New Belfast Project Subpoena(s)

New Belfast Project Subpoena(s)
Chris Bray
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Authorities in Northern Ireland have asked the U.S. government to subpoena new materials from the Belfast Project collection at Boston College, and at least one new subpoena has been served and executed. Late last week, a court in Belfast issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service from traveling to the U.S. to collect the newly subpoenaed material from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.

You can see the complete court order here. We learn at least one new item of significant interest from it: Officials in the U.K. made a new MLAT request to the U.S. government on Sept. 11, 2014. Here’s the part of the court order that reveals this new information:

The details of that Sept. 11 request are not available, and a spokesman told me last week that the U.S. Department of Justice “is not confirming or commenting on this.” But the British court document gives us the first clear public evidence that the PSNI has gone back to Boston for more material from the Boston College archives. 

Beyond that, the interesting news is that the first public notice of a new subpoena arrived only after the subpoenaed material was in the hands of American authorities. The last time the PSNI went fishing in Boston in 2011, news of the subpoenas was widely reported, and Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre waged a long and ultimately unsuccessful court fight in an effort to prevent the DOJ from obtaining the subpoenaed material. In the light of significant public attention, Boston College also waged a more limited legal effort to narrow the scope of the subpoenas, and convinced a federal appeals court to whittle back the amount of sensitive research material that was delivered to authorities.

With this new subpoena (or subpoenas) the legal and political action has all happened in the dark, right up to the final moments. There’s no publicly available paper trail to show us what happened, but it appears that Boston College and the DOJ worked together to keep news of the new subpoena from becoming public. The secrecy extended to the campus: I asked BC faculty last week if the university had informed faculty of the new subpoenas, and the few professors who responded said they had not been told. 

The injunction in Belfast was issued at the request of Winston “Winkie” Rea, the former commander of a Loyalist paramilitary organization. Several newspapers in Ireland and the UK have reported that the PSNI has returned to the Boston College archives, though the scope of the new fishing expedition remains unclear. I’m told by a person with knowledge of that latest developments that this story in the Guardian, claiming that “dozens of IRA and loyalist paramilitary veterans are facing arrest,” is exaggerated, and the authorities do not appear to have obtained the full collection. 

Boston College, as usual, didn’t respond to several requests for comment on the latest developments.