Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tony Catney: Some Musings On The Irish Peace Process

The recent untimely death of the former leading Provisional activist Tony Catney – known everywhere as ‘TC’ – brought in its wake valuable lessons from the Troubles’ past and less certain pointers to the future of republican resistance to the 1998 peace accords.

The event that hid the headlines, with the usual predictable howls of Unionist outrage and media hype, was of course the volley of shots fired over an improvised shrine to Catney’s memory by masked men a few days after his funeral. Styling themselves ‘the IRA’, a dissident group of which the dead man appeared to have been associated with in some way, the gunmen were signaling a) that they still had access to modern weapons and b) were willing to use them, even if the only living beings at danger from their efforts would be passing seagulls.

The second was the emergence of parts of an interview that Catney had given to Dr Peter Trumbore, an American academic political scientist from Oakland University in Michigan and reprinted on the Pensive Quill website. The interview was notable for a number reasons, one of which was a question that immediately jumped into my mind: why aren’t Irish academics, why aren’t Irish historians doing interviews like this? Why do American academics have to do the work that Irish ones should be doing but aren’t, or won’t? Where on earth, for instance, is Diarmaid Ferriter, Ireland’s ‘historian laureate’ and a man who is quick to criticise others who research the IRA but whose own record in this regard is lamentably lacking? We all know the answer: they talk the talk but don’t have the balls to do the walk.

Guardian correspondent Henry McDonald brought up another issue raised tangentially by Catney’s interview, the future of armed struggle as a response to the Sinn Fein-led peace process. McDonald saw in Catney’s remarks doubts about the viability of the tactic although others, myself included, read it the other way.

Tony Catney

Tony Catney

The section of the interview that jumped out at me, not least because I covered the same area with him in conversations before I left Belfast, I reproduce below with the kind permission of Dr Trumbore:

So the fork in the road for me was the 31st of August 1994 when as an IRA volunteer I was summoned to be given the briefing as to why there would be a ceasefire at 12:00 that night. And the guy doing it gave me the reasons why, and then foolishly enough asked for people’s opinions.

So he asked my opinion and since I’m not usually very quiet, I wasn’t that particular evening. So he said, “Well, what’s your opinion?” and I said, “Well, I mean what is it you’re asking me for? Do you want my honest opinion about this or do you want me to say whether or not I support an army line?”

He says, “No, it’s not about an army line, I want your opinion,” and I said, “My opinion is this is all bollocks.” And I said:

“You sat in February of this year and sent IRA volunteers out on operations that have resulted in them lying in the H-blocks of Long Kesh at this moment in time on the basis that all of the talk about cease fires was mischievous and that it was being put out by the Brits. You denied whenever you were asked that the mini cease fire in May for the Americans was a dummy run for what is happening now, and this hasn’t been done from a position of strength by the IRA it has been done as an admission of weakness and that’s my honest opinion on it.”

And he says, “If you ever repeat that outside of this room,” that I’d be charged with treason. I said, “Right, so it wasn’t really my honest opinion you were after, you just really wanted me to agree with you.”

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that,” and I said, “Well then how can you say it’s fucking treasonous?”

It was a stupid row what was or what wasn’t treason, but at that point then I was earmarked as someone who wasn’t on board with the leadership strategy.

Those readers of who are familiar with my book on the IRA and the peace process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ will know that I believed that the strategy that led to the IRA ceasefires and ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning had certain unique features, which were: it was devised and implemented in great secrecy by a very small team of people grouped around Gerry Adams; the vast bulk of IRA activists and Sinn Fein members, and much of the IRA leadership, were in almost total ignorance of the developing strategy, and lastly, that lying and dissembling were the principal tools used to still and quieten doubts amongst the grassroots.

Tony Catney’s account to Dr Rumbore is a public acknowledgement of all this. But it is more than that. Tony Catney was not typical of rank and file republicans. He was a valuable and skilled political worker for Sinn Fein and the IRA and at one point was the party’s Director of Elections, a post he held with considerable distinction. He was a senior party apparatchik,  responsible for Sinn Fein’s growing electoral successes in the early 1990’s, a confidante of and advisor to the party’s tope echelon, yet even he was kept outside the circle of knowledge. That much is evident by the anger he expresses in his exchange with his IRA briefer about the lies told about the growing momentum towards the August 1994 ceasefire, the denials from leadership figures.

It is part of human nature, I believe, to seek refuge in self-denial and self-deception when a person realises that they have been lied and made a fool of, especially when hindsight shows how mistaken or gullible they really were. In relation to the peace process this took various forms, the most pathetic of which was to cling to the belief that ‘Gerry has got something up his sleeve’ as inexorably Sinn Fein travelled towards constitutionalism and the IRA to oblivion. I wish I had a fiver for every time I heard that in Belfast circa 1993-2001, when I finally left. The truth was that the only thing up Gerry’s sleeve was air.

I had occasion to debate all this with Tony Catney before I left and he stubbornly adhered to the line he gave Dr Trumbore. Explaining to his IRA ceasefire briefer why the accusation that he wasn’t on board with the leadership strategy was baseless, he said:

Nothing could be further from the truth, for one simple reason. I could neither be on board or off board because I had absolutely no idea what the leadership strategy was. Because the leadership had no idea what their strategy was.

I have to say that I formed the conclusion both when we last spoke and on re-reading his view on all this that to believe that there was no leadership strategy was his way of saying “I wasn’t really fooled because they didn’t know what they were doing”. In fact the evidence of a clear and thought out strategy is there in black and white and I reproduced it in the second edition of “A Secret History…” in 2007. It is the letter written to Charles Haughey by Gerry Adams’ peace process interlocutor, Fr Alex Reid in May 1987, just days after the Loughgall massacre, setting out the ways by which the Provos would and could end their war. It is the Rosetta Stone of the peace process.It happened more or less exactly as Charles Haughey was told it would.

That Tony Catney refused to acknowledge its existence and accept its relevance makes his life and death that little bit sadder.

