The PSNI, PPS, US DoJ and Boston College: A Long Game of Blindfolded Darts

A Long Game of Blindfolded Darts
Chris Bray
Chris Bray Blog
24 June 2016

I’ve been arguing for years that the Belfast Project subpoenas aren’t an example of a police investigation, but rather offer proof that police in Northern Ireland are engaged in a theatrical performance and refusing to perform real detective work. Events in Belfast courts this week prove the point.

First, in a hearing regarding an American subpoena requested by the PSNI for Belfast Project interviews conducted with Anthony McIntyre, lawyers for McIntyre argued that the International Letter of Request (ILOR) sent by the British government to the U.S. government was “replete with errors, and that’s putting it mildly.” Among the errors alleged by McIntyre’s lawyers were claims made in the ILOR that McIntyre had previously been convicted for offenses for which he had actually been acquitted or never charged.

In response, lawyers for the police and the prosecution service made no argument at all, neither conceding nor rejecting the claim; instead, they told the judges hearing the case that they would have to look into it. “Counsel for the respondents were unable to confirm the claim, insisting archives would have to be checked,” the Irish Newsreported (emphasis added). Here’s what comes next in that newspaper story:

Lord Justice Weatherup, sitting with Lord Justice Weir, described the situation as unsatisfactory.

“It’s incredible; you have sent a letter to America… and you don’t know whether it was in respect of an offence for which he’s already been acquitted,” he said.

So the Police Service of Northern Ireland initiated a request for the U.S. Department of Justice to subpoena an academic archive in Boston, and now — now, after making an international request for legal assistance in a supposed criminal investigation — have begun to look into the factual background their own case. Oh, yeah, man, we’ll go, like, check the archives and stuff.

The laziness, shoddiness, indifference to professional standards, and general halfassedness scream across an ocean at the American prosecutors who are playing along with this nonsense. These worthless idiots sent off an ILOR, then started to think about what they were up to. (A pattern emerges, by the way.) I’m not in Belfast to check, but I assume the PSNI’s detectives drool on themselves and shit their pants.

Meanwhile, in another hearing over a different set of Belfast Project interviews, a different judge heard a legal challenge to the evidence obtained in the case of Ivor Bell, who is accused of aiding and abetting in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. The federal appeals court in Boston, narrowing the decision of a district court judge, ordered that only two interviews with the interview subject known as “Z” — who is alleged, but not proven, to be Bell — be handed over to the PSNI. In fact, Bell’s lawyers claim, authorities in Belfast are attempting to go to court with several more of the Belfast Project’s “Z” interviews, evidence obtained far beyond the scope of the American court order.

Of course, Bell was charged in early 2014; now, two and a half years later, prosecutors in Belfast can’t even get their evidence into the courtroom for a preliminary inquiry, much less a trial.

One week, two shambles.

Meanwhile, note the incredible statement at the conclusion of the Irish News story on the McIntyre hearing, linked above: A lawyer for the PSNI’s chief constable “suggested PSNI officers who will be in Boston on Saturday to collect other materials could also bring back the McIntyre recordings and deposit them, still sealed, with the court.

The PSNI has gone back to Boston, in at least one other international request for a subpoena that has not yet been disclosed. They keep churning up garbage with their shoddy trips to Boston, and they keep going back to Boston.

Will anyone ever restrain this idiots? They’re embarrassing themselves, damaging the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s political institutions, wasting the DOJ’s time, angering Belfast judges, and making a clown show of the rule of law. And the U.S. government keeps shrugging and typing up the subpoenas.

Ex-IRA man denies bomb attack in new Boston College twist

Ex-IRA man denies bomb attack in new Boston College twist
23 June 2016

A former IRA man interviewed for an American university project claims he was the victim of a bomb attack for which he is now under investigation, the High Court has heard.

Anthony McIntyre also alleges he was acquitted on a charge of membership of a proscribed organisation that forms part of a police attempt to gain access to his tapes from Boston College.

Senior judges in Belfast have now ordered the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service to clarify the situation and explain how an International Letter of Request (ILOR) for the material wrongly included an erroneous conviction for armed robbery.

McIntyre’s legal bid to stop detectives listening to the tapes has been put on hold until explanations are provided and shared with American authorities.

With the case adjourned until September, PSNI officers due to travel to Boston on Saturday as part of a separate inquiry will not yet be able to take possession of the his recordings.

McIntyre, who is from Belfast but now lives in the Irish Republic, was one of the main researchers in the major project to compile an oral history of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Dozens of loyalists and republicans provided testimonies to Boston College on the understanding their account would only be made public after they died.

But those assurances were dealt a blow when legal battles resulted in police securing transcripts and tapes of interviews given by former IRA woman Dolours Price and high-profile loyalist Winston “Winkie” Rea.

Rea, 65, from Groomsport, Co Down, appeared before a court earlier this month charged with the murders of two Catholic workmen in Belfast more than 25 years ago.

Now the authorities want access to McIntyre’s recorded recollection of his own IRA activities.

A subpoena seeking copies of his interviews has been served on Boston College by the British government.

The move involves an ILOR setting out alleged offences being investigated.

McIntyre’s lawyers have issued judicial review proceedings against the PSNI and PPS for issuing the request letter.

In court on Thursday it emerged that the alleged offences being investigate include a bomb explosion at Rugby Avenue in Belfast in 1976, and an imitation or toy pistol discovered inside a prison where he served time.

Ronan Lavery QC, for McIntyre, claimed: “The ILOR is replete with errors, and that’s putting it mildly.”

Disputing any suggestion that his client was behind the bombing incident, he added: “In relation to the explosion on Rugby Avenue Mr McIntyre (says he) was the victim.”

It was also contended that the former IRA man was acquitted more than 30 years ago of a membership charge that features in the international letter.

Counsel for the respondents were unable to confirm the claim, insisting archives would have to be checked.

