Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Good Friday Agreement, One Or Two Thoughts

I see that The Irish Times has used up the best part of a Canadian boreal forest today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. A strange decision since the last time I looked the good old GFA was heading to the same resting place as the Sunningdale deal, Brian Faulkner’s Green Paper, Jim Prior’s rolling Assembly, Enoch Powell’s integration fantasy and Terence O’Neill’s crossroads speech.

Still, the Times is big on anniversaries, especially those which held out hope of finally sorting out the Northern mess, albeit briefly, and if there is a touch of whistling past the graveyard in today’s coverage, it is understandable.

There was a piece missing however. That’s the story which says that even if the GFA is headed to the ‘failed initiatives plot’ in whichever cemetery is deemed most appropriate – Milltown, Glasnevin or Roselawn – it doesn’t really matter. The Agreement did its job.

The job was to bring the IRA’s violence to an end in a way which made it next to impossible to revive. That has happened. The factory of grievances which fueled the IRA has been mostly dismantled and scores of IRA veterans these days spend their summer hols in Portuguese villas of which they are the nominal owners, or eat nice dinners in mysteriously acquired hotels – courtesy of the good old Northern Bank. Meanwhile tons of Libyan weapons and explosives are now no more.

Getting the two most antagonistic parties to share power up at Stormont on a long term basis would have been seen as a bonus but again there is a plus side to the collapse. The arrangement was intrinsically unnatural and thereby unstable; and it set sectarianism in concrete. How else was it possible in a place where the health service is a disgrace for an argument over the Irish language to dominate politics?

So the Good Friday Agreement achieved what it was invented for, to kill off the Provisional IRA and allow their Loyalist counterparts to retire to a life of officially tolerated graft and villainy. So wipe your eyes.

It is my guess that this is what the GFA will be remembered for but it is not what it should be.

What makes the GFA unique, or rather the peace process that underlay it, was that it was almost entirely a top-down operation in the two parties which emerged as top dogs when the dust finally settled. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP led from the top while misleading, i.e. lying to, their supporters.

And so the Shinner leadership told their people there would never be a ceasefire, or there would never be decommissioning while the DUP told their people they would never, ever go into government with SF.

They both dissembled and they both got away with it. I am not sure whether this says more about the respective leaderships or their followers. But either way it is what marks out the GFA as a really special deal.

 

Declassified FBI Files On Noraid, 1987 – ‘Noraid In A State Of Confusion….’

The last FBI file examined on this blog, for the year 1986, actually ended in July/August 1987 and this file continues the story until the end of 1987.

And it is the same story that characterised the previous six months or so, a file filled with FBI reports based on conversations with a growing number of Noraid spies ‘of proven or continuing value’ in most cases. But a new element enters the Noraid narrative in the latter part of 1987: ‘division and disarray’.

From this chapter in the Noraid story it is possible to construct or at least entertain a theory about such groups: when ideological divisions occur then treachery prospers.

The divisions had their origin in the November 1986 Sinn Fein ard-fheis and the more secret IRA Convention held beforehand, which dropped the organisation’s long-held opposition to taking seats, if elected, in the parliaments established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, an agreement reviled as apostate by traditional Irish republicans because it accepted the partition of the country in defiance of the popular votes of 1918 and 1921.

I say parliaments but in fact the decision applied, initially at least, to just one parliament, the body in Dublin known to nearly everyone as Dail Eireann and to traditional republicans as Leinster House. The ban on taking seats at Stormont (a theoretical proscription in 1987 since no such body existed) was later dropped leaving only the prohibition on sitting at the Westminster parliament.

But once breached then arguably the principle became obsolete for all parliaments.

That was the response of the IRA old guard, in Ireland and in the United States. In Ireland, Sinn Fein split and at the ard-fheis held in Dublin in November 1986, Ruari O Bradaigh led a walkout of dissidents to set up Republican Sinn Fein and later, more secretly, the Continuity IRA. It was a repeat of the 1969 IRA split but this time the rebels would remain the minority.

In America, it took more than a year for the split to materialise when, led by Noraid founders like Michael Flannery, US republicans established the Irish Freedom Committee or Cumann na Saoirse.

The move was full of irony. When Gerry Adams, Ivor Bell and Martin McGuinness overthrew O Bradaigh and his allies in the late 1970’s, Flannery and his comrades threw their hats into the rebels’ ring, believing that the young militants were more trustworthy. Now they reached in to take their hats back.

