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After Strokestown: Northern Paramilitaries And The Private Security Industry

Paisley and McGuinness helped open industry door to ex-paramilitaries; Drew Harris helped draw up the rules

The Private Security Industry, with its ability to provide employment to their unskilled members and lucrative income to its owners, has long been a target of Northern-based Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups.

The three men who helped open the private security business to former paramilitaries: Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness and Drew Harris

So it is no surprise that in the wake of the eviction riot near Strokestown, Co Roscommon at the weekend, there were allegations, so far unconfirmed, that former paramilitaries, allegedly of a Loyalist persuasion, were involved in the fracas.

For many years the police in both jurisdictions on the island had and (in the case of anti-GFA republican groups) still have special squads with a remit to keep a close eye on paramilitary involvement in the private security industry.

But the magnitude of the problem was not officially acknowledged until the 2000’s when the paramilitary ceasefires were monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), whose conclusions were simple: there had been a significant level of infiltration of the industry by paramilitary groups.

This is what a Northern Ireland Office consultation paper on ‘Regulating the Private Security Industry in Northern Ireland’ had to say in August 2006:

The industry is particularly vulnerable to penetration by paramilitaries because of low barriers of entry to those wishing to provide a private security service. There have been examples in Northern Ireland of private security services being subverted to act as a cover for criminality, for example, the provision of security guards to provide cover for running a ‘protection racket’.

……The Fifth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that there was direct evidence of paramilitary involvement in the private security industry in Northern Ireland, resulting in many firms suffering from extortion. They stated that the current, temporary control regime in Northern Ireland was “less stringent” than the regime in England, Wales and Scotland, and was insufficient in preventing paramilitary infiltration into the industry.

……In their recent report into organised crime, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) has identified the potential for exploitation of the industry by paramilitaries and organised criminals. It recommended that the area of regulation of the private security industry in Northern Ireland be dealt with as a matter of priority. It also identified the need for appropriate training and registration of door supervisors, and noted the problems with the form of self- regulation that is encouraged by some, but not all, councils throughout Northern Ireland.

The only bar to the issuing of a licence to operate a private security firm was evidence that a paramilitary group stood to gain directly, or indirectly – a difficult proposition to prove, especially if there was a court challenge.

To solve this problem of under-regulation, direct rule ministers decided to put Northern Ireland under the control of the same Home Office-based organisation which regulated the industry in England, Scotland and Wales.

It was called the Security Industry Authority (SIA). In Nov 6, 2007, according to correspondence published by the NI Assembly, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris was appointed by the PSNI Chief Constable to be the force’s representative in discussions with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the SIA to draw up the rules governing private security firms in the North.

Drew Harris was in charge of crime at the time, in which capacity he liaised with MI5. He is currently the Garda Commissioner.

The SIA published the following guide to the employment of former paramilitaries by the private security industry, It opened the door to the legal employment of former paramilitaries by invoking guidance issued by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in early May 2007, a few days before they officially took office as the inaugural First and Deputy First Minister in the post ceasefire Stormont government.

Here is the full text of the SIA document; the relevant paragraph is the final one:

Conflict-Related Convictions

This information applies to conflict-related convictions that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998). It should be read in conjunction with our supplementary guidance document.

Supplementary Guidance on Conflict Related Convictions (download size: 85kb)

When you apply for an SIA licence there are three possible outcomes:

  • Grant – the criteria for licensing have been met
  • Refuse – the criteria for licensing have NOT been met
  • Consider additional factors – depending on other factors, the criteria may or may not have been met. This is not an immediate refusal: we invite you to supply to us (within a specific time period) additional information before reaching our final decision.

If you have conflict-related convictions these convictions will be assessed under ‘consider additional factors’ in line with guidance for employers from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

When we consider additional factors the following points are taken into account in relation to conflict convictions:

  • The criteria we apply in deciding whether to grant a licence are approved by the Secretary of State (section 7(5) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • We have a statutory duty to apply those criteria in our decision making (section 8(3) of the Private Security Industry Act 2001).
  • When considering a criminal record, we take into account the relevance, seriousness, recency and the disposal of each offence.
  • We consider all offences on a person’s criminal record, regardless of whether in other circumstances they might be considered ‘spent’.
  • The fact that an offence was conflict related and pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement will be taken into account when considering the whole of a person’s criminal record.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the judgement of Kerr J- this link opens in a new window in Damien McComb application for Judicial Review [2003] NIQB 47. Kerr J ruled that the fact a person has been released under the Good Friday Agreement (in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998) and has been determined as no longer a danger to society was a relevant consideration as to whether or not a licence can be granted for working as a taxi driver.
  • We believe that our approach to considering offences is consistent with the guidance- this link opens in a new window to employers issued by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which states that any conviction for a conflict-related offence that pre-dates the Good Friday Agreement (April 1998) should not be taken into account unless it is materially relevant to the employment being sought.

