Monthly Archives: March 2020

New MI5 Chief Cut His Teeth In Belfast

The rather disconcerting looking fellow below is called Ken McCallum and he is the new head – Director-General to be precise – of MI5, the internal British spying service which now has exclusive control of intelligence operations in Northern Ireland.

According to The Guardian report on his appointment earlier today:

McCallum has 25 years experience within MI5, spending the first 10 years of his career working on Northern Ireland, focusing on terrorism and the development of the peace process around the time of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

So he may be well known to quite a few of the players in that pre-GFA period and it would make sense that as part of his learning experience, he was also expected to run agents in one or more of the North’s paramilitary groups.

I don’t know about you but one look from this character and my knees would go wobbly.

Nurses In World’s Richest Country Wear Plastic Bags For Protection

These are nurses at Mount Sinai hospital in downtown Manhattan, New York city. The hospital has run out of protective gear to prevent infection from Coronavirus and so nurses are using garbage bags instead. This is happening in the richest city of the richest country in the world.

Catch The Virus In America Without Health Insurance And You Can Die

The YouTube video below features the Mayor of Lancaster, California, Rex Harris describing how a 17-year old boy suffering from Coronavirus died after he was turned away from a clinic because he did not have health insurance. For reasons best known to himself, the mayor declined to draw the obvious political lessons but the incident is a terrifying indictment of the economic, social and health system in the world’s richest country:

Trump Companies, Family Profit From Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

The New York Times has put the fine print under the microscope. You can read the result here. What a disgusting specimen.

Coronavirus And Government Power Grabs

Anne Applebaum writes that Coronavirus has provided rulers with a golden opportunity to amass more power. You can read the rest of her article here.

Trump And Coronavirus (Hint: Press The Pic & Scroll)

Thanks to CM:

An Observation On That Thesis About IRA Informers & The Peace Process

Partly in a search for refuge from the never-ending COVID crisis I have been reading Thomas Leahy’s thesis, submitted to King’s College London and now published as a book, arguing, or rather attempting to argue, that the Provisional’s embrace of the peace process had little or nothing to do with the fact that British spies had so undermined the IRA that military methods had become redundant, leaving politics as the sole alternative.

Incidentally you can read the thesis yourself here, or read The Irish News’ story which summarises his thesis. Now a lecturer at Cardiff University, his book can be purchased here.

Regular readers of thebrokenelbow.com will know, or suspect at least, that not only do I not think this theory holds water but it is in key ways the wrong issue to raise or question to ask.

The question might be reversed to make more sense, asking did the long-held and cautiously nurtured ambitions of Sinn Fein leaders to take a political road encourage a less than chary approach to attempts by British intelligence to infiltrate and shape the IRA? A subsidiary question is whether this was due to carelessness or intent?

Whatever the answers to those questions, I do know that by the early 1990’s, just a few years away from the first ceasefire, British intelligence’s own assessment was that one out of every three IRA members was working either for MI5, the FRU or RUC Special Branch, that 80 per cent of IRA operations were being interdicted and that the British had two agents working at the highest levels of the IRA, one of them being the Head of Internal Security, Freddie Scappaticci.

Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes

So myself and Dr Leahy would be at different ends of this debate and having read about half of his thesis I find nothing in what he has written so far, to change my mind over the central issue, which is that after 1972, the British gradually pushed the IRA onto the back foot, not least by intelligence methods.

But that is not what prompted this post.

Dr Leahy cites my books, ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘ and ‘Voices From The Grave‘ repeatedly in his thesis which is flattering but also puzzling since he never once contacted me to ask follow up questions or to probe certain incidents in greater depth. I have always been happy to assist researchers and my door would have been open to him. And it is invariably the case that there are details of some incidents that the writer cannot, for a variety of reasons, describe when they would have liked to.

But he never knocked at my door nor came near it, as far as I know.

One incident stands out as deficient in this respect and that was the 1973 IRA bombing of London, led by the Price sisters and timed to coincide with the first and only Border referendum held in Northern Ireland.

George Poyntz – became a Garda spy on the IRA by accident when he was mistaken by the IRA as a sympathiser. He realised he could make money selling IRA secrets to the police. He betrayed the London bombers to the RUC Special Branch in 1973

Dr Leahy acknowledges that the Old Bailey bombing, as it was known in the Fleet Street press, was interdicted thanks to an IRA informer whom his RUC Special Branch handler, Chief Superintendent George Clarke in his fascinating account of his life in the police, dubbed ‘MacMahon’, but who was really George Poyntz, one of the most remarkable and enigmatic British spies produced by the Troubles.

