Friday, May 30, 2014

The PSNI Arrives on Tuesday for a Monday Lunch

They're too late.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland recently announced that they intended to make a broader MLAT request for every interview from the Boston College oral history collection they first began to mine in 2011. But Boston College also announced that it intended to return interviews to the former members of Northern Ireland paramilitary organizations interviewed for the university's Belfast Project. For a while, it appeared that the PSNI's announcement trumped BC's announcement: The news that more subpoenas were on the way would prevent the return of interviews.

For at least one Belfast Project interviewee, however, that's not what happened. Whether or not the PSNI gets the U.S. Department of Justice to subpoena the Boston College archives again, some of the interviews are out of their hands forever. They have already gone home.

Take a look at this remarkable set of documents that was posted on Pacer, the federal court system's document website, on Thursday:

Of particular interest are pages 3 and 4 of the PDF file, a May 1, 2014 letter from Jeffrey Swope, Boston College's outside lawyer for matters involving the Belfast Project, to Kevin Winters, the Belfast-based solicitor who represents former IRA member and Belfast Project interviewee Richard O'Rawe. Swope details a long list of documents and audiotapes that he is returning to O'Rawe through the offices of KRW Law, Winters' Belfast law firm. They are all of O'Rawe's interviews -- tapes and transcripts -- except the ones that the PSNI already received on account of the 2011 subpoenas. Also returned: O'Rawe's complete correspondence with the Belfast Project. There's nothing left but the material that police already have.

I don't know if material from other interviewees has already been sent back to them. Boston College and Jeffrey Swope have long since stopped responding to questions from me, and other people who would know about the return of interviews are either not responding to messages or not saying. (And I wouldn't respond to the questions I'm asking them, either, if our positions were reversed.) But if Boston College began returning interviews, there's no reason for them to have returned interviews to Richard O'Rawe but not to other interviewees, some of whom have been asking for the return of their interview material since shortly after the 2011 subpoenas arrived.

Bottom line: At least one interviewee has beat the PSNI to the archive, and maybe more. (Interviews that are unlikely to have been returned, and that are unlikely to ever be returned, are those for which Boston College has lost identifying material. So the PSNI may still be able to get its hands on interviews with unidentifiable research subjects, the legal value of which will be limited.)

Meanwhile, the political floor is beginning to give way beneath the PSNI's effort to treat the Troubles as ordinary crime.

The likelihood of a successful PSNI / DOJ return to the Belfast Project archives is rapidly fading.

Confirmed, and Still Ignored

A news story on the website of RTE, Ireland's national broadcaster, confirms that Gerry Adams discussed his arrest with American officials during his visit to Washington. While the PSNI pursues new subpoenas, the RTE headline tells the whole story: "Adams arrest discussed at Washington briefing."

An email to Adams' office this morning produced a list of officials who met with Adams: In addition to a sizable group of Congressmen -- gendered term intended, because he somehow only met with men -- Adams met with some moderately well-placed officials at the State Department. The White House took relatively little notice of the meeting, sticking Adams with an official from the Office of the Vice-President. Imagine flying four thousand miles and then finding yourself in a meeting with the vice-president's staff.

In any event, yes: Gerry Adams was in a foot race with the PSNI, talking to U.S. government officials about his arrest and the foolishness of the police investigation at exactly the moment the police are trying to get new subpoenas of the Boston College archival material that they hope to use against him.

Besides RTE, which news organizations noticed the presence in the capital of a foreign official engaged in a lobbying effort against a criminal investigation that the United States is helping with? Take a look:

When I picture the American news media, I imagine a little ring of saliva around the spot on the desk where they put their heads during nap time.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Gerry Adams is in Washington, D.C. today, "briefing senior political figures and the Obama administration on the current difficulties within the peace process." He is, in other words, lobbying one of the governments that's supposedly trying to put him in prison. Taking the mutual legal assistance treaty process and the PSNI investigation at face value, Adams is trying to talk a murder investigation off the rails -- to use politics against the police. Of course, taking that investigation at face value is...problematic, and the more likely reality is that an Irish politician is employing diplomacy this morning against a nasty piece of British politics.

Still, the drama in the moment is extraordinary: The same month he walked away from four days of police interrogation over a murder, a prominent politician is in the country where the supposed evidence against him was found, publicly announcing his intent to meet with officials in the government that helped to get him arrested. It's as if a murder suspect in New York City walked out of the interrogation room, smiled, buttoned up the cuffs of his shirt, and sauntered over to City Hall to have coffee with the mayor, patting a detective on the head as he left the precinct.

But then here's the fucking incredible part: The American news media isn't covering the visit at all. As I write this on Thursday morning, Adams has been in the country for about 24 hours, and no American news source that I can find has even mentioned his presence. He got to D.C. last night: nothing. Silence. Try your own search terms, but here are the results of a Google News search for "Gerry Adams Washington DC," narrowed to the last 24 hours:

Why is this not news? Adams is here to kill the PSNI's new request for subpoenas, full stop. He's here to prevent the complete disclosure of an entire archive full of detailed and extensive interviews about paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The stakes are plainly very high, for both Adams and Northern Ireland as a whole, and Adams will be urging the U.S. government to take a step that will put it sharply at odds with one of its closest allies. It's a dramatic narrative and an important piece of policy news at the same time, crossing multiple beats: diplomacy, law enforcement, Irish politics, the state of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Reporters, who is Gerry Adams meeting with? Does he have a meeting at the Department of Justice?

