Monthly Archives: February 2013

‘In These Times’ Links Aaron Swartz Prosecution And Boston College Subpoenas

The prestigious progressive journal In These Times has an article in its current edition noting a common feature in the cases of Aaron Swartz, the brilliant computer programmer and political organiser who committed suicide on foot of an aggressive prosecutorial campaign run from the office of Massachusetts US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the Boston College subpoenas.

That link? Academic funk, in a phrase.

Author Chris Lehmann writes:

As the Swartz case demonstrates, universities that were once deemed preserves of cultural dissent and nonconformity, these days reflexively knuckle under to the powerful enforcing—and funding arms of the federal government.


Then he adds:

To see how deep-seated this trend is, one need only look across town, to Boston College……


You can read the full article here:

If You Think Stephen Brill Was Scary Wait Till You Read This!

Stephen Brill’s wonderfully researched article in Time magazine on the price-gouging and bill padding that masquerades as health care in the United States, ‘Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us’, has deservedly won praise, not least for highlighting the woeful inadequacies of Obama’s healthcare reform, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known popularly as Obamacare.

But what Brill does not explain – not that he needed to – was what all this bill-rigging is going to do to the average American family’s monthly health insurance costs in the coming years. That story is every bit as scary and outrageous as Brill’s account of shocking profiteering in the healthcare industrial complex because it demonstrates that, Obamacare notwithstanding, the typical American family will, in not too many years time, not be able to afford private health insurance.

The analysis of future health insurance costs was carried out in 2011 by two doctors, Richard A Young who works at the John Peter Smith Hospital at Fort Worth, Texas and Jennifer E DeVoe of the Department of Family Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon and it was published in the Annals of Family Medicine in its March/April 2012 edition.

Here’s the bottom line: healthcare costs are rising so fast that by the year 2033 the cost of a family health insurance premium will equal the median annual household income. Translation: in 20 years time private health insurance will consume the average family’s entire yearly income and only a fraction of American families will be able to afford decent health care.

And the net effect of Obamacare on this depressingly upward curve? To delay this crisis by a mere 12 years. Prior to the passing of the current president’s healthcare reform, the point at which health insurance costs would consume the average family’s yearly income would have arrived at 2025. At the last time of checking no-one in the world of medical academe had challenged Young and DeVoe’s conclusions.

Hopefully, long before that point is reached American voters will have come to their senses and have successfully demanded that private enterprise and profit-seeking organisations no longer have such a stranglehold on this most important part of human activity. Stress on the word ‘hopefully’.

Anyway here is the Young & DeVoe article to read in its entirety. I was going to write ‘enjoy’ but that might not be the right word:

British ‘War Diary’ Suggests Possible MRF Role In Effort To Kill Brendan Hughes While London Buries Secret Military Files For 100 Years

By Ed Moloney & Bob Mitchell

It was one of the most compelling and gripping episodes to feature in the series of interviews that Brendan Hughes gave to Boston College about his life in the IRA. The story of the frenzied attempt to kill him in his native lower Falls area by plainclothes British soldiers in the early 1970’s illustrated several defining aspects of Hughes’ life as an IRA activist and later as one of its leaders.

One was the danger he faced constantly, the possibility that each day might end with his violent death; the other was the closeness and depth of his friendship with Gerry Adams who arranged for the treatment of his injuries suffered that day. The intensity and ardor of their relationship helps explain his subsequent anger when, as the peace process unfolded, Adams disowned his involvement – and their shared life – in the IRA.

Here is the core of the story as he told it to interviewer Anthony McIntyre:

One day, I was standing on the corner of Varna Gap, two or three other people were with me – we hadn’t arranged a call house that day – and a van drove down Leeson Street. As the van passed I noticed there was something wrong with the driver – he was nervous. He drove past me and down McDonnell Street onto the Grosvenor Road. I crossed over to the other corner and saw the van going up the Grosvenor Road away from me. Five minutes later it came back down. At that time I always carried a weapon, a .45 automatic, but I’d given it to another Volunteer that morning to go and steal a car we needed, so I sent one of the runners to get a weapon.

As the van approached, my eyes were on the driver the whole time, and the guy was really shitting himself. He drove about 20 yards past me, past Varna Gap, and the back doors flew open. Three guys with rifles jumped out and they immediately started firing at me. One had two .45s in his hands. They were wearing baseball boots and tracksuits……The bullets went whizzing off the wall, all over the place and there was nothing I could do only run, along Varna Gap and they came after me firing. I turned round at Varna Gap into Cyprus Street and then I took a shortcut into Sultan Street which was where the call house and our weapons were. I ran the whole length of that street, and they were running and firing after me.

Later I worked it out that they knew who I was. There was a derelict house directly facing Varna Gap that the Brits had been using as an observation post and they had obviously identified me, whether it was a photograph or description I don’t know, but they identified me obviously because they were trying to kill me. There was a baker’s van delivering bread – it was early morning time – to Willie Dark’s shop at the corner of Sultan Street and the van was shot to pieces. I almost ran past the call house I was going so fast so I grabbed the door as I was running and the momentum carried me right through the living room window.

