Monthly Archives: April 2018

CIA’s Man In Libya Opens Door For The Agency – But Stroke Fells Him

Regular readers of will know that I have taken an ongoing interest in events in Libya, post-the disastrous Clinton intervention, and in particular have followed the career of former Gaddafi ally turned CIA asset, General Khalifa Hefter or Hafter who has slowly emerged as Libya’s new strongman.

Declan Walsh has an interesting piece tonight in The New York Times, reproduced below, which reveals that Hefter has allowed the CIA to open an office in the eastern capital, Benghazi, a sign of his burgeoning political strength.

At the same time his physical strength appears to be waning. The 75-year old former Gaddafi confederate is rumoured to have suffered a stroke recently and is undergoing treatment at a Paris hospital. Just as things were going well in Libya for the agency – ‘Our Man In Tripoli’ and all that – it looks as if the CIA may have to start looking elsewhere for a candidate.

Here is Declan Walsh’s piece:

A Libyan Strongman Looks to Washington, but a Health Crisis Looms

Declan Walsh

In Benghazi’s devastated downtown, ex-fighters warmed themselves over a bonfire made from broken furniture. The forces of Gen. Khalifa Hifter routed the last Islamist militias from Benghazi in December. Declan Walsh/The New York Times

BENGHAZI, Libya — Pulverized buildings daubed with the names of fallen fighters line the ghostly seafront in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. Land mines and booby-trapped bodies are scattered across the rubble. At night, men huddle over bonfires piled with broken furniture.

This picture of devastation is what victory looks like for Gen. Khalifa Hifter, the military strongman whose forces routed the last Islamist militias from Benghazi in December. After three years of grinding combat, and with the help of foreign allies, General Hifter now controls most of eastern Libya and has become the most powerful if polarizing figure in a fractured landscape.

Now, as he aims to consolidate and expand his power, he is looking to woo the Trump administration. In December, he hired a firm of Washington lobbyists to burnish his image as a potential future leader of his country, and to counter critics who denounce him as a crude warlord.

He has already allowed the C.I.A. to establish a base in Benghazi — a low-key American return to the city after Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed there in 2012 — and a handful of American Special Forces operators are present at an air base near the city, American officials said.

The nomination of the C.I.A. director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state could further align General Hifter with the United States. Mr. Pompeo, whose confirmation hearing took place Thursday, and Mr. Hifter, a onetime C.I.A. asset, are avowedly hostile to all forms of political Islam.

But General Hifter’s ascent has been called into question with news that the 75-year-old commander had been airlifted to a hospital in Paris, where French news media reported that he was being treated for a stroke. After initial denials, his aides privately conceded on Thursday that he had undergone emergency medical treatment. But they offered no specifics about his condition or his whereabouts.

The mystery plunged Libya’s chaotic politics into greater-than-usual levels of speculation. If restoring some order to eastern Libya after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi depended on the force of General Hifter’s personality, there were fears of a descent into violent feuding if he were suddenly out of the picture.

“There was a time last year when Hifter was the man of the hour — people were speculating he could make it to Tripoli,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of “The Burning Shores: Inside the Battle for the New Libya.” “Then things cooled off a bit, and cracks appeared in his coalition. And now nobody’s sure what will come next.”

Gen. Khalifa Hifter brought together an array of militias under the banner of his Libyan National Army. Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

Foreign Friends

Amid the competing militias ranging in post-Qaddafi Libya, General Hifter rose to power with the help of foreign firepower and a canny ability to play allies off one another. Warplanes deployed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt pummeled his enemies and helped him capture oil terminals. French paramilitaries fought on his front lines in Benghazi, where three were killed in 2016. Saudi Arabia provided funding.

And to the discomfort of American officials, Russian special forces commandos last year delivered ammunition and intelligence to General Hifter from their bases in western Egypt, a former American intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.

For much of his life, General Hifter was tied to the United States.

