Monthly Archives: May 2014

Statement On PSNI Threat To Boston Archive

I call upon the US government to resist this fishing expedition by the PSNI and to remember that the major consequence of this bid to invade an American college’s private archive will be to undermine a peace deal that was in no small way the product of careful American diplomacy and peace building. The United States has the power to invoke vital foreign policy interests in order to reject this PSNI action.

I also call upon Boston College to vigorously resist this action and to rally the rest of American academe in the cause of research confidentiality. It is no accident that this move comes hard on the heels of BC’s spokesman Jack Dunn’s public announcement that interviews could be returned. This action by the PSNI raises serious questions about the motivation and control of the police in Northern Ireland. Those in the PSNI who took and approved this decision could hardly have been unaware of the grave political consequences of their planned action.

The NBC News Bid For Archived Interviews

For understandable reasons the disclosure that two weeks ago NBC News wrote to Judge William Young of the Federal District Court in Boston asking him to hand over subpoenaed interviews has created some excitement and comment elsewhere in the media.

But there is a simple reality to this story which may make it less dramatic or impactful than it appears at first glance. Judge Young cannot hand over that which he does not have. When he selected the interviews that were responsive to the subpoena the material was handed over to the Department of Justice for safekeeping until the legal arguments were ended. When that happened the PSNI sent over detectives to collect it and transport it back to Belfast.

Judge Young no longer has the material, nor does the DoJ or any government body. In that sense the NBC bid is moot. Copies were returned to Boston College and if NBC is to get its way then the interviews will have to be extracted from the college. Now, that would be interesting to watch.

Legal sources also tell me that on the grounds that this material is being used in criminal proceedings in which, in some cases, charges have not even been laid, it is highly unlikely that any court in the U.S. would agree to make it available to the media.

An interesting development but it may be much ado about very little.

The History-Telling Of Totalitarians

Yesterday, after much negotiation with the paper, the Irish Times published my response to critics of the Boston Project who have attacked it on the grounds of bias in the choice of interviewees and in the choice of those involved in the project, myself included.

Indeed one critic, who claims to be an historian, had this to say about myself: “Ed Moloney……has spent much of his life attacking Gerry Adams” and this, in his view, made me so partisan as to be unfit to be in charge of such a project. I hope that amongst those who know me and my career path that this comment brought a smile to their faces.

He calls himself an historian but fails to conduct research even stretching back a few weeks. Had he consulted this website he would have found this article on April 20th describing how I nearly lost my job at the Irish Times back in 1982 when I predicted that Sinn Fein would win seats in an election to the new NI Assembly created that year.

If he had asked around, or even bothered to contact me, he would have learned that for most of my journalistic career (I hesitate to say ‘life’ since Gerry Adams and myself are the same age) it was my perceived closeness to Mr Adams and his colleagues that put it more in danger than any other single thing. But he didn’t.

Nor did he wonder how, if I had been so anti-Sinn Fein for “much of my life” I was able to persuade so many IRA men and women to talk to me and share confidential internal IRA documents when I researched and wrote ‘A Secret History of the IRA’? Or how it was, if I had been so virulently opposed to Mr Adams and his friends, I didn’t end up in a well paid, senior journalistic post in Ireland instead of emigrating to America so late in life? After all, opposition to the Provos during the pre-peace process years was a guaranteed path to career advancement in Ireland.

But he didn’t ask those questions. And he didn’t ask them not just because he is stupid, which he most certainly is, but because he was too eager to recycle Sinn Fein talking points, accepting and repeating them without question, to conduct proper research or think through what he was writing and saying. Much the same can be said of Martin Mansergh, Niall O’Dowd and Tim Pat Coogan who have assailed me and the project from the columns of O’Dowd’s website.

In my Irish Times piece I cited the example of Richard O’Rawe who had been forced into silence by a warning from Tom Hartley, one of Gerry Adams’ closest political advisers, that he could be shot if he told what he knew about the 1981 hunger strike negotiations with the British.