This is how he describes the incident:

The English campaign, however, started disastrously. On 8 March 1973, 200 people were injured and one person died after two car bombs exploded, including outside the Old Bailey. Other bombs were defused. A number of Provisionals were arrested when attempting to fly back to Ireland on the same day. In November 1973, nine people were found guilty of the bombings, including Gerry Kelly, today a senior Sinn Féin MLA, and Marian and Dolours Price, prominent dissenting republicans in recent years. There has always been suspicion that a high-level informer leaked details of the operation, since the police sealed the borders before the attacks.

In 2009, these suspicions were somewhat vindicated by the release of George Clarke’s account. Clarke alleges that information was provided by a senior Provisional, whom he describes as being involved since the 1950s. This individual is alleged to have trained volunteers, offered safe houses and supplies from county Louth. His close association with senior IRA leaders apparently meant that this informer, ‘McMahon’, knew about the London bombings in March 1973. Clarke says that McMahon’s information alerted the mainland police and set-up the arrests. The risk for McMahon was that few people knew about the proposed attacks, which could have placed suspicion on him. Yet no suspicion arose, presumably because other senior Belfast personnel, such as Brendan Hughes, did not believe spies were involved. Instead, Hughes felt ‘the simple mistake we made was that we tried to get the people out of England too quickly’.

Hughes does make a valid point. In future, IRA bombing teams in London were not pulled-out immediately and remained as ‘sleeper’ units, hiding across England. The volunteers involved in March 1973 mostly came from Belfast too, which made the risk of exposure greater. If one became known, others could be discovered simply via the intelligence services investigating who they associated with. Kelly, in particular, was a ‘red light’, a volunteer already on-the-run, making his disappearance from the area suspicious.

Had he bothered to make contact I would have given him more detail of the British interdiction of the Old Bailey bombing that would have shed light on, or at least posed more questions about the extent of British intelligence penetration of the IRA at this relatively early stage of the Troubles.

The story was told to me by Dolours Price back when we were filming ‘Voices From The Grave‘ in Dublin for RTE but I was not free to talk about it until after her untimely death in 2013, some two years before Dr Leahy delivered his thesis to his academic superiors at King’s College .

Her story went like this: shortly after she and all but one of the bombing team were arrested at Heathrow airport – the ‘one’ being in the airport loo when the police swooped – she was taken to a police station in London for questioning.

When she arrived she saw the headline in the evening paper on a desk: ‘IRA Plans Four Car Bombs‘ in London or words to that effect.

The plan to bomb London, which had been overseen by Belfast Commander Gerry Adams and organised by the Belfast intelligence chief, Pat McClure had envisaged six car bombs.

Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes, pictured when both were interned at Long Kesh, circa 1974, a year after the Old Bailey bombing

The cars to be used were stolen some weeks before the plan was to be enacted, the plates changed and the vehicles resprayed. The work was done by George Poyntz at his Border garage near the Co Monaghan border.

When, the night before the bombing, Poyntz, who had worked for the Garda Special Branch during the 1956-62 Border campaign, offered his services to the RUC Special Branch, he believed that six IRA car bombs would be ferried to the British capital.

But when the cars were being loaded on to the Liverpool Ferry at Belfast docks, the police gave the fourth car a more than usually intense inspection. Dolours Price, who led the operation, decided not to push her luck and ordered the fifth and sixth cars to remain in Belfast.

Later she made a phone call to a number in Belfast and left the message: ‘Tell him it will be four’. ‘Him’ was Gerry Adams of course and this was Dolours Price’s way of telling the IRA chief that there would be four car bombs in London not the planned six.

There is no way that George Poyntz would have known this.

The headline in the evening paper that she saw in the police station after her arrest was based on a Scotland Yard briefing. So the security authorities must have received this information from elsewhere.

Either a human source separate from George Poyntz, someone with access to Gerry Adams, had passed on the information, or the phone used by the IRA leadership had been bugged by the British.

Either way the British had infiltrated the IRA close and high enough to interdict messages sent to its then Belfast commander. As penetration of an enemy’s secrets goes, that is undeniably pretty impressive.

Had Dr Leahy contacted me, I would happily have shared this story with him, even if it demonstrated that British penetration of the IRA was deeper and more extensive than he maybe would have liked to hear.

Coronavirus In Ireland: A Doctor’s Grim Warning

I received this message in an email from a friend in Dublin, earlier today. It came originally from a doctor practicing in Ireland who wishes it to be widely distributed so as to warn Irish people what is likely to be coming down the pike thanks to Coronavirus:

WHY IRELAND IS IN TROUBLE

Lads,

I’ve been reading about this virus since January, and like most people, I was cracking jokes about it and did not take it seriously at all. That changed completely when someone explained the numbers to me and explained why we in Ireland in particular are in trouble. I have not stopped thinking about it since. You may not think that we are in trouble based on the number of confirmed cases so far, but we are.