In the late 1980s, as a senior Libyan army officer living in exile in Chad, he led a C.I.A.-backed effort to oust Colonel Qaddafi. The plot failed and General Hifter ended up in suburban Virginia, where he lived for two decades, eventually becoming a naturalized American citizen, the former official said.

But after he returned to Libya in 2011 with brash ambitions of seizing power, American officials kept him at arms length.

Since 2015, American policy has backed the rival United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, a notoriously weak administration, which barely controls a single district of the capital but which remains the main Western hope for a political solution in Libya. The unity government’s prime minister, Fayez Serraj, met with President Trump in the White House in December.

In the past year, though, as General Hifter’s troops racked up major victories — advancing across Benghazi and seizing Libya’s biggest oil terminal — European leaders started to openly court him.

Last summer, he traveled to Paris at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron, met Italy’s defense minister in Rome, and welcomed the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to his fortified hilltop headquarters outside Benghazi.

General Hifter presents himself to the West as an unflinching warrior against political Islam in the mold of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is a former general. Critics say that approach strengthens his enemies, though, by forcing moderate and extremist Islamist groups together.

Although the septuagenarian commander has styled himself as a great military leader, with a fondness for pomp and titles, experts say his true skill is in forging alliances. His Libyan National Army is, in fact, a coalition of militias and regular army units.

Benghazi’s downtown as seen through a window of the former royal palace. The palace was on the front lines of a three-year battle for control of the city. Declan Walsh/The New York Times

Since last year he has used those skills to extend his influence into the deserts of southern Libya, a vast and largely lawless area where he has forged a number of tribal alliances, and which in recent years has become the main focus of American counterterrorism efforts. The United States has carried out nine missile strikes in southern Libya, mostly targeting Islamic State militants, since Mr. Trump took office.

But even before his recent health problems, Libya experts warned that General Hifter may not have been as strong as he pretended, and that the forces that helped him rise to prominence in the east could also be his undoing.

A Shaky Coalition

In January, twin car bombings killed 35 people as outside a mosque in eastern Benghazi. Islamist militants were suspected. Hours later, one of General Hifter’s top commanders dragged 10 blindfolded Islamist prisoners onto a street and, as a camera recorded his actions, shot each one in the head with a rifle.

The commander, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, was already wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his alleged role in previous summary executions. But when General Hifter detained Mr. Werfalli, promising to bring him to a military trial, armed supporters burned tires in the streets and shut down major roads.

General Hifter was forced to back down. The commander of the Benghazi special forces brigade, Wanis Bukhamada, defused the protests by promising that Mr. Werfalli would not be sent to the international court. “This is a matter for the Libyan courts,” he said. Libyan courts, such as they are, have yet to take up the case.

That was the second challenge to General Hifter’s authority. In November, a tribal commander, Faraj Gaaim, was detained after he demanded on television that General Hifter step down.

Tribal opponents grumble that General Hifter’s army is dominated by his Furjan clan, and that his sons act as his enforcers. For Benghazi residents, the complaint is that the religious militants who helped him seize Benghazi are now exerting a disproportionate influence on daily life in the city.

In the past year hard-line preachers have taken over many mosques, and conservative officials have shut down music concerts and tried to stop women from traveling while unaccompanied.

“It’s like a bargain with the devil,” said Naseim Omeish, 25, a development official. “They get control of the mosques so they can consolidate their power. But that can go wrong.”

The former United States consulate in Benghazi, where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed in September 2012. Now occupied by its landlord, the house has been refurbished as a private residence. Declan Walsh/The New York Times

A Reluctant Democrat

Western efforts to bring General Hifter to the negotiating table have come to naught. In Paris last summer, he signed an agreement with Tripoli to hold elections by the end of 2018, but that now seems a distant possibility.

In interviews, General Hifter has shown little enthusiasm for a free vote. “Today’s Libya is not ripe for democracy,” he told the French magazine Jeune Afrique last month. “Perhaps future generations will succeed.”

