TRANSCRIPT: Boston Public Radio interviews Boston College Spokesman Jack Dunn

Boston Public Radio interviews Jack Dunn
Boston Public Radio
WGBH Boston, MA
10 July 2014


Jim Braude (JB) and Margery Eagan (ME) interview Jack Dunn (JD) the Director of Public Relations for Boston College about the impact of the fallout from Boston College tapes subpoenas.

(begins time stamp 1:37:45)

JB: For five years as part of an ambitious oral history project Boston College collected more than forty interviews with former militants who were part of the sectarian violence that ravaged Northern Ireland.

These interviews were done with assurances from those who did them that everything would remain confidential. But in 2011, the federal government subpoenaed BC telling them to hand over some of these interviews to British authorities who were investigating the murder Jean McConville.

Ultimately, BC decided to return everything to the people who participated in the project. This however has not put an end to anything.

The Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen who was with us yesterday, went to Belfast to follow-up on the repercussion of the oral history project run amok. Many of the participants feel their lives are threatened.

Today joining us for a different angle on the same story is Jack Dunn. Jack is the Director of News and Public Affairs at Boston College. Jack, it’s good to see you.

JD: Thank you for having me.

ME: We’d like to point out how wonderful it is that Jack would come in from his vacation on Cape Cod to come up and talk to us about this.

You know Jack Dunn, the Belfast Project was a great idea, seemed like a great idea to get these histories. But then of course you were subpoenaed by the Department of Justice, Boston College was, to turn the information over although the people that ran the project gave these confidentiality assurances to the people that they interviewed.

Why did you do it? Reporters all the time get subpoenaed by the government to turn in sources. They don’t do it. Why did Boston College do it?

JD: Because academic institutions don’t have the same protections that journalists have and this case has underscored that.

I think it’s astounding that the narrative has been established that Boston College somehow was forced to comply with the subpoena. We’re an academic institution and number one: We don’t burn academic records as Anthony McIntyre has suggested. We don’t burn research. We don’t destroy…

JB: …Anthony McIntyre, one the the leaders of the project. And by the way he and his wife, we’ll hear from them in a minute, called in from Northern Ireland a couple of months ago when we were discussing this. But go ahead, Jack, I’m sorry.

JD: We were faced with two federal subpoenas.

We fought a vigorous defence over two years and we won a significant court victory that protected some seventy-five to eighty interviews from being sent overseas.

So Boston College did what it could legally. The criticism from Anthony McIntyre and project director Ed Moloney is that we didn’t do enough.

I think it’s a cultural divide, Margery. I think they don’t understand, particularly Anthony McIntyre who spent most of his life incarcerated in Northern Ireland, they don’t have respect for the legal system. We do. We engaged the legal system. The legal system rendered a verdict. We had to accept that verdict.

But we won a significant court victory so the narrative that we didn’t do enough is specious.

ME: But one thing on that: There is no reporter shield law in Massachusetts, some states have them lots of states don’t. There’s no federal shield law either.

So many reporters, I mean some of my colleagues when faced with a subpoena from the government have said: Well, I’m not going to give up my source. I’m going to go to gaol.

JB: James Risen from The New York Times who was with us a couple of months ago in the same situation…

ME: Right. An almost inevitably the government backs down. You chose not to back down at Boston College.

JD: We chose to fight the court – to fight through the courts.

We attempted to quash both sets of subpoenas and we fought a vigorous two year defence that won a significant court victory.

In fact, the Department of Justice was furious that Judge William Young of the federal court here in Boston even heard this case. They said that given the MLAT treaty, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the United States and Great Britain, a college had no right to infringe upon that treaty claiming that it had some degree of academic freedom that it was trying to preserve.

So we won a victory for academic research. It wasn’t a full victory but it was a significant victory for the enterprise of academic research.

JB: (quips) You know Margery and I, as I’m sure you know, Jack Dunn, are experts on treaty law. I’m sure you’ve a …(all laugh)

Yesterday when Kevin Cullen was here he brought something to our attention and frankly I wasn’t aware of it and obviously I’m kidding and you may be…I’m sure you are…

He said that this treaty that you’re describing has political exemptions – that if there are political prosecutions.

And he says the potential prosecution of Gerry Adams, who obviously was arrested and interviewed for a handful of days, arrested by Northern Ireland’s standards – not formally charged with a crime – interviewed for days that that clearly in his mind would have been a political prosecution and you could have claimed the exemption which would have caused you to have been able to resist this subpoena.

One: Did you? And if you didn’t why didn’t you?

JD: That’s Kevin’s contention. I have great respect for Kevin. I think in terms of American journalists he’s the most versed on Irish affairs.