But the weapons were there, and I grabbed an Armalite and I came out fucking firing, The next thing Saracens came from all over the place and the soldiers in the observation post, in the derelict house, were picked up; it pulled up outside and the two Brits jumped out onto the roof of the Saracen and into the back of it and the other ones who had been chasing me were picked up in another Saracen. They had been there all night. Why the Brits in the derelict house didn’t fire I do not know. I was a sitting target for them; they didn’t have to send the van down, I mean, they could have shot me from that window. The operation was aimed at assassinating me and whoever else I was with.

I didn’t realise I was bleeding until afterwards and then I thought I had been hit but I had been badly cut in the arm by the glass when I crashed through the living room window. I was taken to a house, my cousin’s house, just a couple of hundred yards down the street. And the next thing Gerry (Adams) came into the district. The artery had been severed.

But it was ‘the Big Effort’, Gerry, who organised the doctor, brought him into the area, fair play to him. I have to give that to him. It was Jack McClenaghan, the heart surgeon. But he had no equipment with him so my cousin got a needle and thread and Jack sewed me up. There’s a wee lump still there where he inserted tweezers, pulled the artery down tied it in a knot to stop the bleeding, and then he got a needle and thread and sewed it up. I didn’t realise how much blood I had lost but it was an awful lot.

Gerry may well have saved my life by bringing the surgeon in because the blood was pumping out. The Brits were still driving round, and I remember the doctor sewing it up while the Saracen was passing the door. You know, Gerry did that but he didn’t have to. We were close at that time and I think there was a genuine thing there. He didn’t have to come into the area, he could have sent someone else in, but he did come in. I didn’t want to leave town, – you know, ‘the true soldier – I didn’t want to leave Belfast but Gerry insisted, he ordered me out. And I went to Dundalk and booked into a Bed & Breakfast for a week but I just couldn’t wait to get back.”

You can watch below a dramatic and skilfully re-created depiction of this event in the prize-winning RTE television documentary based on the book ‘Voices From The Grave’. Brendan Hughes’ encounter with the undercover soldiers starts at around five-and-a-half-minutes into the segment. Enjoy:

There were however important details missing from Brendan Hughes’ account. He could not, for instance put a date on the incident, except in the most general and inferred way, nor could or would he suggest who in the British Army might have been wanted him dead, perhaps because in the league table of silly questions it would pretty much rank as the silliest of all since the list of candidates, by 1972, was a pretty long one.

But for reasons explained below we can now put a precise date on the effort to kill him. As to who was behind the attack, it is now also possible to identify with certainty the British regiment that organised the operation that very nearly caused his death. More than that, however, we have uncovered documentary evidence that suggests the Military Reaction Force (MRF) may have played a part in the operation and if so, that they were almost certainly the gunmen who chased him through the lower Falls.

Just to remind our younger readers about the MRF, it was an early forerunner of the special military intelligence outfit, the Force Research Unit (FRU) which was so deeply involved in the assassination of Pat Finucane. It was created in or around 1970/1971 by Brigadier Frank Kitson who was the British Army’s first commander in Belfast when the Troubles started. The MRF consisted partly of regular soldiers drawn from a variety of regiments and partly members of the Official and Provisional IRA’s who had been turned by intelligence recruiters. Known as ‘Freds’, these double agents both provided intelligence on their organisations and were available for undercover operations.

Kitson, who is still alive and in his 80’s, got the idea for the MRF from his time in Kenya where he led part of the British effort to suppress the Mau Mau uprising. Kitson developed the idea of Counter Gangs to fight the Mau Mau whose members were drawn partly from the ranks of loyal African soldiers and partly from renegade Mau Mau fighters. He seems just to have transferred exactly the same concept to the streets of Belfast.

The MRF became publicly known about when its members were involved in a number of drive by shootings in Belfast. One such incident happened on September 26th 1972 when 18 year old Daniel Rooney was shot dead and 18-year old Brendan Brennan wounded when they were fired upon by what a document obtained by researchers from at the British National Archives at Kew, Surrey suggests was an MRF unit.

The document, an after incident report apparently shown to then Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, claims that Rooney was a member of Brendan Hughes’ ‘D’ Company and was armed with a rifle when shot. Brennan was alleged to be carrying a pistol and both men, the report claimed, had fired on the troops. At the time the allegation of IRA association was strongly denied by his family and community while the IRA has never acknowledged him as a member which it normally would have had he been one. Forensic tests failed to prove that either man had been handling a weapon.

The introduction to the report describes the unit that killed Rooney and it appears to match almost exactly the MRF photo-fit:

A special British Army force consisting of soldier volunteers from regular battalions serving in Northern Ireland is currently operating in civilian clothes and cars on surveillance duties in Belfast. Their activities are co-ordinated by Brigade Headquarters but they liaise and operate in support of IS (Internal Security) battalions in the city. Patrols normally consist of three men. They are armed but only for their own defence.

In October 1972, Brendan Hughes helped the IRA deliver a damaging blow to the MRF. One of his volunteers in ‘D’ Coy had been recruited to the undercover unit but his behaviour raised suspicion amongst colleagues. Under interrogation he admitted his secret role and further investigation not only led to one other MRF member but to an ambitious British intelligence gathering operation in West Belfast operating under the guise of a door-to-door laundry business known as The Four Square Laundry. The IRA ambushed the business’ van in Twinbrook in West Belfast killing at least one undercover soldier.