The Paisey-McGuinness guidelines are too lengthy to reproduce in full here, but here is a link to the entire document.

In the meantime, here is the relevant section:

The key principle arising from the work of the group is:
“……that conflict-related convictions of ‘politically motivated’ ex-prisoners, or their membership of any organisation, should not generally be taken into account [in accessing employment, facilities, goods or services] provided that the act to which the conviction relates, or the membership, predates the Agreement. Only if the conviction, or membership, is materially relevant to the employment, facility, goods or service applied for, should this general rule not apply”

For what it is worth here is my read of all this: If you are a paramilitary group that is keeping, by and large, to your ceasefire commitments then HMG will turn a blind eye to the fact that the head of your security company used to be on the Brigade Staff of the IRA, or UDA or RHC.

And as long as you run a clean ship, you’ll be able to employ a rogues’ gallery of ex-IRA/Loyalist cons. In fact there is a big plus for HMG in all this because you’ll be putting money in pockets and keeping potential malcontents busy and reasonably content – even if from time to time someone’s iPhone might film them behaving in embarrassing ways.

Ain’t the peace process just great?!

Reported Death Of Sean Garland, Official IRA Strategist And Political Flimflam Man

It is being reported tonight (Thursday, NY time) that Sean Garland, the former Official IRA and Workers Party leader, has died. With his death and that of Des ‘the Devil’ O’Hagan three-and-a-half years ago, a chapter in the extraordinary history of left-wing Irish republicanism has come to a close.

Sean Garland in his later years

Garland and O’Hagan were the major architects of a hugely successful con trick played on the Irish people which lasted from the late 1970’s to the Spring of 1992. Complicit in the con, indeed vital to its success, was a significant section of the Irish media.

The con trick was to persuade a significant section of the population that the military group that they led, the Official IRA, no longer existed, that it had wound up in the mid to late 1970’s, after the last of the feuds with the INLA and the Provisional IRA, and that via the Workers Party, those who had been active in that organisation were now completely committed to peaceful political methods.

It was, of course, a lie. The Official IRA continued to exist, not least to protect Workers’ Party activists north of the Border against the Provos and the INLA, but also as a fund-raising organisation for the political wing, especially south of the Border where the WP enjoyed remarkable electoral success until the party split in the early 1990’s.

The con trick was successful largely because the Official IRA’s continuing paramilitary activity was concentrated north of the Border, out of sight of southern voters and – significantly – many of the young, professional types in the South who were attracted by the WP’s class-based politics.

Under Garland and O’Hagan, the Official IRA was partitioned. It existed in the North but south of the Border its existence was continually and often angrily denied.

The Irish media played a significant role in peddling the lie. The media – RTE and The Irish Times in particular – were targets for successful penetration and journalists who did try to write the truth about the Officials, notably Vincent Browne and myself, were excoriated.

The hostility was not confined to angry words. I learned from a senior UDA source that two well-known members of the WP had told them that I was an intelligence officer for the INLA. Suspicious about this tale’s bona fides, the UDA checked it out and discovered it was nonsense. Nonetheless it was a serious attempt to kill me.


A young Sean Garland

The power of the Officials in The Irish Times in particular, could not be exaggerated. When I was Northern Editor at the time that the Workers Party made a deal to keep Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charlie Haughey in power, I wrote a two-part Northern Notebook on the WP-Official IRA.

One part dealt with the Officials’ political journey, North and South, and that duly appeared on the Saturday morning. The second part, which dealt with the continued existence of the armed wing, disappeared into the ether. I was neither informed beforehand that it had been spiked, nor why.

Eventually, some years after myself and the Times parted company, I had the chance to put the record straight. A good friend and legal worker put me in touch with an RUC document which detailed the discovery of an arms dump in Turf Lodge which had been discovered by police as a result of a tip off. The RUC document was unequivocal. The arms dump belonged to the Official IRA.

So there it was in black and white. The lie that the Official IRA no longer existed, was just that – a lie.

At around this time Shane Harrison of the BBC Spotlight programme approached me about research he was doing on a possible special on the Workers Party. He was particularly interested in any evidence that the armed wing still existed.

So, I let him have a copy of the RUC document and that was enough to persuade his bosses in the Beeb to make the documentary.

The film was duly televised and with the BBC’s imprimatur stamped all over it, the allegation had to be taken seriously. As it was, a Gorbachev-style wing had sprouted up in the WP and the Spotlight programme was just the ammunition they needed to force a break with the Garland-O’Hagan faction.

The WP split at a special ard-fheis in 1992 and the Democratic Left was formed as a breakaway party, joined government in 1994 along with Fine Gael and Labour, and eventually were absorbed into the Irish Labour Party. The WP quickly and finally disappeared into the sinkhole of history.