From the FBI reports for 1987 and the early months of 1988 which I have covered in this and the previous post it appears that there was an increase in both the volume and quality of information coming to the US authorities in the wake of November 1986.

Was this a coincidence, or were some American supporters of Noraid giving expression to their disillusionment and anger, and at the same time making a few bucks on the side, by whispering into FBI ears? Or was one side in the approaching US split out to undermine the other?

Take for example this FBI report of August 31st, 1987, carried on pages 9 and 10. The source is described as being of ‘untested reliability’. That suggests he or she is a newcomer to such activity and what the new source had to tell the FBI at their meeting on August 8th that year points to a possible motive:

Asset advised that Noraid is in a state of confusion in the US at the current time. Asset advised that there is no clear leader of the organisation in the US and many of the individuals who are in leadership positions are no longer respected in Ireland. Asset advised that [name redacted] (NYFile 199F – 1999) no longer commands the respect which he has gotten in the past. This could be as a result of the fact that his main contact, JOE CAHILL, has lost his status and power in Ireland.

Divisions spawn rivalries and not a little dissembling (whatever Joe Cahill was telling people in Noraid, the truth was that he had supported the Adams’ leadership at the 1986 IRA Convention) and together they made fertile ground for the FBI.

Two weeks later came more evidence that the FBI had deeply infiltrated Noraid’s ranks, at least in New York, arguably the most important centre of the group’s activity.

On August 24th, 1987 the New York FBI office sends Washington a ten page report on the state of Noraid which is based on intelligence from sources identified only as NY T-1 through to NY T-8. From later entries in the report it appears that this may refer to three rather than eight sources. But that is not clear.

What the ‘T’ stands for is also unclear. A similar source in Detroit, known as DE-T1 is clearly a human source [see this post], but ‘T’ in this New York reference conceivably could stand for Technical, suggesting the intelligence was obtained via a telephone tap or a bug. If so, then the Noraid people involved had become very loose-lipped. All that the FBI report says about sources is this:

NY-T1 through NY-T3 is [redacted];

NY-T4 is [redacted];

NY-T5 through NY-T8 is [redacted]

And this, in one of the few unredacted pages in the report to survive the FBI censor, is what these sources told the FBI about morale inside Noraid:

In addition to the above detailed contacts many of the unknown sources listed above have reported that there is a recent rift in the national noraid leadership. Information has been received that the current true leadership in PSF in Dublin, ROI consists of younger PSF/PIRA members. These individuals are attempting to obtain total control of Noraid in the United States with younger Noraid members and PIRA supporters. Many of the current national US Noraid leadership that have been with the organization since its inception are extremely disenchanted with the current policies of PSF in regards to Noraid support. [Next two lines redacted] [Redacted name]….continues to be involved in Noraid activities, however, has expressed extreme dissatisfaction with PSF. Other longstanding Noraid leaders such [redaction] and Chicago leader Alex Murphy, are also disenchanted with PSF support of Noraid. Sources have reported that the PSF leadership are attempting to establish younger Noraid members and PIRA supporters in positions of leadership with the US Noraid organization. Ostensibly the purpose in this reorganization attempt is to facilitate a more vigorous stance, bothe publicly and financially, for PSF by Noraid.

On September 16th 1987, the FBI met with another ‘developing’ source in New York who proceeded to provide the agency with intelligence on people he or she believed to be in or close to Noraid, who were staunch supporters or contributors to Noraid or who gave jobs to illegal Irish. These included someone from Brooklyn suspected of being a money courier.

Much of this part of the report is redacted but it nonetheless clear that the source provided the FBI with a lot of information on Noraid supporters and members.

On September 28th, a Chicago Noraid source, ‘who has furnished relaible information in the past’, passed on the details of a visitor from Ireland who is scheduled to appear at a hearing of some sort. Full details of who paid for the trip, who will meet this person at the airport and where he or she will staying in Chicago were passed on to the FBI.

Following the meeting with the ‘developing’ source on September 16th, the FBI contacted a long time Noraid asset ‘of believed good reliability’ to check out the alleged Brooklyn courier. The answer was in the negative.

