Monthly Archives: August 2017

How Trump’s Afghanistan Policy Is De-Stabilising The Indian Sub-Continent…..

Analysts predict that Washington’s policy of isolating Pakistan could push it closer to Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, and that this will only exacerbate matters, dooming to failure US efforts to help the Afghan government bring stability and peace to the region.

The Pakistani authorities have sprung into action to muster support and backing from regional powers. The country’s foreign minister is visiting China, Russia and Turkey this week, in pursuit of “regional consensus.” Both China and Russia have officially backed Pakistan in response to Washington’s allegations and lauded the country’s role in the war against terrorism.

“We would like to see effective and immediate US military efforts to eliminate sanctuaries of terrorists and miscreants on Afghan soil, including those responsible for fomenting terror in Pakistan”

Following Mr Trump’s suggestion of Pakistani culpability in the failures of American military adventures in Afghanistan, and its harboring of the “agents of chaos,” on August 21, Pakistan gave its first public response – following intense civil-military deliberations – three days later. The Prime Minister’s office said the Afghan war could not be fought in Pakistan, adding: “We would like to see effective and immediate US military efforts to eliminate sanctuaries of terrorists and miscreants on Afghan soil, including those responsible for fomenting terror in Pakistan.”

Simultaneously, Pakistan immediately delayed a planned visit to Washington by Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale – who had earlier paid a courtesy call on Asif, on August 14 – conveyed to him the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s desire for a meeting to discuss the state of bilateral relations and Washington’s new South Asia policy. The invitation was accepted, but no date has been set. Meanwhile, Pakistan also postponed a scheduled visit from Alice Wells, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Despite media and public anger, Pakistan – in view of its precarious financial health – cannot risk annoying the US overly much. The US accounts for 16% of Pakistani exports, and the country’s current account deficit surged to US$12.12 billion in the fiscal year 2016/17, compared to US$4.86 billion in the preceding year.

While addressing the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) last week, the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Tariq Bajwa, termed the ballooning deficit the greatest challenge to the country’s economy, saying the bank was weighing up various measures – including currency depreciation – to improve its balance of payment position.

Pakistan will need foreign currency to service its bulging debts of over US$80 billion. Funds are running out and it may find itself running cap in hand to the IMF sooner rather than later before defaulting on debt-servicing liabilities.

Sean O’Callaghan And The Murder Of John Corcoran

If you have been following the coverage in Britain and Ireland of Sean O’Callaghan’s untimely death in a Caribbean swimming pool, you may have noticed two things. One was the many gushing tributes paid to the former IRA activist turned informer by friends in the Tory party’s neoconservative wing and their friends in Ireland (see here, here, and here); the other was the almost complete absence of any proper investigation of his part in the violent death of a fellow informer, John Corcoran from Co Cork.

If Corcoran’s death was mentioned at all, it was mostly in passing.

An old colleague from Sunday Tribune days, Michael Clifford has used his column in The Irish Examiner to give some balance to all that by subjecting O’Callaghan’s alleged role in killing Corcoran to some required scrutiny. In the process he has rubbed off some of the shine from the widely-accepted version of Sean O’Callaghan, the morally outraged convert to non-violence.

Another conclusion from his article? That it is very possible that the Gardai Special Branch, and by extension the Irish Department of Justice – i.e. the Irish government – colluded in Corcoran’s murder, either before or after the fact, on the basis that the Corkman was a minnow in the world of double agents and therefore expendable, whereas O’Callaghan was an item of considerable value whose life should be preserved.

Here is his piece:

MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Informer took murder secrets to grave

Seán O’Callaghan was never brought to account for the murder of John Corcoran, most likely because the State may well have found itself in the dock beside him, says Michael Clifford

IT WAS a mundane end to a lonely life. If Sean O’Callaghan had drowned 20 or even 10 years ago, as he did in Jamaica last Wednesday, it would have been highly suspicious. Murder would have been suspected. He had many enemies within the so-called republican movement as a result of his status as a high-profile informer in the IRA.