The REAL ISSUE Behind The Ferguson, Missouri Police Response


Protest Is Treated As Terrorism In America Today

Washington Post writer Radley Balko is the leading expert on militarization of police in America.  Balko has testified to Congress and written books on the subject.

Balko said today that the real issue behind the Ferguson, Missouri police response wasn’t the militarized police response – or the minor incidences of looting, rock-throwing and possibly Molotov cocktails by a handful of protesters – but a crackdown by government on all protest:

What we’re seeing in Ferguson, this is not a local issue, really. I mean, this is something that’s been driven by national policies, by policies that Congress has approved of and has oversight of, and could end tomorrow, if they wanted to.


The idea that when we take domestic police officers and we train them like soldiers and we give them military gear and we dress them up like soldiers and we tell them they’re fighting a war—you know, war on crime or war on terror—they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers. And that’s just a mindset that’s not—that really isn’t appropriate for domestic policing. And I think you saw that in the way that they responded to protests—not just in Ferguson, but also, you know, a lot of the crackdowns on the Occupy protesters, on the crackdowns at the political conventions over the years. I mean, this has become our default response to protest in the U.S., and it’s something that, you know, I think could be very antagonistic toward the very idea of free speech and the First Amendment.


The FBI treated the peaceful protesters at the Occupy protests – who were protesting too big to fail banks, and who were predominately white –  as terrorists. More here, here and here.

Highly-militarized, federally-coordinated police used such brutal violence to break up the Occupy protests – see this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this – that the Egyptian military used the crack down on Occupy as justification for the murder of protesters in Tahir Square, Egypt.  (Despite media portrayals, the Occupy protesters were not violent.)

Violence was also been unleashed against peaceful protesters outside of Republican and and Democratic conventions. And reporter Amy Goodman was arrested at the Republican convention for documenting violence against protestors.

The real issues are that:

Boston College And Me

This article first appeared on the website ‘Off The Record’:

The Boys From Berlin: The MI5 Officers Who Covered Up Kincora

Reprinted from Spinwatch:


Tuesday, 12 August 2014 10:08

Recent months have seen repeated calls for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry to look at events at the Kincora Boys Home in the mid-1970s (see Spinwatch reports here and here). A key development took place last week when a former Army intelligence officer spoke publicly for the first time about MI5’s role in suppressing knowledge of abuse at the home.

Liam Clarke reported:

Brian Gemmell, a former captain in military intelligence, confirmed that he had passed on information from three men – James Miller, Roy Garland and Jim McCormick – to a senior MI5 officer named Ian Cameron. All three information sources were completely opposed to the abuse and wanted it ended…

…His first move was to report it to Cameron, an MI5 veteran who was working under the cover of a political adviser in the Northern Ireland Office.

“Ian Cameron was very much a father figure to me at the time,” Mr Gemmell said.

“I was in my mid-20s and he was in his early 60s. He was normally a very nice chap, but he reacted very strongly.

“He told me that MI5 did not concern itself with what homosexuals did and he ordered me to stop using an agent I had within Tara, who we had codenamed Royal Flush.”

Clarke notes that Cameron was a veteran of Cold War Berlin, an aspect of his background which casts a significant light on his connections within MI5.

 Before being posted to Belfast, Cameron served in a little-known unit called the British Services Security Organisation, responsible since the 1950s for the security of British forces in Germany. In 1968, a section of BSSO involved in debriefing defectors was hived off into the British Services intelligence Unit, which became an MI6 fiefdom. The remainder of the BSSO came under the leadership of an officer seconded from MI5, which had sought greater influence over the organisation for the best part of a decade.

Intelligence historian Richard Aldrich wrote of this period:

In the autumn of 1968, as part of these changes, the Chiefs of Staff had asked for the remainder of BSSO (G) to be re-organised under the command of a seconded officer from MI5 in London. By early 1969 this MI5 officer had initiated a number of reforms, most importantly an effort to beef up the Berlin Branch of BSSO (G), which involved reorganisation, more staff and better equipment particularly for interception. However, despite increased resources, the Berlin Branch found themselves struggling.  (Battleground Western Europe: Intelligence Operations in Germany and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century pp.134-135)

Aldrich does not name the MI5 officer concerned, but Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas state that it was John Jones. I do not know their source for this as I only have access to Google snippets of their book. Nevertheless, I am inclined to accept this conclusion, as it explains references to Jones that appear in Ian Cameron’s correspondence from 1971.

Cameron was at that time the head of the Berlin branch of the BSSO, in which capacity he wrote to Edward Jackson, the political advisor to the British Military Government, complaining that a Russian attempt to post more diplomats in the west of the city would create an impossible task for BSSO’s locally recruited surveillance operators.

Cameron made a point of copying this correspondence to John Jones, which would make sense if Jones was his immediate boss, the MI5 officer running BSSO, whose most significant reform, beefing up the Berlin branch, was Cameron’s direct responsibility.

Such a close working relationship at this time is particularly intriguing in the light of the two men’s later careers in MI5.

In 1972, Jones became the head of F Branch, MI5’s counter-subversion wing, which was rapidly taking over from counter-espionage as MI5’s highest priority.

David Leigh wrote of this era:

New names from the world of the ‘industrial desk’, John Jones, David Ransom, John Woodruffe began to rise to prominence. MI5 fought – and beat – MI6 for control of intelligence in Northern Ireland, under a succession of ‘DCIs’ on two-year tours to this new, uninhibited career posting – Ian Cameron, Jack Credock, John Parker. (The Wilson Plot, p.209).

In fact, Cameron may not have been the Director and Coordinator of Intelligence (DCI), but one of his subordinates. Numerous inquiries have given us a basic outline of MI5’s structure in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The DCI was based at the Northern Ireland Office, and had representatives working with the RUC and at the Army’s HQNI. Cameron, working at Lisburn, would have filled the latter role.

Agent-handling was run separately by an MI5/MI6 Irish Joint Section (IJS) reporting to London. F Branch would have been responsible for the MI5 end of the IJS, which became F8 section when MI6 dropped out completely in the mid-1980s.