As for Garland he soon had more serious matters to worry about. The US applied for his extradition on charges that he had assisted the North Koreans, with whom the WP had friendly relations, to distribute counterfeit, so-called ‘super dollars’. Somehow he managed to dodge that bullet.

So that was my little part in the downfall of Sean Garland’s ambitions. I never did get an explanation from The Irish Times for the censoring of my article on the Official IRA. But what the heck! The story had a happy ending, and that is all that matters.

The ‘Self-Inflicted’ Death Of Maze Medical Officer Dr David Ross: ‘The Eleventh Hunger Striker’

The late IRA commander and leader of the 1980 prison fast for political status, Brendan Hughes called him ‘the eleventh hunger striker’, and believed that Dr David Ross, the Maze prison’s medical officer, had been so deeply affected by the deaths of the ten IRA prisoners on the second protest in 1981 that, five years later, he took his own life.

In sharp contrast, Hughes’ colleague, Bobby Sands, who was the first IRA prisoner to die on the 1981 hunger strike, disagreed. Dr Ross, he told Hughes, was ‘a mind manipulator’ and he did not trust him. Ever since, their argument has divided the IRA prison population of the day.

Hughes’ told the story of the two IRA prison leaders’ interaction about Dr Ross in his interviews with Anthony McIntyre for the Boston College oral history archive. The account was later published in ‘Voices From The Grave‘.

Support for Brendan Hughes’ verdict on Dr Ross has, however, now come from an unexpected source.

In an account of his career as the Maze prison’s Deputy Governor and Head of Security during much of the Troubles, Tom Murtagh ascribes Dr Ross’ suicide to the ordeal of shepherding ten republican prisoners to often painful and difficult deaths during the politically torrid year of 1981.

Murtagh also discloses that, by grisly coincidence, Dr Ross took his own life during a spate of suicides by prison staff at the jail in 1985/86.

The suicide scene in the garage at Dr Ross’ home

According to the now retired senior prison official, by 1986 the Maze prison was an angry cockpit in which paramilitary prisoners, by now unofficially segregated in separate Republican and Loyalist Blocks and/or wings, were in a constant psychological and physical struggle with prison staff for control.

The picture he paints is of a jail that, in the years following the 1981 hunger strike settlement, gradually appeared to be falling under the sway of the inmates, and out of the charge of the staff.

By his account the warders were suffering the consequences; some sought escape in drink or feigned sickness to avoid work. Others were ‘turned’ by the paramilitary inmates and agreed to work for the IRA or their Loyalist equivalents. Some sought a more final solution, by taking their own lives, although Murtagh does not quantify the toll:

……it is clear that all staff working in the segregated wings were under immense psychological strain, the effects of which naturally varied from one individual to another. While many strived to cope, others just went sick causing further difficulty in an establishment that was already substantially understaffed. Others turned to alcohol. In 1985/ 1986 a number of The Maze staff took their own lives.

There is evidence that, by this stage, both Republican and Loyalist prisoners were having success in corrupting and recruiting prison officers. The extent of this is difficult to quantify in that the PIRA carefully protected these individuals by insisting that they appeared to be doing their job properly and remained above suspicion.

It must also be assumed that the Loyalists were also having success on this front as they became more confrontational and aggressive in their dealings with staff at all levels. A Block Governor described them as ‘constantly in your face, abusive and threatening, often for no other reason other than that they were getting away with it’.

Dr David Ross worked away, tending to the medical needs of prisoners and warders alike in the midst of this undeclared war. But when he decided to take his own life, on June 13th, 1986, Murtagh believed that what drove him to such a drastic and final act was not the strife in the H Blocks, but the mental scars left by the 1981 hunger strikes, five years earlier:

Though it is difficult to be sure what drove them (the suicidal warders) to such despair it seems reasonable to conclude that their work environment was a contributing factor. One of those who sadly died in such circumstances was the Medical Officer, Dr David Ross who had cared for the prisoners on both hunger-strikes and despite his efforts had to watch ten of them die. He was clearly affected by the experience and on 13th June 1986 he took his own life.

Murtagh’s story, told in the book, ‘The Maze Prison: A Hidden Story of Chaos, Anarchy and Politics‘, was published in February this year.

From the little that is known about his background, Dr Ross was born and reared in Ballymena, Co Antrim – the heart of Ian Paisley’s North Antrim Westminster constituency. He later became a GP in nearby Ballyclare.

His background and rearing would in all probability have been typical of many Unionists and Protestants of his generation. Distrust and abhorrence of Irish republican goals and violence, and those who advocated them, would have been in the political DNA of all those he mixed with, not least at the Maze prison.