On October 27th, 1987 the FBI report returns to the brewing dissent in Noraid over the dropping of Dail abstentionism with intelligence from an asset ‘of good reliability’ that must have heartened the agency’s operatives:

Asset advised that Noraid is in a state of disarray in the US at the present time. Apparently a high level meeting occured in Ireland which was attended by [name redacted] (NYfile 199F-1999) and [name/s redacted]. This meeting was to discuss the current situation in Noraid in the US as well  to allow [name redacted] the opportunity to indicate that he [redacted] because of “personal problem”. Asset was unable to advise what these problems consisted of…..

On November 24th, 1987, almost a year to the day after Sinn Fein met to drop Dail abstentionism, the FBI in New York contacted ‘a source of good reliability’ on ‘various PIRA matters of interest to the New York Office’:

Asset advised that [name redacted] is over from Ireland, primarily, to speak at various Noraid, and Clann na Gael functions in the Northeastern US. Asset was not aware of any information to indicate that [name redacted] came to the US in an attempt to avoid security forces in Ireland. [name redacted] arrival corresponded closely with the departure of [name/s redacted] from the US. [name redacted] was in the country to sway Noraid supporters to Provisional Sinn Fein from Republican Sinn Fein. Therefore [name redacted] coming to the US would be to speak with these same individuals and undergird their support for the Republican Sinn…..

Some of what was written was crossed out and insertions made by pen. The word ‘undergird’ was partly written over and may not be ‘undergird’, which is my best guess.

On pages 86, 89, 91, 94 and 96 the report contains reports of contacts by the FBI with Noraid sources variously described as ‘recently developed’ or ‘good reliability’. Some, clearly, may be the same source visited several times.

By March 1988 some Noraid founders, like the late Michael Flannery had broken with Noraid and set up Cumann na Saoirse.

Finally there is this entry on page 71, unredacted in the midst of several pages of censored material:

The NYO (New York Office of the FBI) notes that Structure Tone Construction Company has been reported by various NYO sources to be utilized to provide employment to illegal Irish aliens and PIRA supporters in the NY area.

Here is the FBI file:

Trump’s America (continued)

March 28, 2018
By Niya Shahdad

At least 1.2 million people across the United States marched in the streets to protest the country’s lax gun-control laws. A former US senator suggested that participants in the protests, which were led by a group of students from a high school in Florida where 17 people were recently killed by a 19-year-old armed with an AR-15 rifle, should not look to “someone else to solve their problems” and should instead take “CPR classes.” US president Donald Trump ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy who was living in England, and adult-film star Stormy Daniels claimed that she accepted $130,000 to keep silent about a sexual relationship with Trump because she was told to “forget the story” by an unidentified man who walked up to her and her infant daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad appeared in a video wearing sunglasses and driving a silver Hyundai into Eastern Ghouta, where his government killed almost 1,500 civilians last month, to congratulate his forces for their victory. The United States launched its first-ever strike against Al Qaeda militants in southern Libya, and Trump appointed John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations who supports preemptive attacks on North Korea and Iran and who once said that if the UN building in Manhattan “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of a difference,” as his third national security adviser.

The first nonstop flight from Australia to the United Kingdom was completed in about 17 hours and transported more than 21,000 individual items, including 330 peppermint tea bags and hundreds of chocolate biscuits; and more than 100 passengers traveling to Lisbon were left stranded in Germany after their flight’s copilot was found drunk. English soccer fans in Amsterdam hurled pints of beer at a group of tourists who sailed under a bridge; police in Wisconsin began their hunt for a woman who attacked a McDonald’s employee after being served the wrong breakfast sandwich; and a man dressed in a bull onesie was arrested for attempting to burn down his ex-lover’s house by leaving a pot of pasta sauce on the stove. Orange snow, a mixture of sand, snow, and rain, was spotted in parts of Eastern Europe, and a “pothole patching machine” was unveiled in Rome to fill 150 potholes a day.

Declassified FBI Files on Noraid, 1986 – Part Two, A Battalion Of Spies

I know that a lot of my readers, especially here in the United States, have enjoyed reading the series of articles on declassified FBI files on Noraid which were kindly donated to thebrokenelbow.com by telejournalist, Nate Lavey, who had sought them via an FOIA request from the DoJ in Washington.

Although heavily redacted, the files have nonetheless shed considerable light on the FBI’s attempts to penetrate and monitor the activities of American supporters of the Provisional movement during some of the most violent years of the Troubles.

My apologies then for the overlong interval between the last article on the files, which covered the year 1986, and featured an interesting British background paper on Noraid. The delay was caused entirely by the pressure of a lot of events and stories that demanded my immediate attention.