Richard kept quiet for ten years but then agreed to speak to the Boston Project. Then a remarkable thing happened, something that happens when a huge burden is lifted. Once he had been interviewed Richard wanted to tell his story to the world and in particular to the republican community who he felt had a right to know this other, dark side of a hunger strike that had been so central to their existence and political beliefs. Even though I warned him that the Provos would make his life hell, he was insistent; the world should know. And it was his right to do so.

And therein lies the real reason for all the bile and poison directed at the Boston Project by bumbling historians, by Mansergh and his confreres, by Danny Morrison and his team of black propagandists, by ‘Big Bobby’ Storey and his ‘We Haven’t Gone Away’ brigade: fear. Fear that the alternative history suppressed by threats, insults and painted walls will emerge to challenge the version that preserves the myths created by leaders and keeps dark secrets hidden.

It is ultimately about control of the narrative, control of the history that is told and taught. And that is the mark of the authoritarian, the cast of the censor, the stamp of the totalitarian.

Here, for those who have not yet read it, is the piece I wrote for the Irish Times:

In his seminal account of the 1981 IRA hunger strikes, Afterlives, Richard O’Rawe writes that when, in 1991, he canvassed the idea that he might go public with his story of what really happened during the protest, that someone close to the Sinn Féin leadership told him, “as a friend”, that if he did, he could be shot. He wrote: “While he never used the words ‘shot dead’, I nonetheless felt that that was implicit in his warning” (p66). And so, fearful of the consequences, he kept his mouth shut.

And he did, for over 10 years, until the Boston College project reached out to him and he agreed to be interviewed about his role as public relations officer for the IRA inmates during the protest. He found the interviews such a liberating experience that, against my advice that his safety could be at risk, he wrote Blanketmen, his first book about the prison protest. If I had had my way Richard O’Rawe’s story would have stayed secret until his death. But he was insistent it be told.

O’Rawe’s account of the hunger strike gave an entirely different account of events from the one peddled by the Sinn Féin leadership, which placed responsibility for all the deaths on Margaret Thatcher. In O’Rawe’s account the late prime minister was responsible for just four deaths, the republican leadership for six.

Essentially, O’Rawe’s story, which in subsequent years was substantially confirmed by contemporary British documents released in response to his books, went as follows. In July, 1981, after five months of protests and four deaths, the British offered to concede a majority of the hunger strikers’ demands. O’Rawe and his immediate superior, the IRA jail commander, Brendan McFarlane, recommended that the fast should end but they were overruled by Gerry Adams; the hunger strike continued and a further six prisoners went to lingering, painful deaths. (This has been denied by Brendan McFarlane and senior Sinn Féin figures such as Gerry Adams and the then Sinn Féin publicity chief Danny Morrison).

So what was the motive for overruling the prisoners’ leaders? One possible reason was that a continuation of the hunger strike helped ensure the success of Owen Carron in that August’s Westminster byelection in Fermanagh-South Tyrone caused by Bobby Sands’s death.

That was because preserving the hunger strike also kept in place a deal with the SDLP not to intervene electorally in the constituency, thereby avoiding a split in the nationalist vote to the unionists’ advantage. Carron’s win was entirely dependent on IRA prisoners still being on protest when polling happened. Had the prisoners accepted the British offer, the SDLP would have fielded a candidate and Carron would have lost.

Instead Carron’s victory paved the way for Sinn Féin’s electoral strategy and set in motion forces that, as I write, have placed Sinn Féin on the cusp of government on both sides of the Border.

That July 1981 episode thus assumes critical historical importance. Arguably it also explains why O’Rawe was warned to keep his mouth shut in 1991, why he was so badly abused when he did make his story public and why Sinn Féin, and those like Dr Martin Mansergh (“Adams episode sounds warning on peace process”, Irish Times, May 7th, 2014) who recycle Sinn Féin’s talking points, are so agitated about the Boston College project.