All of which makes even more remarkable the evident human sympathy he was able to show, as Brendan Hughes attested, for the IRA prisoners in his charge.

He was 57 years old when, in the garage of his home in the northern suburbs of Belfast, he put the barrels of a shotgun to his stomach and then his neck and pulled the trigger. He died in the Royal Victoria Hospital four hours later.

An aerial view of the Maze prison/Long Kesh

The former Head of Security at one of Europe’s toughest and most dangerous jails, pens a portrait of Dr Ross that strikingly mirrors Hughes’ depiction of a caring and sympathetic physician. Describing Ross’ work during the second hunger strike, Murtagh wrote:

According to Hospital Chief Officer (Frank) Smith, David Ross hardly ever left the prison (day or night) throughout the months of the hunger-strike. Ross was a quiet spoken and caring man who maintained a constant dialogue with the hunger-strikers to ensure their comfort and care at all stages of their fast. His dedication was recognised by most of the prisoners…..

Murtagh quotes one of Dr Ross’ junior assistants, who is not named in the book, as echoing the view that the hunger strike had troubled the physician. Speaking of the impact the hunger strike had on warders and Dr Ross alike, the aide said:

When you are caring for these guys, getting to know them and their families and watching their grief, you are only human and you have your feelings. It had an impact on all of us. I know Dr Ross, who never seemed to leave the hospital, was badly affected by his experience with the hunger-strikers.

Several years ago made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for a copy of Dr Ross’ inquest file. A long silence followed. Eventually a more productive route was opened up to the Public Record Office in Belfast but even with generous and kind assistance from staff at the office, it took the best part of two years before the file was handed over.

Much of the file has been redacted, notably the identity of witnesses who gave evidence and/or statements to the inquest. But the file does reveal that at the time of his death, the medic was receiving treatment from a psychiatrist for what the report called ‘recurrent depressive illness’. Another document suggests that this specialist was based at Belfast’s then major mental health institution, Purdysburn hospital.

According to the inquest file, the Maze medical officer was being treated with ‘anti-depressant and anxiolotic drugs’ for his depression, the last prescription for which was dated April 7th, 1986. Anxiolotic drugs are used to treat extreme anxiety.

That Dr Ross committed suicide is accepted by all those involved in investigating his case, although under Northern Ireland law, inquests do not deliver judgements which accord blame or responsibility for deaths; they merely investigate and inquire into the cause of deaths.

Northern Ireland inquests can however, deliver ‘Findings’ which implicitly and inevitably do ascribe some responsibility for deaths. Although the 58-page inquest report is redacted in places, sometimes heavily, and the names of some witnesses – including, it seems, the Purdysburn psychiatrist and his report – are blacked out, enough of the ‘Findings’ survive to explain what happened.

Much of the other witness statements have also been redacted, but again the task was done somewhat sloppily. For example, Dr Ross’ wife’s statement is redacted to hide her identity and relationship to her husband, but whoever was given the task, left her name, ‘Gladys Ross’, untouched as well one reference to ‘My husband…’.

According to witness statements collected by RUC officers and submitted to the coroner, James Elliot, there was little about Dr Ross’ behavior earlier that day, June 13th, 1986, to suggest that it would end so tragically.

Two prison officers, one a warder, the other a catering officer, interacted with the doctor on the morning of his death and saw nothing to cause concern.

One told investigating police officers:

(Dr Ross) appeared to be his normal efficient and busy self at no time did he give me the impression that he was under stress or preoccupied….During the past week I had dealings with Dr Ross at various times and found him to be his usual self.

The catering officer said:

At 1110 hrs Dr Ross visited the kitchen to sample the dinner meal as he does on a daily basis The dinner menu for that day was creamed potatoes, carrots, vienna steak and curry sauce – steamed pudding and vanilla sauce, he did not eat the full meal but left a small portion. No comment was made about the meal and he signed the menu book. We chatted for about ten minutes and then he left. He gave no indication of being depressed or feeling low.

But another member of Dr Ross’ medical staff thought that not all was well with his boss:

On Friday 13 6 86 I was i/c Phase 4 surgery Compound Maze, which Dr Ross SMO attended to carry out the sick parade. Dr Ross appeared to be in normal form, but I did notice that he did seem to be a little quieter than usual, as if he had something on his mind. He would normally, always be in more of a hurry to get the morning’s work cleared up, but on Friday morning did not seem to be in any hurry at all. Other than the above, I did not notice anything else unusual in his behaviour.

Gladys Ross’ account chimes with that provided by the first two warders above. Her husband returned to their home in Templepatrick on the northern outskirts of Belfast at about 2 pm that day and there was nothing to portend the impending tragedy:

He had about an hours sleep. He then had a cup of tea. We then put flowers in the garden. He then took (redacted) dog for a walk. He would have been away for approximately 30 minutes. I was in the house when I heard a bang. I saw the dog run out the back with its head down. I went into the back boiler house which is attached to the rear of the garage. I then went into the garage. I saw (redacted) lying on the floor. I thought he had had an accident with the car. The time would have been about 6.20 pm. (Redacted) has not been suffering from any ilnnesses.

