The Dirty War Is Fought On Many Fronts

The British State seizure of the Boston archives has as much to do with today's war crimes as it does with hiding the dirty war of the past writes TPQ editor Carrie Twomey.
In his third day of testimony in his New York trial, Hamza compared himself to Gerry Adams, the leader of the Irish political party Sinn Fein.

“I was acting as a mouthpiece, like Gerry Adams” he said. “And like Gerry Adams, of the IRA, you can't afford to do anything that is not legal and transparent.”
A spy novel ... and you're living in it

Abu Hamza's defence team reveals he has been an MI5 asset all along. It is reported in the news the very same day that Gerry Adams writes about his own relationship with the British state. He was facing his PSNI interrogators as they quizzed him about the murder of Jean McConville. According to him, they accused him of having been turned by Special Branch in 1972 and of working for MI5.

Examining the motive for the British subpoenaing of the Boston College archive now becomes even more important. The arrest of Adams and his release has been a masterclass in public relations subterfuge, and administered the coup de grace to any dirty war truth retrieval that the Boston College archives may have secured.

It has also revealed that the special relationship between the UK and the US is still as strong as ever, both in their War on Terror and in protecting their shared contemporary interests. The silencing of the past in Northern Ireland has as much to do with strangling the ability of citizens and victims of ongoing war crimes -- torture, rendition, mass surveillance, murder -- to have transparency, accountability, and achieve justice as it does with covering up anything that was done in Ireland.

The Subpoenas

The Tories need the Unionists. Scotland looms. The IRA is defeated. Whatever wobbles happen in Northern Ireland can be contained. The security forces sit on the armed dissidents, and they are so penetrated they are puppets of Intel anyway. The loyalists, as ever, don't matter in the scheme of things as they too are owned by the British and have a higher master they answer to. Disgruntled former RUC are the perfect patsy. Throw them private contracting businesses jobs, woo them with political positions, let them their head on certain investigations. A thread runs between criminal cases and civil cases that goes all the way to Libya and back, tying together more than a few operational strands.

1972 is the iceberg, the tip of which emerges again and again. Whitelaw meets an IRA delegation of six including 'a man with whom you could do business with'; there's Palace Barracks and McConville. She was caught once, beaten, warned, and yet her British handlers sent her back out again. Was she disappeared to cover their involvement? Does that explain how long it took before her case was ever investigated? Was this a test of a greater asset?

Her family remained of special interest to intelligence. When they came of age they were pushed and prodded, and given fools' gold - whispers and promises of suing Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams. Big backers who remain mysterious. PSNI champions. Sympathetic reporters who were anything but.


Ed Moloney's book, published with Boston College, inadvertently helped set things in motion. As word leaked out, questions about the archive itself were ringing alarm bells. Danny Morrison approached Boston College seeking access, information. He was rebuffed. Advance publicity for the book began. It unsettled many, including Dolours Price. Maddened, she rang the Irish News. This was a gift to the Bell Pottinger type mandarins. Hours of material were recorded. Her participation in the Boston archives was revealed. And one other name: McConville. A reporter for the Sunday Life tied it altogether neatly: the family, the PSNI, tapes, and a Boston university.

Statements from the McConville family were sought, solicited with promises of access to the archive for the purposes of civil suits to come. The PSNI in many ways were a perfect cover, the perfect front. It wasn't the McConville case however that the government was concerned with -- it certainly did not need the Boston archive to solve that mystery. What the government wanted, what its intelligence services needed, was to ascertain how exposed their agents and operations were in the rogue archive. The PSNI, who hated Adams and wanted to bring him down, and the McConville case, was the perfect vehicle to entry. And who held the key to the gates? Their ally in the War on Terror.


It couldn't be more perfect, as far as networks were concerned. The template for civil suits was forged at Omagh. The lead detective involved in that was Norman Baxter. The American connection was an informer named Dave Rupert, over whose handling relationships between law enforcement would have been knitted together. While the intelligence and Nat Sec aspect of the MLAT request could be agreed and concealed at the top, the criminal investigation aspect was an open door easily pushed.

The ace in the hole would have been the College itself. None of the governments involved thought their cooperation in allowing access would be a problem, and their behaviour in the wake of Adams' arrest shows just what a tool of government they are.


Counter-intelligence can have the greatest of plans. On paper they can go smoothly, pitch perfect. But it is always events on the ground that fucks things up. In this case, it was the involvement of the researchers, and the fight they put up. Surveillance of their conversations with Boston College led to a second subpoena seeking access beyond the archives of Brendan Hughes -- whose archive Boston College immediately handed over without question or protest as his death ended their promise of confidentiality -- and Dolours Price's, into the unknown; a fishing expedition. The researchers stepped up their fight and the relationship with the college was ended. What had been a straightforward, simple plan now went to the pace of events and people not entirely under control.

As the court cases wound on, the operation moved to managing the end game. If covert access to the archive in order to assess exposure could not be gained via cooperation through Boston College -- or, perhaps, it did, given BC spokesman Jack Dunn's astonishing admission on Boston television that he had read archive transcripts; if the College is so cavalier as to let its PR man read the archive whose confidentiality they claim they have done all they can to protect, who knows who else they have so glibly given access to -- then total destruction of the archive was the next goal. The point was always to protect the assets they feared might be exposed by the contents of the archive.