I now intend to resume coverage in this post of the 1986 FBI file, although part of it includes the early months of 1987; later this week I will write up the two files for 1987. More stories will follow when I open the later files.

The second part of the 1986 FBI file (which overlaps into 1987) tells us that by this stage of the agency’s surveillance of Noraid it was cultivating more and better sources of information inside the support group.

This section of the file suggests the FBI had up to six and maybe seven spies in or near Noraid – in Chicago, Detroit and New York – providing intelligence good enough to warrant an agency warning that any attempt to launch investigations as a result could endanger the source. That probably means the source would be blown as soon it became known to Noraid that certain activity had attracted official attention; in turn that could mean the source was very well placed.

The first spy, someone in New York, makes an appearance on January 20th, 1987 in a report from the FBI’s New York office to the Director’s office in Washington DC. Classified ‘Secret’ the report, which is completely redacted, is described as ‘a summary of significant information’.

It appears on page 37 of this file and ends with a health warning on the next page which reads:

‘NO OVERT ACTIVITY OR INVESTIGATION SHOULD BE CONDUCTED ON THE BASIS OF THIS INFORMATION THAT WOULD COMPROMISE THIS SOURCE OF CONTINUING VALUE’.

Three pages on, on page 40, a spy in or near Noraid in Detroit, Michigan makes an appearance in a report from the local FBI office to the Director’s office in Washington. This is dated January 27th, 1987.

The source is offering information to the FBI about a possible visit to the United States of Provisional IRA members and while his or her name appears in the original report, it is redacted in the FOIA version which adds:

‘X is the confidential source in the LHM (Letterhead memorandum). This asset will be contacted periodically for dates of possible travel of (unnamed IRA vistors to the US)’.

Two pages further on and another New York FBI office report to Washington appears  which is entirely redacted but dated January 27th, 1987. It adds at the bottom:

This information is provided for the information of recipients and it is requested that the this information not be utilized to initiate any over investigation which might compromise (name redacted) a sensitive source of continuing value.

One page on, in a report dated February 13th, the New York office again reports to Washington about information from a ‘sensitive source’ and asks that no investigation be launched which might compromise the source, whose name is again redacted. Judging by the size of the redaction, this might be the same source quoted on January 27th.

The rest of the report is redacted.

Two pages on, and five days later, the New York office is reporting information from an apparently different source, at least judging by the size of the redacted name. Again the rest of the report, two pages long, is completely redacted and the same health warning is included.

Five days later, on February 23rd 1987, the New York office is again reporting to Washington on the basis of a Noraid source about sentiment towards Republican Sinn Fein, which was formed in the wake of the split over dropping abstentionism in the Dail the previous autumn.

The origin was:

‘…a confidential source of known reliability of continuing value…’

April 2nd, 1987 sees another report from ‘a source of continuing value’ from the New York office to Washington but there are no clues as to whether this is a new source or an existing one.

On April 1st, 1987 a Noraid source in Detroit whose name is redacted but described as ‘reliable’, gives information, passed on to Washington, about:

‘(Redacted) Alleged Activities With The Irish Northern Aid Committee And The Sinn Fein’

On April 28th, 1987 another message is sent to Washington from the FBI office in New York, apparently concerning Joe Cahill, the source again being someone whose name is redacted but described as being of ‘continuing value’.

On May 26th, 1987, the same source, judging by the size of the redaction, is the source of another report from New York to Washington, the subject and the text both redacted in full.

On July 23rd, 1987 the Detroit office of the FBI sent a report to Washington on the tour and speeches in the US of Martha McClelland, a Sinn Fein activist from Derry, whose activities were reported to the agency by an informer code-named DE T-1, described as being ‘of proven reliability’. DE T-1 reported that the hall in Detroit used by Mc McClelland ‘is the site for many pro-Communist political rallies’. This is on page 78 of the FBI report.

On pages 82 to 87, in a lengthy report dated August 13th, 1987 the Chicago office supplied FBI headquarters with a detailed run down of Noraid in the city which the report says was headed by ALEX MURPHY. The report, which is redacted in parts, describes Murphy as a friend of Joe Cahill and goes into some detail about his role in the Chicago Noraid and the activities of family members.

The FBI source for the report is described as having ‘furnished reliable information in the past’.

