Monthly Archives: July 2013

Boston College Loses Dolours Price Contract, Throwing Jean McConville Probe Into Disarray

Boston College does not have in its possession the contract Dolours Price signed with the university that established the authenticity and ownership of the interview about her life in the IRA conducted by researchers from the college, thebrokenelbow.com can now reveal. It is not known whether the contract has been lost or was never collected from researchers in Ireland.

Dolours Price - Boston College has lost her contract proving ownership and authenticity of her interview

Dolours Price – Boston College has lost her contract proving ownership and authenticity of her interview

This disclosure follows revelations in The Irish Times this weekend that Boston College also cannot locate the contracts that identify three out of the seven IRA interviews that have been successfully subpoenaed by the PSNI and the United States’ Department of Justice in an effort to solve the forty year long IRA murder and disappearance in 1972 of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow and mother of ten whom the IRA accused of spying for the British military. These interviews are still the subject of legal argument in the United States.

This means that four out of the nine interviews or sets of interviews – nearly half of the interviews successfully subpoenaed as being relevant to the McConville murder investigation – are now of dubious legal and evidential value despite a lengthy and expensive legal battle fought by the PSNI and their allies in the Obama White House over the past twenty-seven months.

Jean McConville with two of her children

Jean McConville with two of her children

These revelations also raise questions about how many other interviewee contracts with participants unconnected with the McConville investigation or who were part of the UVF section of the archive that so far has escaped PSNI attention have been lost or were never collected by Boston College.

Amid efforts, so far resisted by Boston College, on the part of interviewees to get their interviews returned and to force the closure of the archive, legal sources say that the inability of Boston College to prove that contracts exist will result in the automatic return of these interviews to those who gave them.

All these twists and turns add appreciably to the embarrassment of Boston College’s authorities over a project that has been roiled in controversy over assurances of confidentiality that were given to interviewees by the college in order to persuade them to participate.

The contracts at the centre of this controversy tell interviewees that their control and ownership of the interviews they gave was absolute until their death, after which ownership and control reverted to Boston College. It was this contract, drawn up by Boston College’s own legal advisers, which persuaded the researchers, Ed Moloney, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, as well as the interviewees, to take part in the project as it seemingly offered protection against official intrusion.

At the outset of the project in 2001 another part of the arrangement, drawn up in contracts, stipulated that the Project Director, Ed Moloney would create a key for Boston College that would identify all the participants who otherwise would only be identified by letters of the alphabet and numbers for the number of interviews they gave.

The key would be created via the contracts which the researchers, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, would ask each interviewee to sign. The arrangement was very strict about one point: for security reasons the contracts and the key they created could only be hand delivered to Boston from Ireland by the Boston College librarian, Robert O’Neill, who traveled regularly to Ireland on shopping expeditions for the college.

In other words McIntyre and McArthur would provide the signed contracts, Moloney would create a key from them and O’Neill would carry all this back to Boston where the documents would be lodged, at least in theory, in the college archive.

Almost at the outset however the arrangement was altered by changes in the domestic arrangements of Ed Moloney, who was obliged for family reason to relocate from Belfast to New York in the summer of 2001, by which time the IRA part of the archive was just a few months old.

Because the security of the project and the guarantees given to interviewees necessitated that the all important piece of information identifying each participant be taken to Boston only by hand this meant that Moloney, now residing in New York, could no longer be part of this process and it was left to O’Neill, the Boston College librarian and the man in charge of the project, to collect the contracts and create the key. Had Moloney been involved this would have meant that security would have been compromised since the ‘by hand only’ rule would have been breached, with potentially harmful consequences for the interviewees.

It is interesting to note that the subpoenaed IRA interviewees not identified by contracts are all at the end of the alphabet, suggesting that they were started long after he had arrived in New York and when he was no longer in a position to be given copies of their contracts. In practice he was not informed of the names of participants although he did suggest names of potential candidates and needs and did read transcripts which were sent in an encrypted form. However identities could never be sent encrypted or in any other way as the security risk was too great.

Boston College went along with this arrangement. Again for security reasons none of this was described in writing or email but was done orally. Proof that it was acceptable to Boston College lies in the fact that never once, from 2001 onwards, did the college ever demand the key from Ed Moloney. This was because de facto the job was O’Neill’s. During Moloney’s stay in New York he traveled numerous times to Boston College, gave lectures to students and had meetings with those in charge of the project and never once was this issue or problem raised.

Had the college been so exercised by the failure to provide this key its lawyers could have sued for breach of contract but they allowed the statute of limitations to expire in 2012, a year after the PSNI/DoJ subpoenas were served. This suggests that the college was not then concerned about the matter.

It also means that from 2001 until 2013, and even after a foreign police force had requested access to its archive, the fact that a significant number of interviews lodged in Boston College had no contracts attached to demonstrate Boston College’s ownership or to establish the identity of the interviewees went completely unnoticed by the authorities on campus or was not regarded as being of concern.

Collection of the contracts and therefore compilation of the key became the responsibility of Robert O’Neill, the college librarian. Did he collect the contracts and then lose them or ‘forget’ or somehow fail to collect the contracts? We don’t know. It does however seem logical that McIntyre – and also McArthur – did have an incentive to ensure that contracts were signed and collected.

The contracts were the guarantee of security and safety and it was in their interests to ensure that each interviewee was both aware of the text of the contract and had signed them – this was the way, after all, in which they could assure interviewees that it was safe to participate. Equally it was in their interests to ensure that the contracts were lodged at Boston College.