Weekend At Gerry's

The arrest of Adams was so stage managed it was breathtaking, not least in the bolshy brazenness of the blatant lies being told. "The arrest was deliberately timed!" Sinn Fein roared indignantly, implying it was chosen to hobble them in the upcoming election. They were telling the truth, at least half of it, anyway; it was deliberately timed for the elections, but that timing was decided and agreed upon by Sinn Fein and as we have seen has allowed them to barnstorm brilliantly on the back of it. Hobbled they are not. This is not the genius of Sinn Fein making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. No way was McGuinness going to be eating quail with the Queen one week and Adams stale sandwiches at the Antrim barracks canteen the next without the choreography agreed upon and managed between the British and their assets in the party.

End game

And what then, has been achieved? Northern Ireland goes into renewed Haass talks on how to deal with the past with the expectation this time there will be agreement. Why now? The threat of anyone telling any unwanted truths has been neutralised. "We haven't gone away, you know!" Bobby Storey reminded the nationalist community, with graffiti thrown up on the walls for added emphasis. Keep your mouths fucking shut was the message. Fear rules, ok.

Boston College now helpfully wants to return all the material, for certain destruction. Not to protect the archive's contents, and maintain it for posterity, but to ensure the contents will never see the light of day and none of the truth of the dirty war and its players gets exposed. The War on Terror and its secrets must be protected at all costs.

Just to show exactly who is boss, and who holds the power and who doesn't, the researchers, too, are being discredited. No one can imagine now either of them being invited to help in any historical unit whose task is to uncover the truth of the past, despite their being perhaps the best positioned to do so -- if it was actual truth being sought. Fat chance of that. No, an apparatus for dealing with the past will now be agreed upon because in the destruction of the Boston archives, any chance that real truth will come out has been effectively neutralised. The state and its players can rest easy with the collective memory wiped and a sanitised history that absolves them of any wrongdoing. It's all in the name of peace, you see. Nevermind who waged the war.

Further Reading
Ian Cobain: ICC to examine claims that British troops carried out war crimes in Iraq
2,626 Recordings: Films of UK army interrogations in Iraq 'show the good, the bad and the ugly'
Glenn Greenwald: From Martin Luther King to Anonymous, the state targets dissenters not just "bad guys"


  1. Brilliant piece ! Excellent analysis - there will be more to this story I imagine . . . . .

  2. Fascinating. And I was amazed when Jack Dunn said out loud on television that he had read interview transcripts.

  3. Adding that I wonder if the interviewees suing Boston College can add that breach of confidentiality to their cause of action -- BC allowing Jack Dunn, who is not a professor or librarian, access to a closed and highly confidential/sensitive collection. At the very least, I would hope the interviewees would each ask Dunn, in writing, if their interview was among those he entered the collection and improperly read.

  4. Powerful no-nonsense read. Thoroughly enjoyed that from start to finish.

  5. Excellent piece indeed Carrie however I disagree with...

    "The PSNI, who hated Adams and wanted to bring him down, and the McConville case, was the perfect vehicle to entry..."

    The PSNI couldn't have acted without the go ahead of those above, whether it be MI5 or most certainly the British Government.

    The PSNI needs the support of SF and to shaft their most senior member would have left that party in a position where it most definitely would have been backed into a corner regarding continued support for the PSNI and indeed the political institutions in the North.

    Shinner moral I believe would have been completely shattered.

    No the Brits need a strong SF in order to prop up the statelet so why weaken it?

    So I can only conclude that what we seen was scripted with input from both parties.

    One thing is certain in that the Boston Project is finished the stories might never see the light of day and any questions posed by former leading members of PIRA, as to how things panned out and about the undoubted fact that both leaders of the Movement were protected for decades, might never be put out there.

    In fact the Adamsite cult have ended up in a situation where if they do badly in either election or lose votes in large numbers then they'll point to the Boston Project and Adams' arrest.

    They will point the accusing finger also if they continue to do well, as I expect, due to obvious reasons; the Southern Electorate's desire to punish the established partys and the Northern Nationalists' fear that should the shinners weaken electorally then they could consider going back to war...daft I know but there are many gullible enough to believe it.

    Then of course we have the ingrained sectarian mentality which has existed on both sides away before the SDLP fed on it.

    The accusing finger will wag, accompanied by words of how the rallied forces of state, securocrats, and dastardly dissidents failed to hail their onward march to freedom and other crap.

    Gerry will be carried shoulder high by his worshipers and thoughts will drift off to the next elections as they glorify him.

    Nightmarish stuff indeed!!

  6. Excellent piece

    Dixie whilst I agree with you on the need to prop up Sinn Fein and keep them strong I think that is where it ends. It is one thing to keep them strong but would be counterproductive to let them become powerful.

    As far as power goes Sinn Fein put the Provo police on display at the wonder wall not so much to moan about Adams comfortable arrest but to let the people know they still “call the shots” in nationalist areas.

    The Brits can cut the strings on Adams if the party refuses to play by Brit rules I would view his detention as nudging him in their direction.

    2nd fiddle Mc Guinness put on a poor show condemning the loyalists in East Belfast in a wee public display of plastic saber rattling a prelude to being forced to play nice with the Unionists in the coming months.

    Sinn Fein have the power that the Brits secure for them if they wish to become powerful they need to cut the apron string and stand for the Republic by becoming a party for the people and not a party for the party.