames-Bradley has a structure.

What it didn’t answer was who would participate and under what terms.

Before there is any Legacy Commission we need to know those things.

Then in a structured way think about what delivers the maximum amount of information and the best possible help to victims.

How is every story told and heard?

We need to understand and accept there is no such thing as one truth.

Maybe the design of such a process is beyond the capabilities of local politicians, and perhaps this will need international help.

We need also to understand that the past isn’t going to go away.

Just a few days ago families still searching for bodies that were disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s raised their voices to ask again for information.

For them there is no such thing as drawing a line. How could there be?

So, a process is needed.

It may have to happen in private, and it will have to address the question of amnesty or non-prosecution.

We need also to be realistic.

There will be no such thing as absolute truth from one side never mind all sides, and some answers being sought will hurt more than they heal.

This needs political will and international help.

In a tweet to me, Andree Murphy of the Relatives for Justice project accused the British and Irish Governments of disgracefully disengaging like neutral observers.

They were not and are not neutral observers and they have to be part of this.

For too long, the past has been a political play thing – a battleground.

That needs to change, and all the sides need to start looking for reasons to answer questions rather than excuses not to.

On the Eames-Bradley report, Andree Murphy believes: “There is much to sign up to and add to.”

In all the current fall out, let us all remember the HET was not about answering the past.

It was there because there was nothing else, and now we need something different.

A Partial Win For Boston College And Academic Freedom

A Partial Win For Boston College And Academic Freedom
By Charles P. Pierce
The Politics Blog
Esquire
JUN 6, 2013

Here at the blog, we’ve been keeping an eye on the brawl between Boston College and the law-enforcement communities of Great Britain and Northern Ireland — and, shamefully, too many parts of our own government — over the British attempts to pry loose the oral histories gathered under the auspices of BC’s Belfast Project, an attempt to compile an authoritative account of the violence in Northern Ireland throughout the last 30 years of the 20th Century. This week, it seems, BC won at least a piece of a victory. A federal appeals court ruled that the college must hand over only 11 of the 85 documents sought by the governments of the U.S, and the U.K. in what continues to look like a fishing expedition by the latter.

In Friday’s ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed that the lower court had gone too far. “After a detailed review of the materials in question, we find that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the production of several of the interviews which, after an in detail reading of the same, do not contain any information relevant to the August 2011 subpoena,” the First Circuit panel concluded. It said that Boston College must release only 11 out of the 85 interviews originally subpoenaed.

As should be plain from the other news of the day, a lot of what we took for granted about this country goes up for grabs every time somebody yells, “terrorist,” loudly enough. A lot of what the U.K. people are about in this case appears to be an attempt by irreconcilables in law-enforcement to embarrass, among other people, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader — and suspected IRA commander — who now sits in Parliament, to the great consternation of a lot of people who know a lot of cops. This court has just required those cops to work harder, and it has told American scholars that, for now, they can conduct their business free from government snoopery. Unless, of course, they happen to do it on their Verizon cellphones, then all bets are off.

Court of Appeals says Boston College must release 11 confidential interviews with former IRA members

Court of Appeals says Boston College must release 11 confidential interviews with former IRA members
REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Jeff Zalesin
Reporter’s Privilege
June 5, 2013

Boston College must turn over 11 confidential interviews with former Irish Republican Army members for an investigation of a 40-year-old murder case in Northern Ireland, but a lower court was wrong to tell the college to release 74 others, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) ruled last week.

“After a detailed review of the materials in question, we find that the district court abused its discretion in ordering the production of several of the interviews” because those recordings were not relevant to the federal government’s subpoena, Judge Juan Torruella wrote in the court’s opinion.

The circuit court reasoned that the 11 remaining tapes were relevant because they related to the disappearance and death of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10 and suspected U.K. informant who was murdered by the Provisional IRA in 1972. The Justice Department subpoenaed the college in 2011, on behalf of the British government under a treaty, for all records connected to the McConville case.

The interviews in question were collected as part of The Belfast Project, a Boston College oral history program on the violent struggle over Northern Ireland. Former IRA members spoke with researchers on the condition that the interview recordings would remain confidential until the deaths of the subjects.

The college argued that since confidential research is part of a process that produces constitutionally protected academic speech, the court should show “heightened sensitivity” in this case and uncover only documents that are “directly relevant” to the subpoena.