Many critics, especially in western Libya, see that as further proof that he is little more than a reconstituted version of Colonel Qaddafi, relishing power for power’s sake and riding roughshod over basic freedoms and human rights. A United Nations report published this week highlighted torture, arbitrary detention and other abuses at jails run by General Hifter, as well as at those run by rival militias in the west.

Supporters say that, after seven years of chaos, a Qaddafi- or Sisi-style strongman may be exactly what Libya needs. “Believe me, I lost my faith in elections,” said Amal Bugaighis, a lawyer and civil society activist in Benghazi. “Maybe in five or ten years time. But for now we need someone strong in charge.”

In recent months, General Hifter participated in talks with military officials from western Libya, mediated by Egypt, over proposals to forge a united national army.

But that is now on hold, as all eyes in Libya turn to the French hospital where he is undergoing treatment. A wild range of rumors circulated in Libya on Thursday, ranging from accounts that he was recovering well from his treatment, to those suggesting he had in fact died.

His spokesman said in a tweet on Wednesday that “all the news” about General Hifter’s health was false. “Marshal Hifter is in excellent health, and he is following his daily general command duties,” the spokesman said.

Were General Hifter to become incapacitated, one strong possibility is that the coalition that he so carefully assembled to take control of Benghazi would come apart at the seams, riven by strains and lacking a natural successor, said Mr. Wehrey, the analyst.

“For all Hifter’s faults, he was the glue binding it all together,” he said. “There’s no comparable figure to fill his shoes.”

Danny Morrison Lets Cat Out Of Bag – Gerry Adams Was ‘Brownie’……

Let this be a warning to you all. You should always read what Danny Morrison writes, even though, as those who have perused the pages of ‘West Belfast’ know to their cost, it might seem like an awful lot to ask.

Thanks to C.D.C. Armstrong writing in today’s News Letter for pointing out something which passed by everyone else, buried not too deeply in a piece Danny Morrison wrote in The Irish Times on February 9th to coincide with Gerry Adams’ ‘retirement’ as leader of Sinn Fein.

Here it is:

I have known Gerry Adams 46 years. In 1975, as editor of Republican News, I asked him would he write a weekly column from Long Kesh, which he did under the pen man (sic) Brownie.

The significance of this lies in an article written by ‘Brownie’ and published in the Danny Morrison-edited Republican News back in May 1976, part of which reads as follows:

Rightly or wrongly, I’m an IRA volunteer and rightly or wrongly, I take a course of action as a means of bringing about a situation in which I believe the people of my country will prosper.

To put it mildly Morrison’s Irish Times’ article flies in the face of all the denials emanating from Adams and Morrison back in the 1990’s that Brownie was Adams and that this quote in particular amounted to an admission of IRA membership by the SF padrone.

When that quote emerged publicly in the 1990’s there was a furious counter offensive by the Provos, the highlight of which was the appearance of Adams’ faithful umbrella stand, Richard McAuley to admit responsibility. He had written those words that week, not Gerry, he claimed.

This was awful nonsense, which most Provos immediately knew, although they mostly kept silent. At that time, May 1976, Long Kesh was bitterly divided. One camp was led by the OC, David Morley who gave his support to Ruairi O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conaill in Dublin. Ranged against Morley were the militant, and militarist, Cage Eleven dissidents led by Adams/Bell/Hughes.

Richard McAuley was in the Morley camp in those days, although he may not care to be reminded of that, and there was no way he would have volunteered or have been asked to substitute for Adams that week or indeed any week.

Which leaves just Adams as the sole candidate for the Brownie job, just as Danny suggested in The Irish Times.

But what, one wonders, was Danny thinking of when he wrote this?

