Spying in the 21st Century….

My new BBC Radio Scotland documentary ‘Spying in the 21st Century: How Safe Are You?’ was broadcast recently. You can catch up with it here. It got really good reviews and was even a Radio 4 ‘Pick of the Week’ referred to as ‘sit up and listen’ broadcasting!

It was a fascinating and sometimes tricky project. I worked on it, off and on, for weeks and months. All credit to Jeff Zycinski and his team at BBC Radio Scotland for backing me.

It’s a topic I have had a long-standing journalistic and academic interest in. I have had contact with modern spies going back many years, both in Europe and the USA, so I know something of their world and culture. Being afforded the opportunity to look at the current state of play in the UK and Scotland was a real gift for me. Moreover, the recent political climate has allowed me an unusual glimpse into this normally secret world.

The Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence, for example, had very little in the way of detail and substance on the topic of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence. A paltry budget of £260m had been allocated in the event of Scotland having voted for independence. This would, according to most experts, have been barely enough to purchase the computer software for the new country’s intelligence PCs. The view from Holyrood and the view from the Thames, were at odds with each other. Within that murky gap lay material that normal never saw the light of day. That rather foggy and contentious territory was where I called home during this project.

Of course, a newly independent Scotland could have gone its own way and decided to follow foreign (mostly Scandinavian) models and simply allowed its cops to run the intelligence show domestically and quietly dropped any foreign intelligence gathering ambitions. Whether that would have happened or indeed still might happen is anyone’s guess.

Getting spies to talk is never easy. By their nature they are loyal and the Official Secrets Act is a formidable document. I was therefore grateful to those who did speak both on the record and off the record. I, more than most, appreciate the risks they took.

One point I didn’t really have the chance to develop was the fact that the world of spying has become so technology-driven, that the really cutting edge practices in 2015 now involve…. humans. Decades ago spies dealt with each other and gathered intelligence secrets on a human scale. By that I mean they met in bars, safe houses, and swapped secrets in ‘dead drop’ locations like parks and railway stations. It was all very Le Carre. Then, as technology developed it became more and more complex. Suddenly everyone had to be a technology expert. The geeks invaded the operation and pretty much ran the show. Files were shared, laptops were hacked and material was encrypted. Now, in a post-Edward Snowden era, where everyone assumes the NSA has hacked everyone else to hell and back, the trend – I was reliably informed – has tilted back to human level intelligence gathering again. So the old tradecraft tricks are being dusted off and employed. Therefore, I was told, there’s a fair chance tonight on some remote Scottish beach, a spy is making his/her way to shore on a small vessel after being dispatched by a larger ship offshore. Once on the windswept beach they’ll meet their handler and make their way inland. Neither will have a mobile phone nor Garmin or other GPS in their second-hand car which they drive inland. Nothing will be written down. They will be 100% off-grid. Old-fashioned is the new hi-tech.

Welcome to a Brave New World.

I hope you enjoy the programme and get something from it. Most people think they know about spies but in reality they know very little beyond the usual stuff in popular culture. Our spies are far from perfect. But they are (mostly) accountable and often very brave and honourable too.

That’s more than can be said for most countries.

 

The Serial… New? Or just New Bottles?

 

 

 

The big story this autumn and early winter has been the success of the US National Public Radio (NPR) series, ‘The Serial.

I don’t want to give any spoilers away, so suffice to say the 12-part series of Podcasts simply tells the story of one journalist’s investigation into an alleged miscarriage of justice case.

Anyone who knows my work will know that this is something I have carried out myself. I have also lectured about it in different countries, given presentations at conferences, chaired conferences on miscarriages of justice-related themes and written academic research papers on the issue too. I know the territory fairly well.