On 6th May 1986 (redacted) and I had come back from a holiday in America, we had a great time. On Friday 13th June when (redacted) and I were doing the garden he told me he had bought daisy killer and he said that maybe next week the weather would be suitable to put it on the lawn. During the last four weeks he was happy and full of plans for what he was going to do over the summer in the garden. Such as building a green house and planting trees. At the several social occasions we attended recently he was cheerful, outgoing and chatty, and afterwards he said how much he enjoyed himself. (Redacted) had been sleeping well, eating well and was full of interest.

The inquest did not call Dr Ross’ death ‘suicide’ but the meaning of the words chosen by the coroner was clear; the circumstances of Dr Ross’ death, he wrote, ‘were consistent with self-infliction’.

But what happened inside Dr Ross’ mind in the four hours or so between the Maze medical officer arriving home from a shift at the prison, apparently in a good mood and with no outward sign of mental distress, and his decision to put a double-barreled shotgun to his stomach and then his neck and pull the trigger remains a mystery.


What follows are the relevant documents in the story of Dr David Ross, beginning with extracts from Brendan Hughes’ interview with Anthony McIntyre, followed by facsimiles of the relevant inquest papers:

“But Sean was not the only one – Sean was the weakest … So all those weaknesses were there. After Sean asked me, I gave him a guarantee that I would not let him die. A few days later –now, I want to try and get the sequence correct here. Dr [David] Ross – he was the main doctor looking after the hunger strikers – came and informed me that Sean had only hours to live. It’s possible they were playing brinkmanship with me at this stage. And it’s possible that the cells were bugged and that they picked up what I had said to Sean. And they knew that if Sean went into a deep coma, that I would intervene. And that’s exactly what happened. Dr Ross came to me and told me that Sean would die within hours and he wanted permission … to take Sean to hospital. And this took place. There was a sudden rush of activity; prison orderlies took Sean on a stretcher up the wing. I was standing in the wing with Father Toner, Father Reid and Dr Ross … and I shouted up after Dr Ross, ‘Feed him.’ I had no guarantee at that point that anything was going to come from the British, no guarantee whatsoever. We all knew that they had offered us this deal but we had no guarantee that the deal would go through. We only had their word for it. The hunger strike was called off before the British document arrived. It was only later that night, I think; it was very late at night that Father Meagher and Bobby [Sands] arrived at my cell with the document.

Q. So is it fair to say that the hunger strike then did not end as a result of the document but the hunger strike ended prior to the document and it was in many respects the humanitarian decision on your part –you were bound by your word?

A. Yeah.”

“… a footnote to all this is that myself and Bobby had disagreements about the doctor who was in charge at the time of the hunger strikes. Bobby believed Dr Ross to be a mind-manipulator. I didn’t believe that. I believed him to be OK. But it’s important to remember that after the second hunger strike, Dr Ross blew himself away with a double-barrelled shotgun. He shot himself in the stomach and then blew his head off. I don’t know if it was to do with the hunger strikes [but] I believe it was. And I would sometimes refer to Dr Ross as the eleventh hunger striker, the eleventh victim of the hunger strike. I mean, anybody who could stand by and watch ten men die and not be affected … is a very, very ruthless man indeed … and I don’t believe that Ross was as ruthless as that. Bobby had no time for him, did not trust him, believed him to be, as I say, a mind-wrestler, trying to get inside people’s minds. But he used to sit on my bed for so long sometimes I would wish he’d go, [but] he would talk to me about fishing, about the mountains, the rivers and the streams. And for a man to bring in spring water every morning for the hunger strikers because he believed it to be much richer and would help the prisoners was not a ruthless man. That’s what he did, every morning he brought spring water in instead of the tap water that we had. And you know during a hunger strike it’s awful to drink salt and water. And I remember throwing it up, many’s a time throwing it up. But you had to try … the memory of that salt water and the sickness and … and the smell and watching your flesh. I mean, the body is a fantastic machine –it’ll eat off all the fat tissue first and then it starts eating away at the muscle to keep your brain alive. When that goes, all that’s left is your brain, and it starts to go as well. And that’s when the brain damage sets in. Your body needs glucose, and the last supply of glucose is in your brain.