Lord Justice Weatherup, sitting with Lord Justice Weir, described the situation as unsatisfactory.

“It’s incredible; you have sent a letter to America … and you don’t know whether it was in respect of an offence for which he’s already been acquitted,” he said.

During the hearing it was accepted that an armed robbery incident for which McIntyre was never convicted was erroneously included in the ILOR.

But judges were told the mistake was brought to the attention of the US court before any decision was taken on releasing the tapes.

Tony McGleenan QC, for the chief constable, contended that McIntyre was raising speculative points that may prove to be groundless.

He suggested PSNI officers who will be in Boston on Saturday to collect other materials could also bring back the McIntyre recordings and deposit them, still sealed, with the court.

However, Lord Justice Weatherup instead directed the PSNI and PPS to first file a statement explaining the issues raised.

Outside court McIntyre’s solicitor, Gavin Booth of KRW Law, claimed the international request process was unlawful and conducted in bad faith.

He added: “The court’s order clearly reflects concerns it has with regard to certain statements which have been made in the ILOR.”

Boston College subpoenaed for Anthony McIntyre interviews

Boston College subpoenaed for Anthony McIntyre interviews
British government seeks access to taped interview by former IRA prisoner
Gerry Moriarty
The Irish Times
Mon, Apr 25, 2016

The British government has lodged a subpoena with Boston College seeking access to taped interviews given by former IRA prisoner Dr Anthony McIntyre, it was stated on Monday.

Ed Moloney and Wilson McArthur, who were centrally involved with the Belfast Project – an oral history of the Troubles – said that the British government, acting on behalf of the PSNI and the office of the North’s Director of Public Prosecution, had served a subpoena on Boston College seeking access to Dr McIntyre’s personal interviews.

Former director of the project Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur, who interviewed former UVF members for the oral history, accused the authorities of engaging in an illegal “fishing expedition” in seeking access to Dr McIntyre’s tapes.

Boston College’s spokesman Jack Dunn said that the “subpoena was issued in proceedings that the United States District Court ordered sealed, and Boston College was requested to treat the proceedings and the subpoena as confidential”.

“Nevertheless, the university notified Mr McIntyre of the subpoena because it concluded that he should know that his materials had been requested. Given that the pending proceedings remain under seal, Boston College is not able to comment further on the matter,” added Mr Dunn.

Historian Dr McIntyre, who served time in prison on an IRA murder conviction, and Mr McArthur respectively interviewed 26 republican and 20 loyalist former paramilitaries for the project.

Dr McIntyre also gave an interview about his IRA involvement during the Troubles to another interviewer as part of the project.

Interviewees were given commitments that there would be no disclosure of their interviews until after their deaths. Two of those who gave interviews were former senior IRA figure Brendan Hughes and former UVF member and Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine.

After their deaths their testimonies were included in a book by Mr Moloney called “Voices From the Grave” which contained information from Mr Hughes about the IRA’s abduction, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville in 1972.

Subsequently, as part of its investigation of Ms McConville’s murder the PSNI sought access to the Boston tapes. Ultimately under legal pressure Boston College handed over a number of tapes that are believed to contain reference to Ms McConville.

The release of the tapes also resulted in the arrest of veteran republican Ivor Bell (79) who also engaged with the project. He is charged with aiding and abetting in Ms McConville’s murder as well as membership of the IRA. His trial has yet to take place.

“This action by the DPP and PSNI is simply a fishing expedition, which is prohibited by international law,” said Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur.

“We do know, in particular, that this request does not have anything to do with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, which was the event that motivated this PSNI trawl five years ago,” they added.

“The subpoena request provides no details of specific charge, investigation or offence of which Dr McIntyre is accused, no names of alleged victims, no dates, no places. Instead the originators of this shoddy document mention matters which are so over-broad, that literally anyone alive during the Troubles in Northern Ireland could be accused of some association with them,” said Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur.

They added that Dr McIntyre has engaged Belfast human rights solicitor Kevin Winters “to resist these efforts to raid his personal memoirs”.

Mr Moloney and Mr McArthur said the arrest and charging of Mr Bell was an “abuse of process” as was the action against Dr McIntyre. They called on the Irish Government “not to co-operate with the British authorities should any effort be made to extradite Dr McIntyre from his home in Drogheda to Belfast for the purposes of yet another futile and inordinately expensive show trial”.

They added that the DPP and PSNI had requested, and the US Department of Justice had agreed, to a “demand that Boston College keep these legal proceedings secret, away from the prying eyes of the international press”.

The PSNI said it was not “commenting on the matter” while the DPP’s office was not in a position to comment at this stage. At the time of writing there was no response to queries from the Northern Ireland Office.

US Authorities Subpoena Anthony McIntyre’s Boston College Oral History Archive on Behalf of British

PSNI Serve ‘Fishing Expedition’ Subpoena On Anthony McIntyre –
US Agrees To ‘Star Chamber’ Hearing In Blatant Abuse of Process
April 25th, 2016

We have just learned that the British government, acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) and the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (“DPP”) in Belfast, have served a subpoena on Boston College seeking personal interviews given by Dr. Anthony McIntyre to the Belfast Project based at Boston College, Massachusetts.

The subpoena has been served under the terms of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (“MLAT”) and the UK statute, the Crime International Cooperation Act 2003 (“CICA”).

Dr. McIntyre, who was lead IRA researcher for the Belfast project, gave a series of interviews himself which were conducted by a guest interviewer. Dr McIntyre has made no secret of this fact. He has now engaged leading Belfast human rights lawyer Kevin Winters of KRW Law LLP, to resist these efforts to raid his personal memoirs.


The subpoena request provides no details of specific charge, investigation or offence of which Dr. McIntyre is accused, no names of alleged victims, no dates, no places. Instead the originators of this shoddy document mention matters which are so overbroad, that literally anyone alive during the Troubles in Northern Ireland could be accused of some association with them.

