Category Archives: Uncategorized

Greenslime Makes Private Eye

Thanks to PM for the tip:

British Army’s ‘Non-Existent Intelligence’ in 1972 May Explain Use Of Low Level Sources

By Ed Moloney and James Kinchin White

One of the genuinely puzzling aspects about the IRA’s claim that Divis Flats widow and mother-of-ten, Jean McConville was an informer for the British Army is what use she could be, other than perhaps identifying some local IRA members or republican sympathisers.

Wouldn’t the Army’s time have been better spent trying to turn IRA members and by that route seriously infiltrate and damage their enemy rather than endanger the life of widowed mother who was in important ways an outsider in Divis?

Well, one answer to that conundrum can be found in a British Army document, recently unearthed by James Kinchin White, outlining reasons to launch what would become known as Operation Motorman, the military occupation of Republican areas in Derry and West Belfast.

Marked ‘Top Secret’ – and limited to those with Top Secret clearance, hence the tag ‘Perimeter’ – the document argues that the mood in Catholic areas in the wake of the disastrous bombings of Bloody Friday, on July 21st, was sufficiently critical or cool towards the IRA that there would be little resistance if the British Army occupied so-called no go areas in Derry and West Belfast.

The plan was approved at the highest political and military levels and just ten days after Bloody Friday – on July 31st – the British Army, employing heavy armour, duly occupied previously strong IRA redoubts in both cities, setting up forts from which to launch military operations against the Provisionals.

But the real significance of the document is that it reveals that a dearth of intelligence on the IRA was a major, if not the major reason for launching Motorman.

Describing military operations in the wake of Bloody Friday, the document paints a picture of a British Army that had virtually no contemporary intelligence on the IRA:

The Army’s search operations (in the wake of Bloody Friday) have been based on old or almost non-existent intelligence. Their success has been exaggerated for political or PR reasons. Such yields as have been obtained were principally due to chance. Continuation at the present level cannot be expected to produce any better results and is likely in fact to produce diminishing returns. The degree of antagonism these operations are likely to arouse will probably increase as the memory of July 21st fades and the Army’s searches are seen to be random and resulting in searches of houses and arrests of individuals with no direct connection with the hard-line Provisional IRA.

So, was it in such circumstances that the British Army, desperate for any intelligence on the IRA, turned to a widow and mother-of-ten for help?

The American Dream (Updated)

Hat tip to RS:

Put Names And Histories To These Three Gents And Win A Prize

So, who are they, what is their story, and what are their qualifications for running a security firm in Northern Ireland. First correct answer gets a lifetime subscription to thebrokenelbow.com:

The Real Meaning Of The Capitol Siege

As usual Ian Welsh has one of the more interesting takes on recent events in Washington:

When Boris Johnson Chaired A Debate Between Sean O’Callaghan And Ronan Bennett On The Role Of Gerry Adams In The IRA

This one is a classic. In October 2000, British prime minister-in-waiting Boris Johnson presided over an October 2000 debate, convened by The Spectator magazine, between playwright and SF apologist Ronan Bennett and IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan on the role of Gerry Adams in the IRA. (Click on excerpts and they will enlarge)

Making Sense Of The Washington Riot

You can watch the video here. With thanks to RS….

Wikileaks On The Northern Bank Heist

To mark Julian Assange’s narrow escape (for now) from the SuperMax jail in Florence, Colorado, here is a US State Department document revealed by Wikileaks detailing a July 2005 meeting between a US diplomat and Irish government officials in Dublin during which some fascinating details were disclosed about the December 2004, IRA robbery of the Northern Bank in downtown Belfast and the IRA’s subsequent efforts to launder the stolen loot. Thanks to Sputnik for posting it originally. You can read the document here, while below is a photo of the destination Assange has so far managed to avoid:

ADX Florence. Photo courtesy of the US Bureau of Prisons / The Gazette via AP Images

Jean McConville And That British Army Radio – New Evidence Emerges

By Ed Moloney & James Kinchin-White

There are three ways the late Jean McConville can be viewed, aside from the fact that her murder by the IRA and the forced orphaning of her children was unjustifiable by any standard.

One is that she was a complete innocent, picked on by the IRA in Divis Flats and framed as an informer because she was an outsider, an East Belfast Protestant whose Catholic husband was no longer alive to protect her. Someone who shouldn’t be allowed to live in Divis Flats. A victim of bigotry, essentially.