Possible clues to the identity of the British Army unit that targeted Brendan Hughes for death a month or so before the Four Square Laundry operation is contained in one of a series of so-called ‘War Diaries’ compiled by British Army battalions which served in Belfast during the Troubles and now available for review at the National Archives. Not all regimental ‘War Diaries’ have been published but the one dealing with the ambush on Brendan Hughes has been and researchers from have acquired a copy. A ‘War Diary’ is literally that, a day-by-day account of military operations and other significant events during the tour of duty.

The regiment that led the operation was the 2nd Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment (known by the wits of Belfast at the time as the Royal Anglican regiment!) which was based in the lower Falls between August 2nd, 1972 and December 5th of the same year.

On September 2nd, 1972 the Royal Anglians set in motion the operation to deal with Brendan Hughes. The operation had a code name, TOM TIME; the use of the word TOM is significant as will become clear shortly. This is what the Royal Anglians’ ‘War Diary’ had to say about Operation TOM TIME:


Clandestine Op in 1 GIBSON St. Reported BRENDAN HUGHES (OC Lower Falls Coy, 2nd Bn, PROV IRA) in VARNA/LEESON junction at 1159. Snatch attempt failed, but 2 hits claimed in follow up. OP compromised and withdrawn.

(NOTE: “Clandestine Op” should probably have been written as “Clandestine OP”, referring to an undercover observation post of the sort that Brendan Hughes described in his Boston College interviews. The fact that ‘Op” referred to an observation post rather than an operation is made clear later in the Diary entry.)

Now Brendan Hughes would undoubtedly quarrel with the description of what happened as being a “snatch attempt” since the undercover soldiers opened fire on him, according to his account, as soon as they jumped out of their van but in every other aspect his version of events and the British Army’s coincide.

It is important to note that the ‘War Diary’ says that the OP, the covert observation post from which Hughes was spotted, was compromised and closed down. But five days later, on September 7th, a new covert OP was set up not far away from the first. This time the operation was code-named Operation TOM FORCE. There’s that word TOM again. This is how the ‘War Diary’ describes events (Recce Pl means Reconnaissance Platoon):


Recce Pl covert OP inserted into 51 FALLS RD. Reported James BRYSON in LEESON ST. A hot pursuit by A Coy proved negative. OP remained in position.

And then, two days later on September 9th, the ‘War Diary’ records:

Tom force OP relieved by sect of recce. 2 MRF cars under comd.

In other words the Royal Anglians had under their command two car loads of MRF undercover soldiers to call upon. Remember what that note to Whitelaw about the Rooney killing had to say: “Their (the MRF) activities are co-ordinated by Brigade Headquarters but they liaise and operate in support of IS (Internal Security) battalions in the city”. Battalions like the Royal Anglian Regiment, for instance.

What would happen in the circumstances described in the ‘War Diary’ is that if the soldiers in the OP spotted someone of interest, say Brendan Hughes or Jim Bryson, they would alert their commanders based at Hastings Street RUC station who would in turn mobilise the MRF cars and they would move into action, assuming they were in a position to.

The circumstances of the two clandestine operations suggest that TOM FORCE was a continuation of TOM TIME, brought about only because the covert OP that spotted Brendan Hughes had been compromised, was withdrawn and apparently replaced by a new covert OP for TOM FORCE. And only seven days separated the so-called ‘snatch attempt’ on Brendan Hughes and this admission that the Royal Anglians had two MRF cars under their command for such ‘clandestine’ operations.

It is of course possible that the MRF was present for TOM FORCE but not for TOM TIME. But how likely was that? Brendan Hughes’ ‘D’ Coy area in the lower Falls was the most active IRA area in the city at the time and common sense suggests that the British Army would have deployed the available panoply of overt and covert forces against it on a full-time basis. And that would include the MRF.

Given all this it is difficult not to believe or at least strongly suspect that the undercover soldiers who pursued Brendan Hughes may well have been members of General Frank Kitson’s elite Military Reaction Force.

Now ain’t history interesting?

Here are the first two pages of the 2nd Batt Royal Anglian Regiment’s War Diary for the period Aug 2nd 1972 through December 5th 1972. They show the entries for Operations TOM TIME & TOM FORCE:

Here is the relevant portion of the British Army document on the killing of Daniel Rooney; the document sets out what appears to be the role and function of the MRF in the first paragraph. Note the handwritten entry “S of S to see” which presumably is a reference to the then Northern Secretary William Whitelaw. (All documents courtesy of the National Archive, Kew, Surrey, England)

History can indeed be interesting but not everyone thinks that way or indeed that its records should be shared or made available to the public. As this article shows British Army regiments and battalions keep so-called ‘War Diaries’, invaluable historical records usually available for release within a reasonable time period. The Royal Anglian diaries for 1972 were released for public scrutiny earlier this year, forty years after the event. That’s ten years longer than the 30-year rule which applies to many other government records but still reasonable given their potentially sensitive contents.

Outfits like the Royal Anglians are not the only military bodies to keep diaries. Brigades (Bde’s) do as well and there were three of them in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (still are by the way): 39 Bde, which was Belfast; 3 Bde based in Portadown and 8 Bde based in Derry. Their staff also compiled ‘War Diaries’ and since key military decisions were either made or implemented at Brigade level during the Troubles it is here that the really interesting history is to be read.