Life has moved on. The republican movement, as it then was, is now simply Sinn Féin the political party, and O’Callaghan was an occasional irritant in the party’s project to rewrite the history of the Northern Troubles. His testimonies of the sectarianism, the wanton criminality, the expedient killing, all gave lie to the bright shining image of selfless freedom fighters protecting their families.

But the Tralee man also had major credibility problems. He claimed he began informing after becoming disillusioned about the celebrations among Northern comrades following the murder of a female UDR soldier in the North in the late 1970s.

Maybe so. However, there could well have been a more base reason.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to a number of retired gardaí who worked in State security during the Troubles.

What always amazed me was the trivial reasons for which some IRA personnel turned informer. In one case, it was as a result of being stopped while driving without insurance. Another involved a threat to tell a man’s wife about his affair.

“Once you got them to start talking on the smallest thing, that was it,” one former garda told me. “There was no going back for them after that. You had them.”

Maybe O’Callaghan’s decision to inform was based on moral principles, maybe not. It is widely accepted that he informed on the 1985 importation of arms aboard the trawler Marita Ann, for which his former colleague and current Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris was convicted.

That same year, O’Callaghan had a role — the extent of which he had given conflicting accounts about — in the murder of Corkman John Corcoran.

This crime has never been properly investigated, and there is a strong case that it involved collusion by the State.

Mr Corcoran, a native of Togher in Cork City, was a low-level IRA operative who had been giving information to the gardaí about the organisation’s activities in Cork.

His comrades began to suspect him following a few successes by the gardaí in uncovering arms.

O’Callaghan has claimed he warned his handler that Mr Corcoran was under suspicion and his life in danger. A few years ago, in researching Mr Corcoran’s murder, I was told by sources who worked in State security in the 1980s that warnings had been given to Garda HQ that Mr Corcoran was in danger from people other than O’Callaghan.

Vincent Browne wrote extensively about this matter in the late ‘90s, citing separate sources with similar claims.

There is a plausible theory that these warnings were ignored on the basis that O’Callaghan was the more valuable informer and if Mr Corcoran was rescued by the gardaí, then O’Callaghan might come under suspicion. Or, to put it more bluntly, Mr Corcoran’s life was sacrificed in order to preserve the flow of information from O’Callaghan.

John Corcoran’s body was discovered in a sleeping bag on the side of a road outside Ballincollig on March 23, 1985. The IRA claimed responsibility for the murder.

O’Callaghan left the country later that year and, in 1988, walked into a police station in England and admitted to earlier crimes, including two murders in the North.

He was sentenced to life in prison but released under licence in 1996.

On three occasions in the 1990s, he admitted to journalists that he had personally shot Mr Corcoran dead at a farm in Co Kerry, following an interrogation and confession.

Here’s what he told Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe while in prison in 1994.

“I took the mask off him. It was just the most pathetic sight. To the very end, I was hoping the guards would come through the door, just take Corcoran and his wife away somewhere, give them a new life, a new identity.”

Then, convinced he had to do it, O’Callaghan walked over and shot Mr Corcoran in the head, he told the Boston Globe.

He gave similar accounts to Ger Colleran of The Kerryman and the Sunday Times’ Liam Clarke.

Later, he repudiated these admissions on the implausible basis that he only made it up to force the gardaí to properly investigate Mr Corcoran’s murder.

He was right about one thing — the gardaí appear to have had little interest in investigating the murder. A source close to the investigation told me that Mr Corcoran’s Garda handler wasn’t even interviewed.

In 1998, in rply to a parliamentary question from Dick Spring about the murder investigation, then justice minister John O’Donoghue revealed that in late 1988 “a Garda investigation file was forwarded to the director of public prosecutions with a view to prosecuting the person involved (O’Callaghan) in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act”. O’Callaghan was then in custody in the North.