A dispassionate observer would surely conclude from all this that by the mid to late 1980’s Noraid had a significant informer problem, at least in New York, Chicago and Detroit.

Eamon Collins – More Voices From The Grave, Part Two

The leadership at Queens University, Belfast (QUB) was told that one of its law lecturers had met senior members of the Provisional IRA in Belfast just before the IRA launched a series of attacks in the early 1980’s, all of which involved the college’s law faculty, according to accounts of the period made available to thebrokenelbow.com.

But the university apparently chose to do nothing about it even though the warning was followed by three IRA attacks on the campus in the next two years, according to Mick McGovern, the co-author of ‘Killing Rage‘, the life story of Eamon Collins, a senior member of the IRA’s spy-catching unit who was brutally killed by the organisation in 1999 for revealing its secrets.

Edgar Graham

The law lecturer went on the run and sought refuge in Dublin when Collins, the IRA figure who introduced him to the IRA, was arrested by the RUC and agreed to turn ‘supergrass’ against his former colleagues.

The IRA attacks resulted in the death of Edgar Graham, a 29-year old law lecturer and a rising Unionist politician, the serious wounding of an RUC Inspector and law student at the college, and the near death of the then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Lowry who narrowly escaped a sniper’s bullets.

The warning to QUB came from David Trimble, then an academic in the Queen’s law faculty but later the First Minister in the first post-Good Friday Agreement administration which saw his party share power with both the SDLP and the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein.

Trimble revealed his role in a series of interviews and exchanges with McGovern before and after his book was published.

A young David Trimble

According to a legal note made in March 1996 by McGovern, Trimble’s claims, were then incorporated into a legal briefing presented to his publishers, Granta.

Mick McGovern has made his notes and the briefing available to thebrokenelbow.com, extracts of which are published below.

Andy Tyrie (r) with UDA colleague John McMichael

He wrote that Trimble had told him that the then UDA Supreme Commander, Andy Tyrie had phoned him to tell him that a law lecturer called David Ewins had been seen in the company of ‘senior republicans’ in Belfast. One of those he met was allegedly a member of the Army Council. How the UDA came across this information was not explained.

It is likely that Tyrie and Trimble knew each other from the early to mid-1970’s when Trimble, along with other Unionist politicians, worked with the UDA to oppose measures such as the Sunningdale power-sharing government.

According to the note:

‘Trimble said he had passed on the information to the university authorities but, so far as he knew, nothing had been done about it.’

Trimble told McGovern, according to the note (see below), that his warning had been given prior to the first IRA attack at the campus.

This means that even when the attacks began QUB seemingly failed to act on Trimble’s warning. The first IRA attack, on Lord Lowry was in March 1982 and the last, on Edgar Graham was in December 1983, a span of twenty-one months.

The law lecturer, an English academic called David Ewins, was later implicated by Eamon Collins in three IRA attacks on the QUB campus, one of which claimed the life of rising Unionist politician Edgar Graham, who was shot dead by a gunman on the pavement outside the law faculty at the university in December 1983.

The first attack was on then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Lowry who was making his way into the Senior Common Room at QUB to take lunch with members of the law faculty when an IRA gunman opened fire, missing him but wounding an academic who was nearby. That shooting happened in March 1982.

Lord Chief Justice Robert Lowry

The second IRA attack happened in May 1982 when a gunman ambushed RUC Inspector William Fulton as he was about to sit one of his law exams. He was hit twice, including once in the head, but miraculously survived.

The third and last attack, in December 1983 claimed the life of Edgar Graham.

Dave Ewins was present for the two of the attacks, on Lord Lowry and Fulton. He was an invigilator at the exam that Inspector Fulton was supposed to sit and was scheduled to attend the lunch with Lowry. When Fulton re-sat the exam, Ewins marked it and gave him a high score.

When Eamon Collins was arrested in 1985 and agreed to become a ‘supergrass’, Ewins fled QUB and the North and settled in Dublin where he obtained work teaching law at a private college. Although Collins retracted his supergrass testimony and was later acquitted of terrorist charges, Ewins stayed in Dublin where he is out of the reach of British authorities.

Queen’s University Belfast

In the face of threats to sue for libel, McGovern’s publishers excluded the chapter on Ewins from the final version of the book. Ewins also threatened to sue Independent Newspapers and Carlton Television which had made a documentary based on Eamon Collins’ story. But after years of inaction the High Court in Dublin struck out Ewins case, while several years later Carlton settled out of court on terms that were not disclosed.