Trump’s America (continued)

April 10, 2018
By Jacob Rosenberg

On Fox and Friends, which US president Donald Trump has called “the most influential show in news,” the hosts discussed a thousand-person “caravan” of migrants traveling toward the United States to escape gang violence and poverty in Central America; and Trump said that women in the group were being “raped at levels nobody has seen before” and that he would deploy 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border to stop the migrants from seeking asylum. Trump announced a tariff worth $50 billion on 1,300 Chinese goods, China proposed $50 billion worth of tariffs on American products, and Trump said he was considering raising the value of his tariffs by $100 billion. “We’ll see how this works out,” said Trump’s economic adviser. It was reported that Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt spent millions of taxpayer dollars to employ a 20-person security detail, reassigned or demoted EPA employees if they questioned the agency’s spending, attempted to use sirens to get through traffic, and rented a condo for $50 a night from the wife of a lobbyist for the only liquefied-natural-gas exporter in the United States. A fire broke out on the 50th floor of Trump Tower, killing one person.

In Syria, medical groups reported that at least 70 people suffocated in Douma from a chemical attack. During protests in Gaza, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian photojournalist who was wearing a vest that bore the word “press.” A former president of Brazil, who was leading in the polls for the country’s upcoming presidential election, turned himself in to authorities to begin a 12-year sentence after being found guilty of helping a construction company acquire contracts from the state-run oil industry; a former president of South Korea was sentenced to 24 years in prison for using her position to fundraise for companies that paid for her shaman’s daughter’s equestrian lessons; and a South Carolina congressman pulled out a loaded .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun during a “coffee with constituents” meeting and said he was “not going to be a Gabby Giffords.”

Researchers found that one in three low-income American families struggles to afford diapers, and parts of California flooded when a plume of water vapor from the tropics caused snowmelt and heavy rain. A Tallahassee city commissioner said he had used almost all of the funds from his state senate campaign to pay an attorney to represent him in an FBI investigation of public corruption so that he could “clear his name” and “remain a viable candidate”; the FBI raided the office of one of Trump’s lawyers, who admitted to paying off an adult-film star with whom Trump allegedly had an affair; the ex-fiancée of a former Republican presidential campaign adviser accused her partner of forcing her to sign a five-page contract to be his “slave and property,” requiring her to wear a collar and always be naked; and the singer Cardi B released her first album, Invasion of Privacy.

Hillary Clinton And The Tiresome Joyce McCartan Teapot Trope

For some inexplicable reason I wasn’t invited to today’s gathering of the great and good at QUB to celebrate (is that the right word these days?) the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Master of ceremonies was Richard English, who now rejoices in this title: ‘Distinguished Professorial Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.’ He has also been awarded a CBE (Commander of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for, to quote the citation, ‘….services to the understanding of modern day terrorism and political history’.

The Distinguished Fellow, like myself, wrote a book about the IRA. His was called ‘Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA‘. Mine was titled: ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘. He became a CBE who rubs shoulders with the masters of the universe. I now live in the Bronx and we have pizza and vodka martinis on Friday nights. Go figure.

Anyway among those swarming like flies around the proverbial at Queen’s University today were the Clintons, le and la, one a president who these days would have been impeached for his sexual abuse of Monica Lewinsky, the other whose miserable failure to beat the most transparent snake oil salesman in American political history could well lead to a different president being impeached. We live in hope.

Anyway la Clinton, better known as Hillary, has also penned a piece in The Guardian today about Brexit, the collapsed Assembly and the threats posed to the Good Friday Agreement.

It was one of those articles which rejoice in the description ‘transferable’. In other words much of it has been published, or delivered from a podium dozens of times before, the only difference each time is a bit of an update and the switching around of a few paragraphs.

And so we were treated once again to Hillary’s tedious account of her trip to Belfast in the early 1990’s and as soon as I spotted the work up, with a groan I knew what was coming.

And here it was:

It was on that same trip that I first met some of the women whose names are too often forgotten, despite their vital role in the agreement. One of those women was Joyce McCartan, a Catholic mother whose 17-year-old son had been shot dead by a Protestant gunman. Joyce invited me to join women from both traditions at the safe house she had set up in a local fish and chip shop. We sat around a small table, drinking tea out of an old aluminium teapot, while the women told me how they had first reached across their divides to band together to stop the price of their children’s milk from going up. Along the way, they discovered that the deep-rooted causes of the violence – the terrors of sectarianism, the burdens of poverty, the despair of unemployment – touched all of their lives.