The reply went on to state: “This aspect was subsequently overtaken by events when the person was convicted on a charge of murder in Northern Ireland and received two life sentences there.” Yet, when O’Callaghan was released in 1996, there was no effort by the gardaí to interview him or pursue a prosecution for murder. It was as if they preferred that the whole thing would simply go away in case it might throw up some unpalatable truths.

In all probability, O’Callaghan did shoot Mr Corcoran dead. He was never brought to account for that, most likely because the State may well have found itself in the dock beside him.

O’Callaghan’s untimely death, at 62,
ensures he will never be a witness to a truth and reconciliation body, should one ever be established. It might reasonably be suggested that his relationship with the truth was highly tenuous anyway, but he certainly had some insight into the IRA’s operation in the Republic. It is also the case that the information he passed to the gardaí did, in all likelihood, save lives.

Sinn Féin claims these days that it wants all the truth from the past to be laid out in order to facilitate proper reconciliation. These claims have little credibility when one considers the potential political fall-out for Sinn Féin if the real truth about how the war was fought did emerge. Equally, the British government has plenty it would rather remain buried in the past.

The whole murky business surrounding the death of John Corcoran shows that the Irish State also has its own secrets that few in Government Buildings would ever want dug up. For those fearful of the past’s capacity to embarrass, O’Callaghan remained something of a loose thread. Now he has taken his secrets to the grave.

Sean O’Callaghan

I have written quite a lot on this blog (here, here and here) about Sean O’Callaghan who died, at 62, yesterday, apparently as a result of a swimming accident in Jamaica, and so I just wanted to mark his death with a short comment about the significance of his rather sad life as an IRA activist turned informer.

I can well understand why, haunted by regret for his actions, he left the IRA and then re-enlisted to become an informer for the Gardai, apparently to expiate his past wrongdoings, but two episodes cast shadows over his life.

One was the death of another Garda agent, Corkman John Corcoran. O’Callaghan at first admitted in a newspaper interview that he had killed Corcoran – shooting him in the back of the head with a revolver – but then retracted the confession in a rather unconvincing way.

O’Callaghan claimed that he had made the admission in order to force the Irish police to properly investigate the killing. But looking at the circumstances of the event, it is just as likely that O’Callaghan killed Corcoran to preserve his cover, i.e. if he hadn’t killed him, suspicion would have fallen over him. Dark questions still hover over the extent of Gardai complicity in this matter.

The other was O’Callaghan’s romance with the neoconservative wing of the Tory party which began when he moved to London after a jail term in Belfast for two murders, of an off-duty RUC Special Branch man and a woman member of the UDR. He was released by way of a Royal prerogative of mercy.

His entrance to Tory party circles coincided with the peace process and O’Callaghan’s message – that it was all a clever trick by Gerry Adams to wrong-foot the Brits – went down a treat with people who were appalled at the prospect of Sinn Fein in government.

By this time, O’Callaghan was wildly out of touch with the Provos. He had spent the best part of a decade in a secure prison unit for his own safety and it had been years before that since he had been part of the Provos’ leadership circle.

The Tories who welcomed the converted terrorist into their circles would have been well advised therefore to have taken a large spoonful of salt with O’Callaghan’s agreeable warnings, but what he had to say so perfectly conformed with their view of the world that they threw caution to the winds.

The neocon view of the world dictated that terrorists must always be militarily confronted and defeated – militarily and politically – since compromise, negotiation and deal-making were fatal as terrorists were by definition dishonest and full of trickery. Their aim was to weaken and defeat by politics if war could not achieve victory.

The neocon analysis of the Irish peace process was that it was an IRA artifice designed firstly to destabilise the SDLP, whom the Provos would swallow up and replace.

Once the IRA’s political wing had won the allegiance of a majority of Nationalists, the IRA’s war would be re-launched from a position of strength. By this time Britain’s will to remain in Northern Ireland would have been fatally sapped and they would disengage. Game, set and match to the Shinners.