Following that court decision, Mick McGovern published the chapter on Ewins on his blog where it has sat without objection from Ewins for over a decade. It can be accessed here.

Ewins apparently still lives and works in Dublin. He settled in the north of the city, married an African student and has a family.

Here is the title page of the legal note prepared by Mick McGovern for his publisher:

The intro to the legal note prepare for the publisher Granta by Mick McGovern

Part of the note on McGovern’s interview with David Trimble:

Trump Shoots Himself In The Foot!

One of the main factors keeping Trump afloat, as elsewhere sex scandals multiply and Mr Mueller of the FBI circles menacingly, has been the booming stock market which has soared almost daily since he stepped into the Oval office. See here.

With one press conference today Trump has threatened to put all that into reverse gear. In a move that has rattled Wall Street, saw the Dow dip by some 700 points and unnerved all those middle class Americans whose flourishing stock portfolios distracted them from the more repellent aspects of a Trump White House, he has sparked a trade war that could well be his undoing.

A president with a modicum of sense would not have imposed trade tariffs on China and risked what could become a disastrous tit-for-tat conflict with the world’s rising economic power. He has brought closer the day when not just those on the left in America, and the rest of the world, yearn for Mr Mueller to deliver the knockout blow.

It may not now be long in coming.

Trump’s America (continued)

March 20, 2018
By Sharon J. Riley

In the United States, a country whose citizens make up 5 percent of the world’s population but possess 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns, tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in the first of three major protests planned to protest gun violence in schools. Congress passed a bill to increase school security that included no gun-control measures, US president Donald Trump proposed arming teachers, a high-school teacher in California injured three students when he accidentally fired the Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun he had brought to his Administration of Justice class and caused pieces of the ceiling to fall on them, and a school resource officer mistakenly fired his gun at a middle school in Virginia. Trump’s personal assistant was fired following the emergence of evidence that he had committed “serious financial crimes” and then immediately hired as a senior adviser on Trump’s 2020 campaign, and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired for “lack of candor” two days before his scheduled retirement. “Who’s next?” said Trump, who once boasted that he had made $213,606,575 from a reality television show on which he fired people. Researchers in Canada found that pinching and burning a voodoo doll of a superior could help employees “lower feelings of injustice.”

The United Kingdom announced it would expel 23 Russian diplomats after a former Russian spy living in England was poisoned using a Cold War-era nerve agent made only in Russia, and the Russian government called the UK “unfriendly” and a “circus show” and announced it would also expel 23 British diplomats. A federal election was held in Russia, where voting was encouraged through incentives including free tickets to a pop concert, cancer screenings, and bowls of skim-milk oatmeal with pine nuts; and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who did not participate in debates or release a campaign platform and whose main opponent was banned from running for office, was reelected to a fourth term. Trump made his first visit as president to California, where he spent four hours at the home of the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and posed for photos with guests who paid up to $250,000 to meet him. A lawyer who previously represented wrestler Hulk Hogan filed a lawsuit on behalf of Trump to seek $20 million in damages from adult-film star Stormy Daniels for violating a confidentiality agreement signed after she and Trump allegedly had a consensual relationship. The United States received its worst-ever ranking in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report; North Korea’s state-run television announced it would launch two new soap operas; and a woman from Maine named Jesus Christ endorsed Oprah Winfrey for president.

A French judge issued an arrest warrant for a Saudi Arabian princess after she instructed her bodyguard to punch her plumber; at least 12 people were arrested in Texas for taking part in an animal sacrifice in a garage, where police found the remains of goats and chickens; and a bag containing 54 human hands was found near the city of Khabarovsk, Russia. One hundred thousand dollars-worth of diamond jewelry was found in a landfill in Gainesville, Georgia, and Sherpas began collecting more than a thousand pounds of garbage from Mt. Everest. A sheriff in Alabama who reportedly pocketed $750,000 earmarked for inmates’ meals was found to have bought a $740,000 beach house. A fisherman found a giant plastic duck that had been reported missing off the coast of Australia, and scientists speculated that “rogue moons,” which float through space without planets to orbit, could be as numerous as stars. Stephen Hawking, a renowned theoretical physicist who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when he was 21 and given one year to live, passed away at his home in England at the age of 76, two weeks after completing a research paper titled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation.”