Doubtless aware of how damaging all this extraordinary chapter in the IRA archive story is to Boston College’s reputation, the university has turned on its researchers as it has done repeatedly during this sad story.

This time the reason is clear. Earlier this summer, the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston reversed a District Court judgement of 2011 that authorised the wholesale handover of IRA interviews – eighty-five in total. That judgement had said that if interviewee ‘A’ mentioned Jean McConville in only one of 18 interviews then all 18 interviews should be handed over. The First Circuit, very sensibly, said that only that single interview should be conceded.

Following this Boston College appears to have discovered that thanks to the contracts snafu, it cannot identify three of the interviewees. Anxious that once again the college will be exposed as alarmingly bungling and incompetent, Boston College is trying to shift the blame on to its researchers and in particular project director Ed Moloney.

On the foot of what looks like a tip off to the DoJ from Boston College, the researchers’ legal advisers have been warned that the US government may well go into court next week to ask that in the case of those three interviewees their entire set of interviews should now be handed over so they can be identified. Boston College is telling our legal team that we can stop this happening if we identify the three interviewees. Failing that there is the threat in the background of a subpoena, with jail time if it is defied, against the Project Director Ed Moloney.

This is how far Boston College has sunk. And as this happens US academe stands silent, acquiescing and in effect collaborating.

James Risen Case Shows Obama Justice Department Has No Respect For Media Rights

Once again the US federal judiciary has caved into demands from Obama’s Department of Justice that the media’s right to confidentiality and duty to protect sources should be torn up in pursuit of the administration’s quest to silence whistleblowers and in the process destroy what remains of investigative journalism in America.

New York Times' James Risen - Obama and Holder are trying to force him to give evidence against his source

New York Times’ James Risen – Obama and Holder are trying to force him to give evidence against his source

This time the case involves a prominent New York Times journalist James Risen who the Department of Justice is  attempting to force into the witness box to give evidence against a CIA source who revealed startling details of  incompetence on the part of his bosses. Risen wrote up the episode, which concerned a flawed attempt to sabotage the Iranian nuclear energy project, in his book “State of War” which examined CIA operations during the Bush administration.

I won’t go into all the detail here since I attach a very good blog piece from the Washington Post which explains better than I can the history of the case and the meaning of a recent court decision upholding the DoJ’s effort to force Risen to give evidence.

But I think it is important to set this case firstly against a background of unprecedented harassment of whistleblowers and the media which has attempted to report the details of their whistleblowing during the Obama presidency and the stewardship of the DoJ by Attorney General Eric Holder. Readers will be aware of the targeting of Bradley Manning, Julan Assange and latterly Edward Snowden but the list is longer than that.

Obama and Holder have pursued twice as many whistleblowers and journalists and invoked the Espionage Act against them more times than the combined presidencies of the previous ninety years. It has been an unrivalled assault on the public right to knowledge, something that will mark the Obama presidency indelibly as way more reactionary than George W Bush, an unthinkable thought when Obama campaigned on ‘Change You Can Believe In’ back in ’08.

Most ominously in their efforts to silence dissent from within government, Obama/Holder are seeking to criminalize the media, insinuating in some prosecutions that by facilitating a whistleblower, journalists can be accomplices in crime. So far the White House has shied from actually following through with charges but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they may try to over the Snowden case, hence the fierce hostility to the radical journalist Glenn Greenwald in establishment politican and media circles.

America’s journalists, slowly awakening to the great dangers facing the media have finally realised that the effect of the Obama/Holder push will be to destroy investigative journalism. Whether they mobilise successfuly against the threat remains to be seen.

I mention all this so as to make a point about the Boston College subpoenas, or rather to reinforce the point since I have made it before. The US authorities are taking the hard line they have during the BC case not just because they and the PSNI share an agenda but because it is the wider interests of the American security state that has evolved since 9/11 to take a hard line on the IRA archives. To bend on the Boston case would weaken their stand on these other cases and that neither Obama nor Holder will do.

I am limited in what I can say here, but the Boston College case is facing its next legal challenge soon. On July 30th the US government is to decide whether to appeal a decision handed down by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston that limited the extent of the handover of IRA interviews. If they do appeal, the baton will be in the hands of Boston College. Will the authorities at America’s leading Jesuit college answer the challenge or will they fold or turn again against their researchers and interviewees?

We’ll get the answer to that soon, but so far American academe has not shown the same resolve and alarm at this federal incursion of confidentiality rights that the American media is beginning to show. Sadly, I suspect it is way too late for one and almost too late for the other.

Anyway here’s the Washington Post piece:

Can Dolours Price Interviews Be Used In Court: A Correction And Clarification

I am prompted by some confused reporting at the weekend, in particular this story in the Sunday Business Post, to make the following correction and clarification. The claim at issue in the SBP report is to the effect that because Dolours Price has died, her testimony to researchers from Boston College cannot be used in court as evidence.

One Belfast reporter, quoted in the SBP story said this: “I don’t see material evidence coming out of this. [Dolours Price] can’t be interrogated; she can’t be brought before a jury.”

Another agreed: “There is absolutely no conceivable possibility of this stuff being used in court. The witness can’t be cross-examined. I’d be very surprised if you can even get this heard in court.”

The effect of such misunderstanding of the legal situation is to minimise the potential legal and political consequences of the Boston College subpoenas and to infer unnecessary alarmism on the part of campaigners against the subpoenas.