It would be a case of ‘tricked by terrorism’.

Except it hasn’t worked out like that at all. But this grim scenario was meat and drink to the Tory neocons and they wolfed it down eagerly.

The leading Tory neocon, Michael Gove, for instance, compared the Good Friday Agreement to the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s and the toleration of paedophiles.

As time went on and it became clear that the Provos really did mean to end their war against the British, and that there was no chance of a resumption of serious violence, O’Callaghan’s grim predictions were seen for what they were: the opportunistic imaginings of a fantasist.

Even Michael Gove had to moderate his views, conceding during this year’s Tory party leadership election: “I am glad about the peace process in Northern Ireland….”

Gradually and inexorably, Sean O’Callaghan slipped out of sight. He re-emerged briefly, courtesy of the right-wing, red top, print media in Britain, during the British general election to warn against Jeremy Corbyn for his dalliances with Gerry Adams. Corbyn’s remarkable performance served only to underline the sadness of O’Callaghan’s irrelevance.

An early death may have saved him from the special misery that comes from getting the story really, really wrong and knowing it.

The Workers Party And North Korea – The Story Irish Historians And Reporters Won’t Touch

It has taken an American scholar, Benjamin Young of George Washington University to take up a subject that, with a very few exceptions, Irish journalism and academic historians have avoided like the plague.

It is the story of the long and mutually fruitful relationship between the Irish Workers Party (aka ‘the Sticks’ or the Official IRA’s political wing) and the North Korean regime, an association from which the Sticks derived military assistance and access to counterfeit US dollars, and the regime of Kim Il Sung (the grand-daddy of the current Kim) gained a friend in Europe (where otherwise there were few).

Contacts began as early as 1977 but were not formally cemented until 1983 when WP chairman Sean Garland and press officer Sean O Cionnaith traveled to Pyonyang where they met the regime’s Foreign Affairs minister. The WP had two seats in Dail Eireann at the time.

The United States subsequently sought Garland’s extradition to face charges of circulating counterfeit, so-called ‘super dollars’ manufactured by North Korea, but in 2011 the Irish Supreme Court ruled against the American authorities and Garland was again a free man.

Garland was a senior figure in the WP’s military wing, the Official IRA and had a track record as a republican activist dating back to the 1956-62 campaign.

Sean Garland – pictured as he leaves the Irish Supreme Court in Dublin after a US extradition warrant was quoshed

Young also touches on efforts by the Provos to cuddle up to the North Koreans and revealed that in 1987 Gerry Adams visited the North Korean ambassador in Denmark where together they toasted the 75th birthday of grandpa Kim.

Sinn Fein also sent delegations to N Korea in the wake of the 1988 Seoul Olympic games and again in 1989, three senior Shinners, including Sheena Campbell, later assassinated by the UVF, were guests at a youth conference in Pyongyang.

Young writes this about military co-operation between the Official IRA and North Korea:

In October 1988, six members of the WPI’s  paramilitary branch, which was cryptically referred to as “Group B” in a key WPI document, flew from Ireland to Pyongyang via Moscow. In a military training camp 30 miles north of Pyongyang, the six Group B members were taught kidnapping techniques, explosives detonation, Korean martial arts, and learned that the best way to kill a man was to “stab a man in the back of the neck, and then twist, cutting into the cerebral cortex.”

A cynic might suggest that one skill in which the Sticks did not need tuition was stabbing people in the back!

Young has also written a paper detailing similar links between Pyonyang and the Black Panthers.

Thanks to the Irish Republican Education Forum for drawing my attention to this interesting study. Enjoy:

Trump De-Stabilises Indian Sub-Continent

That is the single most important takeaway from Trump’s speech on Afghanistan policy tonight. The run-down of the US State Dept under Trump has made this possibly momentous decision possible. That and the dominance of military men in the Trump decision-making process.