The truth is that without the Boston College project this crucial chapter in modern Irish history would have been buried – perhaps disappeared is a better word – and hidden from view at the point of a gun. The only account to survive would be the one that suits Sinn Féin best, the version that heaps all the blame on Thatcher and keeps the focus well and truly off the Sinn Féin leadership.
This story, and the Sinn Féin-led offensive against the Boston project, is about more than the character of the man who might be Ireland’s next tánaiste, although it is surely that as well. It is about who controls the narrative of the IRA’s part in over 30 years of violence in the North.
Just as Adams wishes the world to believe that he was never in the IRA, so he also wants those like Richard O’Rawe who dare challenge his control of that narrative, his version of events, to remain silent.
The current campaign of intimidation led by Sinn Féin against the Boston project is really aimed at anyone tempted to imitate our efforts by trying to explore the reality behind the propaganda.

Mansergh accuses the Boston project of hypocrisy when I wrote that it was carried out in a “professional and detached” way. But when Dr Anthony McIntyre approached Richard O’Rawe – and others – for an interview he carried a tape recorder in his hands, not a pistol behind his back. We sought accounts about life in the IRA in interviews freely given by former activists motivated only by a desire to tell the truth as they saw it.

Our crime was to unearth some accounts that were inconveniently at odds with the version of history that Sinn Féin wishes the world to believe and we interviewed people such as Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price who would be central in any narrative about the IRA. Not to have interviewed such people would have been remiss beyond words.
The logic of Mansergh’s critique of the Boston project is unavoidable. Should anyone wish to imitate our project, the potential interviewees should be asked one of two questions: do they believe Gerry Adams was in the IRA? Or, do they give unequivocal support to the peace process?
If they answer “Yes” to the first, and “No” to the second, or even hesitate in their answer (after all, one can favour peace, but dislike the process), then they will be excluded from recording their memories since they are, in Mansergh’s view, likely to be motivated by malice towards Adams or the policies he has helped put in place. Only in such a way can subversive, anti-peace sentiment be prevented from contaminating historical research.
That is the history telling of totalitarianism.


Posting Policy

I have just had a complaint from someone who tried to post under a false name that I was a coward for not publishing what he had to say. Imagine that? Someone who didn’t have the guts to put his own name to a comment says I am a coward for not publishing it. Enough said.

And anyway, there is nothing in the practice of publishing a blog that obliges the blogger, that is me in this case, to publish offensive, abusive material about the person doing the blogging. That I will not do. So tough luck to all the half-brains who have nothing to deliver but garbage and insults. Ain’t gonna happen.

Breaking News: NBC News Seeks Subpoenaed Interviews From Boston Court has learned in the last few minutes that NBC News has written to Judge William Young of the Boston Federal District Court asking that the court unseal all transcripts, audio recordings and documents handed over to the PSNI on foot of the subpoenas served on Boston College.

NBC wrote to Judge Young on May 6th, two weeks ago and the letter was sent by Thomas J Winter of NBC News Investigations. It is not known what response Judge Young has made, if any.

Arguing that American citizens have the right under a Supreme Court judgement in 1978 to gain access to judicial documents, NBC also maintains that: “This case or any case involving incidents of terrorism and criminality committed by several and various parties representing diverse ideologies both political and religious is a matter of great public interest”. NBC News told Judge Young it wanted the documents released “as soon as possible”.

Judge Young presided over the hearing in December 2011 and January 2012 which overruled Boston College’s attempt to quash the PSNI subpoena and he later personally determined which of the interviews should be handed over, a decision he took when Boston College’s lawyers claimed college staff had never read the interviews and could not help.

Here is the full text of the NBC letter to Judge Young:


CIA’s Man In Libya Compared To Egypt’s Sisi

As regular readers of will know, we take a special interest in Libya, pre and post-Gaddafi and in particular have followed with interest the journey of the CIA’s man in the anti-Gaddafi camp, Khalifa Heftar. There are interesting articles on all this here, here, here, and here.