The MLAT Treaty, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty that exists between the United States and Great Britain, is on criminal activity and the treaty was invoked because of the horrific abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of ten who was…

JB: …widowed mother of ten.

JD: …Sure. Who was taken right in front of her kids from her home in Belfast, brought across the border, shot in the back of the head and buried in a beach.

So it was the MLAT treaty on criminal activity, this particular horrific crime, that was invoked. So while Kevin claims, and I’m sure he’s right that there’s a political exemption, there was no exemption for the criminal activity of the murder of Jean McConville.

JB: Let’s just get back to the line of questioning that Margery was involved in a minute ago: Taking everything you’ve said in response as legit, were there internal discussion about non-compliance?

You fought as hard as you could. As you say, you believe you protected as much as one possibly could – whatever you said, seventy-five percent.

Were there discussions with the president and others saying: Hey, listen, even though we’ve done as much as we can legally, we have to protect academic research. This could do great damage not just to us but to whole notion of oral histories and that sort of thing. Other people in the future might be more resistant – maybe after Iraq or Afghanistan or something else – may be more resistant to participating in something like this.

Were there those discussions?

JD: There were. We considered every opportunity, every option and we determined that this was our best course of action.

Simultaneously, we worked with the State Department to try to secure some relief from the State Department, from the United States government, because the United States government had invested so much in this peace process.

But ultimately, given the climate post-9/11, there seemed to be no desire in Washington to appear to be coddling terrorist activity and the IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force are terrorist organisations.

So there was no sense in Washington that people wanted to help.

The courts did what they could. We did the best possible…we did as well as we could on behalf of oral history by fighting through the courts and that was the best outcome we thought we could achieve.

JB: You know, one of the things we discussed with Kevin and obviously going home – you read the piece and you’ve discussed the piece when he went to Belfast about the fear that some people lived through…I mentioned that when Tommy O’Neill, is he currently on the Board of BC? (Ed Note: The Board of Trustees for Boston College)

JD: He’s a “Trustee Associate”.

JB: “Trustee Associate” at BC. We were talking to Tommy O’Neill about this. After we hung up with him a couple of months ago actually Anthony McIntyre and as I said and his wife, Carrie Twomey called in.

Here’s what Twomey said, the wife, question put as to whether or not they feel that their lives have been put in danger by information Here’s what Carrie Twomey, the wife, said that their lives have been put in danger by disclosure of this information:

(Audio clip played)

Carrie Twomey: When graffiti such as “Informer Republican Boston College Touts” goes on the walls of the Falls Road which has happened this morning – Yes, we are at risk. And it’s not just us, my family, my husband and my children that are at risk it is all the people that participated very bravely in this project. (Audio clip ends)

JB: I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know what the word “tout” ’til Kevin explained it to us – it’s a snitch is what we talk about.

JB: Yes.

JB: When you hear that, even again if you think you’ve done everything you can, what do you and your colleagues at BC feel when there are people who legitimately feel their lives are at risk because of this?

JD: The reality of this case is that the project director, Ed Moloney, signed a contract with the Burns Librarian at Boston College to conduct this archive project in which the contract stated specifically that confidentiality would be limited to the extent that American law would allow.

As part of the court records one can easily find the facts that Bob O’Neill sent to Ed Moloney saying I cannot guarantee, for example, that this would withstand a federal subpoena if one were to be issued.

The reality that Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Moloney don’t share is that no one thought it would come to this.

Given the investment of the Irish government, the British government and the American government in forging the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 no one thought that the Police Service of Northern Ireland would ever take this step.

JB: Yeah, but the guy from your own library is quoted in one of the earlier stories by Peter Schworm saying it wasn’t even run by the lawyers at BC. You have some regret about that I assume?

JD: There were mistakes that were made but the biggest mistake from our perspective was that Anthony McIntyre gave assurances of confidentiality to the interviewees that he was in no position to make. That it an issue that hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves. It’s important…

JB: …By the way McIntyre, I think, disagrees with you. Here is McIntyre when he called us about the issue whether or not he was promised complete secrecy. Here’s Anthony McIntyre:

(Audio clip played)

Anthony McIntyre: (They were very,very) clear that there were no circumstances under which this material could be handed over without the approval of the interviewee. There was no room for ambiguity on this. (Audio clip ends)

JB: Is he wrong?

JD: He’s absolutely wrong. And it’s important to note that it was Anthony McIntyre who spoke with the IRA interviewees. No one from Boston College ever spoke with any of the interviewees. I don’t even know who they are.