The series is the audio-equivalent of a police procedural thriller or a ‘process’ story. I lecture in these on an almost weekly basis (using case -studies – 50% of them my own) and am constantly reminded that things I take for granted (e.g. Basic forensics; Tracing documents; Tracking down people who want to stay off-grid; Using Freedom of Information laws; Visiting crime scenes where murders have occurred; Doorstepping witnesses who the police have overlooked etc) are second nature to journalists doing investigations. I recently spent time at a family wedding abroad, for example, chatting to a murder-case witness who helped me fill in blanks on a case I was thinking of investigating. A few days later I was walking through the pitch-dark to remote scene where an alleged murder victim’s body had been found in a different case nearer home, when I received a text from my wife with a shopping list for Costco. This clash of the dark and the domestic is normal.

I know other colleagues who lead similar lives, particularly those who do investigations. But for us, it’s the eventual story that obsesses us. The actual process is just the journalism equivalent of what Sir Ranulph Fiennes the Arctic explorer once called ‘The Arctic Plod’. It’s the daily grind. One foot in front of the other. To outsiders even that can look interesting given the context. But we forget that from time to time. Years of training and experience are absorbed and carried out without too much introspection. So when a series like this hits the headlines, you are reminded that what you do is, by and large, familiar to us but fascinating to others. Step back a bit and you have to agree I suppose. I was one of the lead educators in the University of Strathclyde’s recent groundbreaking Massive Open Online Course Introduction to Journalism this Fall and presented two week-long online courses in Feature Writing and Investigative Journalism. The overwhelmingly positive feedback and sheer enthusiasm from the 12.5k registered students globally was a reminder of how lucky I am to do – and teach – such a fascinating job. This series takes listeners into that world. It allows us to watch a professional try to piece together a highly complex story, sometimes tripping and stalling, but always moving forward.

The Serial works really well also because medium of radio is also very intimate and if you have a manifestly fine reporter like Sarah Koenig, the Host and Exec Producer, who also has a great, expressive voice, then that creates a vital, intimate link with listeners. She makes you feel like you are in on a big secret from start to finish. She takes you on a journey and weaves the facts into a powerful whole that’s greater than the sum of its impressive parts. She uses detail brilliantly and leads you from episode to episode with power and style.

The story itself is also fascinating. Again, forgive me for not going into any detail here, because I know I will spoil it if I start blogging about its content. Best to visit the site of the series and have a listen for yourself. There are also a lot of engaging websites out there that link to the programme and contain some fascinating blog comments and conversations. The internal tale in thematic terms is very familiar. Time after time, I have arrived at a story that has already engendered headlines leading to a settled and accepted  ‘Version A’ which, after a few weeks’ work falls apart, and soon leads me to construct a whole new ‘Version B’.

The form of the story is not really anything new as far as I can see. As far back as W.T. Stead, Upton Sinclair, Truman Capote, Joe McGuiness and all the rest… process stories have been used as a way to tell the larger story: The reporter acts as the vehicle that takes you into the action. Or as I say in classes: ‘The particular takes us into the general’. A story told well, with a human at the centre of it, always connects easier than a thousand bland powerpoints. People connect to people. But again, full credit to the producers for knowing how to use the full toolkit of digital technology to unpack this story in a fresh, vibrant and utterly compelling way.

As you’d expect I have no issue with a ‘real-life’ story like this being examined from every angle. Nor so I think calling it a ‘story’ demeans its serious underpinning. I am far more offended by ‘reality’ shows with celebs hawking the last remnants of their being for publicity. The kind of cases this story represents needs public scrutiny and debate – it’s been that way from the earliest alleged miscarriage of justice cases on the public record. Journalists are often the last court of appeal.

Using classic non-fiction long-form narrative techniques to tell us a complex story in an understandable way takes time and skill. This series represents a fresh way in the digital era and the team behind The Serial, do a world-class job in structuring their podcasts and breaking the story down into manageable sizes and varied content. A lot of hard work has gone into this series and much of it is hidden from plain sight by the sheer quality of the slick presentation and deceptively complex script. The team knows their stuff.