Statement of Gladys Ross:

Witness list. No 5 appears to be the psychiatrist from Purdysburn hospital:Another reference to Purdysburn hospital:

Statement of Prison Hospital Warder:

Statement of Catering Warder:

Statement of Prison Hospital Warder:

Inquest Findings:

The Lobby – Parts Three & Four


‘The Lobby’ – The Film The Israeli Government Would Like To Ban

What follows are parts one and two. Three and four will follow, hopefully in due course. The second part of the Al Jazeera documentary be seen by clicking on the link beneath part one:


Freddie Scappaticci And Those Animal Sex Pics

Freddie Scappaticci should have asked his FRU handlers to transfer him over here to New York if he wanted to gaze in legal safety at photos of animals and human beings, of both genders, enjoying sexual congress.

Freddie Scappaticci, far left, accompanies comrades at the funeral of another British agent in the IRA’s internal security unit, Brendan Davison

In the US such photos can be easily and legally accessed. Just type in ‘animal sex with people’ into the Google search box and then choose images.

It’s called the First Amendment.

Scap would have had a ball, so to speak, with no legal comeback.

Mind you, the charge does make you wonder. What is the Kenova team up to? The effect of this is to diminish and demean Britain’s No 1 spy in the IRA. Why? If I was Freddie, I’d be more than a little worried and maybe thinking ‘I’m about to be set up to save my handlers!’

In May’s Britain? Surely not!

We shall see.

The Other George H W Bush

The US media is full of laudatory pieces right now celebrating the life of George H W Bush, the 41st president of the United States who passed away at the weekend. The other side of the Bush story? Not so much….

Perhaps because of a need to remind their readers and viewers that there were American presidents other than Donald Trump, some of whose lies, greed and ignorance were quite trifling in comparison, only a very few outlets are paying attention to the seedier sides of the Bush family history or the scandals that beset their various life stories..

Instead most of the US media, print, social and electronic, are celebrating a ‘normal’ president, who could read and write, who got other people to tell his lies for him and had sufficient inherited wealth not to have to hustle his ass in the Kremlin.

Back in 2004, one of my favourite radical writers in this country, Dave Zirin took a critical look at the Bush saga, as he called it, and wrote this profile of the clan for Socialist Worker.

George H W Bush was VP to Ronald Reagan and then was elected himself to the White House, albeit for just a single term; his campaign will be remembered for the so-called Willie Horton TV ad, which exploited White racism with a claim that a Black convict had raped and murdered a white woman because he had been granted a weekend parole by his liberal Democratic opponent, Mass. governor Michael Dukakis.

His youngest son, also called George was elected President in 2000, also in controversial circumstances, amid allegations of ballot rigging and electoral malpractice in Florida.

The invasion of Iraq, under George Jnr’s watch, whose bloody consequences still reverberate, followed quickly afterwards. Justified on the concocted basis that Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq threw the Middle East into chaos and has resulted, arguably, in the rise of the Right throughout Europe and the Americas.

The full Bush family story, and the accumulation of its wealth, has a longer and equally controversial history. Here is Dave Zin’s account; you won’t see this in The New York Times:

THE GREAT myth about the United States is that we live in a “meritocracy,” where the “best and brightest” will rise to the top, and anyone can make it with intelligence and hard work. The slightest examination of the Bush family tree proves that all this is a lie.

The Bush saga — from George W. Bush in the White House today to the great grandfathers on both sides of the family — is the story of four generations amassing their fortunes and achieving the heights of power through the cronyest of crony capitalisms.

There are no think-tank theorists or college professors, no surgeons or artists among the Bush men. From root to branch, the Bush family’s rise to power and wealth has gone hand in hand with the fortunes of the oil industry and the military-industrial complex.

George H.W. Bush (right) and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War

“[I]f presidential family connections were theme parks, Bush world would be a sight to behold,” writes Kevin Phillips, author of new book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. “Mideast banks tied to the CIA would crowd alongside Florida Savings and Loans that once laundered money for the Nicaraguan contras. Dozens of oil wells would run eternally without finding oil, thanks to periodic cash deposits by old men wearing Reagan-Bush buttons and smoking 20-dollar cigars.”

To paraphrase Karl Marx, the Bushes truly came to us dripping from head to foot with blood and dirt. The Bushes claim an ancestry that goes back to British royalty. But the rotten modern house of Bush began with George W. Bush’s maternal great-grandfather, George H. Walker.

Walker was president of Wall Street-based W.A. Harriman & Co. He made his fortune as a war profiteer, working alongside the House of Morgan in purchasing billions in armaments for Britain and France during the First World War. In a foreshadowing of things to come, Walker got a taste for the emerging importance of oil as the engine of profits and war when he oversaw the rebuilding of the Baku oil fields after the war in the 1920s.

At his peak, Walker was the director of 17 corporations and maintained homes around the country — including a 10,000-acre hunting preserve in South Carolina, where according to his granddaughter: “We were waited on by the most wonderful Black servants.”

