Who Would Want To Be a Whistleblower? If No-one Does, We’re In Big Trouble

There is a species currently threatened with extinction. Climate change is not to blame. Nor is Darwin’s theory of evolution, or some chance discovery made by Sir David Attenborough in the Galapagos. I’m talking about whistleblowers. These are people, who, at grave risk to themselves, reveal information that the public has a right to know about. But at this moment in time they have a bullseye on their back. They’ve been turned into targets of opportunity, as governments around the world, try to control all of the exit routes on the information superhighway. Before he became the US President, Barrack Obama, said he valued whistleblowers. He promised to protect them. But, sadly, what he said was not what he meant. They turned out to be weasel words. Promises, worthless and empty, as you might expect from politicians and the morally bankrupt. Instead, Obama declared war on whistleblowers. And a man called Jeffrey Sterling is one of the casualties. He is a former member of the CIA, who was involved in a top-secret operation to provide Iran with bogus plans to sabotage its nuclear program. His career story reads like a James Bond novel.

Sterling joined the CIA in May, 1993. Two years later, he became operations officer in the Iran task force of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division. He held a top-secret security clearance and had access to sensitive information, including classified cables, CIA informants, and operations. After training in the Persian language in 1997, he was firstly sent to Bonn, Germany, and two years later to New York City to recruit Iranian nationals as agents for the CIA and also as part of a secret intelligence operation, codenamed Merlin, which literally gave intentionally flawed nuclear designs to Iran, in 2000.

Here’s how it worked. From early 1998 to May 2000, Sterling had assumed responsibility as case officer for a Russian with an engineering background in nuclear physics and production, which the CIA employed as a mule to pass flawed design plans to the Iranians. In April 2000, Sterling had a significant falling out with his employers. He filed a complaint with the CIA’s Equal Employment Office alleging racial discrimination. The CIA subsequently revoked Sterling’s authorization to receive or possess classified documents and placed him on administrative leave in March 2001. Sterling’s lawsuit, alleging he was the victim of racial discrimination, was dismissed by a Federal judge after the government successfully argued that pursuing the case would involve the disclosure of classified information. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, ruling in 2005 that “there is no way for Sterling to prove employment discrimination without exposing at least some classified details of the covert employment that gives context to his claim.” Sterling was one of only a handful of African-American case officers employed by the CIA. He was ultimately fired from his job early in the Bush administration. The prosecution alleged that Sterling tried to blow the whistle on Operation Merlin by trying to give evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 and when that didn’t work he decided to leak classified information to New York Times reporter and author James Risen for his 2006 book, “State of War.” Sterling then faced charges under the Espionage Act. The Justice Department portrayed Sterling as an “angry” and “vengeful” man who was “disgruntled” rather than righteously upset with corruption and cover-ups. Prosecutors alleged — and the jury agreed — that Sterling was trying to get his revenge on the CIA when he talked to Risen about a CIA operation that was meant to deter Iran’s nuclear program. The case drew special attention when federal prosecutors initially sought to subpoena Risen to testify against his will. Though they won in court, the Justice Department ultimately decided not to force the reporter to take the stand and give evidence at the trial. Risen had vowed to go to jail before he would reveal any sources. Federal Attorney-General Holder said that the verdict proved “it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.” Since his department’s legal battles with Risen, Holder has tightened the guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists. The trial itself was a spectacle, with CIA officers testifying behind a retractable grey screen as they described suitcases full of cash, clandestine meetings and fictitious back stories. The case against Sterling was largely circumstantial — there were no recorded phone conversations or captured e-mail exchanges that show he passed leaked classified information to Risen — and that omission required prosecutors’ to delve deeply into Sterling’s work and the details of Risen’s book. According to the prosecutor, Sterling was the only potential source who had a relationship with Risen, knew of the information and had a motive to discuss his clandestine work. They argued that the book — which suggested that the secret operation might actually have helped further Iran’s nuclear research — was somewhat inaccurate and that it cast Sterling as a hero and the CIA as hapless fools. “Jeffrey Sterling’s spin is what appears in the book,” prosecutor Eric Olshan said. Sterling’s defense attorneys argued that several people, other than Sterling, could have served as Risen’s source, and they suggested Sterling was unlikely to have given the reporter any information. In any case, they argued some information in the book could not have come from Sterling, because it addressed matters that happened after he left the CIA or contained details that he would not have known or remembered. Sterling became only the fifth person in the history of the United States under the Espionage Act, to be charged with mishandling national defense information. In a hearing at the U.S. District Court in 2011, Sterling’s defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, entered a not guilty plea. But Sterling was convicted of espionage on January 26, 2015. His defense attorney Barry Pollack said after the hearing that Sterling’s lawyers plan to take the case to a higher court “This is a sad day for Mr. Sterling and his wife,” Pollack said. “We will pursue all legal avenues with the trial court and on appeal to challenge Mr. Sterling’s conviction.”

What is significant here is that the Sterling case is not the first of its kind against whistleblowers. Other people who have tried to speak out  include former National Security Agency manager Thomas A. Drake, and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter. Federal authorities are still considering whether to lay charges against several high-profile individuals in other investigations, including former CIA director David H. Petraeus, veteran State Department diplomat Robin Raphel and retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright. Dan French, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York who now does corporate work for a prominent law firm, said irrespective of whether prosecutors won or lost the Sterling case, they would in future aggressively prosecute whistleblowers. “I just think they’re going to bring these cases continuously to demonstrate that type of conduct by a government employee or a government contractor is going to be prosecuted, because the risk is just too grave,” he said.

Very bad news for anyone who believes in upholding free speech, and keeping our Governments accountable.