Christopher Andrew states that as head of F Branch from 1972 to 1974, Jones ‘showed no desire to expand the Service’s role in Northern Ireland’ (The Defence of the Realm, 2009, p.621).

Although Andrew would probably not acknowledge it, this picture fits all too well with Colin Wallace’s account of Operation Clockwork Orange, a propaganda campaign ostensibly aimed against the IRA, but which in reality focused on domestic British counter-subversion.

According to Paul Foot’s book Who Framed Colin Wallace?, Clockwork Orange was initiated by the DCI Denis Payne (1990, p.41). As Payne’s representative at Lisburn, Cameron would have been well-placed to observe the dissemination of propaganda through the Army press office. The London-based MI5 officers who provided Wallace with much of this material would probably also have come from F Branch.

F Branch’s Northern Ireland responsibilities had a particular focus on loyalism, because police special branches retained primacy with regard to republicanism until the 1990s. (Given the BSSO connection, it might be interesting to examine whether the British Army of the Rhine was a recruiting ground for MI5 agents within loyalism).

If Kincora housefather William McGrath had an MI5 handler as many suspect, this would probably have been an F Branch officer. Likewise the London-based MI5 officers who asked Brian Gemmell whether loyalist John McKeague could be blackmailed would probably have come from F Branch.

Given these links, MI5’s stonewalling of a Kincora inquiry may have been more than the usual bureaucratic cover-up. According to Liam Clarke, RUC officers led by Superintendent George Caskey were not even allowed to meet Cameron in the 1980s:

The Caskey team were allowed to submit a series of written question to him asking why no action was taken to investigate Mr Gemmell’s allegations, why Mr Gemmell was told to drop the issue of Kincora, and whether MI5 had been prepared to let the abuses continue.The questions were never answered. We don’t know if Mr Cameron even received them.

These enquiries were part of the Terry Inquiry which took place in 1982 and 1983. During that period the Director-General of MI5 was Cameron’s former close colleague Sir John Jones. MI5’s silence in relation to the Caskey team raises the question whether Jones did not have a profound conflict of interest.

If William McGrath was an MI5 agent between 1972 and 1974, Jones as head of F Branch would have been closer to the operational chain of responsibility than Cameron. Equally, as head of MI5’s counter-subversion wing at the time of Operation Clockwork Orange, he would have had serious questions to answer if Colin Wallace’s version of events had been accepted.

MI5 still refuses to face that appalling vista to this day, but given the evidence of Colin Wallace, Roy Garland, the late James Miller, Major-General Peter Leng and now Brian Gemmell, its denials are looking thinner than ever.

Tom Griffin

Tom Griffin is a freelance journalist and researcher. He is a former editor of the Irish World newspaper, and is currently undertaking a Ph.D at the University of Bath. He was a contributor to Fight Back! OpenDemocracy’s book on the 2010 student protests, and a co-author of the Spinwatch pamphlet The Cold War on British Muslims. His website is at:


Kincora Scandal: MI5 Agent Was Named In UK Parliament 24 Years Ago; RUC Was Implicated In Cover-Up. Any Chance Of A Subpoena?

The disclosure this week on BBC Northern Ireland from former British Army intelligence officer, Brian Gemmell that the British spy agency, MI5 had in 1975 ordered him to halt a probe into a paedophile ring at the Kincora Boys Home in East Belfast has re-opened this decades long scandal and re-fueled demands for a thorough investigation of the role of British security agencies in covering up the abuse of young boys at the home.

The Kincora Boys Home

The Kincora Boys Home

With the latest allegation from Gemmell, who was a Captain in British military intelligence, MI5 stands accused of complicity in the sexual, physical and mental abuse of an unknown number of children, many of whom were from broken or difficult homes or were orphans. An ordinary citizen accused of such an offence could expect the full weight of the law to bear down upon them but MI5 is likely to try to hide behind its intelligence privileges to evade investigation.

According to Gemmell, who was not answering his phone at his Yorkshire home yesterday, he was summoned to see the MI5 officer and told to end his investigation, based on information he had received from two informers, one of them codenamed ‘Royal Flush’ who was named in the British Parliament in 1990 as Roy Garland, then a disciple of Kincora Housefather, William McGrath. McGrath, an evangelist who headed his own Orange Lodge, created the bizarre Loyalist group, Tara, a ‘doomsday’ outfit from which the post-Gusty Spence UVF evolved. Garland, a columnist with the Irish News, experienced brief notoriety when the Kincora scandal broke when to hide his identity the Irish Times christened him ‘Mr X’, a source who implicated Ian Paisley in the cover up.

Brian Gemmell, now a born-again Christian

Brian Gemmell, now a born-again Christian

McGrath’s links to the extreme edges of Loyalism and to its mainstream were impressive and many Unionist politicians of the 1960’s to the 1980’s had been part of his entourage. His associates included Ian Paisley as well as leading figures in both the DUP and the Official now Ulster Unionist Party. Alongside his paramilitary associations, all this would have made McGrath  an obvious target for British intelligence while his pedophilia and strange sexual behaviour – he was suspected by one associate of having had intercourse with a corpse at one point – would have given British intelligence ample leverage against him.

William McGrath, founded Tara and abused boys at Kincora

William McGrath, founded Tara and abused boys at Kincora

This is what Brian Gemmell told the BBC about his meeting with the MI5 man: “I went up thinking he was going to be pleased with me (but) he bawled me out He was rude and offensive and hostile. He told me not just to stop any investigation into Kincora, but to drop Royal Flush.”