To be fair, these reporters are not the only ones confused. The judge in the Boston District Court who first okayed the handover in 2011 made the same mistake and I have had to correct Congressional staffers who had the same inaccurate view.

The purpose of this short posting is to put the matter to rest for once and for all.

Dolours Price’s interviews can be used in court as evidence and the authority for this statement is no less than the British Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS website posting which deals with the admissibility of hearsay evidence, which is how Dolours Price’s interviews are defined, makes it abundantly clear that statements made by dead people are admissible.

Here is the link to that posting, and here is the extract which cites Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act of 2003:

CPSOK folks? “There is automatic admissibility of a statement made by an identifiable person that would be admissible if that person were available to give oral evidence but are unable to do so because either: The person is dead (Section 116(2)(a);” And the CPS goes on to list other categories.

The issue of the weight to be given to her interviews will be a different matter. She cannot be cross-examined and she had a history of psychiatric problems which are problems for prosecutors. But if testimony from other interviews, such as the seven currently awaiting a final legal decision, support her evidence then her interviews will carry greater weight. But admissible her interviews most certainly are.

This is not rocket science guys. It’s all on the internet.

Plea To McConville Family: Join Us In Bid For British Army Papers

A British military photo of the Divis Flats complex circa 1972/73

A British military photo of the Divis Flats complex circa 1972/73 – All that remains today is the tower block on the centre left

Today myself and Anthony McIntyre are extending an invitation to members of Jean McConville’s family to join with us in lodging a Freedom of Information request at the British government’s archives at Kew in Surrey to obtain the release of the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment, which served in Divis Flats at the time, in early 1972, that Jean McConville allegedly came under IRA suspicion as an informer for the military.

The First Gloucesters, one of the oldest and most battle hardened regiments in the British Army, was the only one of the nine regiments to have served in the Divis district of West Belfast during the early 1970’s whose war diaries have been embargoed and closed to the public, in that regiment’s case for an exceptional 84 years, until the year 2059. Under the 30 year rule the war diaries should have been made available by now but an extra embargo of over 50 years was imposed. It is our understanding that the British Ministry of Defence has the final say in such decisions.

The official embargoed notice at Kew on the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment

The official embargoed notice at Kew on the war diaries of the First Gloucestershire Regiment

We are also planning to ask that the war diaries for 39 Brigade of the British Army, that is the Belfast command of the military, between August 1st, 1971 and September 30th 1971, and between June 1st 1972 and June 30th 1973 be opened for scrutiny. These documents have been embargoed for between 84 and 100 years.

We will be filing the requests in order to see if the war diaries, which are a daily account of a regiment’s military activity, contain any information which might indicate what happened to Jean McConville, the widowed mother of ten who was abducted from her apartment in the Divis Flats complex by the Provisional IRA in December 1972, taken across the Border to the Dundalk area, shot dead and her body secretly buried in a beach on the edge of Carlingford Lough.

In particular the request might settle for once and for all the question of whether the IRA killed Jean McConville because she worked as an intelligence source for the British Army.

Significantly, Nuala O’Loan, the former NI Police Ombudsman who investigated the Jean McConville ‘disappearance’ and whose report challenged suggestions that she had been a British Army informer, told thebrokenelbow.com in a phone interview this weekend that she had never heard of these war diaries until now.

She said that she would be ready to lend her support to our efforts to get the embargo lifted. “I am always ready for documents to be examined but I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know why they have been embargoed. I think I could be supportive of getting the documents out. I think there may be issues attached, there may have to be sections redacted. But I think that would be my only proviso.

Jean McConville with two of her children

Jean McConville with two of her children

We wish to stress that we are not conducting this exercise to prove that the IRA was telling the truth when it claimed that Jean McConville was killed because she was working for the British Army. We have enormous respect and understanding for the family’s view that their mother was killed and disappeared for reasons unconnected to any military exigency on the part of the IRA.

Nor do we wish our proposal to be regarded as an attempt to vindicate this heinous act by the IRA. What happened to Jean McConville was not only unjustified but was callous, cynical, barbaric and unnecessary and both of us are on public record repeatedly as saying so. I have also written that in my view her killing was a war crime; so has Anthony McIntyre. Strikingly, a significant number of former IRA activists have told me this is their belief also, and that they are ashamed that this act was carried out in their name.

There is no doubt either that certain key figures in the IRA of that time have lied about their part in Jean McConville’s disappearance and have done so repeatedly and grossly. Nor can there be doubt that such lying has infected the IRA’s account of Jean McConville’s death and the reason for her murder.

Gerry Adams denies all knowledge of Jean McConville's disappearance

Gerry Adams denies all knowledge of Jean McConville’s disappearance

At the same time two credible IRA figures have come forward both to denounce that lying and also to say that her role as an informer was the reason Jean McConville was killed. Both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price are now dead and cannot be quizzed about their versions of events but they both gave lengthy, credible and coherent accounts, Hughes in the book Voices From The Grave, which was derived from his interviews with Boston College, and Price in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes

Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes

On the other hand, the former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan has reported that from her inquiries in security circles she could find no evidence to verify the allegation that Jean McConville worked as an agent for the military or any other branch of the British security apparatus. But she has declined to go into detail and has, for instance, refused to say who in security world she spoke to or at what level.

No-one can doubt Nuala O’Loan’s integrity, nor that what she reported she genuinely believed to be the truth. But at the same time, if the IRA account is true, some in the British Army and others in the intelligence and political hierarchy may have had as much reason to lie and dissemble to the Police Ombudsman as does the IRA’s then Belfast leadership to the people of Ireland.