General Sir Frank Kitson, the MRF's mastermind

General Sir Frank Kitson, the MRF’s mastermind

Except dear reader, we will both be long dead before that opportunity arises. Whereas other British Army Brigades, such as the BAOR, or British Army On the Rhine, have already released their ‘War Diaries’ for a good portion of the 1970’s, the Northern Ireland units are committed to long-term secrecy. None of the ‘War Diaries’ for 1972, the most violent year of the Troubles, will be released until January 2057; that is an embargo of 84 years.

But some apparently ultra sensitive periods affecting British Army operations in Belfast, that is 39 Bde, will be closed for even longer. The months of June and August 1972 and the month of June 1973 are embargoed for 100 years, that is a full century. Now June and August 1972 were intriguing months. June 1972 saw the arrangements for the IRA ceasefire and Cheney Walk talks being put in place but it was also a period of intense MRF activity, including a controversial drive-by shooting on the Glen Road in West Belfast. August 1972 was the month of Operation Motorman (it was launched on July 31st) but it was also when the notorious UDA killer, Albert ‘Ginger’ Baker and his gang began a rampage of savage sectarian killings in Belfast. Many years later Baker would claim that the MRF had inspired his violence.

Now, Baker’s allegations are far-reaching to say the least and it is not difficult to see why many people do not take them seriously. At the very least such a claim requires independent evidence to support it before that can even begin to happen and so far it has not been found. The evidence may or may not lie in the 39 Bde ‘War Diary’ for August 1972. But we won’t know until January 2073.

One can only presume that the decision to add sixteen years to the embargo of that and the other months’ ‘War Diaries’ was taken in consultation with, if not on the advice, of the Brigade’s senior officers of that day. These were likely to include the top man, Brigadier Frank Kitson. Although some records suggest he had left Belfast by the Spring of 1972, much of what happened in 39 Bde during the rest of 1972 was a consequence of his policies and decisions. So it would be surprising if he didn’t have an input to the decision. We don’t know why the embargo extension was approved but it’s a fair bet that Kitson and others on his staff had a very interesting reason to keep their ‘War Diary’ a little bit more secret.

Press Statement On Boston College Case

Press Statement From Ed Moloney & Anthony McIntyre On US Government’s Decision To Pursue BC Archive Despite Death Of Dolours Price:

“We are not parties to the appeal which Boston College has brought to the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Docket number 12-1236), but our case before the Supreme Court of the United States argues that we are entitled to be heard on these matters which involve the First Amendment rights of academics and journalists to the confidentiality of sources and materials in opposition to subpoenas issued on behalf of foreign law enforcement agencies.

The Government yesterday has admitted that Boston College’s appeal “continues to present a live controversy” in spite of the death of Dolours Price, whose public remarks were presented as the excuse by foreign law enforcement agencies to raid a confidential academic archive housed at Boston College.

The irony is not lost on us that the government subpoenas remain under seal, and the basis of its actions shielded from public scrutiny.

We will continue to press ahead with our petition to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, and we will keep a watchful eye on developments in the Boston College appeal as they unfold.”

Gerry Adams’ Prostate Remedy Available In Belfast At Fraction Of U.S. Cost

Gerry Adams is in debt to his good friend, millionaire businessman  and former Mutual of America CEO, Bill Flynn for picking up the tab for the laser treatment he received in New York to remove his enlarged prostate. You can read all about it here.

Bill Flynn - shelled out $40,000 for Gerry Adams' prostate procedure. In Belfast it would have cost him just $5,500.

Bill Flynn – shelled out $40,000 for Gerry Adams’ prostate procedure. In Belfast it would have cost him just $5,500.

The condition can be painful – and Gerry Adams told RTE’s Marian Finucane over the weekend that he had been in pain for five years – can make having a pee something of a constant nightmare and can have a disastrously negative impact on a man’s sex life.

But the conventional treatment can be no joke either. For years the standard procedure involved a surgeon removing the offending prostate with a knife, maybe slicing the nerves that facilitate the male orgasm while potentially transforming the problem of too little pee too much of the time into a problem of too much pee all the time! It was a procedure most men would do anything to avoid.

In recent years however advances in laser technology have allowed surgeons to remove the prostate while minimizing damage to nerves or stimulating the bladder’s urge to empty. The procedure is called Green Light laser surgery and as you might expect it is not inexpensive.

The Broken Elbow estimated the cost of the operation that Gerry Adams had in New York at $30,000 but it seems that this figure was a bit on the low side. Newspaper reports this weekend suggested the true figure was nearer to $40,000.

That makes Bill Flynn a very generous benefactor indeed.

According to the version Adams gave to the Marian Finucane show, there was an element of urgency in his situation complicated by the absence of a facility that could provide the procedure in Belfast.

As Mr Adams put it: “I was in constant pain. I’ve been in constant pain for the last maybe five years. I checked with my doctor and at that time the treatment of that kind was not available in the North. My doctor here quite rightly recommended that I get the very best treatment possible and accepted the US consultant’s recommendation that it should be done with speed.”

A pity then, Gerry Adams didn’t do a little more homework. Had he done so, he might not have had to travel all the way to New York and he might have saved Bill Flynn a whack of money. There’s a private clinic in Belfast called the Chichester Clinic and according to its website it provides Green Light laser treatment for prostate conditions at one-seventh the cost in New York.