We do know, in particular, that this request does not have anything to do with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville, which was the event that motivated this PSNI trawl five years ago. Both the US District Court and the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit clearly deemed Dr. McIntyre’s interviews not to be relevant to the Jean McConville investigation.

Under the terms of the MLAT and CICA, which the authors of the subpoena claim as their legal basis for this action, requests for assistance from a foreign power may only be made where (a) there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed, and (b) proceedings have been instituted, or an offence is being investigated. There are no proceedings in being for any offences relating to Dr. McIntyre and there is no reason to believe that any current or historical offence is being investigated.

This action by the DPP and PSNI is simply a fishing expedition, which is prohibited by international law.


Boston College has been ordered to appear at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston at 10 a.m. on May 6th to deliver Dr. McIntyre’s interviews.

The DPP and PSNI have requested, and the Obama Department of Justice has agreed, to demand that Boston College keep these legal proceedings secret, away from the pryng eyes of the international press. This Press Release puts paid to those nefarious efforts.

The gag notice means that the attempts of the British authorities once again to stifle academic research into the Troubles of Northern Ireland, an essential part of the peace process, was to be conducted entirely in secret like some modern day Star Chamber.

The use of secret courts offends every principle of legal fairness and openness inherent in the American legal system, as well as best international human rights practices, and we call on the media, in particular, whose First Amendment rights to cover such events are being undermined, to protest by turning up at the courthouse at 10:00 a.m. on May 6, 2016.

Secret courts and censored hearings smack of totalitarianism and they offend the public’s right to know.


The British authorities, the PSNI and the DPP have had more than ample time and opportunity to subpoena Dr.McIntyre’s materials before this. This begs the question, why are the authorities doing this now?

What is the real reason for this subpoena?

One explanation which leaps to mind is that this is an act of simple revenge, motivated by anger at the fact that the resistance to the subpoenas led by Dr. McIntyre embarrassed the prosecutorial authorities in Belfast, which have so far failed to bring any prosecution beyond the preliminary inquiry stage, never mind a successful conclusion to their well-publicized efforts in raiding and destroying a valuable Oral History archive. This is pay back, in other words.


Abuse of process is the only term to describe the treatment of Ivor Bell, who is the only individual charged following the receipt by the PSNI of Boston College materials. Mr. Bell has vigorously protested his innocence of any charges, and his case has not progressed past the preliminary inquiry stage after years of hearings.

Abuse of process is the only term to describe this latest move against Dr. McIntyre by the DPP and Obama’s DoJ. We therefore call on the Irish government not to co-operate with the British authorities should any effort be made to extradite Dr. McIntyre from his home in Drogheda to Belfast for the purposes of yet another futile and inordinately expensive “show trial.” We have sent a copy of this statement to the outgoing Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny and to the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin TD.

We also call upon all decent-minded people in the US, politicians, lawyers, civil libertarians and members of the public to protest this disgraceful action by the Department of Justice. We call upon progressive candidates seeking nomination for the US Presidency to make their views clear on this matter.


This subpoena differs from all previous requests which were directed at the subjects of academic research. This subpoena is directed at an academic researcher, solely on the grounds that he attempted to record an alternative version of history. The implications for the rest of American academe are incontestable. What was it Pastor Niemoller said?

‘First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist…..Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Accordingly we appeal firstly to the Trustees of Boston College to support any legal effort to resist this subpoena. This is a matter which could adversely affect everyone teaching on Boston College’s campus. We would like to extend that appeal to the rest of American academe and ask the researchers and teachers of Higher Education in America to recognise the seriousness of this threat to researchers everywhere by making your opposition to this subpoena loud and clear.

This is a matter which directly affects academic freedom in America. This is not a time for silence or acquiescence.

Ed Moloney, former director Belfast Project
Wilson McArthur, lead UVF researcher for the Belfast Project

Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again

Boston College’s Belfast Project Lands in Court—Again
Beth McMurtrie
Chronicle of Higher Education
February 9, 2015

A Boston College oral-history project on Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict has again found itself in court. On Monday a British judge ruled that the Police Services of Northern Ireland has the right to retrieve interviews given to Boston College by Winston Rea, a former loyalist paramilitary member and a participant in its Belfast Project. Mr. Rea had tried to block the handover of his interviews, which were supposed to remain confidential until his death.

In 2011 Boston College began a two-year court battle to prevent access to the archives by British authorities, which sought some material as part of a decades-old murder investigation. Boston College ultimately turned over a number of interviews. Last May the Police Services, which continues to investigate old crimes, said that it was going to seek the entire archive.

That appears to have resulted so far in one subpoena, for Mr. Rea’s material. Unlike the earlier court battle, the legal deliberations that led Boston College to turn over Mr. Rea’s interviews came to light only when he tried to stop the transfer of material into Northern Ireland. It is unclear if subpoenas for any other interviews have been issued.

Boston College declined to comment, saying the U.S Department of Justice had asked that the matter be kept confidential. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Say Anything: The DOJ Comes Clean on Retribution

“The public release of such allegations could have ramifications in a foreign country which are not fully appreciated here.”

Say Anything: The DOJ Comes Clean on Retribution
Chris Bray
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For government lawyers, truth can be a contingent, situational, and highly malleable idea. And today we have new evidence of that fact.

Three years ago, when Boston College filed a motion in a federal court to quash subpoenas of Belfast Project interviews, Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil flatly rejected the idea that the release of those interviews from a protected academic archive might endanger people involved in the project. You can read McNeil’s July 1, 2011 brief here. But here’s the relevant passage, from pg. 2:

While the Respondents make other equitable and factual claims, including the claims that the researchers will face retribution and that the disclosure of the materials will threaten the political stability in Northern Ireland, those claims falter in the face of close scrutiny. The researchers themselves, and the subject of the interviews, widely publicized their involvement in this oral history project long before the subpoenas in this case were issued. Moreover, the Respondents’ decision to publicize the issuance of the subpoenas – which had been kept under seal by the United States – belies any claim of such risk. If there were a substantial risk of retribution, the Respondents’ efforts to publicize the subpoenas would compound the purported problem, rather than mitigate it.