Remember Brendan Hughes’ account. According to his version, Jean McConville was uncovered as a spy when a radio transmitter was found in her apartment. According to Hughes she admitted her role when confronted with the evidence but because of her family situation, she was given a so-called ‘Yellow Card’ by Hughes and let go. But later the IRA discovered evidence she had resumed spying and that sealed her fate.

Nobody knows whether Brendan Hughes’ account is accurate but if it is, it means that the British Army continued to use as an agent someone whose cover had been blown, thus putting the agent’s life in great peril. And, if Hughes’ account is accurate, the army would have known Jean McConville’s cover was blown because her radio had been confiscated by the IRA.

If all this is true the British Army contributed significantly to the series of events that led to her murder. If all this is true the British Army acted recklessly and selfishly and was at least partly responsible for ten children losing their mother. If all this is true then British soldiers, possibly senior ones, had good reasons to lie and to keep these facts from the public and the McConville’s. And the McConville family have good reason to seek the maximum redress.

A daylight patrol in Divis by the First Gloucestershire Regiment (copyright: The Soldiers of Gloucestershire}

A daylight patrol in Divis by the First Gloucestershire Regiment (copyright: The Soldiers of Gloucestershire}

It should also be remembered that the British Army has a track record of telling lies, in one notorious case a massive lie, about its intelligence operations. When John Stevens, the former Cambridgeshire Deputy Chief Constable was sent to Northern Ireland in 1989 to investigate intelligence leaks to Loyalist paramilitaries he was told at a high level military briefing that the British Army ran no intelligence agents in Northern Ireland.

In fact, as he soon found out, the army not only ran agents but it had an entire dedicated detachment, the Force Research Unit, which did nothing else except run agents. The British Army lied then to cover up its role in the UDA murder of Pat Finucane; in such a context it is not inconceivable that they may have lied to cover up the death of Jean McConville.

So we have conflicting accounts, dead witnesses, lies told by one side and possibly lies told by the other. What we do not have enough of is truth that can be backed up by independent, contemporary evidence. That is why today we are announcing our plans to seek the opening of British Army files and asking the McConville’s to join us.

We are seeking only the truth. It may be that the files contain nothing of interest or significance and if that is the case, then so be it. It may be that the files support Nuala O’Loan’s suggestion that Jean McConville never worked for the British Army. It may be that they show she did but that her handlers exploited her and helped usher her to an early death. If that is the case, then so be it.

Over the past two years, the PSNI and the British government have sought to obtain interviews lodged in the archive of the Belfast Project at Boston College in their search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance. We also seek to obtain files lodged in the UK’s archives at Kew in our search for facts in the investigation of Jean McConville’s murder and disappearance.

With the appointment of Dr Richard Haass as the new US Special Envoy with the brief of charting a way to deal with the past, it is becoming clear that any effort to find out what happened during the Troubles will be fatally flawed unless there is absolute balance between competing sides, between paramilitary groups and security forces. The leadership of the Historical Enquiries Team is currently learning the hard way what happens when a process of investigating the past become tainted with double standards.

Richard Haass - new US Special Envoy to N

Richard Haass – new US Special Envoy to N

And so, if the PSNI is to be allowed access to Boston College’s files by the US courts, then we who were responsible for creating them should be allowed access to the British Army’s archive. Otherwise we have an investigatory process that is doomed to be one-sided and whose conclusions will be respected by only one part of the community. Such an outcome can only breed mistrust and further division.

So, why do we single out the First Gloucestershire Regiment in this Freedom of Information request?

The first reason has to do with the unusual act of requesting an embargo on the regiment’s war diaries and the length of that embargo, eighty-four years. This means that unless the embargo is successfully challenged the diary will not be opened until January 1st, 2059, by which time most of those reading this article will be long dead.

To put the embargo into context, it is the same length or just slightly shorter than the embargo placed on 39 Brigade war diaries at a time when the Brigade commander was Brigadier Frank Kitson and he was busy creating the Military Reaction Force (MRF), a super secret undercover unit which allegedly was involved in a series of drive by shootings and killings in Belfast.

In other words to qualify for an 84 year or 100 year embargo as 39 Brigade has, the activities in question need to be the sort that you really don’t want the world to know about, at least for a very long time, and long after those responsible have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The full list of 39 Brigade embargoed war diaries is below. By contrast British Army brigade war diaries in Europe and Britain are open for public inspection:

So what was it that soldiers from the First Gloucestershire Regiment did in Divis Flats in 1972 and also in 1973 that they want hidden until 2059?

None of the other military units that served in Divis during these years felt that way. According to records compiled by our resourceful researcher Bob Mitchell, nine British regiments served in Divis Flats between October 1970 and April 1975. The list can be seen below in the graphic and it records that only one regiment cannot be traced in the Kew archive, the Third Battalion Light Infantry. Of the other eight, all can be traced and aside from the Gloucesters, none asked that its war diary(ies) be embargoed or were ordered by the MoD to be embargoed even though some of them, like the Royal Green Jackets and the Royal Anglian Regiment were posted to Divis during the worst periods of violence.

List of regiments that served in Divis in early 1970's. The First Goucesters are the only unit whose war diaries have been embargoed until 2059. All the others are available for public inspection.

List of regiments that served in Divis in early 1970’s. The First Goucesters are the only unit whose war diaries have been embargoed until 2059. All the others are available for public inspection.

A war diary is a daily account of a regiment's or Brigade's activity during a tour of duty. This is a sample page fromn the Royal Anglin Regiment's war diary for 1972.