Ah yes, Joyce McCartan. Now sadly no longer with us but the memories live on.

Actually it is the memory of her sons which really sear the brain cells.

Joyce and her family lived in the lower Ormeau Road, not far from the republican Markets area and adjacent to the scores of student flats that fan out from Botanic Avenue.

Joyce’s sons were thieves. Their speciality was to burglarize these flats and to steal anything that could be moved, from TV sets to purses carelessly left on mantelpieces. They also terrorised the lower Ormeau area, specialising in robbing pensioners and the like.

Hillary and Joyce share a cup of tea in Belfast, poured from that teapot!

The thing about Joyce’s sons was that they seemed to have a free hand to indulge their criminality. The RUC in nearby Donegall Pass seemed not to care a whit about the misery they caused. The Provos kneecapped them once or twice but the sons seemed to have the protection of the Officials who were quite strong in the area.

Not surprisingly quite a few people concluded that the RUC’s apathy was deliberate, intended to get people complaining about lawlessness and the need for what was called in those days ‘normal policing’. (It was more probably just laziness. Cops hate to do work.)

I remember once coming back to our home in the Botanic Ave area to find the front door locked from the inside. This was a classic sign of a burglar at, or having been at his work. While rifling your drawers the burglar would hear the front door being rattled and know it was time to flee over the back wall. Thanks to the locked door he would make it in plenty of time.

We lost a TV set that day and needed new locks. So I had to report it to Donegall Pass to get the insurance and when the uniformed cops arrived I said to one of them that everyone knew it was the McCartan’s who did most of these robberies. Why weren’t they being done? People said the authorities wouldn’t touch them because they had official protection. Was that true, I asked.

‘You better ask the Special Branch, sir’, came the reply.

Anyway back to Hillary’s teapot. Joyce McCartan made a gift of it to the First Lady and every time Hill returned to Belfast to make a speech, she would bring the teapot with her, place it on the podium and tell the story along the lines in today’s Guardian.

Belfast folk are known for their cynical sense of humour. It is that sort of city and pretty soon a variation on Hillary’s teapot story was doing the rounds.

Hillary would tell the story of Joyce McCartan’s teapot and as she got to the punchline, she would flourish the teapot to show the audience.

In the cynical version of this, as she picks up the teapot a voice can be heard from the back of the hall:

‘Oi! I recognise that teapot! It was nicked from our kitchen last year!’


Trump’s America (continued)