However he gave a much fuller and more colorful account to the British Labour MP and former London mayor Ken Livingstone who said this about his encounter with Gemmell, whom he did not name but called “James”. Gemmell had passed on intelligence about Kincora after meeting Roy Garland to his military superiors:

The Army intelligence officer wrote a report of his meeting with Garland, and sent it to his Army superiors as a matter of routine. He said that it was then passed to MI5—which shared the same building at Army headquarters—and that he was summoned to see the senior MI5 officer. On the “Public Eye” programme, he said of that meeting: I can’t honestly say that I was expecting three gold stars but I went up feeling pretty positive, expecting a normal meeting. Instead I got blown out of his office. He’s rude to me, he tells me that the kind of information that I have submitted is not proper intelligence, that we have nothing—we, as intelligence officers, don’t dabble in homosexual affairs, that these moral matters are nothing to do with us. He vilifies my report, he tells me to cut off the contact. I can remember him saying to me words to the effect ‘get rid of him, break the contact, just get rid’. I’m surprised because we had had a pretty good relationship going up until then. He blows me out of the office. That, surely, is a remarkable position for one of the most senior MI5 officers on operational duty in the north of Ireland: having been told of systematic child abuse by a leading militant Protestant paramilitary, MI5 decided to do nothing about it.

The name of the MI5 officer has been known for nearly a quarter century and he was named in the British House of Commons in June 1990 by Labour MP’s Tam Dalyell and Ken Livingstone as Ian Cameron, MI5’s military liaison officer in Northern Ireland. The striking aspect of Livingstone’s account of Brian Gemmell’s story is Cameron’s given reason for insisting that he drop his probe, not that it would endanger an ongoing intelligence operation but that matters such as pedophilia were of no concern to MI5 – in a home run by one of the North’s most extreme and well connected Loyalists? Striking since the involvement of NIO officials in the ring was alleged to this reporter by a source who investigated the home in the 1970’s.

Britain's internal spy agency, MI5 covered up and thereby facilitated the rape of children at a home in East Belfast during the 1970's.

Britain’s internal spy agency, MI5 covered up and thereby facilitated the rape of children at a home in East Belfast during the 1970’s.

 Powerbase claims that Cameron held a senior position in British intelligence in Berlin in the early 1970’s but was then transferred to Northern Ireland where from 1974 onwards he served as intelligence controller at Thiepval barracks, the British Army HQ and was involved in the power struggle for intelligence supremacy in Northern Ireland with MI6, a battle won by MI5.

An intriguing side effect of Gemmell’s disclosure is that it is helping to bestow a new credibility on whistle-blowing former security personnel such as Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd, figures that the British establishment, aided by not a few in the media, were keen to discredit.

Tam Dalyell’s contribution to that 1990 House of Commons debate is below but what is starkly clear from his and Ken Livngstone’s contribution is that the salient details of MI5’s role in the Kincora cover up were well known nearly twenty-five years ago but nothing was done.



(A note about language. Throughout those 1981/82 Irish Times reports all the journalists involved referred to the scandal as being a “homosexual” one whereas the correct term would and should have been “pedophile”, since we were implying that all homosexuals were or could be pedophiles when that was palpably not true. Put that down to the times that were in it and our own immature attitudes. It wouldn’t happen now, that’s for sure.)

The Convictions:

The three members of staff at Kincora appear in court on December 10th, 1981 charged with offences connected to sexual assault of boys. Only one, William McGrath pleaded not guilty and was ready to argue that he had been framed by the UVF with whose leaders he had fallen out. He later changed his plea to guilty apparently because of family fears of what courts disclosures would reveal.

The three members of staff at Kincora appear in court on December 10th, 1981 charged with offences connected to sexual assault of boys. Only one, William McGrath pleaded not guilty and was ready to argue that he had been framed by the UVF with whose leaders he had fallen out. He later changed his plea to guilty apparently because of family fears of what courts disclosures would reveal.


So Who Knew?o_0768ad48e2ad395e_001

Irish Times - December 17th, 1981; McKittrick's report reveals that the British Army knew all about Kincora Housefather, William McGrath and that he was of intelligence interest to the military.

Irish Times – December 17th, 1981; McKittrick’s report reveals that the British Army knew all about Kincora Housefather, William McGrath and that he was of intelligence interest to the military.





And the Unionist establishment knew. After all WIlliam McGrath was one of their own. Irish Times, December 17th, 1981

And the Unionist establishment knew. After all WIlliam McGrath was one of their own. Irish Times, December 17th, 1981


And so did the RUC, which covered up its own officers' probe into the affair. So what is the PSNI going to do now? The force's commitment to uncovering historical crime is on record and it would be hard to imagine a more bestial crime than covering up the rape of children. So a criminal investigation, not an public inquiry is called for in the wake of Brian Gemmell's allegations. Here's a good starting point PSNI: reach down into the drawer marked 'blank subpoena forms', fill one out and send it off to the head of MI5 asking for him to trawl through his records of that time for evidence of a cover up and hand it all over. After all everyone else has to.

And so did the RUC, which covered up its own officers’ probe into the affair – Irish Times, January 12th, 1982. So what is the PSNI going to do now? The force’s commitment to uncovering historical crime is on record and it would be hard to imagine a more bestial crime than covering up the rape of children. So a criminal investigation, not a public inquiry is called for in the wake of Brian Gemmell’s allegations. Here’s a good starting point PSNI: reach down into the drawer marked ‘blank subpoena forms’, fill one out and send it off to the head of MI5 asking for him to trawl through his records of that time for evidence of a cover up and hand it all over. After all everyone else has to.


Why The Deafening Media Silence On Suspected Provo Bugging Of McIntyre Family?

Well over two months have passed since allegations surfaced that the home phones and internet connection of the McIntyre family in Drogheda, Co Louth may have been bugged and, in particular, that conversations between Carrie McIntyre and members of the US embassy staff in Dublin were intercepted and their contents passed on to a journalist working for the Sunday World newspaper.