How is it that this aggressive piece of high stakes diplomacy is drawing no attention at all?
 briefing senior political figures and the Obama administration on the current difficulties within the peace process. - See more at:
briefing senior political figures and the Obama administration on the current difficulties within the peace process. - See more at:
briefing senior political figures and the Obama administration on the current difficulties within the peace process. - See more at:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maybe Grab a Beer with Carmen Ortiz

Gerry Adams is in the United States for the next two days, meeting with federal government officials. I can't imagine what they might be discussing. Reporting on the visit is curiously thin in American news media, though that might change over the next 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Have You Seen This Man?

Three years after the arrival of the first Belfast Project subpoenas, the president of Boston College hasn't given a single interview or held a general meeting with faculty to discuss his views of the project or the legal effort to bend it to police use. I've asked around: Reporters and Boston College professors have tried to ask him what he thinks, but he has nothing to say to them. My theory is that William P. Leahy, SJ is a well-executed (but slightly dull) hologram. But was the hologram aware of the Belfast Project before it began? Did the hologram approve the project? If some brave soul in Chestnut Hill personally sees the hologram floating across the campus, please whisper a question or three in its direction and let us know how it responds, because we really do wonder.

To be sure, public silence on major institutional controversies is the hallmark of contemporary leadership, and Leahy is far from being alone. Two and a half years ago, Senator John Kerry wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for a vigorous State Department campaign against the obvious recklessness of the Belfast Project subpoenas; today, Secretary of State John Kerry has nothing to say about the very project he urged his predecessor to oppose. Does Secretary Kerry agree with Senator Kerry's proposition that the secretary of state should fight against the Boston College subpoenas? Reader, we may never know. Speaking of pale apparitions floating around the Boston area and giving dull commencement speeches.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has now bothered to offer his carefully critical view of the subpoenas, and of the subsequent arrest of Gerry Adams. Will any American leader bother to wander out onto the same limb? Or will they remain silently in character?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hand, Hot Stove, Repeat

Do institutions learn?

In an extraordinary letter to the Boston Globe this weekend, Professor Emeritus Peter Weiler warns of a "crisis of governance" at Boston College. The crisis Weiler identifies relates to the university's Belfast Project, oral history interviews with former IRA and UVF members that are now subject to federal subpoenas.

"To date," Weiler writes, "nobody at the university has accepted responsibility for a project that has badly damaged the school’s reputation and harmed its prized relationship to both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Is nobody going to be held accountable? That seems a necessary first step to repairing the flawed administrative structures that allowed this train wreck to happen."

Those flawed administrative structures are neatly elucidated in a May 5 public letter from several Boston College History Department chairs, past and present (including Peter Weiler). The department chairs reported that, with regard to the Belfast Project, they "had not been informed of the project, nor had they or the department been consulted on the merits of the effort or the appropriate procedures to be followed in carrying out such a fraught and potentially controversial venture."

So the Belfast Project, conducted from 2001 to 2006, recklessly wandered into dangerous territory because it was sealed off from the institution that housed it, managed within the boundaries of isolated fiefdoms and run without formal oversight or informal professional advice. No one will tell this story better than Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Beth McMurtrie, whose long Jan. 26 report on the Belfast Project carefully documents a long series of institutional failures.

Today, eight years after the conclusion of the Belfast Project, and three years into an international legal and political battle over the project that shows no sign of ending in the foreseeable future, Boston College has had ample time to learn the lessons of its original failures. The project ran into danger because most faculty had no involvement in it and could offer no advice or oversight, and because the few critics who were given a look into the project were ignored when they expressed concerns. So the path to the least-bad potential outcome is a path that runs through the institution and its faculty. The cure for the failure of a project badly run in isolated fiefdoms is to bring it out of its isolated fiefdoms, integrating History Department and Irish Studies faculty into an institutional discussion about responses and solutions. The cure to a problem caused by not talking to faculty is to talk to faculty.

This medicine is not being applied at Boston College. No faculty committee has been established to examine and discuss the present crisis in the Belfast Project, formally or casually. Meetings on the possibility of new subpoenas are taking place in administrative enclaves, with lawyers and managers, behind doors that are closed even to senior faculty. If Boston College has a soul, it's not being searched. The handful of people managing the crisis continue to do so in rigid isolation, institutionally and intellectually, pushing away their own internal critics. Having damaged the university by not listening to its faculty, they are not listening to their faculty.

This story of isolation and obstinacy is not simply the story of the Belfast Project; the limits of faculty governance at Boston College are well known, and a sore subject there.

William Leahy lives behind a moat, and he has drawn the Belfast Project inside the gates, with the flagrantly unhealthy Jack Dunn guarding all avenues of approach. Three years later, it's clear that he's not coming out to hold court with the rest of the institution.

The university's trustees need to go in and drag him out.