Pakistan’s ambivalence toward the Taliban has always been governed by a fear that otherwise India would meddle in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s disadvantage. Trump has now sided against – some might say humiliated – Pakistan, which facilitates US military operations in Afghanistan, and boosted India’s ambitions in the region.

It could be a recipe for disaster. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear nations, have a history of conflict and friction dating back to partition in 1947 and now Trump has stirred that very dangerous pot.

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Trump Watches Eclipse Without Eye Protection…..A Metaphor Lurks There Somewhere

Steve Bannon’s Friends (And Trump’s) – The Lunatics Who Want To Run The Asylum And May Well Succeed

The passage below is not fabricated, although you could be forgiven for thinking it was, so harebrained, unpleasant and cockamamie are some of the characters and ideas described therein.

No, this is reality, that is Donald Trump and Steve Bannon’s reality as reported in Joshua Green’s much-praised study of the Trump-Bannon relationship, Devil’s Bargain, a book which some might think would be better titled Fruitcake’s Bargain. Others will see it as the natural outworking of neo-liberal American capitalism.

This short extract introduces the reader to one of the key figures in the effort to elect Donald Trump to the White House, a reclusive billionaire called Robert Mercer who gave goodness knows how many millions of dollars to his campaign

Mercer is also the man behind Steve Bannon. A Citizen Kane of the 21st century, Mercer financed Bannon’s efforts to build up the alt.right mouthpiece, Breitbart before Trump’s run, and now, following his departure from the White House, reportedly intends to fund an effort by Bannon to create a TV channel which will compete with Fox News for the loony, right-wing market. Only in America!

Robert Mercer – bizarre billionaire behind Trump and Bannon

The passage below is literally something you could not make up. But the people described are a) real, and b) in no small measure responsible for inflicting Donald Trump on the world. They will, albeit from the sidelines now, continue to exert a significant influence on American, and world, politics.

God help us all.

THE ALT-KOCHS

It was early December 2015, and Steve Bannon was wearing a full-on bombardier costume with leather jacket and goggles, and toting a goatskin flying helmet. He was dressed up as one of his favorite movie characters of all-time, Brigadier General Frank Savage, the tough-as-nails commander, played by Gregory Peck, who takes over a demoralized World War II bombing unit and whips them into fighting shape in the 1949 classic Twelve O’Clock High. Ordinarily, Bannon wasn’t big into cosplay. But this was a special occasion: the annual Christmas party thrown by the reclusive billionaire Robert Mercer, an eccentric computer scientist who was co-CEO of the fabled quantitative hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.

As introverted and private as Bannon was voluble and outspoken, Mercer was nonetheless a man of ardent passions. He collected machine guns and owned the gas-operated AR-18 assault rifle that Arnold Schwarzenegger wielded in The Terminator. He had built a $ 2.7 million model train set equipped with a miniature video camera to allow operators to experience the view from inside the cockpit of his toy engine. He was a competitive poker player. He liked to relax by shaping gemstones. And he loved to dress up in costumes.

The Armalite rifle from ‘The Terminator’

Each year, Mercer and his family threw an elaborate, themed Christmas party at Owl’s Nest, his opulent waterfront mansion on Long Island’s North Shore. Past themes had included “Cowboys and Indians” and “The Roaring Twenties.”  This year’s theme was “The End of World War II.” Mercer, styled as General Douglas MacArthur, had obtained an authentic World War II tank to park on his lawn and had flown in artifacts from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans: a piece of the USS Arizona recovered from the floor of Pearl Harbor, a parachute-silk wedding dress that once belonged to the French wife of an American GI, and the Medal of Honor given to PFC Arthur Jackson, a young Marine who single-handedly killed fifty Japanese soldiers on the South Pacific island of Peleliu in 1944. As guests mingled beneath tents spread across Mercer’s sprawling twelve-acre lawn, a group of Andrews Sisters impersonators provided the evening’s entertainment.