So the release of Belfast Project interviews would be no big deal: no risk to the political stability of Northern Ireland, no risk of retribution for people involved in the project. No good reason not to pry open the archive, your honor. No danger at all. They made this claim often and loudly; see also this example.

This week, Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil filed two documents with the same court — a brief, and a supporting declaration — to argue against a federal judge’s proposal to publicly release documents filed under seal in the matter of the Belfast Project subpoenas. Why? Because, ladies and gentlemen, the release of material related to the Belfast Project endangers witnesses and might subject people to retribution.

Same prosecutor, same case. The material should be released, because warnings about retribution are silly; the material must not be released, because it’s dangerous and people will get hurt.

Here’s a link to the brief; the relevant language is on pg. 2, where McNeil writes that British officials “continue to seek that the materials remain impounded to ensure that evidence (both testimonial and documentary) is not destroyed or altered, and to ensure that witnesses and investigators are not subject to harassment, reprisals or tampering.”

And here’s a link to the supporting declaration, where McNeil writes that “the release of such information could unfairly impugn the reputation of those witnesses and suspects, or subject them to retribution.”

Suddenly, three years later, the Department of Justice says the release of documentary material related to the Belfast Project threatens to subject people to retribution.

So what does that say about the decision to pry the interviews out of the archive in the first place?

See: Threats to Researcher and Research Participants

CHRIS BRAY: PSNI Theatre of Shadows

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
Chris Bray
Friday, July 11, 2014

In October 2012, news stories announced that the Police Service of Northern Ireland would be pursuing subpoenas of tapes and notes from interviews with former IRA member Dolours Price. The PSNI had already gone after Dolours Price interviews archived at Boston College, but this new effort was to be directed at the newspaper and TV journalists who had interviewed Price about the BC subpoenas. In the crosshairs: CBS News and the Sunday Telegraph.

More than a year and a half later, there is no evidence that those subpoenas ever arrived. When Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams emerged from his four-day interrogation at the PSNI’s Antrim station, he said that police had confronted him with material from the Boston College interviews; he made no mention of CBS or Telegraph materials. And my own tedious search of Pacer, the federal court case management website, turns up no evidence of subpoenas served on CBS News headquarters in New York.

To be sure, we can’t see very far into the underlying events, and it’s not clear what kind of contest may have taken place over this threat of subpoenas directed against journalists. I’ve been asking journalists and public affairs staff at CBS News and the Telegraph if they received subpoenas, or discussed the possibility of subpoenas with the PSNI, but those questions have gone entirely unanswered. Liz Young, the public affairs director at the PSNI, offered this careful non-answer to my questions: “Given that investigations are ongoing we are not in the position to either deny or confirm that a subpoena was sought and no inference should be taken from this.” So the conclusion has to balance the likely with the wholly unknown: It appears that the PSNI threatened journalists with subpoenas, but then didn’t follow through, and it’s not possible at this point to know why the threatened subpoenas apparently didn’t arrive.

Now: Spot the pattern. In May of this year, a new round of news stories announced that the PSNI would be seeking new subpoenas to secure every Belfast Project interview archived at Boston College. Again, no one is answering questions, but there’s no sign that those subpoenas have arrived.

Meanwhile, the high-profile arrest of Gerry Adams resulted in nothing more than the four-day-long collapse of the PSNI’s souffle. Three years after the Grand Inquisition began, Adams is a free man, and would not seem to have much reason to worry. The other big event in the PSNI’s supposed murder investigation was the March arrest of former IRA leader Ivor Bell, long purported to have been chief of staff to Adams in the 1970s IRA in Belfast. Bell was charged with aiding and abetting McConville’s murder, not with committing it; as yet, the PSNI hasn’t charged a single person with actually kidnapping McConville or actually killing her. And Bell is also a free man, released on bail as the Public Prosecution Service tries to decide whether or not to bother taking the charges to trial. They do not seem to be in any particular hurry.

So the PSNI’s “investigation” into the 1972 murder of Jean McConville — an investigation opened 39 years after the event — has made more noise than progress: some arrests that led to the release of those arrested; an arrest, with weak and likely to be abandoned charges, of someone who isn’t alleged to have killed McConville; and a storm of threats and promises that have mostly seemed to evaporate.

The available evidence continues to support the argument that I’ve now been making for more than three years: The PSNI is putting on a show, not a murder investigation.

But then spot the other pattern: Many news stories reported the PSNI’s claim that it would subpoena CBS News and the Telegraph; none reported that the subpoenas didn’t arrive. Many news stories reported that the PSNI would be pursuing the whole Belfast Project archive at Boston College; no news stories have reported that those new subpoenas haven’t been served. Many news stories reported the dramatic arrests of Adams and Bell; few journalists appear to have noticed that the air has leaked out of those arrests.

In Indonesia, puppeteers perform Wayang Kulit, a theater of shadows in which images are projected on a screen by performers who stand behind it. The PSNI is the Dalang, the puppeteer, in the shadow play of the Jean McConville “investigation.” And the news media continues to treat the play as real life.

Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project

Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project
The Kojo Nnnamdi Show
Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014

Boston College’s “Belfast Project” aimed to compile first hand accounts of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, collecting the oral histories of 46 former combatants with the promise of confidentiality. But after British prosecutors compelled the college to hand over contents from the archive, and detained a prominent political leader for crimes allegedly committed in the 1970s, many observers are worried the tapes could destabilize the country’s peace agreement. We explore the debate in Belfast and within American academic institutions.