A war diary is a daily account of a regiment’s or Brigade’s activity during a tour of duty. This is a sample page fromn the Royal Anglin Regiment’s war diary for 1972.

So what was it that the First Gloucesters were involved in, in Divis Flats that made them so different from seven of their brother regiments?

Our research also brought us to journals and magazines produced by British regiments during the 1970’s which describe in sometimes fascinating detail their activities while posted to Northern Ireland. The Royal Green Jackets (RGJ) Chronicle is a particularly rich source of information.

The RGJ were posted to Belfast for the second time in August 1973 and a single company, ‘B’ Coy, was sent to Divis where, according to the account produced in that year’s Chronicle, priority was given to cultivating sources in the local population. While the Chronicle makes light of the way this was done, it seems that female residents of Divis were especially targeted. The account, which can be read in full below, concludes: “….by the end of the tour, all sections had established a friendly contact here and there.”

Extract on Royal Green Jackets tour of Divis Flats in 1973, between eight and twelve months after Jean McConville's disappearance

Extract from Royal Green Jackets Chronicle dealing with its tour of Divis Flats in 1973, between eight and twelve months after Jean McConville’s disappearance

So cultivating and recruiting intelligence sources from the population of Divis Flats, and possibly from female residents, appears to have been standard operating practice for British units, which common sense suggests would be the case. It is something the British would have done as a matter of course and not just in Divis.

A key part of Brendan Hughes’ story concerned the radio that was allegedly discovered in Jean McConville’s flat and with which she is supposed to have communicated with her handlers in Hastings Street RUC station which had become the British Army’s local HQ. In his interview with Boston College, Hughes did not describe the radio in any detail but it appears that it was what most people would know as a walkie-talkie type radio, small and compact, easy to hide and use.

The problem is that some people have raised doubts about whether the British Army had access to such equipment in the early 1970’s and that the only radios in use at that time were heavy, bulky sets totally unsuitable for use by an agent such as Jean McConville. In fact that is not true and the source for this is the Saville report on the Bloody Sunday killings of January 1972.

Paragraph 181.13 of the report reads:

“We should also record that there is evidence that before Bloody Sunday some of the resident battalions were, at platoon level only, using portable Stornophone radios in place of Larkspur radios. A number of former soldiers serving in Londonderry recalled having Stornophone radios available on 30th January 1972. Often nicknamed “Stornos”, these radios, like the Pye radios discussed above, were a commercially produced system purchased by the Army. There is little doubt that the use of Stornophone radios was a consequence of the fallibility of Larkspur radios in built-up areas.”

Stornophone radios were ideal for agent use. Manufactured by the Norwegian Storno Company, the average set was 10” long. 2.5” wide and 1” thick, it had a rechargeable battery pack and a simple ‘push to talk’ operation. The question then is whether Stornophone radios were available to British troops in Divis in early 1972 and the answer is yes.

The bulky Larkspur radio, totally unsuitable for agent use

The bulky Larkspur radio, totally unsuitable for agent use

The Norwegian made Stornophone radio, available to some platoons in NI in early 1972. Very agent friendly.

The Norwegian made Stornophone radio, available to some platoons in NI in early 1972. Very agent friendly.

The answer comes from the ‘Soldiers of Gloucestershire’ website, which is dedicated to all things to do with the Gloucestershire Regiment, including a massive collection, dating back to the 18th century, of paintings, prints and photographs of the regiment during its various campaigns and wars, including its various tours to Northern Ireland.

One photograph shows a soldier from the Gloucesters on patrol in Divis Flats in 1972 holding and maybe using a Storno-type hand held radio.

Here is the photo:

A soldier from the First Gloucesters uses a Stornophone type radio while on patrol in Divis Flats in April 1972 - copyright

A soldier from the First Gloucesters uses a Stornophone type radio while on patrol in Divis Flats in April 1972  (Copyright: The Soldiers of Gloucestershire)

So a hand held walkie-talkie type radio of the sort that Brendan Hughes said was found in Jean McConville’s flat was in use by soldiers from the First Gloucestershire regiment in Divis Flats in 1972, the year she was abducted & killed, and the war diary for that tour has been embargoed until 2059. A cloud now hangs over the Gloucestershire regiment which can only be dispelled by full disclosure of the unit’s archives.
There is one final issue that arises out of the Police Ombudsman’s report on Jean McConville’s disappearance. It derives from a section of her report dealing with intelligence reports on the whereabouts of Jean McConville after she disappeared from Divis. That section was summarised in a press release dated August 13th, 2006 from the Police Ombudsman’s office. Here is the relevant section:

“There is no intelligence about or from Mrs McConville until 2 January 1973. An examination of RUC intelligence files show that the first intelligence was received on January 2 1973 when police received two pieces of information which said that the Provisional IRA had abducted Mrs McConville.

“On January 16 1973, Mrs McConville’s disappearance and the plight of her children were reported in the media. A police spokesman was quoted as saying that although the matter had not been reported to them, it was being investigated.

“RUC intelligence files show that the next day police received two pieces of information about the disappearance: One claimed that Mrs McConville was being held by the Provisional IRA in Dundalk. The other also alleged that the Provisionals were behind the abduction and suggested it was related to drug dealing.

“The RUC intelligence files also show that the police later received two separate pieces of information from military sources which suggested that Mrs McConville was not missing: The first was received on March 13 1973 and suggested that the abduction was an elaborate hoax. The second piece of information, which was received 11 days later, said that Mrs McConville had left of her own free will and was known to be safe.”