Mercer, who was then sixty-nine, had recently developed another late-in-life interest: politics. From a distance, his hard-line anti-government views appeared no different from those of any number of financial-industry power moguls scattered throughout the country, whose collective fortune financed the Republican Party and its affiliated think tanks and pressure groups. Up close, however, Mercer was . . .well, he was different. He resembled the bloodless capitalist hero in an Ayn Rand novel. Mercer wanted to bring back the gold standard and abolish the fractional-reserve banking system upon which the modern economy is built. He funded an Idaho activist who foments legal challenges to environmental laws, claiming they are part of a United Nations plot to depopulate rural America. He was once overheard by a Renaissance colleague insisting that radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in World War II actually improved the health of people outside the blast zone. “He’s a very independent thinker,” said Sean Fieler, a fellow conservative hedge fund manager who has worked with Mercer to lobby for a return to the gold standard. “He’s a guy with his own ideas, and very developed ideas.”

Mercer’s budding interest in right-wing politics was propitiously timed. He started to become active just as the Supreme Court was getting ready to hand down its decision in the 2010 Citizens United case—the case David Bossie had brought—opening the floodgates for wealthy individuals to take a larger and more active role in electoral politics. Mercer excited the Republican political world because, though he was a talented poker player, he didn’t bluff about his intentions and he was willing, and even eager, to make an enormous ante to a candidate or a cause he believed in.

Of course, Mercer’s eccentricity made it a bit difficult for ordinary Republican candidates to maneuver themselves into a position where they might catch the billionaire’s eye. The first horse Mercer bet on in a big way was a candidate so far out on the right-wing fringes that simply to describe him is to invite disbelieving laughter (which it often did). In 2010, a sixty-eight-year-old research chemist named Arthur Robinson, who lived on a sheep ranch deep in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, decided to challenge the longtime Democratic congressman, Peter DeFazio. Calling Robinson a “research chemist,” while technically accurate, doesn’t quite do justice to the exotic nature of the man’s pursuits. A self-funded medical renegade, Robinson was consumed with extending the human life span and believed that the secret to staving off death and disease could be found in human urine. To that end, Robinson collected thousands upon thousands of urine samples, which he froze in vials and stored in massive refrigerators that stood among his wandering sheep. Robinson published a newsletter to share his findings and to periodically put out calls for more urine (“ We need samples of your urine” read a typical house ad). Mercer was a subscriber to Robinson’s newsletter (this was likely the source of his claim that exposure to atomic radiation can benefit human health, a theory known as “hormesis”)…………..

…………..As the evening stars rose over Owl’s Nest, friends and courtiers from all walks of life strolled across the Mercers’ lawn, magically transported, if just for the evening, back to 1945. Jack Hanna, the khaki-clad celebrity zookeeper, came wandering by (the Mercers gave $ 100,000 to his zoo). But the evening’s buzz was all about politics. With the presidential election less than a year away, Rebekah Mercer (Robert Mercer’s third daughter), who was dressed as Rita Hayworth, stood to be a figure of consequence. Texas senator Ted Cruz, dressed as Winston Churchill, was especially solicitous of her. As everyone gathered on the lush grounds of Robert Mercer’s estate was keenly aware, the Mercer family had given away more than $ 77 million to conservative politicians and organizations since 2008.

You didn’t have to be a brilliant scientist to see the joy Bob Mercer derived from his annual Christmas pageant, or to understand that anyone hoping to curry favor with him would be wise to play along. This is how it came to be that adults who never imagined themselves dressing up in costumes—adults like Steve Bannon—wound up hunting for just the right period-appropriate accoutrements to make a positive impression. The effort could pay off handsomely. In fact, for Bannon, it already had. Over the past three years, the Mercers had become the key financial backers of a far-flung network of interlocking political and media groups that Bannon either had conceived of or had come to control. Bob Mercer was going to be vitally important to the presidential race. He was a man you’d dress up for. Bannon called him “the Godfather.”