To the editors:
Your cover story (April 10) about Jeanne Bishop and the supposed Irish connection in the murder of her sister and brother-in-law paints Ms. Bishop as a victim of FBI dishonesty, Winnetka police naivete, and Chicago media crassness. In telling this strange story John Conroy made numerous references to “Irish activists.” He was less than scrupulous in explaining what these individuals are “active” in doing. The whole truth gives an interesting twist to Jeanne Bishop’s posture as a grieving victim.
You report that Ms. Bishop was an active supporter of Noraid, and describe this organization as “a group that supports the dependents of IRA men serving time in prison.” So it does. However Noraid is far better known, indeed exclusively recognized in Europe, for its copiously documented status as the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA’s) largest supplier of funds and weapons.
Every civilized person finds any evidence of human rights abuses repugnant, the more so when such abuses occur within the sovereignty of democratic western nations. But it is a giant leap from such a reaction to overt support for indiscriminate murder and heinous terrorism as the logical solution to any such abuses. Jeanne Bishop made such a leap.
It is understandable for a concerned U.S. citizen to want to work with nonsectarian groups like Amnesty International to highlight the operational excesses of the British troops in Northern Ireland. Ms. Bishop is a lawyer who should know that many serious political–as opposed to paramilitary–organizations can and do pursue the claims of the army’s victims in such cases to the European Court of Human Rights.
Noraid raises money in America, much of it in Chicago, which is used to buy weapons. Some of these weapons are used by the IRA to maintain the protection racket by which they intimidate Ulster citizens (and which, as any inhabitant of Belfast will testify, accounts for the majority of the city’s bombings). The remainder of the weapons supplied or paid for by Noraid are used to kill people who have transgressed the sick code of the IRA zealots. The “Irish activists” condone a sentence of capital punishment for such crimes as working in an office which provides services for the British Government or the army. Just as often the “freedom movement” may execute people entirely at random in accordance with its tactic of trying to achieve political change by intimidation. The same day that your newspaper appeared several utterly blameless people were murdered by Ms. Bishop’s friends in London, many others maimed.
And yet we are supposed to regret “claims that Noraid is regularly harassed by the FBI.” If the FBI does harass Noraid I could not be more delighted. If Ms. Bishop knows and consorts with terrorist murderers she deserves to be watched by the FBI too. If she refuses to reveal the names of the terrorists she knows she should be monitored still more zealously. I am encouraged that police and FBI records work efficiently enough to be able quickly to detect and explore the coincidence of a known ally of terrorists and her sister’s abrupt murder. The fact that there was not a link between the two does not mean it should not have been investigated. The imputation, which runs throughout Conroy’s piece, that the FBI is somehow worse than the IRA is a truly sick analysis.
The depiction of Ms. Bishop’s political activities as innocent, let alone as evidence of her splendid character, further besmirches your newspaper not least by the indirectness with which the point is made. If placing nail bombs in crowded subway stations is felt to be a rational response to abuses by members of the British Army, it would be nice if this was argued honestly for once. If dismantling the rights to UK citizenship of Northern Ireland’s people when an unchanging and overwhelming majority wish to retain those rights is thought to be the logical way to address the continuing problems of terrorist violence (without which the army would not be deployed on the province’s streets), it would be edifying to see the reasons for this stated clearly. If the only way Americans can express horror at the violence of the British Army is allegedly to back the IRA, this should be fully argued. If it is morally vile for soldiers to beat terrorists, but less so for “Irish activists” to blow up soldiers, let alone civilians, it would be intriguing to read the accompanying argumentation.
If Jeanne Bishop–who told in such moving detail of the terrible impact on her life brought by her sister’s motiveless murder–could explain how or why she can continue to help and support organizations whose only raison d’etre is to spread the same pain among other equally blameless families, that would be an extraordinary read.
John Conroy replies:
Mr. Cooper’s letter is riddled with errors. His first mistake is that he appears not to have read the article very closely. He claims, for example, that I reported that Jeanne Bishop was an active supporter of Noraid. That statement appears nowhere in the article.
Mr. Cooper goes on to speculate that Jeanne Bishop may “know and consort with terrorist murderers,” an implication that also does not appear in my story. I reported that Jeanne Bishop was reluctant to provide the FBI with the names of Irish activists in the United States and Ireland. Mr. Cooper equates the term “Irish activists” with “IRA members” so that he can leap to the far-fetched conclusion that Jeanne Bishop “knows and consorts” with terrorists. As I am sure Mr. Cooper knows, Irish organizations in this country and on both sides of the Irish border are full of people with a broad range of political opinions, and many of them object to British policy and British human rights abuses while rejecting the methods of the IRA.
Mr. Cooper’s claim that Noraid’s funds go to buy weapons for the IRA is also a stretch of the known facts. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Noraid is required to file a report with the Justice Department every six months indicating how much money the organization has collected and where the funds have been distributed. Every six months the organization reports that the funds collected have gone to help the families of IRA members serving time in prison. While there is no question that members of Noraid vocally support the IRA, the Justice Department, which has kept a close eye on the organization for 20 years, has never charged the organization with misappropriation of the funds it collects or with spending the money in any other way than in supporting prisoners’ dependents. If Mr. Cooper can produce “copious” documentation that shows Noraid supplies weapons to the IRA, I am certain that the Department of Justice and the governments of Ireland and Britain will welcome his assistance.
Finally, Mr. Cooper takes issue with the “sick analysis” that the FBI is worse than the IRA, an analysis he attributes to me. Once again, his tirade is based on something I did not (and would not) say. I did question why reporters swallowed the FBI’s theory that the IRA might be responsible for the murder of Richard and Nancy Langert without analyzing the history and methods of both organizations. As even officials from the Irish and British governments conceded, the IRA is unlikely to kill an American. No one who has studied the FBI, however, could so easily dismiss the notion that there was something not quite on the level about the agency’s version of the death threat; even the most generous historian of the agency would have to acknowledge that it has fabricated threats, broken laws, and indulged in questionable tactics from time to time. That does not mean that the FBI is worse than the IRA. That means only that the FBI practices in the United States and IRA gunmen do not, a fact that escaped the attention of newspaper and television reporters who covered the murder.