The court rejected this reasoning and concluded that an ordinary relevance standard was appropriate because the case was controlled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Branzburg v. Hayes. The Branzburg opinion concluded the First Amendment did not provide reporters a privilege to avoid testifying before a criminal grand jury proceeding. The “directly relevant” standard for subpoena enforcement applies only to cases that are distinguishable from Branzburg, the First Circuit ruled.

The First Circuit, in reviewing whether the lower court overstepped its bounds in releasing so many interviews, concluded that federal courts ultimately are responsible for overseeing the enforcement of subpoenas issued under the U.S.-U.K. treaty that drew the American government into the McConville investigation.

“In substance, we rule that the enforcement of subpoenas is an inherent judicial function which, by virtue of the doctrine of separation of powers, cannot be constitutionally divested from the courts of the United States,” Torruella wrote.

Most states now have so-called shield laws to protect reporters from subpoenas that interfere with their ability to collect and publish news, but academic researchers generally are not covered by that statutory protection, and those shield laws would not apply in federal court.

In an earlier case over Belfast Project materials, Boston College researchers tried to get a subpoena quashed by arguing that the interviews were shielded by a First Amendment academic research privilege similar to the reporter’s privilege, but the First Circuit disagreed. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted an amicus brief late last year urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept review of the case, which the high court in April ultimately declined to do.

AP, Fox News not isolated First Amendment controversies for DOJ

AP, Fox News not isolated First Amendment controversies for DOJ
By Alex Lazar and Jordy Yager
The Hill
06/02/13

The AP and Fox News controversies are not isolated First Amendment incidents for President Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ).

There is an ongoing legal case that raises the same protection-of-sources-issues that have been debated in the media firestorm surrounding the DOJ’s pursuit of AP and Fox News sources.

The DOJ a couple of years ago subpoenaed interviews obtained by researchers hired by Boston College as part of its “Belfast Project.”
The Belfast Project was designed to conduct and archive oral interviews with people who were directly affected by “The Troubles,” a time period that spans from the late 1960s though the late 1990s in which violent conflict erupted between British-controlled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Those interviewed by Boston College-hired researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre were promised that their remarks would not be released to the public until the interviewees had died, for fear that they would face prosecution charges. Moloney is an award-winning Irish journalist.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has said that releasing the interviews “could have the effect of re-opening fresh wounds…”

This position, however, did not sit well with some North Irish families that had relatives who were either kidnapped or killed. One well-known case is that of Helen McKendry, whose mother, Jean McConville, was kidnapped and murdered by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1972.

The British government asked the United States for assistance with this matter under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which allows for cooperation between two or more foreign governments during criminal investigations that have transnational implications. The Obama administration agreed, sparking outcry from First Amendment advocates.

Amid the recent AP and Fox News controversies, Obama administration officials have defended their handling of protecting national-security-secrets while also stressing their strong commitment to the First Amendment. But critics of the administration say the Boston College case undercuts those claims.

Sean Hughes, a spokesman for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, an Irish Catholic men’s organization, said, “If DOJ is for the press and the First Amendment then why did they let the Boston College subpoena go through for two journalists doing research on the ‘Troubles?’”

The first set of subpoenas were issued for interviews conducted with Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes. Price was an accomplice in McConville’s kidnapping and murder while Hughes was a former Officer Commanding of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade. Hughes was already dead at the time the subpoena was issued, but Price was still alive. Boston College officials did not want to initially turn over her interviews to the Police Services of Northern Ireland at Britain’s request.

Instead, the interviews were given to U.S. District Judge William G. Young with the intent that they would be reviewed and that the judge would eventually quash the subpoena. Young, however, declared that the British were right in requesting the documents. This left Moloney and McIntyre to challenge the subpoena as individuals in front of the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The First Circuit, as well as the Supreme Court after that, denied Moloney and McIntyre’s challenge to the subpoena.

A second set of subpoenas was issued by Young for additional interviews relating to McConville’s death, for which Boston College did decide to issue a challenge. On Friday, the First Circuit released its final decision in which 11 out of 85 interviews must be turned over.

In April, Boston College Press Secretary Jack Dunn said, “We chose not to appeal the district court’s ruling on the first subpoena involving Delours Price’s interview because we felt there was no grounds for appeal. Our focus remains on our appeal of [Judge William Young’s] ruling regarding the second set of subpoenas, which remains before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Even though it has not received as much media attention as the DOJ controversy involving the wiretapping of journalists from the AP as well as the labeling of Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen by Attorney General Eric Holder as a “co-conspirator,” the Boston College case has still hit a nerve with First Amendment advocates.