The straightforward digital presentation is a revelation. Multi-platform publishing needs a less-is-more approach these days. Too many similar projects have fallen short and not delivered ratings, critical attention or broken through the noisy racket of the modern digital media storm, simply because everything including several kitchen sinks it seems, have been thrown at the sites. These can be overwhelming. They can be bland in their simplistic and desperate embrace of the ‘more is always more’ kind of aesthetic. Sometimes knowing what to ditch on a site devoted to this kind of journalism speaks volumes and helps visitors focus. The stripped-back and clean site design acts as a superb entry to the rich, dark and raw tale that lies beyond  – and that’s how it should be. It clears the way for the documents and so on, to be placed carefully and in design terms, cleanly, on the site in a way that compliments, not overwhelms, the central narrative spine. Looks easy enough – but it isn’t.

In the final analysis, journalists are humans too. Taking a look at a story in development or listening to how the investigation develops should be a transparent and open to scrutiny process where possible. Yes, there are exceptions: Some investigations are sensitive for any number of reasons and often reasons of sheer competition in the business means its unwise to publish too widely, too soon. But reflective stories like this, where blind alleys sometimes can’t be avoided, are to be welcomed.

I never cease to be amazed at how digital connectivity is allowing investigative tools in the modern era to be used on stories from an earlier era. I marvel at how this provides a fresh new window into a world that might have moved at a slower and less transparent pace but was no less violent and shadowed. I often wonder if the protagonist(s) who apparently ‘got away with it’ all those years ago ever wondered, even for a millisecond, if at some point point in the future someone was going to use new tools to turn the clock back and focus attention onto an old, apparently stone cold, case?

In the past few weeks for example, completely out of the blue, I was the recipient of a secret dossier from a stranger, which told the awful story of a man murdered years ago in a rather grand house under extremely dubious circumstances. The dossier’s documents told a nasty tale involving power, corruption, controversial forensics, allegations of government corruption at the national level, police malpractice and secret reports being buried for decades. The victim, incidentally was a Roman Catholic priest.

So what will happen to this story? Is it worth following up? Will I leave home and family for days and weeks over the next few months to investigate it? Who will I speak to? What might they say? What will the documents yield? Who knows the truth of what happened that night, in that room, with those people, and why it ended with that man of the cloth being brutally battered to death?

I am not sure… but time will tell.

As far as The Serial goes. Well NPR are already working on the new series. It’ll be fantastic I am sure.

I am also 100% sure what the next evolution for this kind of project will be: A filmed version, released on a digital platform, with real-time interaction and comments, following another investigation into a real-case recorded across several months.

Remember where you read it first.

I can’t wait.

 

 

Gerry Adams, the IRA and Self-Policing in the Troubles.

The IRA tried and shot alleged sex-offenders in their communities it’s been claimed tonight by none other than Gerry Adams, who is out and about – and on his Blog - explaining Sinn Fein’s position on so-called punishment beatings and also allegations of sex offenders in the ranks. At one stage he states that both he and Martin McGuinness were on the record opposed to such beatings ‘since the 1980s…’

That’s interesting.

Here’s my investigation into the punishment beatings… including – awkwardly for Adams – one which was *directly* linked to him by a mother of the victim – Andy Kearny – who was also related to hunger striker Bobby Sands. He was shot in 1998… more than a decade after Adams claims he was vocally against the practice.

Over a decade and a bit ago I travelled to a heavily guarded area of West Belfast where the press are not usually welcome. I was warned my safety was in doubt by senior Republican figures who knew what I was examining – the continuation of so-called ‘punishment beatings’ in Northern Ireland (on both sides of the sectarian divide). It was a complex and messy issue. There was plenty of blame to throw around. I spoke to victims and those connected with the issue. The more you dug into it, the murkier it became. One story always stuck with me – the murder of Andrew ‘Andy’ Kearney in 1998. He was a Republican murdered by Republicans. The details remain shrouded in claim and counter-claim and it wasn’t easy for me to establish the facts.

When I finally met the mother of the victim, Maureen Kearney, she told me that she demanded and received a meeting with Gerry Adams. Later the IRA told her her son had been accidentally murdered and that ‘they only meant to cripple him…’

‘How dare they…’ she told me. ‘How dare they say they only meant to cripple him…’

She died not long after I met her.