There is a clear pattern here. Intelligence coming in to the RUC in the first weeks after her disappearance was remarkably accurate. The Provisional IRA had abducted her. Check. Jean McConville was being held in Dundalk. Check. A second report again said that the Provisonals had abducted her. Check. The same report claimed a drug connection which was clearly wrong. But this is the only piece of inaccurate intelligence coming into the RUC at this time.

But then in mid-March the story changes dramatically. Two separate pieces of intelligence from military sources throw cold water on the abduction explanation. One, on March 13th, says that the story of Jean McConville’s kidnapping was “an elaborate hoax”. A second report on March 24th claimed she had left Belfast of her own free will and was safe.

Former NI Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan

Former NI Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan

So who were these military sources? Nuala O’Loan does not tell us. But here is an interesting coincidence. On April 2nd, 1973 the First Gloucestershire Regiment arrived in Belfast for a four month tour – their second since late 1971, early 1972 – and two days later took over duties from the Queens Lancashire Regiment.

It was standard operational procedure for advance parties to arrive several weeks ahead of the main regimental force and included in them would be an intelligence unit. This was done so that the new regiment would be able to ease in to its new duties. So an intelligence unit from the 1st Gloucesters would likely have been in West Belfast when those reports were sent to the RUC saying that Jean McConville was safe. Did the 1st Gloucesters create those intelligence reports or have any hand in them? We don’t know. Perhaps the information is contained in those embargoed War Diaries. That’s another reason they should be opened.

As I say, the war diary may reveal absolutely nothing about Jean McConville at all, in which case her surviving family have everything to gain by knowing this. And so do the First Gloucesters, whose name deserves to be cleared if the regiment is innocent of any suspicion attached to it.

But if the diary does reveal information that the family would probably regard as unwelcome then they and everyone else will have to deal with it. We need to know the truth about what happened to Jean McConville. Hiding facts behind embargoes is unacceptable when others are being forced by legal measures to disclose theirs. Equally, lying about the past by those involved in these events is as intolerable as continuing to exploit an agent whose cover has been blown.

One way or another we need to know what is written in the embargoed War Diaries of the First Gloucestershire regiment.

New US Envoy On NI’s Past Means Boston College Case Must Be Suspended

Following the appointment of former diplomat Richard Haass as new US special envoy to Northern Ireland, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre call on the American and British authorities to suspend attempts to subpoena IRA interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College until Dr Haass has completed his task of outlining an agreed and effective way to deal with the past.

They also call on the PSNI to similarly halt its criminal investigation of the Jean McConville disappearance.

We welcome the appointment of Dr Haass and hope that he succeeds in his task of creating a mechanism for dealing with the past that is not based on unconditional prosecutions. Pursuing the past by treating it as a series of crimes will deter and obstruct the search for truth while keeping the conflict alive in another guise. Failing to deal with the past in a way which neutralises it means that it will continue to haunt both the present and the future.

At the same time it is incumbent upon all parties to the conflict, paramilitary and security forces, from leaderships down to rank and file to commit themselves unalterably to the truth and make their records available to any investigatory process set up as a result of Dr Haass’s efforts. There must be openness and an end to implausible life stories. The dead and maimed of Northern Ireland deserve better.

Menendez Fires Volley Across British Bows On Boston College Archive

Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress has dramatically intervened in the Boston College subpoenas case by outlining a series of conditions that he says the US should impose if any further interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College are handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on foot of British subpoenas.

Senate Foreign Relatons Committee chairman Robert Menendez

Senate Foreign Relatons Committee chairman Robert Menendez

Menendez’s intervention came in the wake of the Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeal’s June decision to impose separate limitations on the handover – reducing the number of interviews scheduled for handover from 85 to 12 – and only days after PSNI detectives had traveled to Boston to pick up tapes and transcripts of interviews made by the late Dolours Price, a former IRA member who in media interviews last autumn claimed to have helped ‘disappear’ alleged British Army informer Jean McConville in 1972.

The conditions outlined by Menendez were made in a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry on June 28th but only released last night to the media and they are sure to provoke controversy and opposition in some quarters in both parts of Ireland not least because the Senator lays claim to a US stake in the peace process and Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

He wrote: “Our country made a significant diplomatic investment in resolving ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. It would be a terrible error of judgement if the United States was not to engage now in the due diligence necessary to protect our investment in this hard-won peace.” With this language the Senate leader is saying unequivocally that the US has an interest in the possible negative effect on the peace process of handing over the Boston College tapes.

Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry

Menendez makes two important demands of Kerry and the Obama administration. One is that the State Department should vet the interviews scheduled for handover to determine whether their release would damage inter-communal relations or be counter to US national interests. He went on: “I share the concerns of many in the Irish-American community who have asserted that the nature of this request raises doubts about the wisdom of the British government’s Northern Ireland policies.”

But it is his second demand that will anger some in Northern Ireland. He says that the US should invoke a clause in the Treaty with Britain which allows for the transfer of the interviews only for purposes which the US approves and has given consent to.

This clause would allow the United States to bar the British authorities from releasing the interviews for civil proceedings. Although Senator Menendez does not go into detail it is clear that the effect of this condition would be to stop the family of Jean McConville from suing Gerry Adams or any of the interviewees in a civil court, an outcome the family and their supporters have openly admitted is something they hope to see happening.

In a short statement Boston College campaigners Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre welcomed Senator Menendez’ intervention and said they hoped and expected to see his letter soon translated into action.