Dubya’s other great grandfather, Yale graduate Samuel Bush, was the president of the Ohio-based Buckeye Steel. Like Walker, Samuel Bush made his fortune during the First World War by producing material for small arms. Of course, it helped that Samuel became head of the Ordnance, Small Arms and Ammunition Section of the federal government’s War Industries Board in 1918.

Not unlike a virus, each generation has produced a deadlier strain of Bush. George W. Bush’s grandfather was Prescott Bush. He became his father-in-law’s heir apparent at the merged firm of Brown Brothers Harriman. Prescott Bush handled the “German work” for Brown Brothers in the 1930s, raking in a fortune by rearming Hitler’s Germany.

Brown Brothers set the pace for a 49 percent increase in U.S. investment in Germany during the 1930s — while investments declined throughout the rest of Europe. But this profiteering in the country that would become a U.S. enemy during the Second World War didn’t prevent Prescott from sitting on two boards that “covertly” provided material for the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.

Like other U.S. rulers who had kept a financial and political finger in Germany during the 1930s, Prescott Bush got in on the ground floor in Germany after its defeat in the Second World War. He helped the notorious Dulles brothers in establishing the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA — thus getting the Bush family into the spy business.

George H.W. Bush — Prescott’s son, and Dubya’s father — was born, in the words of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, “with a silver foot in his mouth.” A Yale University alumnus like his father and grandfather, he gravitated to the oil industry through family connections and made a fortune.

Viewed as “intellectually light,” George Bush Sr. couldn’t win elected office before he became Ronald Reagan’s vice president — beyond a seat in Congress as representative of an oil-rich Texas district with the country’s highest number of Rolls Royces per person.

Instead, “Poppy” held just about every nonelected post that the Republican Party could arrange for him. He was chief of the Republican National Committee, head of the CIA, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, where he was famous for writing “thank you notes” to political donors during sessions and debates.

After losing in the 1980 Republican Party presidential primaries to Reagan — during which Bush Sr. coined the phrase “voodoo economics” to describe Reagan’s proposals for tax cut giveaways to the rich — he joined the ticket and became vice president. During the Reagan presidency, his connections as both a former spymaster and an oil industry crony made him the point man for the administration’s funneling of dollars and weapons to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

At the same time, Bush helped with the scandalous deal with Iraq’s archenemy Iran — where the U.S. illegally sold weapons and used the profits to support the brutal contra guerrillas fighting to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Bush managed to win the presidency in 1988.

He is best known as the “butcher of Baghdad,” responsible for the deaths of some 200,000 Iraqis during the first Gulf War in 1991 — which was dominated by the most intensive aerial bombardment in the history of war. After the war, Bush had an approval rating of nearly 90 percent.

But this support melted away in the face of the early 1990s recession, and Bush got only 37 percent of the popular vote in 1992, one of the lowest-ever results for a sitting president. His campaign wasn’t helped by a photo op where he appeared surprised by a supermarket’s scanner system — and the high price of milk.

Bush Sr. must wonder how his son, George W. Bush, did it — the idiot son who followed his father’s footsteps into the White House.

Dubya spent many years under the influence. This included the use of influence to avoid the Vietnam-era draft and get into the Texas Air National Guard — where Bush got himself transferred to Mississippi, and eventually chose not to show up at all.

Then Bush Jr. tried to use his family influence to make a fortune in oil. He should have been a colossal failure. His company Arbusto Energy — nicknamed Are-Busto in the industry — lost $3 million. Fortunately for him, a Cincinnati group that included a Yale classmate bought him out.

The son of the then-vice president became chair of the newly constituted Spectrum 7 Energy Corp. Yet once again, no success for Dubya. But as Britian’s Observer newspaper put it, “Whenever he struck a dry well, someone was always willing to fill it with money for him.” Harken Energy bought out Spectrum 7, and Bush was put on the board of directors and given 16 percent of the stock.

Asked why he wanted to buy a failed company, Harken’s founder said, “His name was George Bush.” Harken was also losing money hand over fist, yet it concealed its losses. Only a few weeks before the bad news broke and Harken’s share price tumbled, the fortunate George Bush Jr. sold off two-thirds of his stake for $848,000.

An internal Securities and Exchange Commission memo concluded that Bush had broken the law by trading on inside information, but no charges were filed. This, everyone insists, had nothing to do with the fact that his father was president of the United States. All records of SEC investigations into Bush’s insider trading and bankrupt companies are sealed — and unavailable to the public.

The story of the latter-day Bushes returns again and again to Iraq. As head of the CIA in the mid-1970s, George Bush Sr. inherited the agency’s covert history of support for Saddam Hussein’s rise to the top of the Iraqi regime.