Read the article here: PUNISHMENT BEATINGS

Intro to Journalism MOOC University of Strathclyde/FutureLearn

A quick post to welcome any visitors to my site who are participating in the Introduction to Journalism MOOC being run by the University of Strathclyde and hosted by FutureLearn. I hope you are enjoying the Weeks I am hosting, Weeks 3+6, and are finding the course rewarding and enjoyable.

I use a range of my own articles as case studies in the course, so I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.

Comments and feedback are welcome.

Coulson Conviction and the Questions That Remain

 

The hacking trial has finished and former PM spokesperson Andy Coulson has been convicted of phone hacking. I believe this is the beginning – not the end – of this matter. My five remaining questions are as follows:

PM Cameron’s interview was brilliant diversionary stuff – praises himself for giving ‘second chance’ and sticking to pledge to apologise. But it does not address…

(1) He hired Coulson after receiving ‘assurances. What were these? Were they minuted? Where are the minutes? Were these ‘assurances’ valid in HR terms?

(2) Was Coulson vetted by MI5? Where are these records? What level of check was made? Was Coulson monitored by MI5 after he moved into Downing Street?

(3) Coulson listened to Home Secretary David Blunkett’s personal messages on his mobile at a time when the country was at war and one year before the July 2005 London terrorist attacks. Did the PM know this? Did MI5 know this? Surely Blunkett knew – from his own recordings of the now notorious Sheffield meeting with AC in 2004 – that this had happened? Was AC considered a security risk?

(4) What security material of Top Secret – below and above – was Coulson referring to when he admitted he had ‘unsupervised access’ to such material during hearings at the Leveson Inquiry?: He also attended meetings of the national security council, were misgivings about his integrity placed on the record?

(5) Was contact between Coulson and senior editors at News International monitored by MI5 during his tenure at Downing Street?

Only when these are all answered will the true scale of the appalling implications of having Coulson at the heart of the British government become apparent.

BBC Radio 4 Documentary on Watergate

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Watergate crisis I presented a landmark Radio 4 documentary called ‘Heroes and Hacks’ last year. After some requests from students and colleagues I am finally getting around to posting a link to a recording of it here.

The project was a dream come true for me. It was also a huge production coordination nightmare which the brilliant Colin McNulty handled superbly. Interviews in Washington, Texas, California, Australia, Scotland and London were arranged with astonishing precision to a very tight schedule. I interviewed my own heroes like Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, as well as more recent investigative legends Nick Davies and Heather Brooke. The documentary analysed the argument over whether the journalists Woodward and Bernstein played a pivotal role in forcing the process which led to Nixon’s resignation, as told in the Woodward and Bernstein book and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman movie ‘All the President’s Men’. Or whether it was the Senate Committee’s which did all the behind-the-scenes heavy-lifting? As you’ll hear, a lively debate followed between the protagonists!

Some of the contributions about the Wikileaks controversy and how that linked back to the Watergate matter, are also really interesting and I cannot thank the likes of Nick Davies enough for his help and time. 

One regret I had was that I couldn’t use more of the superb John Pilger. I interviewed him at length and the complex and highly-nuanced views he has on investigations and journalism in general, were fascinating. Time-constraints meant the producers decided more of the other contributors directly linked to Watergate had to take priority. I understood their position but am sad listeners couldn’t hear more from Pilger who I regard as not just a hero but a moral force for good in our profession and wider society.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this and find, like me – in the words of Ben Bradlee – ‘Watergate never stops…’

PS: And here’s a few more Bradlee-isms here!

Gerry Adams Arrest

The arrest and then release without charge this week of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams came as a shock to many. Although there had been press articles either calling or mentioning the possibility of his detention in relation to the December 1972 abduction, murder and disappearance of Jean McConville, it was still a surprise to many commentators.