Since then there have been the following developments:

  • The Sunday World journalist’s source has been identified and, according to a well-placed informant, is believed to be the former IRA intelligence chief who, inter alia, masterminded the 2004 Northern Bank robbery, the theft of Special Branch secrets from Castlereagh RUC station in 2002 and organised the October 1996 bombing of Thiepval barracks, the Lisburn, Co Antrim HQ of the British Army. This figure now holds an position of influence in Sinn Fein and is a close confidante of SF President and Louth TD, Gerry Adams;
  • A complaint has been lodged with the Irish police, the Garda Siochana who are now investigating the alleged bugging;
  • Letters have been written by myself to the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny asking him to monitor the Garda probe, to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, asking him to keep an eye on the affair and to John Kerry, US Secretary of State and Robert Menendez, US Senate Foreign Affairs chairman informing them of the allegation and in particular that US diplomatic staff were also bugged;
  • Both Kenny’s office and Micheal Martin’s offices have responded, the latter asking his NI spokesman Brendan Smith to take charge of the matter;
  • A question has been tabled about the affair in Dail Eireann by  Brendan Smith. Initially directed at the Taoiseach it has now been steered towards the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald.

In addition there are rumors that the Provos have set up a dirty tricks unit specifically charged with handling the fallout from the Boston College affair, which includes a computer expert and the former IRA intelligence chief. A black propaganda unit has also allegedly been organised comprising a college lecturer, a former journalist and a figure once charged by the IRA with the task of vetting condemned informers’ confessions, whose task is to blacken the names of those involved in the Boston project. Just a rumour but one not without some substance.

Enough material there, one would have thought, to whet the appetite and interest of your average red-blooded journalist. After all, if true, the bugging could have been done on behalf of members of the next Irish government. If not, then how did the Sunday World acquire such intimate knowledge of the McIntyres’ affairs?

Except this is Ireland and apart from a smattering of coverage, like these two pieces in the Guardian which can be read here and here and a report in the BBC, the Irish media has by and large managed to completely ignore the story. And even the Guardian, the paper that bravely exposed the NSA’s dirty tricks and championed Wikileaks (at least initially), has gone silent about a potential scandal on its own doorstep that could plunge Ireland’s fastest growing political party into a Nixonian mire.

How Netanyahu’s Lie Incited Carnage In Gaza

This piece from Mondoweiss should put Netanyahu in the dock at the Hague. But it won’t unless the mainstream media, especially in the U.S., follow up with some vigorous investigative journalism. Let’s see, but don’t hold your breath.

What Image Pops Into Netanyahu’s Mind When He Thinks Of John Kerry?

This, perhaps?


White Man Speak With Forked Tongue

While President Obama, Premier Cameron, most of Europe’s leaders and almost the entire leadership of the Western media is in no doubt that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine were responsible for downing the Malaysian airliner and are telling their people just that, nay whipping up a Russophobic frenzy amongst their people, the said Western powers’ intelligence agencies are being far more circumspect.

This from the Cable blog in Foreign Policy magazine yesterday:

U.S. Intelligence No Closer to Pinning MH17 Downing on Russia BY SHANE HARRIS

ive days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, U.S. intelligence officials are still not certain who fired the missile that felled the doomed airliner, nor have they conclusively linked the attack to Russian military forces, according to senior intelligence officials.

“The leading theory” at this point, said a senior intelligence official, is that pro-Russian separatists equipped and trained by Russia fired the deadly surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing all 298 passengers aboard. But U.S. analysts aren’t sure whether the shooters were trained directly by Russian military forces or if they learned how to fire the missile while serving in the Ukrainian military, officials said.

In a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, three senior intelligence officials laid out the evidence and showed that the Obama administration is no closer to decisively pinning the blame for the shoot-down on Moscow or Russian President Vladimir Putin. A mountain of circumstantial evidence points to the Russian-backed separatists. But “there’s no Perry Mason moment” in the intelligence, said one official.

The officials offered little new information about the MH17 investigation, except to say that U.S. intelligence analysts are now persuaded that the jet was downed by accident, likely by forces who believed they were taking aim at a Ukrainian military aircraft. The officials circulated widely available information, including photographs of the suspected missile launcher posted to social media in recent days, and pointed to voice recordings posted to YouTube of separatists acknowledging that they shot down a jet, which they later discovered was a civilian plane. One official stressed that analysts weren’t relying solely on social media information, such as tweets and online videos. But nothing in the agencies’ classified files has brought them any closer to definitively blaming Russia.

In the days since the shoot-down, President Barack Obama has made clear that he holds Putin responsible for, at the very least, creating the unstable and confused wartime conditions in eastern Ukraine that set the stage for such a tragedy. The president emphasizes Russia’s “extraordinary influence” over the separatists, and that he expects Putin to rein them in and force them to negotiate a political settlement with Kiev. “Russia has urged [the separatists] on,” Obama said in brief remarks at the White House on Monday. “Russia has trained them. We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons. Key separatist leaders are Russian citizens.”

The senior intelligence officials likewise emphasized Russia’s military support to the separatists and said this helped build a case against Moscow as being ultimately responsible for providing the missile launcher that was used to shoot down MH17. The officials showed reporters a satellite photo of what they said was a camp in Rostov, Russia, near Ukraine’s eastern border, where separatists have been trained. A photograph taken Monday shows the camp apparently filled with military equipment, indicating that it remains an active training ground. The officials also said that as recently as Tuesday, intelligence showed that as many as 20 military vehicles were moving from Russia into Ukraine, indicating that Russia has little intention of scaling down its activity in the region.

The officials were especially concerned with countering various theories put forward in the Russian press that claimed Ukrainian military forces shot down MH17. Dismissing the stories as “propaganda,” the officials spent about half of the briefing debunking claims that a Ukrainian SA-11 battery or an attack plane was the guilty culprit. One official said the intelligence agencies wanted to avoid a repeat of the Russian invasion of Crimea, in which Russian media dispensed stories that the soldiers who’d occupied the territory weren’t really directed by Russia — a claim that has been widely debunked.


The Mystery Of Flight MH17: Motives, Missiles, Flight Plans, And The Media

An intriguing piece on the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner by Lambert Strether, with thanks to Naked Capitalism:

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“It’s a very old tactic,” said Meredith.

“Though new to their audience…” said George, “who as you point out are thirteen years old.”

— William R. Gibson, Zero History

I don’t plan to solve the mystery — “Colonel горчица in the Library with the missile battery” — and I’m not even going to connect any dots. Rather, I’m going to take some prominent aspects of the current narrative and critique them, primarily by asking questions. I’ll begin with two caveats.