Another is that she was a low level informer who was in the pay of the British Army to pass on tittle tattle about her neighbours at a time when the appetite of the British intelligence machine for any scrap of information that could lead them to IRA activists, no matter how small, was insatiable.

There is a third view which is that Jean McConville is a commodity whose value to a range of people, from book publishers to propagandists, from politicians to prelates, depends largely upon which of the two explanations above the writer favours.

There can be no doubt that the first explanation of the Jean McConville killing helps to define Patrick Keefe’s best-selling, award winning account of the widow’s death. His book, ‘Say Nothing‘ dwells heavily on that version of her death; the foundation stone is that the widowed mother-of-ten was brutally murdered by the IRA for reasons not based on the truth of the informer charge.

It is no exaggeration to say that had Keefe accepted the IRA’s version, that she was an informer, no publisher would have bought the book, there would have been no plaudits, no glittering prizes, no praise. But he wrote the book that would not only be commercially successful but augment his standing among his peers at The New Yorker and in the profession at large.

There are nods in the book in the other direction, such as his use of a photograph – which co-author of this article James Kinchin-White discovered – of a British soldier on patrol in Divis Flats using a Stornophone radio, the exact type of phone which IRA sources, including the late commander of the IRA in the area, Brendan Hughes, told me was given to Jean McConville by her military handlers.

But he does not dwell on that, instead giving space to a former RUC Special Branch (political police) officer who denied that such radios were in military service in December 1972, when Jean McConville was abducted, killed and buried in a secret grave.

I provided him with documentary evidence to the contrary which he chose to ignore. The most significant piece of corroboration appeared in the published report of the British government inquiry, headed by Lord Saville, into the so-called Bloody Sunday massacre of civilian protesters by British paratroopers in Derry on a day in January 1972 that came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’:

We should also record that there is evidence that before Bloody Sunday some of the resident battalions were, at platoon level only, using Stornophone radios in place of Larkspur radios. A number of former soldiers serving in Londonderry recalled having Stornophone radios available on 30th January, 1972. Often nicknamed ‘Stornos’, these radios, like the Pye radios discussed above, were a commercially produced system purchased by the Army.

Another, equally compelling piece of evidence came in the form of a memoir written by a former British soldier, Harry Beaves, who was stationed in Casement Park in the summer of 1972, in the wake of Operation Motorman. The memoir was published nine months before ‘Say Nothing’ was published but was apparently missed by the author.

Beaves wrote, inter alia: The delight of Northern Ireland was that we were able to use Stornophone handsets similar to those used by the emergency services. The set was small enough to fit into the breast pocket of a combat jacket and had fixed frequencies that required no tuning, so that each (patrol) commander was able to carry his own radio without the need for a dedicated signaller.

But there is more. Diligent research by James Kinchin White has discovered a number of photographs of British soldiers using Stornophones or Stornophone-type radios months before Jean McConville was abducted. The case that small, hand-held radios were being used by the British Army at this time is overwhelming and undeniable.

Here are the photos: The first two, from the Alamy Database show the aftermath of a riot, apparently in 1971. Two young men have been arrested while a bespectacled soldier, possibly an officer, is using/holding a Stornophone-type radio.

This next photograph is of a member of the Royal Green Jackets, the British Army’s premier regiment and he is also clearly using a Stornophone radio. The location appears to be Rossville Flats in Derry and it is possible to date the photo to, at the latest, November 1972, the last occasion on which any of the three RGJ battalions served in either Derry or the lower Falls.

This next photo, which comes from the photographic site of the First Battalion Royal Green Jackets, can be dated, at the very latest, to the end of November 1972, although a caption dates it to 1971. The reason it can be dated to 1972 is because that was the year when the Stornophone was gradually phased out for military use and replaced by the Pye Pocketphone, a radio which was also used by the RUC. The soldier on the left is equipped with the Pye radio.

Finally, there is this potted history of the use of the Pye radio in Northern Ireland which can be found here, on the official site of the Royal Signals Regiment, which provides the British Army with communication systems. The Pye radio replaced the Stornophone, meaning not least that there was a stockpile of unused Stornophones in military bases throughout Northern Ireland which could be put to other uses. The argument that by 1971/72 the British Army was using small, hand-held radios of one sort or another is overwhelming.