Now I don’t know how long this clinic has been providing the Green Light treatment. Its office was closed yesterday so phone calls and emails went unanswered. It is possible that the treatment was not available last August when Mr Adams underwent the procedure but it should be a simple matter to find out. Anyway here is the relevant page (go to the Prostate link) on the Chichester Clinic website:


Dolours Price – A Photographic Memoire

I recently discovered that Google Chrome has a far better image collection than Firefox which I had been using until now to cull photos for this blog. In particular their pics of Dolours Price contain some I had never seen before. So here, in no particular order, is a selection, a tribute in its way to the dead lady. RIP Dolours.

Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, both participants in the Belfast Project, pictured, I estimate, around 1997-1998

Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, both participants in the Belfast Project, pictured, I estimate, around 1997-1998

Dolours was a beauty, as this photo testifies. I guess it was shot in the mid 1990's but I don't know.

Dolours was a beauty, as this photo testifies. I guess it was shot in the mid 1990’s but I don’t know.

Marian Price on the left, with Ruairi O Bradaigh and Dolours Price at the publication of O Bradaigh's biography of Tom Barry, 'Dilseacht'

Marian Price on the left, with Ruairi O Bradaigh and Dolours Price at the publication of O Bradaigh’s biography of General Tom Maguire, ‘Dilseacht’

Dolours as she appeared on the CBS news show in the autumn of 2012. When a friend saw her, he was shocked by her appearance. "She's getting ready to die", he said.

Dolours as she appeared on the CBS news show in the autumn of 2012. When a friend saw the programme, he was shocked by her appearance. “She’s getting ready to die”, he said.

At the annual Wolfe Tome commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare

At the annual Easter Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill, Dublin

Dolours, pictured during her fateful interview with the Irish News in February 2011. I wonder how well sleep the journalists involved in this shameful episode?

Dolours, pictured during her fateful interview with the Irish News in February 2010. I wonder how soundly sleep the journalists involved in this shameful episode?

Marian Price and Dolours Price photographed outside Downing Street. Date unknown but the pair would return to London in 1973 in very different circumstances, ferrying three car bombs to the city centre.

Marian Price and Dolours Price photographed outside Downing Street. Date unknown but the pair would return to London in 1973 in very different circumstances, ferrying three car bombs to the city centre.

People could never spell her name correctly. Dolours, aptly in the circumstances, was a name that signified sorrow.

People could never spell her name correctly. Dolours, aptly in the circumstances, was a name that signified sorrow. (Pic by Joe Graham)

Again undated, but I would guess this was taken around the time of the student civil rights movement.

Again undated, but I would guess this was taken around the time of the student civil rights movement.

In her red hair phase, late 1990's. I believe Joe Graham may have taken this pic. She suited red hair.

In her red hair phase, late 1990’s. Joe Graham also took this pic. She suited red hair.

Dolours and Marian at a civil rights demo circa 1968-1969

Dolours and Marian at a civil rights demo circa 1968-1969

This photo gives an idea of the large crowd that defied the pouring rain to accomany Dolours on her final journey.

This photo gives an idea of the large crowd that defied the pouring rain to accompany Dolours on her final journey.

Eamonn McCann, one of Dolours' longest and closest friends carries her coffin.

Eamonn McCann, one of Dolours’ long-standing and closest friends carries her coffin.

The De Silva Report On Pat Finucane – Some Considered Thoughts, Part Two

Why Was Billy Stobie Charged With Pat Finucane’s Murder?

I should first of all disclose an interest in this story. As they say in the country where I now live, I have a dog in the fight.

Billy Stobie was a valued source of mine and not only did I harbor the loyalty towards him that journalists should always show their sources – in our case to the extent that I fought and successfully defeated a Scotland Yard subpoena seeking the notes of our conversations which were sought to buttress his criminal prosecution – but I also liked him despite his all too evident flaws.


Billy Stobie – when his pic appeared in the Sunday Tribune, one wag joked that parents would tell disobedient children that they’d send for Billy Stobie unless they mended their ways!

That he was a rogue and a scoundrel was undeniable. That image that was set in cement in the public mind when The Sunday Tribune published his photo above the story of his involvement in the Pat Finucane scandal just after his arrest in June 1999. The photo was supplied by his partner Lorraine Graham, the only one she could get hold of at such short notice. The head and shoulders pic showed someone so scary looking that it could have come from a particularly bone-chilling edition of The Smoking Gun website. It was said thereafter, only partly in jest, that parents would send their children to bed with the warning that Billy Stobie would come for them if they didn’t behave!

In fact Billy Stobie was a very gentle and considerate person even though his work with the UDA was just one step away from the wet, brutal and very messy end of their business. And clearly there was a ruthless side to his personality as well (although very few involved in the Pat Finucane story can claim to be free of that charge!)

One story he told me illustrates this side of him all too well. As the UDA’s Quarter Master in the Glencairn area of the Shankill area his job was to squirrel away the organization’s arsenals and keep them safe from the RUC so that when the group’s gunmen wished to use them they could. He hit upon the perfect hiding place: his neighbors’ attics. He would break into their apartments when they were out and slip the guns into their new hiding places. But to be fair to the man, he started doing that only when the RUC Special Branch planted weapons in his own attic and then charged him, a punishment for slacking in his other role as police informer.