The link with the Boston College tapes, in particular recording of Brendan Hughes and Dolores Price (both dead), raises difficult questions about the nature of future projects using oral history testimonies. As someone who chairs an Ethics Committee at a leading British university, I know that security and anonymity are sometimes paramount considerations in certain projects and research initiatives. Although these tapes were accessed via federal legal pressure routes in the USA, the question remains about how a similar scenario could play out in the UK. There is, as far as I can see, no easy answer to this. But I personally feel it’d be a shame if historians were frightened to undertake dynamic projects of great contemporary relevance because of the legal repercussions.

That said, how the matter with Mr Adams will turn out in the future is anyone’s guess at the time of writing. He might be charged, he might not. Time will tell.

I spent many hours, days and weeks in the company of Gerry Adams at the most difficult and tense time of the Peace Process in 1997 in the run up to his visit to Downing Street. I met him, his close team and Dep FM Martin McGuinness and got to know them as well as any journalist could under the circumstances. Gerry Adams’ cool conduct at the Press Conference he held yesterday following his release didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Between him and Martin McGuinness he is the calmer and more detached of the pair. His image of being calculating, focused and almost clinically academic in his ability to judge situations he is centrally involved in, is not an act or a pose. It is genuinely the man’s character. Both he and Martin McGuinness are very, very comfortable in their own skin.

However, one small point worth noting – and it’s a personal observation that might mean something, or might mean nothing at all – but I spotted him deep breathing in between taking questions last night at the press conference. His answers are calm and collected but in between questions, his chest rises and falls. I spotted precisely the same behaviour back in 1997 at Downing Street as he faced the world’s press. It suggests there’s a very normal, apprehensive man behind the steely persona – one which he controls spectacularly.

Here’s my original in-depth fly-on-the-wall Gerry Adams article him which a colleague at The Guardian was kind enough to label ‘definitive’. It seems a long time since I wrote it – but I think it still adds something to our present day understand of him, his world and the path he claims he is still on.

I hope you find it interesting.

The Day I Met Max Clifford…

The news that Max Clifford was sentenced today for eight years after being found guilty this week of eight indecent assault offences against young women aged 15-18 during the 1970s and 1980s made me pause for a few minutes to reflect on my meeting with him for an article some years back. It also made me ponder the reality behind researching and writing these articles and the Faustian deal that’s sometimes made to make access possible to the likes of Clifford.

I was asked by an editor I admired enormously to consider meeting Clifford for an in-depth feature profile of him. I accepted because I found his existence at the nexus between news and Celeb culture fascinating. I also wanted to meet him and size him up – since experience taught me the person behind the public mask can be very different. I detested his ‘image’ but I wasn’t sure how I’d react to the human being.

The access to him came at an unspoken price: He was flogging a book. I knew the deal and how it worked. We mention the book; touch on its contents and/or revelations and maybe even give a plug at the end with price and publisher details. Fine. The pay-off was meeting him, describing his work and world and maybe lobbing some tough questions. It was a fairly easy option on the back of harder investigations I was working on. Max would be fun, I thought.

Arrangements were made. I flew down to London and took a cab to his dreary Bond Street HQ. I describe it in the article as being charmless. That’s how I still remember it today. The rest of the encounter is described in detail in the article. I structured it as I often do, by telling the story of the meeting. I try and act as a fly on the wall and interrogator at times.

My initial impression – and it’s stayed with me – was of a grim, rather grey world, as far removed from the smiling Max Clifford on the arm of celebrities and at the centre of the media storm as you could possibly imagine. Two or three key points stayed with me on the journey home, little ‘events’ that happened during the interview process that I jotted down and which, in my mind, helped me to start to craft a portrait of him. These, to me, were crucial for the finished piece.

I got home. Transcribed the tape recording. Did more research. Called a few people. And then I wrote up the piece. Normally, the give-take with the editor was minimal. In this case it wasn’t. I was asked to cut this and that, and reshape this area and drop the other. Oddly – and for the first time – those crucial initial ‘events’ were the very parts I was being asked to drop. When I asked why I was told, pretty much, that it didn’t fit with the more gentle fatherly image the magazine was hoping for and that, well, he might get angry with me/us/magazine and writs could fly.