Here is the full text of Senator Menendez’s letter:

The George Blake Prison Escape: An Interesting If Troubling Postscript

By Ed Moloney and Bob Mitchell

As regular readers of this blog will know The Broken Elbow published a piece recently suggesting that the Irish judiciary’s treatment of a famous British prison escape involving a notorious Soviet spy might hold out hope for NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden in the event that he was arrested at Shannon airport en route to South America and then faced extradition proceedings in Dublin.

The piece was prompted by a report that the US had sent an arrest warrant for Snowden to Dublin in case the former NSA spy chose to travel through Shannon to Cuba.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Just to recap: the spy was George Blake, an MI6 officer whose activities on behalf of the KGB were uncovered in 1961 and he was sentenced to 42 years in jail. Sent to Wormwood Scrubs he befriended there a colourful Irish criminal by the name of Sean Bourke who, angered at the savagery of Blake’s sentence, resolved to help him escape.

This he did in October 1966 and Bourke then drove Blake in a van to East Germany from where the pair then made their way to Moscow. After a year and a half in the Russian capital, Bourke decided to return to Dublin whereupon the British asked the Irish government to extradite him to the UK to face charges of helping Blake escape.

A British mugshot of George Blake

A British mugshot of George Blake

The case ended up in the Dublin High Court in 1969 where the presiding judge decided that the escape was a political offence and therefore excluded from the extradition treaty with Britain. The precedent is an encouraging one for Snowden in the event that he ever gets arrested at Shannon.

The George Blake-Sean Bourke saga did not end however with the Irish High Court decision. What happened next can now be told thanks to some detective work at the British government’s archives at Kew by my resourceful colleague Bob Mitchell.

But before telling that story some background is necessary. The Troubles in Northern Ireland erupted not long after Sean Bourke walked out of the Dublin court a free man and as the violence North of the border intensified the problems mounted for the Irish government then led by Jack Lynch, whose Fianna Fail party claimed the heritage of militant if constitutional Irish republicanism.

Fianna Fail (FF) arose out of opposition to the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty which inter alia partitioned the island into two states, one of which, Northern Ireland, stayed British. The anti-Treatyites in the IRA took up arms against the settlement, a short but vicious civil war followed and out of the ashes of the defeated republican ranks arose Fianna Fail, founded by Eamon de Valera and committed to the reunification of Ireland.

Jack Lynch with Margaret Thatcher in 1979 just before Charles Haughey took his job

Jack Lynch with Margaret Thatcher in 1979 just before Charles Haughey took his job

The mantle of de Valera’s inheritance did not sit easily on Jack Lynch’s shoulders however. He preached the gospel of compromise with the Northern state and met several times with the Unionist leadership at Stormont in an effort to normalise relations between the two entities. Not everyone in FF was happy with that approach. A civil rights movement was highlighting Unionist discrimination of Nationalists in Northern Ireland while the police and Loyalist mobs were opposing its marches and demonstrations with more and more violence. As the North slid towards the precipice and it was clear that Ireland was facing the gravest crisis since the Anglo-Irish war, some in Fianna Fail began reaching for the pikes hidden in the thatch.

In the summer of 1969, Northern Ireland exploded as Loyalist mobs went on a rampage of killing and burning in Nationalist areas of Belfast and Jack Lynch’s cabinet was soon rocked by scandal. What exactly happened is still a matter of strong contention but the allegation is that some of Lynch’s ministers, led by Charles Haughey, conspired to use government resources to arm some Nationalists north of the Border so that they could defend their districts and even held talks with the IRA in a bid to persuade it to leave the Southern government alone and instead concentrate its firepower North of the Border. It was never clear whether the arms were to be used solely for defense or also to take on the Northern security forces.

The affair, christened ‘The Arms Crisis’ when Haughey and several of his allies faced but were acquitted of criminal charges arising from the episode, would define and divide both Fianna Fail and much of Irish politics south of the Border throughout the Troubles. That alongside the fear that gripped the political establishment in Dublin after ‘Bloody Sunday’, that the wave of anger that surged through Ireland at the killings by British soldiers would spread, feed support for the Provisional IRA and destabilise the southern state, led the Lynch government to adopt a conciliatory and co-operative stance towards the British on Northern Ireland and aggressive hostility to the Provisionals.

Charles Haughey, pictured around the time of the Arms Crisis

Charles Haughey, pictured around the time of the Arms Crisis

It is arguable that two figures symbolised this rift in mainstream Southern Irish politics. One was Charles Haughey who staged a remarkable recovery from the arms scandal to lead Fianna Fail and was three times Ireland’s prime minister from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s. His periods as the state’s political leader are notable for a much more aggressive Nationalistic and aggressive tone with the British as well as antagonism towards opposition politicians who favoured a more accommodating approach to the British and Northern Unionists.

Two in that latter category stand out; one was Conor Cruise O’Brien and the other Garret FitzGerald, both men noted for their loathing of Irish republicanism in general and Charles Haughey in particular.

But for the sheer longevity and intensity of a shared hatred no-one can rival Sean Donlon, a diplomat in Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, a former ambassador to Washington and a key architect of much of the Irish state’s policy, sans Charles Haughey, on Northern Ireland. He is credited with, for instance, moulding establishment Irish-American opinion against the IRA and created the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’ of Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Hugh Carey and Daniel Moynihan to advance Ireland’s interests in America.