Harvey Silverglate, a criminal defense and civil liberties litigator who has written extensively on the Boston College case, says that potential fines could have been one factor in the university’s decision to not initially challenge the subpoena. “In theory, a judge can bankrupt the richest newspaper or broadcasting company in the country,” notes Silverglate. “The nature of civil contempt is that it can impose unlimited escalating fines.”

Holder has said recently that he never actually intended to prosecute Rosen, though he had to knowingly sign off on labeling him as a co-conspirator in order to obtain those conversations.

Peter Carr, a DOJ spokesman, defended the department’s handling of the Boston College case: “The United States has been complying with our treaty obligations to assist this criminal investigation.”

Judge Juan Torruella, with the First Circuit Court of Appeals, stated in the court’s decision that “the fact that disclosure of the materials sought by a subpoena in criminal proceedings would result in the breaking of a promise of confidentiality by reporters (or researchers) is not by itself a legally cognizable First Amendment or common law injury.”

Although it’s not certain Boston College would have been fined for refusing the British government’s request, it would be of little surprise if officials did not want to take the risk. “You can’t put a newspaper in jail,” says Silverglate. “But you can bankrupt it.”

While the attorney general may know what course of action he will take once he signs off on a warrant, those being wiretapped or labeled as co-conspirators will surely not. Silverglate blames Holder.

“Someone should explain to the attorney general that the press plays a role in national security; they can find things out that the government doesn’t always know about and have in the past voluntarily postponed certain publications,” argues Silverglate.

Others, however, don’t blame Holder entirely.

Jonathan M. Albano, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP and a co-counsel for Moloney and McIntyre, thinks that the majority of the blame should lie at the feet of Congress and the courts. “This is the responsibility of the courts and Congress and they contributed to this problem,” says Albano. “For Congress to say that it’s shocked by these subpoenas is the height of hypocrisy.”

Moloney and McIntyre released a statement in reaction to Friday’s First Circuit’s decision. While they were pleased with the reduction in documents that needed to be handed over, they nonetheless gave a stinging critique of the Obama administration.

“And in the context of the Obama White House’s current intolerable assault on journalistic and media rights in the United States, the cooperation of the U.S. Justice Department in this disgraceful exercise deserved more condemnation and opposition from American academe than it ever got,” said Moloney and McIntyre. “Indeed the silence from that quarter during the last two years was almost deafening.”

Eric Holder, Boston College & the Irish Peace Process

Eric Holder, Boston College & the Irish Peace Process
Carrie Twomey
The Pensive Quill
29 May 2013

Enda Kenny and Boston College
Holder’s Remorse
Policing the Past

Enda Kenny and Boston College

Kevin Cullen writing in the Boston Globe earlier this month examined the issue of Boston College’s invitation to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to speak at their commencement. Because Boston College is a Catholic University, some people were upset at the invitation given the recent abortion debate going on in Ireland and Enda Kenny’s refusal to automatically bow down to demands of clerics. Previously, Kenny had given a landmark speech about the Church and its shameful handling of child abuse; it was much needed, and reflective of the changes in Ireland. For whatever else one may think about Kenny’s leadership, he has been very strong in publicly distancing the State from the Church — much to the Church’s chagrin.

Leaving the issues of abortion, Ireland and the Catholic Church aside, our personal circumstances means I tend to see everything through the lens of the Belfast Project subpoena. So given that, I couldn’t help but wonder, while Boston College was inviting the Taoiseach to come speak at their commencement and making all the necessary arrangements, what were they doing with their obvious political contacts, networks, and strength in regards to the subpoena case?

I remain hopeful that behind the scenes they have been using their contacts effectively to protect the oral history records — and that the fact that they can and are hosting the leader of Ireland shows they are protecting their research against the British desire to use them politically — but, given my experience, it is admittedly hard not to see it as anything other than a cynical attempt at damage control and protecting their reputation in Ireland over how badly they have behaved in our case.

From the start of the issuance of the subpoenas, Boston College was more interested in scapegoating my husband and those involved in the project, and via their spokesperson Jack Dunn spent more time protecting the institution than they did their research and researchers. I would have much rather seen them publicly and loudly lobbying the likes Enda Kenny for protection of the archives and feel had they taken such a course perhaps things would be turning out differently.