I gritted my teeth and wrote something which was, to my mind, just this side of the line I wasn’t prepared to cross. I thought the final published version of the Max Clifford article was ‘okay’ but not great. I haven’t read it since the day it was published. But now after looking at it again I am intrigued by the title of it – which perhaps hints at much that we now know about Clifford as a man. And, of course, there’s even a Jimmy Saville comparison towards the end. I had forgotten about that.

But, given this week’s events, I will now list the handful of little issues that were ditched as we edited. I hasten to add it wasn’t the editor’s fault – I am a big boy – but I always feel saddened and angry with myself for not standing my ground a bit more. Maybe, as I said, I regarded Max as fun, when in fact, I also suspected he was anything but.

So here’s what hit the cutting room floor:

1. When I first met Clifford he was having a manicure done in front of the all-female office. This was odd. I found it peculiar and uncomfortable to witness. Clifford wasn’t in the least bit bothered. This was downplayed in the final edit in case he took offence.

2. During our meeting I challenged Clifford about whether he ever felt bad about his marketing of people like Kerry Katona (in the headlines at the time) who, I suggested, maybe needed help rather than publicity. Clifford exploded and lectured me on journalism’s realities. He derided my work on miscarriage of justice cases and more or less told me I didn’t know how the business or real world worked. He’d obviously done his homework on me and I saw an aggressive and street-fighter tough side to him that he’d concealed previously and afterwards. This was never mentioned in the final edit. Instead I was encouraged to play up his ordinary tastes as far as office decor goes and his ‘everyman’ image. Both of these were true enough but were at odds with his outburst towards me.

3. Towards the end of the meeting he allowed one of his staff to walk in and place a large pile of A4 brown envelopes on the table in front of him and me. They were placed at an angle that allowed me a clear view of their contents: rolls and rolls of £20 notes were inside each one. He took delivery of a list and signed authorization for each envelope. I doubted they were going to pay parking tickets. I got the impression he was keen for me to see this for some weird reason. I wanted this scene to stay in the article but it got ditched in case he sued us for implying… something. God Knows what.

4. Throughout the interview he kept nodding at photos of the Beatles and other famous faces on the walls. Some of these looked faked. His ridiculous, non-stop nodding towards them made me struggle to keep a straight face. I used this as a punch line throughout the initial drafts of the article but they were cut afterwards because it made him look stupid. I wanted to leave them in because that’s what happened and I didn’t make him look stupid… he made himself look stupid.

None of these are particularly earth-shattering. I understood the responsibilities my editor (who I still admire) had too. Over two decades in the business I had hardly ever been around celebrity culture and book extracts etc, so although I knew how it ‘worked’ (see above) I had never actually participated in it. I did the Clifford piece in-between other far more important and difficult investigative projects and felt like a fish out of water covering him. But, for the reasons already mentioned, I still undertook the assignment. I have no regrets I did. I wish it were sharper and more complex and nuanced than it is here… but that’s life. This posting is to show how no one is perfect and sometimes the outcome doesn’t really deliver what you’d hoped.

For what it’s worth, I never got the impression Clifford was sleazy – only the public manicure hinted at something odd but not really anything particularly sinister. Instead I got the impression he had no respect whatsoever for journalists. Me included. We were only pawns in his world and he was a King.

A week or two after I met him, a friend of someone in my family was in Clifford’s company and mentioned my name. They told Clifford I’d interviewed him in person just a week or so before.

Clifford looked them straight in the eye and said he’d no recollection of ever having met me.

I was not in the least bit surprised.

BBC Radio Scotland Profile of Eamonn on ‘Covering Crime’

BBC Radio Scotland

I was invited to be the subject of a programme by Neil McKay, host of BBC Scotland’s ‘Covering Crime’ series about 9 months or so ago.