In the piece below, reproduced from the BBC’s website, Mohamed Madi takes a close look at General Heftar, whom he calls Haftar, and reveals that he may be turning into Libya’s equivalent of General Sisi, the pro-Western, anti-Jihadist army strongman who seems to be a shoe-in for Egypt’s presidency. Now wouldn’t that be a coup for the West, two allies in a strategically placed, oil and water-rich part of North Africa, just as the US Africa Command is getting more and more involved on the continent, qua Nigeria and Kenya.

Profile: Libya’s renegade General Khalifa Haftar

General Khalifa Haftar attends a news conference at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi in this May 17 General Khalifa Haftar’s reappearance on the Libyan political scene took many by surprise.

Libya’s enigmatic General Khalifa Haftar has been on different sides of almost every power struggle in Libya since the 1960s.

He initially fought for Muammar Gaddafi, then against him. He fought alongside Islamist rebel groups in the uprising that toppled Gaddafi in 2011 before becoming their nemesis this year.

Just as he was fading from the scene, he has re-emerged as the leader of the most serious challenge yet to the post-revolutionary government, which accuses him of being a renegade driven by a thirst for power.

Rise and fall

Alongside Gaddafi, Gen Haftar was part of the cadre of young army officers who seized power from Libya’s King Idris in 1969. He remained a close ally of Gaddafi during those years, who promoted him to the role of chief of staff of the armed forces.

Gaddafi rewarded his loyalty by giving him overall command of the conflict with Chad. This proved to be his downfall, as Libya was famously defeated by a ramshackle but determined Chadian force in what came to be known as the Toyota War.

Men carrying pictures of former Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar protest against the General National Congress (GNC) in Benghazi (28 February 2014) Gen Haftar hails from the city of Benghazi, where some residents have held demonstrations in support

Gen Haftar and 300 of his men were captured by the Chadians in 1987. Having previously denied the presence of Libyan troops in the country, Gaddafi disowned the general, a betrayal which caused him to devote the next two decades towards toppling the Libyan leader.

He did this from exile in the US state of Virginia. His proximity to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley hinted at a close relationship with US intelligence services, who gave their backing to several assassination attempts against Gaddafi.

It is likely that he co-operated closely with them in his role as the military chief of the opposition National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

Triumphant return

Like many exiled Libyans, Gen Haftar returned to his country during the uprising against Gaddafi.

Because of his military experience, he quickly became one of the main commanders of Libya’s makeshift rebel force in the East.

But many rebels were openly suspicious of his involvement, because of his history in Chad and his US connections.

Libyan army special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada declares his support for Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi (19 May 2014) Gen Haftar has persuaded army commanders and militia leaders to support his campaign

After Gaddafi’s downfall, Mr Haftar appeared to have faded into relative obscurity, like other former regime figures who joined the revolution.

That remained the case until February 2014, when TV channels posted a video of him outlining his plan to save the nation and calling on Libyans to rise up against the elected parliament, the General National Congress (GNC).

Precisely nothing happened. Instead, Mr Haftar was largely viewed as a laughing stock for his dramatic announcement of a coup that never was.

Anti-Islamist warrior

Since then, however, Gen Haftar appears to have quietly but effectively built support for his campaign among Libya’s disparate armed groups, allowing him to back up his rhetoric with serious muscle.

In Benghazi, he used warplanes and ground forces to launch a pre-emptive assault against militia bases associated with Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

Calling the raid “Operation Libya’s Dignity”, he blamed them for the near constant bombings and assassinations that have plagued the east of the country in recent years.

The following day in Tripoli, forces from the town of Zintan allied with Haftar and launched a brazen attack on the parliament building.

He framed the operation as an uprising against what he called the “Islamist-dominated” government.

Smoke rises over the General National Congress building in Tripoli (18 May 2014) Smoke rose from Libya’s parliament building in Tripoli after militiamen attacked it on Sunday

His criticism of the GNC will chime with many Libyans who are frustrated with the slow pace of political transition and the merry-go-round of prime ministers (of whom there have been three since March alone).