So loyalty inspires this article and if anger at Billy Stobie’s treatment and fate shows through my words, the reader will understand. But there is another more fitting reason why the question above is so worthy of an answer. If Billy Stobie had not been charged with the Finucane murder the odds are that he would still be alive today. Whoever decided to charge Billy Stobie effectively sentenced him to death. So why did they do it?

Now to be fair and accurate, he was also charged with the murder of a young Protestant boy from Enniskillen, 19-year old Adam Lambert who had the double misfortune to have been working in the Upper Shankill Road area in the week after the IRA’s 1987 bombing of the Enniskillen cenotaph on Poppy Sunday and secondly to have been mistaken for a Catholic by the local UDA unit who decided to shoot him dead using a gun supplied by Stobie.

Billy Stobie and his girlfriend, Lorraine Graham outside Belfast law courts not long before his murder.

Billy Stobie and his girlfriend, Lorraine Graham outside Belfast law courts not long before his murder.

Now, dear reader, temper your rage and revulsion at Stobie’s role in this vile deed with the realization that at this time the RUC Special Branch knew all there was to know about his role in the killing but instead of sending him to the courts to face deserved justice they instead blackmailed him and forced him to become an informer. Poor Adam Lambert and his grieving family were discarded, their usefulness at an end, their interests and needs of no further matter to the State.

When Stobie was finally charged in June 1999 with the Adam Lambert murder more than a decade had passed and no less than three British police inquiries into the background to the Pat Finucane killing, including allegations of security force collusion with Loyalists, had either been completed or nearly completed. Led by future Scotland Yard Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, the inquiries had produced hundreds of thousands of words but no bodies in the dock, much less convictions, at least for the murder of Pat Finucane. The late discovery of Billy Stobie’s work for the RUC Special Branch at last enabled Stevens, and his ambitious deputy Hugh (later Sir Hugh) Orde, to rectify that.

Sir John Stevens, pictured as Scotland Yard Commissioner

Sir John Stevens, pictured as Scotland Yard Commissioner

As merited as it was long overdue, the charging of Billy Stobie with the Adam Lambert murder would not by itself put his life in peril. But combined with the charge of involvement in Pat Finucane’s death, events were set in motion that would lead to UDA gunmen ambushing 51-year old Stobie outside his Glencairn apartment at 6 am on December 12, 2001, shooting him in the head and body and killing him. He was about to drive Lorraine his girlfriend to work when the killers struck.

So, how did the Stevens/Orde decision to charge Billy Stobie lead to his death? Simply, it forced him to go public with a story he would rather have kept hidden, the story of his role as an agent for the RUC Special Branch and his involvement with the police as an informer before and after Pat Finucane’s murder.

He had told me that story nine years earlier, way back in 1990 and we had agreed that it would stay hidden away in my files until and unless Stobie said otherwise, in other words if circumstances arose which obliged him to make the story public. Within hours of his arrest I got a message from his attorney to do just that.

The essence of Stobie’s defense was soon clear: he had done his public duty, he had told the RUC before and afterwards all that he knew about the UDA plot to kill Pat Finucane and it wasn’t his fault if the lawyer had been killed, which he needn’t have been, or if none of his killers had been apprehended, which they could have been. He was the last person, in other words, who should be in the dock for the Finucane killing.

In his review of the Pat Finucane case, Sir Desmond de Silva devotes two chapters to Billy Stobie, one deals with his recruitment at a Special Branch agent, the other with his involvement, as an agent, in the UDA plot to assassinate Pat Finucane. His analysis and conclusions, both stated and implied, are devastatingly damaging both to the intelligence agencies involved and, more pertinently, to the British State’s attempts to draw a line under the Pat Finucane scandal.

This is what de Silva says about the Stobie chapter of the Finucane chronicle in the summary of his conclusions:

I am satisfied that it should have been clear to the RUC SB from the threat intelligence that Stobie provided to them that the UDA were about to mount an imminent attack and that L/20 was a key figure in this plot. Despite the range of options that would have been available to the RUC SB to disrupt the planned attack – as discussed in more detail in the Report – it is clear that they took no action whatsoever to act on the threat intelligence.
It is possible that Stobie, as he has claimed in some of his accounts, informed his handlers on 12 February 1989 – shortly before the murder took place – that he had handed over the weapon to the hit team. The evidence on this issue is inconclusive, but I did reach the conclusion that, from the evening of 9 February 1989, it was entirely foreseeable by the RUC SB that Stobie would shortly hand over a 9mm Browning pistol for use in an imminent UDA attack. They were also aware of the identity of a key figure in the operation, the UDA Commander L/20. In this regard I concur with Sir John Stevens’ view that proper exploitation of William Stobie’s intelligence prior to the attack could have prevented the murder of Patrick Finucane on 12 February.

These are the bones of de Silva’s conclusions – the RUC Special Branch allowed Pat Finucane to be killed. The fleshed out detail amounts to such a serious indictment of the RUC and the ethos and ideology that guided its intelligence arm, that the open-minded, dispassionate reader can only conclude that matters cannot be allowed to rest there.

I have said this before and I repeat it now; if the Cameron government hoped that the de Silva report would bury the Pat Finucane scandal then it was sadly mistaken. The de Silva report is not flawless to be sure but even where it exempts the powerful from blame the manner of doing so leaves gaps that demand to be filled. Along with the unanswered questions, the still to be fully explored aspects of the Pat Finucane story that jump out from the Billy Stobie section of his report, these combine to make an unanswerable argument for a full public inquiry. The essence of de Silva is that his report raises more questions than it answers.