Over two hours of recording took place one morning and my comments and Neil’s questions were shaped into a programme that runs for 30 mins. Neil managed to unpick a fair bit about my work on the Robert Brown case (which stands as one of the longest investigations of its type on record apparently); my own personal background (which I wasn’t too comfortable with – as you can tell here); and also my views on investigative journalism in general (more than happy to share those!) I got some lovely feedback from listeners afterwards which – unusually – literally made me blush. I enjoyed the experience enormously and much credit goes to Neil and the team for pinning me down with good questions following solid research on their behalf into my work. I have uploaded a copy of the programme here - hope you enjoy it!

The Vatican Bank, the ‘500 Euro’ Monsignor and the Man Hung Under Blackfriar’s Bridge.

I first investigated the strange death of God’s Banker, aka Roberto Calvi, the financier with links to the Vatican and Mafia, a decade ago. I am now working on the same subject as part of a new investigation and will be placing links to my findings on this Blog in due course.

Meantime, developments in the Vatican City today have spurred on those of us with a special interest in examining the details of the structure and business of the Roman Catholic’s church’s finances.

It was expected that the new Pontiff would change the whole ball game.

And yet today it came to pass that the new Pope Francis, greeted recently as a breath of fresh air and supposed cause of rising mass attendances etc, has decided to… change nothing.

Indeed the Vatican’s Bank, or to give it its Sunday name The Institute for the Works of Religion (in Italian: Istituto per le Opere di Religione – IOR) has been given the kiss of life by the Pontiff following reports that he was considering closing it down permanently.

This was despite one of his major headaches since taking possession of the Ring of Fisherman has been the fate of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a prelate currently sitting in jail on charges of money laundering £17m from Switzerland into Italy for nefarious purposes. Known as ‘Monsignor 500′ because he liked to travel light and carry only 500 Euro notes (you couldn’t make this stuff up, honestly) the holy man now resident in the Queen of Heaven jail in Rome, held a senior position in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, another office with a holy name and a corrupt reputation. (It also holds international property assets and investments alone – including some in the UK – in excess of £570m). Scarano has been accused of everything from money laundering to blackmail and has had extensive dealings with the Vatican Bank in the past, an outfit with a long, nasty history. The APSA itself was set up with millions handed over by Mussolini in 1929 in payment for recognition of his fascist regime by the Vatican and investigations revealed its offshore and commercial holdings internationally are simply staggering in scale and complexity.

Of course, none of this is new.

The IOR was the Mafia’s bank of choice back in its heyday of the 1980s when Pope John Paul II was too busy trying to topple Communism to be concerned with its running and management. Instead his right hand man the US cleric Archbishop Paul Marcinkus who assumed the role of the bank’s president until c.1990. Travelling on a Vatican Diplomatic passport he was a virtual untouchable for criminal justice officers from any number of international jurisdictions.

I wrote this article in the Spring of 2004 and it caused something of a stir. I received emails, texts and calls from the most surprising and at times shady quarters imaginable. Individuals who I had dealt with and who I previously thought of as being fearless told me to ‘watch my back’. One had pretty much gone into hiding himself and he urged me to do likewise. This was no joke, movie script or fictional book plot he said, so take steps to look out for your security he urged. My links with Carlo Calvi seemed to attract more interest than I ever anticipated and I was genuinely taken aback by the scale and focus of it. In time it fizzled out but it’s a period of my career I have never forgotten. Enough time has now passed and enough new material has come to my attention due to the insight of others that I now feel confident safely revisiting it.

There was one more Post Script however.

After this article was published I once more tracked down Marcinkus to his bolt-hole in Sun City, Arizona. His housekeeper said she didn’t know him when I first called – her standard reply. I tried again and finally managed to get through to Marcinkus, he breathed heavily down the line as I introduced myself and asked him how he felt being a wanted man in Europe and also about his response over allegations connecting him to the murder of Roberto Calvi, the so-called God’s Banker found hung under London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge at 7.30 am on Friday June 18th 1982 and featured as a fictional character in The Godfather: Part Three. I even offered to send him a copy of this article as a reference.

‘I’ve nothing to say’… commented the former aide to Pope John Paul II and so-called Chicago tough-guy before the line went dead.

He died 18 months later.