Zachary Schrag
Associate Professor, Department of History and Art History, George Mason University; Author, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009” (Johns Hopkins)

Kevin Cullen
Metro Columnist, The Boston Globe; co-author, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice

From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, we talk with journalist Louisa Lim about her new book, “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Square Revisited.” But first, three decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles that pitted the Nationalist Catholic Irish Republican Army or IRA against Protestant loyalists under the banner of the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF, came to a tenuous end in 1998.

But the tensions and traumas of the time have remained close to the surface in Belfast, a fact driven home earlier this year when Gerry Adams, a long-time leader of Sinn Fein, the nationalist political party, closely linked the IRA, was arrested by police and questioned about the 1972 murder of a mother of 10. A move fueled by police in Northern Ireland, getting hold of information from an oral history project out of Boston College. An idea with altruistic goals but plagued with problems.

Here to bring us up to speed on the fallout and to help us understand the implications is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason College. His books include, “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.

Delighted to be here.

Joining us by phone, from Boston, Mass., is Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and a Metro Columnist for The Boston Globe. He’s also co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin Cullen, thank you for joining us.

Thanks Kojo.

Kevin, Boston, which as you note, has long been seen as a moderate, so-to-speak, base of Irish-America. It may seem a natural home for a project, chronicling the troubles. What were the aims of this Boston College Project and who was behind it?

Well, first of all, it — the genesis of it was, sort of, in the heady days, right after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, ended the troubles as we knew them. And the idea was to create an oral archive to go and talk to the combatants, the people that fought and were willing to kill and were willing to die for what they believed in, at the time.

And so it was conceived that they would, you know, hire people on the ground, in Northern Ireland, who could get to these former combatants, interview them, record what they say and place it in an archive here at the Burns Library at Boston College, which is the biggest repository in the United States for Irish related issues. And the idea would be, it eventually, historians, journalists, people interested in this would read it after all — everybody that was involved in it had long since past. And that we might learn about the motivations, conflict and how conflict is resolved.

Unfortunately, there was a book published by the project director, Ed Moloney in 2010, which kind of signaled the fact that they had these interviews, they’re very specifically, the book was based on the interviews given by David Irvine, who was a leading loyalist, paramilitary, before he became a politician and Brendan Hughes who was known as the Dark. And he was a senior IRA man, very close to Gerry Adams at one time but then had a falling out with him over the direction of the peace process.

And in that book, Brendan Hughes implicated Gerry Adams in the murder and the abduction-murder and secret burial of Jean McConville. Eventually, the police and the — I think, the timing of all this is very questionable. The police decided they wanted that evidence, they thought that that could help them solving the murder of Jean McConville, 40 years after it happened. And that — thus began the, sort of, tug-of-war, pitting the issues of academic freedom, criminal investigation and, frankly, the political prosecution of cases of the past.

A lot of what this comes down to is, the Boston College Project, I think, was well intentioned. It hoped that it could somehow contribute to the understanding of conflict and hopefully, you know, promote resolution of conflict and maybe even the prevention of conflict. Instead it has become a political football and you have the case, I think, very disturbing case, of an American academic institution being used as a proxy investigative arm of a foreign government.

But one technicality here, if you will, and that is, Gerry Adams, it is my understanding, was in favor of the project but he was not in favor of the individuals to whom it was entrusted because he felt that they would bring a bias view to their presentation.

That’s true, he believes, as do many people in the Republican leadership, that Ed Moloney, the journalist, who was the project director and Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA prisoner, who did the research, who did the actual interviews of these people, they believed that they are bias, that they are opposed, that they have been on the record as being hostile to Adams and the rest of the leadership of the Republican movement. As Adams sees it, there’s no way that these guys would not ask leading questions. They would not — they would shape the research to get to a — get to a point where they want it to be.

The one thing I found interesting, when I was in Belfast, last week, in talking to some of the people that gave their interviews, yeah, they openly acknowledge that they don’t agree with Adams and the direction he took the Republican movement. But they said, that’s irrelevant to their history. The way they view it, if BC did not record their history, they would never — know one would know what they think because they fall outside the mainstream of Republican thought, these days.

So they are, sort of — they’re not dissidents in the sense they endorse the dissident groups that are carrying on violence now, but they’re certainly dissidents in the sense that they don’t agree with what the Republican leadership settled for. And they feel as though it’s very important that their side of the conflict is recorded for history.

Well, it was recorded for history but as Zachary Schrag, in most coverage, we’ve heard this collection at BT — BC, referred to as an oral history project. But that description may be it glosses over a very important fact, and that is, that the people conducting these interviews that were mentioned earlier, were not oral historians. Why is that important?

Right. So this was a project designed to document history but it was not a project run, for example, by the Boston College History Department. And, in fact, the history department at Boston College has been rather public in its dismay that it was not brought in. The interviewers at Moloney is journalist, the other interviewers, I believe, both have doctorates in political science, clearly these are related fields. But it does not necessarily flow that they were aware of the training in methods of oral history that go back several decades, since the historians started picking up tape recorders.

And this is not to say that historians have a lot of experience with subpoenas. We do have presidents where political scientists and sociologists have their interviewed subpoenaed and had people been more aware of this, then maybe they would’ve taken more precautions. But I do think it would’ve been possibly helpful to have more historians involved in the process, talking it over. As it is, neither the interviewers nor the Boston College librarians were able, between them, to work out all the implications of their plans.

Among oral historians, you just implied by saying what the Boston College History Departments responses, but among oral historians, this case has been closely watched. And you say, that some people are trying to distance themselves from the BC project, why?

Well, in an interview with the chronicle of higher education, Mary Marshall Clark of Columbia University, who’s certainly one of the leading oral history experts, repeatedly said this was not an oral history project. And, I think, what she meant by that was that there are, again, methods developed over the decades to try to avoid this kind of situation where promises are made and not kept. For a long time, oral historians have tried to offer narrators the option of sealing parts of their interviews, so that if there’s something that they think should be part of the historical record but are not quite ready to go public with, right then, it can be sealed for a matter of decades.