I hope my cynicism is proved wrong — those who participated in the Boston College project are depending on the integrity of Boston College to protect them. I would like to think that the commencement invitation is the result of hard lobbying done behind the scenes over the last two years and maybe, just maybe, the political intervention that was always going to be the key to dealing with the subpoenas will manifest. Somehow, though…


Holder’s Remorse 

Twitter drew my attention to this article yesterday, about Attorney General Eric Holder’s “remorse” for the Department of Justice’s going after the press as criminals, in relation to the recent Associated Press and James Rosen cases. I will reserve my full thoughts about that, suffice to say I imagine the remorse has more to do with the exposure of the extent of the DoJ’s activities than the actions themselves.

Having spent the last two years dealing with a case pursued by Holder’s DoJ and being involved in a suit against Holder because of it, it is readily apparent the recent AP and Rosen cases belong to a larger pattern of abuse of freedom of the press by the DoJ, of which the Boston College subpoena case is very much included.

I hope that the BC case is not overlooked, because it raises the same important issues and questions that the AP, Rosen, and Aaron Swartz cases do. Like them, the subpoenaing of the Belfast Project archives is a 1st Amendment issue, and a 4th Amendment issue. The added dimension is the MLAT request: Holder’s DoJ is not only willing to trample on the 1st and 4th Amendments for internal political reasons, but is also doing so at the behest of foreign governments who are pursuing their own political agendas contrary to established American foreign policy.

I urge reporters following the AP, Rosen, and Swartz cases, as well as concerned citizens, please, don’t let the Boston College subpoena case get lost — ask the Obama administration what they are going to do about it, and will it be included in the ‘review’ taking place by Holder; ask the administration and the DoJ how that MLAT subpoena action ‘strikes a balance between law enforcement and freedom of the press’,  particularly when the law enforcement is a political investigation involving a foreign government.

It is not too late to stop the handover of confidential archival material. Help by raising voices to ask the US Government the questions the DoJ should have asked when the MLAT request landed on its desk. Ask the Irish Government why it is happy to have the British Government ride roughshod over its jurisdiction in pursuing cases that the Good Friday Agreement had placed in the past. And ask the British Government exactly what it is looking to achieve given the constrained circumstances the GFA places on them — ask them if they lied to the US Government in making the MLAT request, or what, if any, significant information they failed to impart.


Policing the Past

Three other news stories caught my eye recently, in relation to the Boston College case and the status of the peace process with regard to the past. I have said to many people over the last couple years while lobbying on the case that without any agreed approach in place to dealing with the past, we will never have “conflict resolution” — what we have will only ever be a “conflict cessation”, and with that comes the implication that it will resume again at some point in the future. The logical and natural end point of a “peace process” should be to lay the past to rest. Whether that is something that can ever be possible is up for debate, but it will never be achieved in the manner the current peace-processors are going about things.

The Boston College case is an example of how the past, and the drift in the peace process, has the potential to unravel the future. Last week, the man who will most likely be making the decisions on whether to use the Belfast Project archives to pursue prosecutions or not, Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, expressed his reservations about the benefits of prosecuting the past, indicating he understands all too well the problems that the subpoena case brings to the political landscape.

Meanwhile, the PSNI themselves cannot be accused of not being sensitive to that kind of problem — at least going by the BBC report by Vincent Kearney which exposed the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland’s withholding of public records. The PRONI claimed they did so at the behest of the PSNI’s Historical Enquires Team; an HET spokesman issued a denial of this to the BBC.

In a letter explaining the decision, PRONI said the decision had been taken after reviewing the files, and information it received as part of a consultation with the Historical Enquiries Team.The letter said it would “not be in the public interest to release any information at this stage” and that providing access to the documents “would be likely to prejudice the detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, and the administration of justice”. PRONI argued that it would not be in the public interest to release information held in witness statements contained in the file “that may still be of assistance to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) or HET”.

All of this was a result of a solicitor making a Freedom of Information request on behalf of families of men killed by loyalists who are seeking a new inquest into their deaths. While the HET/PSNI are going to America to attempt to access privately held confidential archives, they are sitting in Belfast blocking access to public records. Talk about having it both ways!

Both ways is apparently how the British State wants it.  Padraig O Muirigh, representing the families involved, told the BBC:

“I don’t believe it’s any accident that we’ve had this intervention. We have an attorney general at the minute who is prepared to direct fresh inquests where he sees it advisable and I believe this is a very deliberate policy to stymie and to obstruct families who are seeking to persuade the attorney general to go down that road.”

Some historical prosecutions and inquests are good, while others are very, very bad. I will leave it to the reader to determine which is which.