Patrick Keefe, author of the prize winning account of Jean McConville’s killing, ‘Say Nothing’

So, there is an overwhelming abundance of evidence that small hand held radios, of the sort that IRA leaders such as Brendan Hughes maintained was found in Jean McConville’s Divis flat, had been issued to British troops serving in Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1972, before the mother-of-ten was abducted and disappeared by the IRA.

It was not difficult to find the evidence we have presented in this article, but Patrick Keefe was either unable or unwilling to find it and when proof that the radios were in use in 1972 was given to him by others he opted either for selective publication – for example his decision to ignore the Saville report’s reference to the use of Stornophones on Bloody Sunday by troops – and to give as much weight or more to sceptics, such as the former RUC Special Branch officer he was put in touch with who told him there were no such radios in Belfast at that time.

That former policeman must have known he was not telling the truth, so why did he do that? One inescapable motive was to register a win in the unending propaganda war between the IRA and the State, to undermine the IRA’s claim that Jean McConville was an informer and to establish that the widowed mother-of-ten was really an innocent whose life was taken because she was an outsider and a Protestant to boot, not because she worked for an agency not that different from his own Special Branch. Undermining the IRA’s claim that she used an Army radio to facilitate her informing activities suggests she was not an informer, that the IRA was lying.

Patrick Keefe implicitly presents the reader with a conclusion that ‘the radio may have existed but probably didn’t’. He calls it ‘The Mystery Radio’. But such radios were not ‘mysteries’ in the Belfast of 1972. In fact they appear to have been commonplace. His further claim that it would have been impossible to use such a radio without being overheard by neighbours, tells the reader that here is someone who has never experienced the incessant noise of working class developments like Divis, much less the huge Divis complex of the early 1970’s before much of it was demolished.

So, why did Keefe discount or ignore evidence that radios of the sort the IRA claimed was used were commonplace in 1972 when Jean McConville was abducted and then disappeared? The unavoidable answer is that it made for a better story, one in which evil triumphs over good but is eventually brought to book by a determined and skillful investigator. What followed were plaudits and prizes.

Has The Irish Times Spiked Its Review Of Kevin Myers’ ‘Burning Heresies’?

Back at the beginning of December last year, Eoghan Harris, writing in the Sunday Independent about his choice of the best books of 2020, placed Kevin Myers’ ‘Burning Heresies‘ at the top of his list and had this to say about the memoir whose author once graced the pages of The Irish Times as the celebrated custodian of ‘An Irishman’s Diary’ column:

Kevin Myers’s Burning Heresies (Merrion Press, €19.95) is the saddest and funniest political book of (the) year. Under the bludgeonings of both chance and evil design – Myers has some malign foes – his sardonic eye is always searching for the comic barb to embed in his enemies. His memoir makes a perfect Christmas gift: his hilarious Bleak House portrait of The Irish Times in the 1960s is worthy of Dickens at his comic best.’

But what of The Old Lady? Not only had he made the Diary a must-read, even for those who found Myers’ increasingly right-wing politics hard to take, but he had twice risked his life for the Times to cover viciously dangerous civil wars in the Lebanon and in the Balkans.

To be sure, he had some harsh words to say and uncomfortable but perceptive insights to convey in ‘Heresies‘ about his former employers. But all the more reason, surely, for The Irish Times to acknowledge his book (and his contributions to the paper, both literary and life-threatening) by way of a review and by so doing display a generosity of spirit which the editors would doubtless complain was absent in Heresies. Worst of all, not to respond to criticism can sometimes be the next best thing to admitting its veracity.

Well, according to well informed sources, that was the original plan. Former Sunday Independent columnist Anne Harris – one time partner of Eoghan – was approached by Times‘ literary editor, Martin Doyle, last September and asked to review Heresies; she agreed and delivered the finished article in early October. Her piece was subbed and duly sent to the books page for setting. All was set for the review to appear in the next Saturday’s paper.

But then someone in the Times‘ management intervened, Harris’ review was pulled while Martin Doyle indicated to Harris that someone nearer the top of the totem pole, ‘a higher authority’ was the term used, had given the order.

Anne Harris is said to be anxious to discover whether her article has been ‘spiked’, a newspaper term dating back to the days of hot metal printing presses, which means discarded, and is ready to have a row if that’s what happened. She is said to be losing patience with the various excuses for her review not appearing.

We shall see.

You can read my review of ‘Burning Heresies’ here.