Now, again, we’ve not had a lot of experience in the profession with actually subpoenas coming in and so even if a bunch of expert archivists and historians had gotten together on this, it’s not entirely clear to me that they would’ve been able to come up with workable safeguards to allow this project to go forward.

If you have questions or comments for it, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What do you make of this BC project and the unintended consequences that it has had, 800-433-8850? You can send email to or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Kevin Cullen, in the last decade, Belfast has changed dramatically in some ways and stayed much the same in others. What did you find in both respects on your recent visit?

Well, I mean, I’ve been going there for almost 30 years. So I kind of knew it in the bad old days and certainly from a cosmetic point of view, Belfast is shiny and new. I was so struck by the Fitzwilliam Hotel, which is just shear plate-glass window. And that would’ve been sheer folly to have that thing up in the ’70s and ’80s.

When bombs are going off everywhere.

Yeah. It just was — I mean, I actually — some of the richest people I met in Ireland, over the years in the North of Ireland, were glaziers because they’re very busy during that stuff. But it — the, sort of, underlying problems in that society, particularly, one of segregation, has not changed much in the year since the Good Friday Agreement. In fact, the, sort of, ironically named Peace Lines, they put walls up to separate working class republican nationalist areas from working class loyalist areas.

They’ve actually increased in numbers since the Peace Agreement. They’re many — I think, there are probably three or four dozen of them that have gone up in the intervening years. You know, it — when the Peace Agreement was signed in 1998, about five percent of kids in Northern Ireland went to integrated schools. That number has not changed one iota in the intervening years. So there’s sort of a — here in America, you know, in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, our Supreme Court made it very clear that separate but equal was not acceptable in the United States, under our Constitution.

But in fact, that is exactly how the society functions in Northern Ireland now. It is separate but equal. You know, there’s equal funding given to Catholic schools and state schools, which for all intensive purposes are Protestant schools. And the other thing that I really picked up on the ground, in there, is you know, when people talk about, you know, the North of Ireland, is this sort of, textbook case of how attractable conflicts can be resolved. That’s true as far as getting to say yes, in 1998.

But they really struggled since then to figure out how to deal with the legacy issues, to deal with the past. And I think the BC dilemma or conundrum, whatever you want to call it, debacle, fits into — with this micro — it’s a microcosm of the society not being able to confront, unlike, say, in South Africa where they had a very formalized truth and reconciliation process. They don’t have one in Northern Ireland and it shows. So you’ve had Peace Mail investigation, say, it’s a bloody Sunday and to different individual killings and controversy’s.

And then you have the BC thing with, sort of, this attempt at, well let’s put it out there and maybe historians will make sense of it down the road. And obviously that went to pot. But I think, it also, the reason it happened is that the Irish have not been able to figure out who gets to decide what their legacy is and who tells that story. And really, the stuff that I picked up on the ground, this was — this was really, even though it is a problem in the loyalist community, it’s much — a much bigger problem in the Republican community because there are Republicans fighting over who gets to tell the story.

And it’s obviously Sinn Fein is the mainstream, the political power. And then you have these people that have fallen away from that group and who actually resent that group. And so, that’s why the arms struggle of Irish Republicanism has been replaced by a legacy struggle.

Gotta take a short break. When we come back, we’ll continue this conversation on Boston Colleges oral history project and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. What kind of rigor and standards do you think should be applied to oral history projects, 800-433-8850? You can send email to, I’m Kojo Nnamdi.

Welcome back to our conversation on the Boston College oral history project and the troubles in Northern Ireland. We’re talking with Kevin Cullen. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe. He’s co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” He joins us by phone. Joining us in studio is Zachary Schrag. He’s a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University whose books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.”

Kevin, Gerry Adams’ address in May may have made international headlines but with conflicts raging around the world, it has since faded for many but not all. What kind of ripple effect is it having in Belfast?

Well, I think people are curious to see if in fact this is just, you know, a political show to drag him in before the elections. Frankly if it was an attempt by police to embarrass him, it had the opposite effect. Sinn Fein’s vote was surprisingly much better than expected, both in local and European elections, both north and south. So there is always that sort of tendency when the British authorities — or in this case, you know, the Police Service of Northern Ireland — when they are seen to do something that is seen as unfair, that will help Sinn Fein, not hurt it.

That said, I think people are sitting back and saying, are they going to charge him? And if in fact they do charge him, I think there could be a serious effect on the peace process if only it will allow the people that are trying to kind of radicalize a new generation to take up arms. They would — their hand would be strengthened. They would be able to go to young people in Northern Ireland and say, hey look at this the Sinners did everything the Brits asked them to do and look what the Brits are still doing to them. And they’re not — there’s a real level of hypocrisy that I’ve heard people talk about.

You know, the police agency that is demanding access to the entire oral history archive at Boston College refuse to submit their own records to the police ombudsman’s office which is trying to conduct an independent review of at least 60 cases in which police offices and British military officials were accused of extrajudicial killings during the troubles.

So, you know, you talk to people on the ground there, both in Republican and Loyalist camps, they say, oh yeah, the cops want to come after us but they won’t go after themselves. And so there’s a lot of frustration at that level.

Do have to mention the presence of the British, which is what Brendan in Vienna, Va. would like to remind us of. Brendan, your turn.

Kojo, thank you. You have a fascinating program today. I’m a George Mason University history graduate and Irish American, so a great show today. Yes, wanted to comment on the fact that in the introduction you mentioned a conflict between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA. Just want to add that a man combatant would be the British Army in Northern Ireland who the IRA would certainly argue that they were in conflict with as part of a national liberation struggle to unite Ireland.

And also wanted to comment on the — since you mentioned the Loyalist paramilitaries on the collusion between the British government, the British Army and the Loyalist paramilitary. And I’ll take my comments off the air.