There seems little doubt that Billy Stobie was not the most diligent of informers. De Silva notes that he didn’t always tell his handlers about the UDA’s gun movements and it is part of his narrative that the Special Branch got so annoyed by his lack of co-operation that they framed him by planting weapons in his apartment.

At his subsequent trial he told prosecutors he would go public about his involvement in the Pat Finucane killing if the charges weren’t dropped and by  extraordinary coincidence a few minutes later a police witness made the most elementary blunders by revealing one of Stobie’s previous convictions, one of the first things student policemen are warned never to do when in the witness box, and a mistrial was declared. The charges were later dropped. For reasons that go unexplained, de Silva does not explore or even mention this episode even though it implicates the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office in the Finucane cover-up.

While Stobie did not always tell his Special Branch handlers which guns he was moving around or making available to the UDA’s hitmen, it may not have made a great deal of difference if he had. De Silva recounts an incident that illustrates the RUC’s attitude to intelligence from Stobie indicating hostile and violent UDA intentions towards Republicans. In August 1988, not long after he began life as an informer, Stobie told his handlers that photographs of two Republicans had been shown around at a meeting of UDA activists while a senior UDA commander had told him of another Republican target in the Springfield Park area currently under UDA surveillance. All of the targets were named and three of the UDA hit team tasked for that proposed assassination were subsequently involved in the shooting dead of Pat Finucane.

So what does de Silva say happened to the information supplied by Stobie?

“There is no evidence that any action was taken as a result of this intelligence. None of the individuals being targeted were recorded as being under threat in the RUC Threat Book. Indeed, the SB50 (intelligence summary) produced as a result of Stobie’s intelligence sanitised the information to such an extent that no-one in the SB hierarchy……would have known that these individuals were being targeted.”

And he continues:

“The only indication that Stobie’s intelligence was exploited was in relation to the information he provided about a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) apparently passing information to the UDA. After the RUC SB passed on the intelligence, the UDR Private appears to have been dismissed.

“There is no evidence that, prior to Patrick Finucane’s murder, any exploitative action was taken as a result of any of Stobie’s intelligence regarding weapons, targeting or the UDA members involved in the West Belfast hit team.”

Elsewhere in his report, de Silva makes a staggering disclosure. The RUC effectively ignored intelligence that suggested anyone who was not a public servant, a member of the security forces or the judiciary was under threat. In other words if information came in saying that the UDA planned to kill a Republican or that the IRA planned to kill a UDA or UVF leader, the RUC generally did not warn the people targeted or, it seems, do much about it. The reasoning was that the targets, in the police eyes, could not be trusted to keep their mouths shut and thus to endanger the source of the intelligence. It was for this reason, said de Silva, that Pat Finucane was not told of a death threat in 1981 (and presumably in 1989 also).

As de Silva concedes, this policy was in contravention of Britain’s obligations under European human rights legislation, specifically to protect the lives of citizens, but it raises other issues as well that are no less grave. What for instance is the purpose of having agents in bodies like the UDA unless the information they provide is used to prevent killing and to save lives? And because a source might be compromised if a warning is passed on is not a reason to do nothing else to stop the treat being carried out.

Thanks to de Silva we know that occasionally successful efforts were made to protect Republican targets without the need to pass on a warning. This happened in the case of Gerry Adams whose life was saved when the security forces intervened to frustrate a UDA assassination plot against him. And it is part of the skill and training of counter intelligence to mount such operations without raising suspicions of a traitor in the camp of the assassins.

But de Silva does not consider this at all; he accepts that the risk associated with passing on warnings by itself justified the RUC policy of not acting on this type of intelligence and that giving a warning was the sole remedy open to the authorities in such circumstances. Since Pat Finucane had previously been regarded as a risky person to warn, that he might publicise the threat and raise red flags in the UDA, the RUC had a ready-made justification to give de Silva for not warning him.

However in practice there might be other reasons to do nothing, ranging from sheer malice – allowing “thorns in the flesh” to be targeted, as one head of Special Branch described one Republican focus of a UDA plot – through to protecting other intelligence assets possibly in the hit-team through to a strategy of manipulating the make up, personnel and policies of the targeted group, such as the IRA, by allowing some plots to succeed and others to fail. It is these unanswered questions that could and perhaps should be addressed at a proper public tribunal. (A cynic might suggest that the likely answer provides the reason why we will never have a public inquiry!)

Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his family in their Antrim Road home on the evening of Sunday, February 12th, 1989 but the account of Billy Stobie’s involvement began six days earlier, on Tuesday, February 7th when he was debriefed by his Special Branch handlers. He told them of a meeting he had the previous evening with a senior UDA leader who had asked him to supply a 9mm pistol. He left the meeting and returned shortly thereafter with a Heckler & Koch 9 mm pistol. The UDA leader said he would prefer a Browning pistol instead as he didn’t like the H&K, which was too small a weapon.

The UDA boss told Stobie that “they had a hit planned on a top PIRA man” and would require the Browning for either the Thursday or Friday of that week. Stobie promised to deliver the gun. All this Stobie told his handlers along with his belief that the gun would then be moved to the Woodvale area of the SHankill Road (inaccurately written as Woodside in de Silva’s report) prior to being used. He also told his handlers of some likely locations where the gun might be stored.