Sean Donlon on St Patrick's Day, Washington DC meeting VP Walter Mondale - note the vase of shamrock

Sean Donlon (right) on St Patrick’s Day, Washington DC meeting VP Walter Mondale – note the obligatory if cliched vase of shamrock

Tellingly, Donlon later described his mission to Washington in these terms when Jack Lynch made him ambassador:

When telling me of my appointment, the then Taoiseach (prime minister), Jack Lynch said that the priorities in my mission were, firstly, to do everything possible to reduce US financial, political and logistical support for the Provisional IRA and, secondly, to work closely with the IDA to secure US investment in Ireland.

I was searching around for material to describe the intense rivalry and mutual detestation that characterised the Haughey-Donlon relationship when I came across this article posted on the Slugger O’Toole blog by former BBC journalist Brian Walker. I decided that nothing could better illustrate what was in my mind than this piece because it also introduced another key element of the story, the fact that the mainstream media took sides in this quarrel and overwhelmingly they plumped for Donlon – which, of course, is no surprise. Walker’s prose is quite extraordinary and he makes no apology at all for using the most emotive and unbalanced language throughout his article. It is a salutory reminder that when it comes to the David Gregory’s of journalism, Ireland is no slouch.

(Incidentally the article illustrates an important feature of Irish government policy-making in the US, which is that when it came to grassroots Irish-America as opposed the inside the beltway Irish-America, they really didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. The Irish National Caucus mentioned in the article is described as a supporter of IRA fund-raising and this, argued Donlon, made Haughey’s plan to support the group so dangerous. In fact the INC and the Provos’ money raising machine in America, Noraid, were at daggers drawn most of this time, and arguably ever since, precisely because the INC was a rival for IRA money. A sensible policy then would have been to boost the INC since the IRA would be the loser. But such subtlety was completely lost on the diplomats.) Anyway here is the Brian Walker article:

Anyway, before Sean Donlon was sent to Washington he was a counsellor in the Anglo-Irish division of Foreign Affairs and part of his job, in fact a big part of it was to journey Northwards to Belfast, Derry and various rural spots on a regular basis to talk to contacts face to face. These ‘travellers’, as they were known, also made sure to keep in touch with correspondents from the Dublin media as they were often valuable sources of gossip and confirmation.

So it was that Sean Donlon and Sean Bourke crossed paths on the evening of November 21st, 1972 in the company of Ciaran McKeown at the Wellington Park hotel, a favourite watering hole in South Belfast then as now for members of the moderate Northern Nationalist party, the SDLP. McKeown was correspondent for the Irish Press, now sadly no longer with us, but he went on to be one of the trio of Peace People leaders in the mid-1970’s alongside Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan.

Sean Bourke - Irish court refused to extradite him to Britian because his offense was political

Sean Bourke – Irish court refused to extradite him to Britain because his offense was political

Ciaran McKeown in his Peace People days, flanked on his right by Mairead Corrigan and on right by Betty Williams

Ciaran McKeown in his Peace People days, flanked on his right by Mairead Corrigan and on left by Betty Williams

Anyway, I will leave the telling of the story of that night to Sir John Peck, the British ambassador to Dublin in 1973 and a figure who is known in British Foreign Office circles as an important sponsor of anti-Soviet black propaganda during the Cold War, as the linked obituary reveals. He helped set up the Information Research Department which later played a somewhat sinister and secretive role in Northern Ireland. He told the story of the night Sean Donlon met Sean Bourke by way of an official telegram, which made its way through bureaucratic channels to the desk of then British prime minister Ted Heath. Here is the Peck telegram (note he mistakenly has McKeown working for the Irish Independent):

Peck’s telegram was read by Heath and his response and the result of it can be read in this letter sent from his private secretary Christopher Roberts to Terry Platt in the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast. Copies were also sent to the Foreign Office and the Home Office doubtless because Heath’s reaction at the news of the sighting of Sean Bourke – “Get Him!” – suggested great excitement in the prime minister’s mind at the prospect of putting the Irish fugitive behind bars. Here is the letter:

British prime minister Ted Heath. When told that Sean Donlon had sighted Sean Bourke he responded: "Get Him!"

British prime minister Ted Heath. When told that Irish diplomat Sean Donlon had sighted Sean Bourke he responded: “Get Him!”

The story didn’t end there. A confidential letter was sent from then NI Secretary William Whitelaw to the British Army GOC, Sir Harry Tuzo informing him of the Bourke sighting and Ted Heath’s order to “Get Him!” and asking that the military “act accordingly”. A similar letter was sent to the RUC Chief Constable, Sir James Flanagan but that is not in the file. Here is the Tuzo letter:

So to summarise, a middle ranking Irish diplomat stumbles one evening into the Wellington Park hotel in Belfast to meet a journalist, recognises someone whom the highest court in his country says should not be extradited to Britain and three days later he contacts the British embassy in Dublin to tell them of his sighting presumably so that they can do what his own High Court would not do, which is to arrest him, send him to a court in London and lock him up for a very long time.

Two questions or thoughts occur to me about this story. The first is a question. Why didn’t Sean Donlon make his excuses and find the nearest phone to tell the British so they could arrest Sean Bourke there and then? Was it because suspicion would inevitably fall on him, whereas if he left it for two or three days the finger could be pointed at any number of people while the British would be almost as grateful for his favour?

The second is a thought. If this is how Irish diplomats behave towards one of their own countrymen at a time of huge conflict with an outside power which has, let us say, a less than distinguished record over six or so centuries for its humane treatment of the Irish, what on earth would they not do for the Yanks? Perhaps on second thoughts Edward Snowden might be better giving Shannon airport a wide berth.