Thank you very much for your call. Kevin, the violence may have subsided but you note that language remains loaded in Northern Ireland. And sharing even an intensely personal story from the time can be dangerous. Explain to us what a tout is and what can happen to someone labeled as one.

A tout is the local slang for an informer. And it is probably the most provocative loaded term anywhere in the North of Ireland. And throughout the troubles, you know, touts would turn up with hoods over their heads, their hands tied behind their back and at least one bullet in their head. And it was obviously the most ignominious end for anybody in those circumstances.

And Irish history is replete with, you know, the whole — the specter of the informer hangs over so much of Irish rebellion down through the centuries. And so after Gerry Adams was arrested in May, graffiti appears all over parts of Belfast. And it said, Boston College touts, the implication being anybody who took part in the Boston College project was touting because they were talking about IRA operations.

Now I spoke specifically with two people who had been identified publically as having given interviews to BC. One is Ricky O’Rawe who was actually the spokesman for the hunger strikers in 1981. He was one of the blanket men who refused to wear prison uniforms when he was doing his time for IRA activity. Other fellow I talked to is Tommy Gorman, another IRA veteran I think spent about 13 years in prison for IRA activity, Escaped from prison twice.

They saw that as a direct threat on their lives. They believe that there are people, the erstwhile comrades who would consider themselves justified in killing them because the touted. That’s the way it’s being seen. And again, in the story I told — and this is — I didn’t even know about the story and, I mean, I had — I’m in Northern Ireland pretty regularly, but I somehow missed this one.

A few years ago a guy named Gerry Bradley who was a member of the IRA in North Belfast, he wrote his own book and he did not vet it. He did not send the manuscript for vetting with the Republican leadership. And after his book came out — and Jerry — in an interview he gave he said, you know, I didn’t name anybody. This was my story and I didn’t submit it for — I’m not going to have my story censored. And very shortly after the book came out, it appeared on the walls in the (word?) which is the neighborhood where Jerry lived. And he was accused of being a tout. And he eventually left his neighborhood and was despairing and he killed himself.

So there are real implications for this word and it’s thrown around kind of willy-nilly in circumstances like this. There are people pointing fingers at each other and publically accusing each other of being touts. And again, that is a word that carries enormous consequence in the North of Ireland.

Zachary Schrag, these tapes contain narrators implicating other in acts of violence, which raises all kinds of murky questions about slander, about liable. What recourse, if any, do those who took part in the project likely have?

Well, unfortunately there’s not good law right now. So Boston College has sent back the interviews to those it can. And Mr. Cullen’s article describes one set of interviews being burned by the person who gave it. In the long term we do have federal protections for some kinds of research, if you’re doing health research, for example, with sex workers or drug users who you know they commit crimes but you’re trying to do public health research, you can get protections from subpoena for that.

If you want to research criminals and are willing to burn the tapes afterwards, you can get shield law protections from the Department of Justice for that. But what we don’t have in U.S. federal law are broader protections where people doing this kind of research could really guarantee that the materials would not be released under subpoena. And until we have that we can’t get the kind of reconciliation that Mr. Cullen talked about.

As a journalist on a live broadcast, I ask a guest a question, you answer it. That answer’s out there for everyone to hear, maybe read at a later date, whether it’s tomorrow, five, ten years from now. But oral history works on a very different set of assumptions and procedures with a very different end in mind. The saying goes that journalists write the first draft of history, so what needs to happen to create a final or more definitive draft?

Well, ideally in an oral history project you go to a narrator, go back and forth multiple times, you do a recorded interview, you transcribe it, the narrator reads it, maybe adds some things, takes out some things. And what you’re trying to do is to get a polished finished narrative that the narrator thinks really represents his or her experiences in position. And that will last as an archive. It’s almost like writing a memoir only without limiting it to the relatively few people who have the time and money and resources to actually publish a memoir.

The problem, again, is that if there are going to be people coming into that process, either through subpoena, Freedom of Information Act requests, which is a problem for those of us who work at public universities, then that bond between interviewer and narrator is broken. And the narrator can’t be as candid as he or she would like. And you have to limit things to what’s on the record.

Fortunately for most oral history projects that’s fine. Most oral history projects are not about unsolved murders but it’s still unfortunate that we have this kind of project hanging over us and perhaps deterring future research.

Kevin Cullen, the nature of truth and memory issues of ownership of a story, who gets to write the history, all central to this current conflict. As a journalist who’s covered both international conflicts and written about the havoc wreaked by Whitey Bulger in Boston, what do you make of the chilling effect that remains in this case and so many decades after the fact?

Well, all I can tell you is the people that I interviewed who gave interviews said they would never in a million years have agreed to do it if they thought their stuff could come up before they died. They really — now, you know, we can go back and forth of whether BC was clear enough on this, whether the project director and the interviewers were clear enough on it to the people. But there’s no doubt in my mind talking to these people that they thought it was not going to come out until they were dead.

And so will it have a chilling effect? I would think it would have to. I would think any time you approach somebody and asked them to detail what is essentially the violation of laws or committing crimes, even if they would justify it as, you know, an act of war, an act of, you know, natural self determination, they would be — I would think they would be very cautious. They would point to this case. UI think it’s, you know, unmistakably true that this is a test case, that this has set a precedent. And I would say it set a very, very bad precedent. I think it’s bad for oral history. I think it’s bad for conflict resolution.

Because I remember, you know, there are guys on the Loyalist side I talked to, they really thought they were doing a public service. They thought they were helping people down the road. If people could see why they did what they did and also explain why they stopped when they stopped that lessons — valuable lessons about conflict and conflict resolution would be imparted. And now they feel that was all for naught. And as Plum Smith, one of the leading Loyalists puts it, he says, I don’t think anybody would ever sit down and give a candid account in a case like this again.