Almost as if to help assist in making that determination, or at least underline which prosecutions the British State believes are good ones, hot on the heels of Barra McGrory’s handwringing about the inability of the peace-processing politicians to deal with the past, John Downey was arrested in London, accused of being involved in the 1982 Hyde Park IRA bombing. Gerry Adams, in calling for Downey’s release, describes him as “a valued member of Sinn Féin and a long-time advocate of the Peace Process”.

Downey’s arrest and subsequent trial must be seen as a shot across the bows of Sinn Fein, and Adams would be a fool, given the Boston College subpoenas, not to feel something akin to “There but for the Grace of God go I,” while issuing his statements. God being, of course, whichever ‘nameless, faceless securocrat’ is currently calling these shots.

Who exactly is it that is calling the shots now? In the case of the Boston College subpoenas, while the investigation may have been initiated and pursued by the PSNI’s HET and Serious Crime units, it is assumed that the MLAT request would have had to go through the Home Office. This could explain, unless for some reason Owen Paterson was being economical with the truth, why the NIO was reportedly caught unawares by the whole thing — they were not consulted beforehand as it never went through their channel. All of this is speculation, of course — the subpoena is sealed, and we don’t have the answers to who decided what. But the questions remain.

As they do in the case of John Downey. Who has oversight for the Hyde Park investigation? Is it an HET or PSNI Serious Crime case? Or is it strictly a London Metropolitan Police operation? If so, how many other historical cases involving the IRA are currently on the go, or in the pipeline? Who authorized them, and why? If this does not fall under the PSNI umbrella, who does have oversight?

At any rate, it looks like Barra McGrory won’t have to make any decisions on whether a prosecution of John Downey is in the public interest or not, as any trial that does go forward won’t be taking place in Belfast.

Perhaps the peace processors have found an agreed-upon way to deal with the past: to use it to further their agendas in the present, and damn the consequences to the little people they purport to represent. Like the rest of the peace process to date, will it be the processors alone who reap the most benefits of such dealings?  That I will leave for the reader to decide.

Boston College, The AP & James Rosen Cases And The Wikileaks Connection

Boston College, The AP & James Rosen Cases And The Wikileaks Connection
Ed Moloney
The Broken Elbow
May 21, 2013

From the outset of the affair over the Boston College archives one aspect of the business has puzzled me and that was the apparent failure or refusal of the Obama Department of Justice (DoJ) to realise that the PSNI subpoeanas had the potential to cause big problems for one of the US’ few positive foreign policy successes in recent years (as opposed to negative successes like winning a war in Iraq at the cost of alienating and angering half the world).

It is, I would submit, undeniable that the peace process in Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement that it produced were in large measure the result of direct US involvement in Northern Ireland, firstly by the Clinton White House which broke the ice by giving Gerry Adams a visa to visit New York and then by the Bush administration, whose ambassador to the process, Mitchel Reiss arguably forced Adams and the Provos to complete IRA decommissioning, thus paving the way for the power-sharing, DUP-Sinn Fein government that currently sits at Stormont. Without these efforts it is very questionable that the process could have succeeded.

So why was the Obama DoJ, the Attorney-General, Eric Holder and the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts so uncritically bent on going down a road that a few moments of due diligence would have revealed was littered with political tank traps that could quite readily destroy or seriously harm a project that American diplomats and politician were justifiably proud of, a project that set a positive example elsewhere in the troubled world that America polices?

After all we have all known since at least 2002 that any serious probe of the disappearance of Jean McConville would lead back to Gerry Adams, the principal architect and instigator of the IRA’s journey out of war but also the man, according to Brendan Hughes, who gave the order to disappear the alleged British Army spy. A threat to Adams, the Kim Il Sung of the Provos, is by extension a threat to the process. And to those who would say that the British would never countenance such a move I ask: well then why have they persisted with the subpoenas?

And it has also been evident since 2010 that if the British finally do shrink from prosecuting Adams, which is of course very possible, then there are others in the wings all too ready to take on the task. One of those is ex-Chief Superintendent Norman Baxter, the PSNI’s former liaison with those nice fellows in MI5, who publicly called for Adams’ prosecution for war crimes in 2010 and failing that endorsed Helen McKendry’s threat to sue Adams in a civil court for her mother’s murder and secret burial.