April 4, 2018
By Joe Kloc

A 38-year-old animal rights activist and vegan-lifestyle advocate posted to her website accusations that YouTube had failed to properly compensate her for ad revenue generated by videos she uploaded to the site, then drove to the company’s headquarters, took out a pistol, shot three people, shouted, “Come at me,” and fatally shot herself. A survivor of a mass shooting at a high school in Florida tweeted that the YouTube shooting was “proof” that children aren’t the only Americans who need to worry about being shot to death in their day-to-day lives, and US president Donald Trump proposed additional tariffs on Chinese-made flamethrowers. Trump tweeted that the US “Department of ‘Justice'” was “an embarrassment” because it was “slow walking” the turnover of documents related to investigations of his political opponents, a 33-year-old white man and Trump campaign associate from the Netherlands was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to special prosecutors investigating state-sponsored interference in the US presidential election, and a 43-year-old black woman from Texas was sentenced to five years in prison because she unknowingly violated the conditions of her supervised release by voting in that election. A police officer in Asheville, North Carolina, stopped a black man for jaywalking, forced him to the ground, repeatedly punched him in the face while he shouted, “I can’t breath,” tased him multiple times, and called him a “bro” and a “tough boy”; a deputy sheriff in Sacramento, California, ran over a 61-year-old woman who was attending a demonstration for Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was holding his cell phone in his grandmother’s back yard when two officers approached him and shot him eight times, which they told investigators they did because he lunged at them; and an autopsy of Clark’s body revealed that the majority of shots were fired into his back. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prosecutors announced that they would not charge a white police officer who was filmed shouting, “I’ll shoot your fucking ass” at a 37-year-old black man named Alton Sterling, whom he then shot six times and called a “stupid ass motherfucker,” which the officer later told investigators he said because he was “mad” at Sterling for “making” him kill him. A 68-year-old white man in Kentucky assaulted his wife with a flashlight and then pointed a rifle at responding officers, opened fire, and was apprehended alive; and footage was released of a police officer in Houston shouting, “I’ll shoot your ass” at an unarmed black man named Danny Ray Thomas and then moments later firing a fatal shot into Thomas’s chest. Police in Augusta, Georgia, apprehended alive a 22-year-old white man who fired multiple shots at the driver and the passenger of a nearby vehicle; police in Chicago apprehended alive a 21-year-old man in a train station who was carrying a loaded pistol, wearing body armor, and holding a duffel bag filled with SWAT equipment; and police in Elgin, Illinois, released more than 30 hours of footage of the traffic stop of a 34-year-old black woman named Decynthia Clements, which showed the officers agree that if force was necessary to apprehend her they would use rubber bullets and Tasers, and then order Clements from the car and shoot her with live ammunition, killing her. “She had a couple knives in her hands,” said one of the at least seven officers at the scene. “I don’t know what else we were going to do.”

British Army Knew About IRA ‘Unknowns’ Months Before Disappearances Began

British Army intelligence chiefs knew that the IRA had a secret unit called “the Unknowns” several months before the unit began disappearing people whose killings the IRA wished to keep secret, according to an official British record.

(The Guardian has picked up the story which can be read here)

A declassified British Army document on file at the national archives at Kew in Surrey, England – compiled on behalf of British Army Headquarters in Northern Ireland – shows that military chiefs evidently knew about “the Unknowns” as early as April 1972, between three and four months before the IRA disappeared Joe Lynskey, the first victim of the practice, and eight months before widowed mother-of-ten Jean McConville was abducted, killed and buried in a secret grave in Co. Louth.

Joe Lynskey

Evidence of military knowledge of the unit is contained in a log of incidents compiled at British Army headquarters at Thiepval barracks, dated April 25th, 1972. The document would have been prepared for the Army’s most senior personnel and staff, including its commanders, and it recorded the most significant incidents and events occurring daily in the military’s three brigade areas in Northern Ireland.

The log includes a report of an armed robbery carried out by three men, apparently members of an IRA unit which, at 9:28 a.m. on that day, was intercepted by soldiers who arrested the trio and recovered one pistol. The robbery was in Manor Street in the Oldpark district of the city but the precise target was not identified.

The document describes one of the men as: ‘vol “the Unknowns”’, i.e. a volunteer in “the Unknowns”. This suggests that not only did the military know about “the Unknowns” but may have been aware of the unit’s membership. The man’s full name and address is being redacted by which will refer to him in this report only by his first name, ‘Gerald,’ for his  safety.

The grave site in Co. Louth where the remains of Jean McConville were discovered

The two other men were Peter McAwley (sic) of Jamaica Street and Bernard Logan of Brompton Parade, both in Ardoyne. The question of whether these two were also involved with “the Unknowns” is not addressed in the document.

The document is reproduced below:

The relevant section highlighted:

Two weeks ago this reporter visited ‘Gerald’s’ home, which is in North Belfast, and by telephone from a relative’s house which he was visiting, ‘Gerald’, who is now 68-years old and retired, confirmed that he had indeed been a member of the North Belfast unit of “the Unknowns”.

He described it as a unit which was made up of people whose membership of the IRA was still a secret to the authorities – although in his case that appears not to have been the case. He also said he had undertaken ‘operations’ while a member of “the Unknowns”.