Well, Kevin, Northern Ireland’s peace process did not end with a Good Friday agreement or the 2006 amendment to it. Gerry Adams as part of a Sinn Fein delegation sat down with Prime Minister David Cameron last week. Where, in your — looking in your crystal ball, do you see the continued process going next?

Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s likely that we would go back to armed conflict. I mean, there are dissident groups on the ground, at least on the Republican side, who believe that they have the right to engage in armed struggle. That said, I think those days are really gone.

The other part of this is obviously that you can always reignite issues in Ireland with — if people are seen to be treated unfairly. And that’s why potential prosecutions that arise from this, I think, could have a dramatically detrimental effect on the peace process. But I think the other thing is, this issue of the past and dealing with it, I think it’s something that this society hasn’t really taken formal steps to handle with. The piecemeal nature of truth recollection or truth recovery I think has actually had a negative effect.

And unfortunately, you know, there is no Mandela in Northern Ireland. There is no archbishop Tutu. There is no person that you could point to as sort of being the arbiter of how we’re going to handle this. I mean, Richard Haass from the United States government is actually over there, and Megan O’Sullivan from Harvard. And they’ve been trying to help the Irish deal with their legacy issues. How do they deal with the past? How do Unionists celebrate their traditions without offending Nationalists and vice versa?

So I think this is something that’s going to go on. We’re in a post-conflict situation in Northern Ireland. And I think it’s that old truism. Sometimes it’s harder to keep the peace than to make the peace. And there are a lot of, a lot of struggles that this society has in front of it. And hopefully they will get through it.

And I’m afraid we’re just about out of time. Kevin Cullen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a metro columnist for the Boston Globe, co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice.” Kevin, thank you for joining us.

Thank you, Kojo.

Zachary Schrag is a professor in the department of history and art history at George Mason University. His books include “Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences,” and “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” Zachary Schrag, thank you for joining us.

Thank you.

1st Response to FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)

FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Enforcement Operations
Criminal Division
Washington, D.C. 20530
July 1, 2014

Mr. Dustin Slaughter
MuckRock News
Dept. MR 12221
Post Office Box 55819
Boston, MA 02205

Dear Mr. Slaughter:
Re: CRM-300452623 KWC:CPS

The Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act request dated June 1 8, 2014, in which you requested access to records concerning the Belfast Project. Your request has been assigned file number CRM-300452623. You should refer to this number in any future correspondence with this Office.

The records you seek require a search in another section of the Criminal Division, and so your request presents “unusual circumstances” under the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. 552 (a)(6)(B)(i)- (iii), Because of these unusual circumstances, we need to extend the twenty day time limit to respond to your request beyond the ten additional days provided by the statute. The time needed to complete our processing of your request will necessarily depend on the complexity of our records search and on the volume and complexity of any records located. In an effort to facilitate our records search, you may wish to narrow the scope of your request to limit the number of potentially responsive records or agree to an alternative time frame for processing, should records be located; or you may wish to await the completion of our records search to discuss either of these options.

You have requested expedited processing of your request pursuant to the Department’s standard permitting expedition for requests involving “[an] urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.” See C.F.R. 16.5(d)(ii) (2013).

Based on the information you have provided, I have determined that your request for expedited processing under this standard should be denied. This Office cannot identify a particular urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity beyond the public’s right to know about government activities generally.

We have not yet made a decision on your request for preferred requester fee status or your request for a fee waiver. We will do so after we determine whether fees will be assessed for this request.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss reformulation or an alternative time frame for the processing of your request, you may contact me by telephone at (202) 616-0307, or you may write to me at the Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, Suite 1127, Keeney Building, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001. Thank you for your interest in the Criminal Division.


Kenneth Courter
Acting Chief

FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)

FOI Request: Belfast Project Documents (DOJ-OIA)
Dustin Slaughter
18 June 2014

Status: Awaiting Acknowledgement

From Dustin Slaughter to Department of Justice, Criminal Division on June 18, 2014:

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request for expedited processing and fee waiver status under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

Any and all documents possessed by the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs pertaining to the Belfast Project.

All processing notes produced as a result of this request should also be included.

The Belfast Project, started in 2001 and concluded in 2006, is a collection of oral histories currently kept at Boston College, and created by journalists Ed Maloney and Dr. Anthony McIntyre, for the purpose of documenting and preserving an historical account of the period in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles”. This request seeks all responsive documents starting from 2011, when the Department of Justice, through the US/UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (US/UK MLAT) on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), subpoenaed Boston College for interviews conducted as part of this oral history project.

This request includes but is not limited to: any and all emails, memorandums, briefs and reports, and audio/visual presentations, as exchanged with the UK Home Office and/or Police Service of Northern Ireland under the US/UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

This request does not exclude any other records which, though not specifically requested, would have a reasonable relationship to the subject matter of this request. I also expect to be provided with all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

The time frame for this request includes all responsive documents from 1 January 2011 up to and including the date this request is officially processed.

My request for expedited processing should be granted without delay, as the Belfast Project is a matter of continuing press coverage, and has generated much interest from the general public as well as academic circles. Indeed, a simple Google search for “Belfast Project” yields over 31,000 results which include major international and national media outlets ranging from The Guardian, The Irish Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, in addition to a multitude of academic journals, and more.

I also believe my request for a fee waiver should be granted, because this request is in the public interest. As a member of the news media, I will use information gleaned from responsive records released to to produce work that will be made available to the general public free of charge and not for commercial usage.

Please reference these clippings as evidence of my news media status:

Additionally, your office should grant my fee waiver request because of MuckRock News’ mission statement as evidenced on its ‘About’ page (

MuckRock News has been recognized by “the Sunlight Foundation, The Freedom of the Press Foundation, and hundreds of local and national news outlets for its groundbreaking work in areas such as government spending, surveillance, and public safety.

In addition, MuckRock works with journalists to help conceive, pursue, and publish original stories on issues that matter with exclusive primary materials obtained via public records law.”

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.


Dustin Slaughter