Indeed there are reasons to suspect Baxter’s hidden hand at work somewhere in this whole business and that a civil action was always the real if hidden goal of the action. He was the senior detective in the failed Omagh bomb trials which ended when the families, frustrated at the failure of criminal prosecutions, successfully took a civil case against the chief suspects. Is it beyond the bounds of credence that this subpoena effort had its genesis in his Omagh experience and the knowledge that if criminal proceedings fail or never materialise there is the alternative of a civil action against Adams, a person whom Baxter makes no secret of loathing?

Baxter knows that in a civil case the standard of proof is much less rigorous than for criminal trials: ‘on the balance of probabilities’ as opposed to ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’, a very telling advantage in a case that would be reliant almost entirely on peoples’ ancient recollections. And he knows that in all the important ways, for instance evidence would be presented in court by police witnesses, the proceedings would differ from a criminal prosecution only in the punishment available to the court. And if you don’t believe that, go ask O J Simpson.

Assuming the DoJ did its due diligence – and I am not assuming that it did – all this would have been quickly apparent to Eric Holder’s people but notwithstanding the risk that Obama’s White House could be remembered, at least in Ireland, for undoing all the good that Clinton and Bush did, it perservered. And not just perservered but pursued the case relentlessly even when opportunities to retire gracefully presented themselves (as with the death of Dolours Price).

One possible explanation of why the Obama administration has acted so evidently against US’ foreign policy interests by pursuing the BC tapes has emerged in the last fortnight or so with the chilling stories of the DoJ’s pursuit of the American news media for doing its job, i.e. unearthing government secrets and telling the public.

First there was the revelation that the DoJ had secretly acquired the work, home and cell phone records of some twenty journalists at the Associated Press in an effort to trace the leaker of a story that the government was planning to make public anyway, that it had, with the help of an agent, sabotaged a plot by Al Qaeda in Yemen to bomb a US-bound aircraft.

The government complained that the story endangered the life of its agent but it was going to do that itself by boasting about its achievement, something that automatically would have alerted Al Qaeda to the possible presence of a traitor in its ranks. (Ask the IRA: whenever a plot is interdicted in such a way the automatic assumption is that it was betrayed internally)

Then in the last day or so we have learned that in 2010 the same DoJ used a search warrant to acquire the email and phone records of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen in pursuit of a leaker who told him….now hold your breath….that North Korea might respond to new UN sanctions with more nuclear tests. Now even I, whose knowledge of North Korea is confined to writing stories about some dodgy bank notes that circulated in Ireland a while back by people not a mile away from the current leadership of the Irish Labour Party, could have written that story but nonetheless the brave folk in DoJ pursued Mr Rosen undaunted.

The worst aspect of the story however is that in order, it seems, to avoid a court challenge to the search warrant the DoJ accused Rosen of being a co-conspirator of the leaker and had aided and abetted the alleged breach of security. What Rosen did is what every journalist does, or, if they have any sense of self-worth, what they should do, which is to encourage holders of secrets to let them go.

The Obama DoJ’s action effectively threatens to criminalise the media in an unprecedented way. Obama had already, pre-Rosen, chalked up the worst record since Richard Nixon of pursuing journalists who had gotten hold of government secrets and leakers who provided them. But arguably Obama is worse. With Nixon you got what you expected and at least in his case he was fighting for his own survival. Obama, he of “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes, We can”, was supposed to be different but now the hypocrisy (or is it cowardice, as in the act of a Black President seeking to assure the White establishment of his trustworthiness?) is breaking through, becoming visible even to his most zealous supporters.

The action against Rosen unquestionably pushes Obama ahead of Nixon in the creepy president stakes but it also sets the stage in a very convenient way for the prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, if or when he is extradited from Sweden, via the UK, to the US. Assuming Bradley Manning is convicted of the spying charges he faces then Assange could, like Rosen, be accused of aiding and abetting Manning’s treachery. That compelling case is outlined here.

Which brings me back to the Boston College case. I am not arguing that it is on the same level as Wikileaks or the AP and Rosen cases but it does strike me that a DoJ in hot pursuit of Wikileaks, that is determined to bring Assange to his knees and, with threats and intimidation, to plug for evermore leaks from government – and in the process is ready to alienate what is normally a tame, well-behaved media and outrage both left and right – is more likely than not to take a very uncompromising line in any legal action it is involved in which undermines the ability of non-government agencies, like Boston College, to claim the right of confidentiality. Even more so if the foreign government behind the action is one the US is dependent on to send Assange to Sweden and thus to a federal court.

And if all that implies a willingness to do damage to something like the Irish peace process then so be it. As the man said “Yes, We Can”.