In summary: the RUC Special Branch knew there was hit on a top IRA man being planned by the UDA, they knew who was organising it and that they were serious players, they knew it would probably happen over the weekend and that had a pretty good idea where the weapon to be used was being hidden.

Stobie was told by his handlers to delay handing over the Browning until he made contact with the Special Branch and the next contact Stobie had with the RUC was two nights later when he phoned late at night with the message: “Tell (my handlers) the parcel was not delivered tonight, ask the boys to ring me at midnight”.

The RUC Special Branch never did ring Stobie at midnight about the handover of the Browning pistol cum parcel. In fact his handlers claim to have no record when they received this message or whether they ever contacted him as he asked. The record shows no evidence of any meeting between Stobie and the Special Branch until February 15th, three days after Pat Finucane was killed.

So, from this account Stobie told his handlers enough information for them to know that a major UDA killing was in the planning and they were interested enough to ask him to delay handing over the murder weapon until he contacted them. That suggests they might have been planning some sort of action, possibly even bugging the weapon. But suddenly the interest died. When he made contact about the weapon there was no response. So what happened between February 7th, when the murder plot became known, and February 9th, the last time Stobie made contact with his handlers?

We don’t know and de Silva doesn’t attempt to give an answer. The possible answers range from the innocuous to the most pernicious but surely an answer ought to be sought? And isn’t this the sort of issue that can best be addressed in a public tribunal where Stobie’s Special Branch handlers and their bosses could be forensically cross-examined.

This is what de Silva says about this episode. His words amount to a damning indictment of the police’s behavior but are insufficient in themselves in as much as no explanation is given or suggested to explain the RUC Special Branch’s extraordinary lapse (comments in parenthesis are mine):

“I have examined TCG (Tasking and Co-ordination Group, an inter-agency body) records, the RUC Threat Book, the RUC Daily Intelligence Book and other RUC records for any note of the action taken as a result of Stobie’s intelligence. There is no indication in any of the documentation to suggest that the RUC took any action as a result of the intelligence about an imminent attack provided by Stobie. Given the handlers’ apparent lack of knowledge of any resulting action, I must conclude that no action was taken as a result of Stobie’s intelligence.

“This is extremely surprising given the high-value nature of the intelligence that had been provided by Stobie to his handlers. By the evening of 9 February, the SB had the following information:
– An imminent hit was planned on a “top PIRA man”.
– L/20 (a senior UDA leader) was a key figure in the operation.
– Stobie was storing two 9mm Browning pistols along with some other weapons for the UDA.
– Stobie had supplied an H&K pistol for the hit, and had been asked to hand over a 9mm Browning pistol.
– DC R/08 (Stobie’s Special Branch handler) had been informed, via a message from a telephone call, that the gun was not handed over on 9 February and that Stobie wished to speak to his handler again.

“………….Analysis of the Daily Intelligence Book and the Threat Book shows the RUC regularly and successfully taking action to prevent attacks on the basis of vaguer intelligence than the information provided by Stobie in the week preceding Patrick Finucane’s murder.”

The same questions about the motives and behavior of the RUC Special Branch arise when their dealings with Stobie in the wake of the Finucane killing are examined, specifically in relation to the disposal of the principal murder weapon. The account given by Stobie to myself in 1990 is essentially not challenged by de Silva. This was that he handed over the weapon to a senior UDA man on February 15th and immediately informed his handlers.

As my notes of his account record it:

“… arranged for McK to pick up the Browning on Wednesday – met McK who had arrived in landrover at local shops, handed gun over and McK then did a car switch – he (Stobie) said he phoned SB before McK arrived and after McK picked up gun – but cops did nothing except to set up a roadblock on Forthriver Road – made no apparent attempt to track or arrest McK.”

Of this episode de Silva says this:

“The intelligence Stobie provided to the RUC on 15 February was potentially highly significant. It presented the RUC with what should have been a valuable opportunity to recover the likely murder weapon and to arrest one of the UDA figures involved in Patrick Finucane’s murder. I recognise that such an operation was likely to be difficult and carried its own risks. The RUC would have needed to consider how best to effect the arrest and recover the weapon without endangering Stobie’s life. There is, however, no evidence that the possibility of exploiting this intelligence was even considered by the SB.

“The intelligence provided by William Stobie after the murder of Patrick Finucane could have led to the recovery of the gun likely to have been used in the murder and the arrest of at least one of the key UDA suspects. I am satisfied that the SB unjustifiably withheld this crucial intelligence from the RUC CID.”

So, a powerful indictment of…what? RUC incompetence or malevolence, or evidence of some hidden subterranean manipulation? We don’t know because as with so much of Sir Desmond de Silva’s report, there are more questions than answers, more what’s, where’s and when’s than why’s.

And one question that cries out to be asked and answered, and would have to figure at a proper public tribunal, is why was Billy Stobie ever charged with Pat Finucane’s murder. From all that is in the de Silva report it is clear that Billy Stobie played his part as a police informer to the full and that if his information had been acted upon Pat Finucane may be alive today. The question is all the more worthy of an answer since if Billy Stobie had not been charged with Pat Finucane’s murder he too might still be walking the streets of Belfast. Somebody needs to be brought to account in a public and intellectually and emotionally satisfying way.