First, there’s just no getting around the fact that the United States government — or, as we like to call it, “our” government — just… just… Well, there’s really no nice way to say it: They just make sh*t up. Especially when they’re beating the war drums. And gosh darn it, our famously free press helps them! You’d be stupid to trust them! To understand this, we don’t have to believe three impossible things before breakfast, or buy into the Illuminati, or Area 51, or problems with the Apollo landing, and we don’t even have to attempt to disentangle ginormous tangled hairballs like the JFK (RFK (MLK (Wallace))) assassinations or (dread words) 911. (No. Don’t. No. I’m not going to “just look at the video.” Go away.) Let’s make it easy on ourselves, and more importantly, whoever we want to persuade, because all we have to do is remind people of a recent episode in our history that’s on the public record, easily accessed, and impeccably sourced: The Iraq WMDs debacle. There weren’t any. Remember? I got into the detail a bit more here, but I think there’s one money quote that sums up the whole sorry, murderous era, and it comes from what was known as “The Downing Street Memo.”

The Downing Street “Memo” is actually the minutes of a meeting, transcribed during a gathering of many of the British Prime Minister’s senior ministers on July 23, 2002. Published by The Sunday Times on May 1, 2005 this document was the first hard evidence from within the UK or US governments that exposed the truth about how the Iraq war began.

Now from the memo itself; I’ve helpfully underlined the money quote. (C is like “M” in James Bond.)

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

(We now know that over $200 million dollars were spent doing the “fixing,” and over 50 stories were planted in the press, and that the effort was organized by an entity called the White House Iraq Group.)

Now, the foreign policy establishment is, like, an establishment: It doesn’t change much year to year, and the same bad actors — like the neocons! Like the Kagans! Like Victoria Nuland! Like John Brennan! — appear, Flexian-like, over and over, though playing different roles in different episodes. So, if “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” before the 2002 midterms by Bush, you can bet your bottom dollar that “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy” before the 2012 midterms by Obama (or, as we like to call him, “the President”).[1] Please file all objections with The Department of No! They Would Never Do That!

Second caveat: In our critique, we should use as little digital evidence as possible. No Twitter, no FaceBook, and no YouTube, unless the provenance is absolutely ironclad, which for all practical purposes means hardly ever. (Judy Miller, after all, was once a respected reporter.) That is, when the Christian Science Monitor prints a headline like Web evidence points to pro-Russia rebels in downing of MH17 we should guffaw, and point out that “web evidence” is a contradiction in terms. Why? Because intelligence agencies can “seed the Internet with false information,” that’s why, and that includes tweets, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos.

So here are the three questions I’m going to ask:

Who had the motive to shoot MH17 down?
Was MH17 diverted from its course? If so, by whom and why?
Was MH17 shot down by a missile, and if so, how could that happen?
Now, before going on to answer — or fail to answer them — we should understand one thing about the overall context. I don’t always agree with The Saker, but here I think he’s got hold of the right end of the stick:

[I]t is a pretty safe guess to say that, especially considering the war going on right across the border, the Russians literally had it all on [the day MH17 went down]: civilians radars, of course, but also long range radars (ground based and airborne), lots of advanced advanced surveillance (long range detection) radars, lots of tracking and fire control radars numerous radio and signal interception stations. Since all the data from this integrated network of systems could be fused at the higher level command posts we can safely assume that the Russian side had something like “20/20 radar vision”: just about as good as it can get. … [A]nd speaking of Uncle Sam and his EU minions. They also know. The US and NATO maintains a 24/7 surveillance of Ukie and Russian air space at least to the Urals, possibly even on the other side (though I am not sure).

All the intelligence services already know the story. It’s only the public that’s in the dark. So as you read our famously free press baying and howling and speculating, keep that in mind.

1. Who had the motive to shoot MH17 down?

Shorter: Cui Bono. Here again, The Saker has good perspective:

Cui bono?

Well here at least the reply is unambiguous: only the junta in Kiev could have benefited from this tragedy. For the Russians and the Novorussians [the "rebels," or "separatists"], this is something between a real pain and a disaster. Just when the Novorussians were winning without any overt help from Moscow and just when Moscow was gradually successful in denouncing the human costs of Poroshenko’s murderous policies – suddenly the entire planet focuses just on one downed aircraft and the imperial corporate media blames it all on Russia. As for Poroshenko, this disaster is God-sent: not only has everybody forgotten that much promised “surprise” turned out to be a disaster, he can now kill scores of Novorussians with no risks of that being reported in the corporate media. Not only that, but that gives the Ukies a golden excuse to ask for “protection” from their “aggressive and threatening neighbor”. Again, the only party who can benefit from this disaster is the junta.

So, in summary, we have this list of candidates:

1) A deliberate or mistaken Russian attack: superlatively unlikely

2) A mistaken Ukrainian attack: most unlikely

3) A deliberate Ukrainian attack: most likely

4) A mistaken Novorussian attack: possible

5) A deliberate Novorussian attack: most unlikely

I don’t know about you, but to me #3 is the one blinking red.

(The Saker forgot “the US administration in an election year,” but never mind that.) Of course, motive isn’t dispositive, but it’s nice to be clear. For myself, I’d give #4 (a mistaken “Novorussian” attack) more weight, but as we shall see, a lot of that depends on the concrete, on-the-ground operational characteristics of the missile batteries themselves.) Do note, however, that the Ukrainian media implicitly supports The Saker’s thesis. BBC:

The reaction of the Ukrainian media to the disaster is near unanimous on one point made forcefully by various newspapers including the popular daily, Segodnya. It says that the crash has become a “a turning point” in the armed conflict between the Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian separatists and that the war is no longer a local conflict.

Well, that’s an interesting point of view, isn’t it? If it’s no longer a “local conflict,” just what kind of a conflict is it?