As vice president under Ronald Reagan, one of his chief tasks was to oversee the administration’s support for Iraq. “It is increasingly clear that George Bush, largely operating behind the scenes through the 1980s, initiated and supported much of the financing, intelligence and military help that built Saddam’s Iraq into an aggressive power that the United States ultimately had to destroy,” said ABC News’ Ted Koppel in 1992.

Bush and other Reagan administration officials facilitated transfers of intelligence, military supplies and even the components for advanced chemical and biological weapons. When Saddam Hussein stepped out of line with the invasion of Kuwait, which threatened the flow of Middle East oil, Bush organized the first Gulf War.

After killing as many as 200,000 people during the seven-week war, Bush urged the Iraqi people to rise up against the regime. But when Kurds and Shiites did rebel, the Bush White House decided they were better off with Saddam’s Ba’ath Party in power — and allowed the regime to repress the rebellions. Thus, Bush Sr. bears direct responsibility for the recently discovered “mass graves of Iraqi Shiites” discovered by U.S. forces after Bush Jr.’s invasion.

Much has been made of the idea that Bush Jr. was “finishing the job” in Iraq that his father started. But it would be a mistake to see the second Gulf War as a matter of family revenge.

For one thing, scores of Democrats supported the war and occupation. The second Bush administration, backed up by a host of right-wing fanatics led by Donald Rumsfeld, is determined to remake the Middle East, and Iraq is the first stage.

It is true, however, that history has repeated itself — and another George Bush is responsible for the deaths of masses of Iraqis. Hopefully, like his father before him, the postwar scrutiny of the bloody invasion of Iraq will lead to Bush Jr.’s undoing, too.

One Bush after another has attended Yale University, and each one has been a member of the elite and highly secretive Skull and Bones society. Fifteen Yale students — overwhelmingly men — are chosen every year. They come from “the best families” and are meant to stay connected in business and social circles throughout their lives.

Skull and Bones is fodder for conspiracy theorists alarmed that a “secret society” could claim so many of the country’s elite. Look at the society’s creepy practices, and you can understand why.

Initiates into Skull and Bones are brought into the “tomb,” a dark, windowless crypt in New Haven, with a roof that serves as a landing pad for the society’s private helicopter. They are sworn to silence and told that they must forever deny that they are members.

During initiation, the juniors wrestle in mud and are physically beaten — to represent their “death” to the world as they have known it. Then the initiates are given a new name as a member of “The Order.” At this point, the new members are introduced to the artifacts kept in the tomb — which include Nazi memorabilia, such as a set of Hitler’s silverware, dozens of skulls, and an assortment of coffins and skeletons.

Skull and Bones was the foundation of the OSS spy agency. There were so many secret society members in the OSS that Yale’s drinking tune — the “Whiffenpoof Song” — became the agency’s “unofficial” song as well.

Some of the world’s most famous and powerful men alive today are “bonesmen.” Among them is another politician, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — meaning that the 2004 presidential election could pit Skull vs. Bones.

What does this prove? Not that the world is run by a secret society, but that the political establishment in Washington is infested with the sons and daughters of the super-rich who spent their college years at Ivy League universities.

Has Washington been taken over by a shadowy right-wing cabal, with the Bush family as its head? That’s the logical conclusion of Kevin Phillips’ book American Dynasty — which provided the bulk of the information for this article.

Phillips, a former top adviser to the Nixon administration and respected figure in the Republican Party, is biting the hand that fed him — and revealing facts about how the U.S. government operates that are usually kept well hidden. But the picture that he draws of Washington isn’t wholly accurate.

Phillips essentially believes that the Bush dynasty has become a kind of “royalty” — based on hereditary — that usurped power in Washington. But this suggests that there was ever a more democratic system — and a group of politicians more responsive to the real interests of ordinary people in the U.S. — to be usurped.

Phillips fails to recognize how the rest of the Washington establishment — including the Democratic Party, the supposed “opposition” to the Republican power brokers — is organized around serving the same interests and maintaining the status quo.

Take the question of Iraq. During the eight years between the two Bush presidencies, Bill Clinton carried out a military and economic war on the country that was every bit as deadly.

Some 1 million Iraqis died between the two Gulf Wars because of United Nations economic sanctions backed up by the U.S. — which the Clinton administration continued without hesitation. In reality, Clinton’s shift toward “regime change” as the goal in Iraq paved the way for Bush Jr.’s more aggressive posture.

On other important issues, Clinton’s record is actually to the right of Bush Sr. Papa Bush may have wanted welfare “reform,” for example, but it took Bill Clinton and the Democrats to deliver on the disastrous law that threw millions of people deeper into poverty.

The Bush family may be one of the ugliest faces of the system. But they are only part of a political establishment in the U.S. that is committed to promoting the interests of the rich and powerful. Our struggle to stop Bush Jr. means challenging the whole corrupt setup in Washington and throughout the U.S.

First published on February 6, 2004.