I’m going to write this to you in an effort to explain what the fuck is actually going on and hopefully help in the effort. A lot of people are ringing me and asking me if I know anything on the inside. I don’t know much more than what is in the news, but I have probably spotted some of the important stuff that you may have missed.

I’ve been tracking the numbers and confirmed cases in Ireland have been growing by 30% a day on average, which means the number of cases doubles every 2-3 days. Based on those trends, and without the shutdown, there would be 100,000 confirmed cases within a month.

But the situation is actually much worse. Based on what happened in China and Italy, the actual number of cases in Ireland is almost certainly in the thousands already. The problem is that with this virus, you can have it, not have any symptoms, and still be infecting everyone around you before you feel sick. The Government knows this. That is why they shut the country down.

On the international numbers, over 90% of cases will recover. But 9% will be seriously ill, and about 5% will require intensive care (ICU) and at least 2.5% will need ventilators.

The Government has said between 25% and 75% of the population will get the virus. If 25% of the Irish population get it, which based on the numbers above is a very low estimate, that’s 1.2 million people.

5% needing intensive care means 60,000 people will need intensive care beds to stay alive.

We currently have 277 intensive care beds in Ireland.

I’m going to say that again:

At least 60,000 Irish people will need an ICU bed to stay alive.

We only have 277 ICU beds in Ireland.

If too many people get sick in a short space of time, many, many Irish men and women are going to die when they could have been saved. Ireland is a small country. This is going to be someone in your family or someone you know. Or their mother. Or their father.

The staff in ICU wards know the numbers. Their representative body released a statement on Thursday, which was in the Irish Times, saying that they know that they are going to be making choices on who gets an ICU bed or who gets a ventilator. They said they will be making “challenging decisions”. I’ll translate that: It means the staff are going to be deciding who lives and who dies.

It has been happening in Italy already, and Italy has much better ICU care than we do. In terms of cases, we are 2 weeks behind Italy. The older you are, the less likely they are going to try to save you. Don’t think this only applies to over 70s. If you are over 40, and need ICU, but a 30 year old also needs it, chances are the 30 year old will get it and you will die. If that doesn’t scare you, you don’t fully understand it.

It is absolutely nuts, but this is what is going to happen.

If we can lower the number of cases AT A SINGLE POINT IN TIME, we lower the number of people needing intensive care AT A SINGLE POINT IN TIME, then we free up more ICU beds, and we lower the number of Irish people who die in Irish hospitals. It is that simple.

This could be someone close to you. Your mam. Your dad. Your partner. Your granny. Your granddad. Your brother. Your sister. Your aunt. Your uncle. Your neighbour. Your friend.

You do not want any of them dying because there was not enough ventilators or ICU beds to go around. It will not be the fault of the ICU staff. If you want to blame someone for that, blame years of governments giving tax cuts instead of investing in the health service.

If you are furious even thinking of the idea of your loved ones dead in a coffin because a doctor thinks they are too old or are not strong enough, and giving a bed to someone who is a bit younger, then good, you are right to be. You will also be more willing to listen to what you need to do next to help stop that happening:

STAY THE FUCK AT HOME AND ONLY GO OUT IF YOU NEED FOOD.

Watch Netflix. Read a book. Binge on a TV series. Go on Youtube. Eat food. Learn to cook. Learn to sew. Write a book. Do a diary. Figure out your life. Do press ups. Do sit ups. Do chin ups. Do zumba dancing. Do an online course in astronomy. Or Yoga. Or sports management. Or whatever the fuck you want.

Do whatever the fuck you want. You have absolutely no excuse not to keep yourself entertained at home.

Do not go for pints. Do not have a house party. Do not go to a house party. Do not go for coffee. Do not go for a meal. Do not go for a chat. Do not visit your auntie. Do not visit your parents. Do not bring the kids over to their friends. Do not let friends come over to you.

If you absolutely have to get out of the house, go for a walk on your own or with someone you are living with. But in general:

STAY THE FUCK AT HOME UNTIL THE NUMBER OF CASES STARTS COMING DOWN.

If you want to be a hero in this, and want to save lives, but don’t know what to do, stay the fuck at home.

P.S: The Brits are making a balls of it again and are not staying at home. Lots of them are going to die because they are not staying at home. Don’t be like the Brits. Stay at home.

P.P.S: The more people who understand what is going on, the better. So send it on to whoever you think would benefit from it.

How The Super-Rich Are Surviving The Virus

Vanity Fair has the article. Enjoy

US Gears Up For Corona Virus – AKA Bend Down And Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!

This message was sent out today by the local health center that I and Joan use. Riverdale is, for want of a better phrase, the posh part of the Bronx – the Kennedy family lived here for a while – and if this is the state of preparedness here for COVID-19, God knows what it is like on Jerome Ave.