2. Was MH17 diverted from its course? If so, by whom and why?

We ask this either if we’re the management of Malaysia Airlines, lawyers for the people killed, or if we have a scenario where MH17 was sent to its doom by being deliberately diverted into a war zone. Here’s how a diversion would have happened in the air traffic control system. Note there are two dimensions: left and right (into the zone), and up and down (into range of the missile). Here’s how the flight plan filed before departure and ATC works together in this context. Guardian:

Nico Voorbach, a pilot who flew the same journey earlier this summer for KLM, and who is president of the European Cockpit Association, said poor weather might have been the reason why flight MH17 found itself in the sights of a surface-to-air missile launcher. The aircraft was shot down in the separatist Donetsk region of east Ukraine.

Voorbach said: “I heard that they were diverting from some showers. I think there were thunderclouds. You would ask air traffic control to divert left or right, and they would give you the permission.”

It also emerged that flight MH17 had initially filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000ft above Ukrainian territory. On entering Ukrainian airspace, however, the plane’s pilots were instructed to fly at 33,000ft by the local air traffic control due to other traffic. Malaysia Airlines said the pilots had to follow the lead of the local authorities.

Malaysia Daily Star (hat tip NotTimGeithner) confirms:

Ukraine’s air traffic control (ATC) did not permit Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17 to scale 35,000 feet, said MAS director of operations Captain Izham Ismail.

He said MH17 planned to fly at 35,000 feet but according to the ATC, there was other traffic at that time, and the ATC ordered the doomed plane to fly at the next best altitude at 33,000 feet, which was above the restricted altitude.

According to Malaysian Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, the direction given by the ATC needed to be obeyed since the route was under the ATC’s jurisdiction.

Izham said the route which MH17 flew was located about 100km from the restricted area, adding the ATC was actually the one which ensured whether any aircraft could use the route.

So that’s what reports at one remove tell us. Seeking independent confirmation, the pilots being dead and the Ukrainian Air Traffic Controllers not being available for interview, we ask ourselves subsidiary three questions:

Where is MH17 flight plan?
Where are MH17 flight recorders?
Where are the audio recordings of conversations between Ukrainian ATC and MH17?
Where is MH17 flight plan? Nobody seems to have actually seen it, or provided a copy of it. (Readers, feel free to add to my hasty research in comments.) So we really don’t have ironclad proof of deviation at all; deviation relative to what?

Where are MH17′s flight recorders? The Telegraph says this (July 18):

A tug of war is under way for possession of doomed flight MH17′s “black box” recorder amid reports the device, which could provide the key to the crash investigation, has already been sent to Moscow.

Aviation experts said the black box, comprising cockpit voice and data recordings, would establish for certain whether the plane was shot down and where the deadly missile may have been fired from.

The news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatist forces in Ukraine had already found the black box and agreed to give it to a Russian-run regional air safety authority.

But Russia Today says this (also on July 18):

Moscow has no plans to seize the flight recorders from the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told Rossiya 24 channel.

The seizure of flight records would violate international law as it’s up to relevant international agencies to investigate of the incident, he explained.

The analysis of the flight recorders “is the responsibility of ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization; it’s the responsibility of those states which have the most direct connection to this tragedy – the Netherlands, Malaysia and the states whose citizens were on board, and of course Ukraine,” Lavrov said.

And the following day, the Telegraph has this (July 19):

11.22 Failure to make available the “black box” flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane would cause Russia “major embarrassment”, a UK computer systems engineering professor has said.

Not handing over black boxes to the appropriate investigating authority is “not playing by the rules”, said Professor David Allerton of the University of Sheffield.

He went on: “The only reason you would do something like this is if you had something to hide.”

His comments came amid reports that Russian separatists have possession of the black boxes – actually orange in colour – at the crash scene.

And there the trail goes cold.

Where are the audio recordings of conversations between Ukrainian ATC and MH17? This is simpler: Apparently, the Ukrainians have them. (I’m assuming these are records taken by the ATC, not on the plane.) BBC:

15:29: Ukraine’s SBU security service has confiscated recordings of conversations between Ukrainian air traffic control officers and the crew of the doomed airliner, a source in Kiev has told Interfax news agency.

So, if we want to establish, with some degree of certainty, whether MH17 deviated from its flight plan, we need the flight plan, the flight recorders, and/or the audio recordings. We don’t have the flight plan. The flight recorder, if indeed it has been found, is either still in the hands of the separatists, in the hands of the Russians, at ICAO, or possibly in transit to ICAO. (Actually, there are two boxes, one for data, one for voice, so there are 8 possibilities, not 4.) And the audio recordings — which I assume would be pilot to ATC only, and hence would not include others in the cockpit, which the cockpit voice recorder would do — are in the hands of the organs of state security in Ukraine. (Yes, we could use Flight tracker, but that won’t help us with deviations without the flight plan.) So how much do we really know? Not a lot.

3. Was MH17 shot down by a missile, and if so, how could that happen?

(I ask whether the MH17 was shot down by a missile on the theory that somewhere out there, there’s a theory it was shot down by fighter planes, or blown up by a bomb. From now on, I’ll assume a missile did the job.) The media converged on a “theory of the case” for the type of missile and the putative perp early on. Reuters is representative:

As Russia and Ukraine [and not the US?] trade blame over the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian airliner, they appear to agree on one thing: the type of Soviet-era missile that brought it down.

But if an SA-11 Buk missile, known as “Gadfly” in NATO, struck the aircraft and killed all 298 on board, that won’t solve the mystery of who did it: Russia, Ukraine and Russian-speaking rebels have all claimed the missile in their arsenals.

Circumstantial evidence points increasingly to the separatists, Western officials and analysts say, pointing to rebel claims of shooting at Ukrainian military aircraft at approximately the same time.

The rebels were believed to have used a similar system to shoot down a Ukrainian Antonov AN-26 [transport] aircraft on Monday.

OK, “rebels” + BUK. (There is also an SA-17 model besides the SA-11. Note that all the players in the region — Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels — had access to the BUK.) The theory then evolves to suggest that the rebels shot down MH17 by accident. The Mirror:

Leaked audio clips reveal the moment Russian rebels realise they have shot down flight MH17, Ukrainian intelligence agencies claim.