However, many are also tired with the use of violence to settle political disputes and would rather wait until a new parliament is voted in. That is scheduled to happen in June, although the current unrest may cause the deadline to slip.

Libya’s Sisi?

It is easy to see why some have compared Haftar to Egypt’s former military chief and favourite in next week’s presidential election, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Both have vowed to rid their countries of the Muslim Brotherhood, and both have shown that they will not shy away from the use of considerable force to achieve this goal.

While they may be ideologically close, there is one crucial difference – the military clout each can bring to bear.

Mr Sisi can rely on the unwavering support of Egypt’s strongest institution – its armed forces – while Haftar is relying on a loose coalition of local militia and former army officers who are temporarily united against the current government.

As Mr Sisi did after ousting President Mohammed Morsi last July, Gen Haftar has denied harbouring any political ambitions.

But in light of recent events, it is wise to assume that he will continue to play a central role in Libya for the considerable future.

Boston Critics Don’t Know What They Are Talking About

UPDATE – I forgot to include Richard O’Rawe in the list of interviewees. He revealed his involvement in Afterlives, published three years ago. Apologies to Richard. Excluding Richard from the project would deprive the world of knowing about the secret history of the 1981 hunger strikes. Another ‘bona fide academic exercise’?

Sometimes you just have to repeat things over and over, so that the message gets through. This is especially necessary in the case of all those critics of the Boston project out there who accuse those involved in compiling the interviews of having an anti-Gerry Adams, anti-peace bias.

The basic truth is that they do not know what they are talking about because they have not read the archived interviews in full, nor do they know – no matter how much they try to guess – who was interviewed for the project.

There are only three people who can honestly say that they have read the interviews. I am one, Anthony McIntyre is the other and the third was a man who has no dog in this fight, Judge William Young of the Boston District Court.

Not even Boston College has read the interviews. That is if an affidavit produced in Judge Young’s courtroom in January 2012 is to be believed. The affidavit was sealed, apparently to save the college embarrassment, but its contents leaked out in exchanges with Young. It said that the college librarian, Bob O’Neill, who was the curator of the archive, had not read the interviews and therefore could not help the judge decide which interviews were responsive to the subpoena.

Let us take this frankly unbelievable statement at its face value and assume that BC is telling the truth. That makes just three people who know what is in the archive. Yet everywhere journalists and commentators are pronouncing on the archive and judging its contents from a position of almost complete ignorance.

So, once again, what did the only man who does not have a dog in this fight say about the over 180 interviews that constitute the archive? What did Judge William Young say about the archive?

Here, again, are his words:

“This was a bona fide academic exercise of considerable intellectual merit.”

“[These materials] are of interest – valid academic interests. They’re of interest to the historian, sociologist, the student of religion, the student of youth movements, academics who are interested in insurgency and counterinsurgency, in terrorism and counterterrorism. They’re of interest to those who study the history of religions.”

I don’t think you could be clearer than that.
And let us examine the background of those whose identities have been revealed as interviewees or who have admitted such and work through the implications of the criticism directed at their involvement.

The list so far is Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price, Tommy Gorman and Anthony McIntyre.

Are the critics seriously suggesting that any serious effort to collect the life stories of IRA activists during the Troubles should exclude Brendan Hughes, a former Belfast commander and leader of the 1980 hunger strike? Or Dolours Price, who led the first IRA bombing team to attack London? Or Tommy Gorman, who swam to freedom from the prison ship Maidstone? Or Anthony McIntyre whose PhD thesis examined the development of the IRA in the 1970’s?

Are the critics seriously suggesting such people should be forbidden and banned from taking part in a project like the Boston one, simply because they have a beef with Gerry Adams, even though they were central in different ways to the story of the Provisional IRA?

The extension of that argument is equally alarming. It is that only people who have no beef with Mr Adams, or better still are his allies and friends, who should be allowed in front of a microphone even though you would probably end up with an archive full of interviews which say ‘Gerry was never in the IRA and Martin left in 1974’.

Just tell me, critics, is that what you think ‘a bona fide academic exercise’ should look like?