‘Gerald’ was tried and convicted of the attempted armed robbery in Manor Street and sentenced to seven years imprisonment, which he served in the Long Kesh prison complex.

‘Unknowns’ commander, Pat McClure, relaxing at an Irish festival in Connecticut

The revelation that the British military had enough knowledge of the unit to quickly identify one of its members begs some obvious and potentially difficult questions for Whitehall: how and what did the army know about the unit, did they have a source inside “the Unknowns”and, crucially, what, if anything, did the military know about the IRA’s practice of disappearing people?

The information about the IRA unit contained in the Army document broadly mirrors knowledge already in the public arena. According to former members of the unit there were two cells of ‘”the Unknowns” in Belfast in 1972; one was in West Belfast commanded by Pat McClure, the other in North Belfast, commanded by the late Larry Marley, a legendary figure in Provisional mythology.

Marley is best known as the brains behind the mass IRA escape from the Maze prison in 1983 when 38 prisoners broke out of the heavily guarded jail. His role was recently dramatised in the 2017 movie ‘Maze‘. He was later shot dead at his home in Ardoyne by Loyalists.

The architect of the 1983 mass IRA break out from the Maze prison, Larry Marley was also the commander of the North Belfast unit of “the Unknowns”.

The disappearances were all carried out by the West Belfast unit of “the Unknowns”; the North Belfast cell was not involved, as far as is known, in this activity.

The West Belfast unit was given the task of ferrying people condemned to death by the IRA to secret graves on the southern side of the Border. That unit’s commander, Pat McClure, who was arrested and interned in early 1973, emigrated to America over three decades ago where he died a few years later of lung cancer.

McClure Grave2

Pat McClure’s gravestone in Connecticut, USA. Unlike ‘the disappeared’ his burial place is marked

Four people – Joe Lynskey, Kevin McKee, Seamus Wright and Jean McConville – were disappeared in 1972, the year the practice began.

Orders were allegedly handed out by Gerry Adams, who was made Belfast commander of the IRA following a failed ceasefire in the summer of 1972. However a month before the intercepted Manor Street armed robbery, Adams was arrested by British troops and interned at Long Kesh. He was released some four months later so he could participate in the July 1972 IRA ceasefire talks with British ministers.

The job of driving victims to their deaths was given to the late Dolours Price.

Adams has denied any involvement or part in the disappearances, while Price has admitted her role.

The British Army log has an intriguing entry under the heading “Action” which indicates that the information that ‘Gerald’ was a member of “the Unknowns” was passed on to “PR” to deal with.

Colin Wallace, pictured during his time as a British Army press officer

While “PR” ostensibly stands for “public relations”, in those days it more likely meant that the information should be referred to the military’s psy ops (psychological operations) branch, otherwise known as the Information Policy Unit (IPU), which operated from Thiepval barracks, the British Army’s HQ in Northern Ireland.

Put crudely, the IPU’s job was to disseminate propaganda to the media designed to undermine paramilitary and political groups opposed to British policy. One of the IPU’s public faces in the early days of the Troubles was Colin Wallace.

The following letter from a Brigadier Mark Bond of the Ministry of Defence to Rear-Admiral ‘Teddy’ Gueritz, dated August 5th, 1971, makes it clear what British policy on Military Psy Ops in Northern Ireland was. Gueritz was the commander of the Joint Warfare Establishment in Old Sarum, Wiltshire which was then the training centre for British psychological warfare operations.

The letter reads in part:

Our policy is that we do conduct Military Psy Ops in Northern Ireland. (By definition Psy Ops can be employed to influence enemy, friendly or neutral groups, or individuals – all exist in Northern Ireland.)

What the IPU did with the information about ‘Gerald’ and “the Unknowns” is not disclosed in the currently available files lodged at Kew. But in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it would appear that the IPU did nothing with the information. It may be that someone in the military decided it was better to keep quiet about “the Unknowns”.