The Daily Beast:

The missile operators—relying on their limited information—may have mistakenly presumed that the Boeing 777 airliner was a military transport, like the Ukrainian An-26 shot down by rebels on Monday. “It definitely could have been an error,” Zaloga said. “I can’t imagine that anybody would take a deliberate shot at an airliner. I don’t think the Russian separatists are going to take a pot shot at a Malaysian airliner, and I don’t think the Russians are going to do that.”

Finch was more succinct in his initial opinion. “They got something on their radar screen, and they engaged it and now they’re like, ‘Oh shit, what have we done?’”<./p>

Now, to be fair, militaries with far more sophisticated command and control systems than the separatists have shot down civilian airliners with great loss of life. So it wouldn’t be the first time. But how exactly did the rebels come to make the mistake? (There’s a massive controversy on whether the separatists were sophisticated enough to operate the BUK without a lot of training from the ground up. I’m guessing they could; Russian engineering is famously simple and rugged, and designed for a conscript army; and I would further guess there are BUK subject matter experts in Ukraine. In other words, no, it wouldn’t take Spetsnaz types coming over the border.) There seem to be two questions: Whether the BUK could receive transponder signals from civilian aircraft[2], and whether a transponder was needed in the first place. (Transponders on civilian aircraft send out a four-digit “squawk” signal; military aircraft don’t, necessarily.) Bloomberg:

The SA-11 missile system has a device known as an IFF, or Identification Friend from Foe, and commercial airliners typically have a beacon [the transponder] that transmits their identification, [Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at MIT] said.

It’s possible the shooter didn’t know how to interpret the data or use the IFF properly, Postol said. It’s also possible the airliner’s beacon was turned off or not working [Huh?], he said.

“A trained radar operator should be able to tell the difference between a Boeing 777 and an AN-26” cargo plane, said Bruce MacDonald, a former assistant director for national security at the White House Office of Science and Technology, who is now an independent consultant. “They operate at different altitudes, fly at different speeds.”

In other words, it should be possible for an operator to distinguish between an Antonov, which flies at 22,000 feet, from a civilian airliner flying at 33,000 feet, even absent an IFF reading. However, the MIT Technology Review suggests a different scenario:

Being a Soviet design, the user interface is fairly simple, says Michael Pietrucha, a former F-4G and F-15E electronic warfare officer and expert on air defenses. Pietrucha says he trained with German forces operating a similar Russian-built system during the 1990s.

Pietrucha says that the Buk variant that is likely to have been operated by the rebels might have been especially unable to distinguish between civilian and military air traffic because of a quirk related to aircraft transponders. The transponder is a device that broadcasts an aircraft’s identity when a radar “interrogates” it for information.

Military and civilian aircraft often use the same transponder modes and therefore that signal is not used as a “discriminator” for a military targeting system, Pietrucha says. The system has to be tied into the national air traffic control system to use that information effectively.

Finally, the Aviationist, a well-regarded amateur site, after presenting pictures of the BUC radar unit, flatly says the BUC has EFF:

But, Soviet-era air defense systems as the Buk are equipped with IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems meaning that they are able to detect if the system is targeting a civilian plane through its transponder code. Therefore, provided the operators are trained enough, they’ll be able to distinguish between a Ukrainian transport plane and a large airliner. If not, they will simply shoot.

So, there are two ways the accidental shoot down theory can be wrong: First, height is a sufficient discriminator. Second, the EFF system is installed and working. In each case, operators have to be sufficiently trained. But all agree that the rebels have no incentive to shoot down a civilian aircraft, and therefore somebody else did. Interviews with the operators and an examination of the missile battery would resolve this. That may, however, be unlikely:

Intelligence, including photographs and electronic intercepts, compiled by Ukrainian spies show that three Buk-M1 systems [ also known as the SA-11 Gadfly under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization designation] were shipped out of eastern Ukraine on flatbed trucks in two waves in the early morning of July 18, said [Vitaly Nayda, the head of the counterintelligence division of Ukraine's security service]. A system missing a missile crossed the border in a flatbed truck to Russia at 2 a.m., and two other missile systems with complete set of missiles crossed at 4 a.m., he said. Mr. Navda said that his agency has shared this intelligence with U.S. officials, but it wasn’t possible to immediately verify his information.

And at this point, I’m irresistibly reminded of Saddam’s (non-existent) WMDs, which were also said to have disappeared, on trucks, over the border into Syria. Once again, how much do we really know?


Readers, I hope you’ll add much more information in comments, especially if you agree with me that there are far more questions than answers. Basically, I’m trying to make the case that looking to institutional structures, technical and operational issues, and cui bono will always be more fruitful than looking to “web evidence.” Of course, I weaken that case by not presenting a thesis, but the drumbeat for war, or at the very least war-like posturing, provides all the theses one could ever hope to fling. (And I hope readers with knowledge in all these areas will correct and extend this post.)

And remember: “The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”


[1] I don’t want to belabor the history here, but the average age of a House personal staffer is 31. Therefore the average House staffer was 31 – (2014 – 2002) = 19 years old when Bush fixed the intelligence and facts around the policy to get the country into the Iraq War. I don’t know if you can remember what you were doing when you were 19, but if you were like me, whatever it was you were doing wasn’t a critique of White House tactics for trumping up the case for war.

[2] I’ve gotta say, the separatists aren’t dunces — I mean, at least they aren’t Nazi wannabes or Mad Max types; Ukraine isn’t Somalia — and so even with a somewhat fluid and organic command structure, it’s hard for me to imagine a rebel commander handing over a missile battery to what must be a reasonably technical team without saying something like: “Oh, and before I go, try not to shoot down any civilian aircraft, OK?” And if the command structure is fluid, wouldn’t the missile guys feel free to respond “Sorry, chief. No can do. Do we still push the button?” But I don’t have a military background, so I’m not sure my sense of the absurd has been triggered appropriately. And it’s not unknown for officers to do extremely stupid things.