JB: But they worked for you…

JD: No, they didn’t. McIntyre was hired by project director Ed Moloney to conduct interviews…

JB: …Yeah, but it’s a BC project, Jack, I mean it isn’t like there’s…

JD: …True. I agree. And I’m not trying to….people at Boston College who were involved made their share of mistakes.

But it was clearly the mistake of the project director and Anthony McIntyre who gave assurances of confidentiality that they were in no position to give.

ME: You know Jack Dunn from Boston College, you’re the spokesman for Boston College you’re I guess we could call it somewhat in the PR business and you think about optics and how things look. Suppose it had been different? Suppose…Father Leahy is still the president of Boston College?

JD: Yes.

ME: Suppose Father Leahy had gotten on the steps up there in Chestnut Hill and said:

We have a very fragile peace process in Northern Ireland. If we release this information people’s lives will be at stake, the process that we spent decades trying to achieve could totally fall apart. I’m standing here on behalf of Boston College. I will go to gaol rather than turn these over.

The President of Boston College with the political power of the Irish in Massachusetts, the Irish in Boston, the Democrats…

What do you think would have happened? I know what would have happened.

The Department of Justice would have backed down.

Just like the government backed down in almost every situation I can think of when a reporter said “I will go to gaol” because the government looks like a big bully.

And I guess, maybe not Leahy – maybe you could have gone to gaol – but you know what I mean?

What would have happened if BC had dug in its heels and made that statement and said: We are protecting the citizens of the peace process and the citizens who gave their confidential information whose lives are at stake?

JD: Again, we sought through diplomatic channels to achieve that end.

I don’t think it needed to be as public and dramatic as you stated. We sought through diplomatic channels to achieve that end but there is no appetite in Washington right now to appear to be coddling terrorist activity of any form and that’s the and that’s the reality in Washington post-9/11.

JB: Was one of the diplomatic channels John Kerry?

JD: I don’t think it’s fair for me to say specifically who it involved but I think it’s easy…John Kerry has a connection to Boston College and so he is one of many people that the college reached out to to seek their assistance.

ME: And you think when we talk about terrorists in 2014 – I don’t think we’re talking about the IRA in the 1970’s in Ireland. Do you think they’re all lumped together?

JD: I do.

That was our sense when seeking assistance from Washington that there was no appetite to protect any form of terrorism.

JB: Jack, last thing from me and then you can return to vacation: Here’s a piece from Kevin’s column on Sunday – I guess it was reporting of the prior Sunday – “Boston College meanwhile, did more than any American university to engage both the political and civil society on both sides of the Irish border.”

I think there’s a consensus well beyond Kevin there’s no American university that’s been more important in the history of The Troubles and beyond.

“BC has hosted” …..This is Kevin still… “BC has hosted hundreds of politicians, journalists, civil servants, and peacemakers from Northern Ireland over the years. But, in all this bitter recrimination the Boston brand has suffered in Ireland.”

So again, even if you think as you said – we made some mistakes, everybody did, we did the best we could under the circumstances – how do you, the president, how do people react to that? I mean that’s real that there is…He has the great line from Anthony McIntyre…the horrible line from Anthony McIntyre at the end of his piece saying: I can’t even listen to More Than a Feeling by Boston, the band, because I don’t want anything with “Boston”.

I mean there is some…a negative impact in a place I know you all care a lot about about BC.

JD: The history of Boston College has been inextricably linked with Ireland and Northern Ireland. We were heavily involved in securing the Good Friday Agreement.

In fact our conflict negotiators, one of our Jesuit priests, was involved in bringing the sides to the table, our political scientists worked closely to help form the new government by telling people how to share power.

So we have been heavily involved in that and I think our reputation is solid. People understand that we hired individuals who weren’t the best fit for us to conduct a project to reside in our library to provide a resource for historians.

Mistakes were made. Things happened that people didn’t think would happen.

So if the BC brand has suffered then we’ll re-double our efforts to improve that brand and to do the work that we’ve always done moving forward that puts BC in the spotlight as being America’s leading university in Ireland.

But again, I think the blame for this should go to all those who were involved and the attempt by Mr. Moloney and Mr. McIntyre to deflect blame from themselves and put it on the hands of Boston College doesn’t hold up to the light of scrutiny.

ME: Jack Dunn, thank you for coming. I’m sure this has been a fun couple of days talking about this especially during your vacation and I appreciate it very much your coming in.

JD: Thanks for having me.

ME: Jack Dunn is the Director of News and Public Affairs at Boston College.

Kinda makes you miss Ted Kennedy, doesn’t it, Jim?

JB: Boy, does it ever!

(ends time stamp 1:52:00)