First Class Women Who Get Second Class Treatment When It Comes To Celebrating Their Lives

It’s always good to be reminded of how far we haven’t progressed. In two thousand and fifteen years of civilization we still treat women as second-class citizens. The glass ceiling, restricting career growth for women, remains largely un-shattered. Women still earn less than men even though they do the same job. And women are expected to make all of the career sacrifices when it comes to raising a family. In fact the second class tag seems to be especially apparent when the woman concerned has a led a first class life that achieved greatness. Take acclaimed Australian author, Colleen McCullough, who recently passed away at the age of 77. McCullough was a neuroscientist before she discovered that she had a supreme talent for writing best sellers. Her book, The Thorn Birds, sold 30 million copies worldwide. As you would expect with someone of McCullough’s stature, an obituary was written ostensibly to celebrate her high achieving life and published in an Australian national newspaper. Here is the opening paragraph. You be the judge: “ Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nonetheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “ I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”

Now, you might want to ask what did we learn about Colleen McCullough from that introduction? Forget about the fact that she was a best-selling author. What is more important is that despite her ‘plain’ looks she could still attract a man, and that, ladies and gentlemen is worth celebrating. Of secondary importance was the fact that McCullough was a woman who penned The Thorn Birds, still the highest-selling Australian book of all time. And after working as a neuroscientist in Sydney, she went on to write that particular book during her time in the neurology department at Yale University. This is a woman who also wrote an acclaimed and methodically researched, seven book historical series called Masters of Rome, which won her diverse fans including Newt Gingrich. She is someone who accomplished an astonishing amount during her life, and here she is, reduced in a moment to her looks and her ability to attract men. As one columnist wryly observed, you could be forgiven for wondering if the obituary really wanted to say “Well, she was fat and not much of a looker, but somehow she managed to do ok in life, bless her”.

Now, if you think I am over-reacting, or being thin skinned, consider this. When Bryce Courtenay, an equally successful Australian author died in 2012, his obituary in the same newspaper began: “ Bryce Courtenay, was one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, touching the hearts of millions of people around the world with 21 bestselling books including The Power of One.”

A comparison of the two opening paragraphs speaks volumes.

Sadly, this is not an issue restricted to this particular newspaper, even though it is a clear and hideous example of it, or to McCullough herself. When the accomplished and brilliant rocket scientist, Yvonne Brill, passed away in 2013, the New York Times was strongly criticised for their obituary, which began with:

“ She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said. “ But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communication satellites from slipping out of their orbits.”

Once again, a woman’s life full of incredible accomplishments is reduced to her position in relation to a man, and how good she was as a mother and a cook. As another columnist pointed out, the very fact that these outrageous obituaries are still being published, demonstrates how little has changed, and how women’s lives are still disrespected. It shows us that a woman’s physical attractiveness and relationships with men have greater weight than her personal accomplishments.

Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist, as well as a woman and a mother. As if all three were mutually exclusive. Colleen McCullough was plain and overweight, but she was warm and had wit and could attract men. These ‘attributes’ were hardly worth mentioning at all, let alone in the first paragraph of her obituary. What a shocking indictment that the summation of the exceptional lives of these two women, centred around their roles as wives, mothers or their ability to attract men.  Brill invented a rocket propulsion system for keeping communication satellites in orbit. But as far as the New York Times was concerned it was only worth a mention in passing.

That is not to say that personal relationships, husbands, wives and children are not vitally important in many people’s lives and should be included in a retrospective. But, all too often, women are firstly classed and summed up by the roles they play in a relationship, rather than by their personal achievements. The life of a brilliant male scientist would never be reduced to his looks, or how many wives he had. He would be remembered first for what he achieved in his career.

The McCullough obituary also dived into personal details of dubious relevance, such as the fact that her father was revealed to be a bigamist, and that she had married a man who was 13 years her junior. Seriously, so what?

Yes, evidently you can be a neuroscientist who wrote a mega-selling series of books in your spare time, but what will be most remarkable about your colorful life will be the fact you didn’t let your ‘plain’ looks hold you back.

I am so glad that social media rode the crest of the wave of disbelief in response to the patronizing McCullough obituary. With tweets like:

“Award for worst opening lines of an obituary goes to “… #everydaysexism pic.twitter.com/xmQogrR58P — Joanna McCarthy (@joanna_mcc)

“McCullough was a successful writer & neurophysiologist, but “she didn’t let being fat & ugly get her down” was the best they had. — Sophie Benjamin (@sophbenj)

“Colleen McCullough died this week, though of course her relevance as a human died much earlier, when she started overeating.” — Anna Spargo-Ryan (@annaspargoryan)

As yet, there has been no response from the newspaper concerned regarding the outcry over its canine of an obituary. But one columnist writing in a rival newspaper took the same approach to a noted male author, rejigging their obituary to reflect what was described as this brave new era in posthumous hatchet jobs:

“J.R.R. Tolkien was, a touch shrivelled and certainly orc-esque in his latter years, he nevertheless was a prolific and talented fantasy weaver.”

Touche.

Cover Up – Book Blogger’s Interview

For those of you who might be interested, I was recently interviewed by a book blogger, Sonya Alford, in the United Kingdom about my new book, a work of non fiction called Cover Up. She is also hosting a competition to win a free copy.

Here is the link:

https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/interview-damiencomerford/

My New Book Cover Up

I think I might have mentioned that I have just written a non fiction book called Cover Up. It re-investigates five of the world’s biggest crimes: the death of Princess Diana, the death of Pope John Paul I, the probably murder of former US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, The plane crash in Gander, Canada that killed 250 members of the 101st Airborne and the assassination of President Habyarimana which triggered the genocide that killed one million people.

As part of the promotion for my book, I was interviewed by Talk Radio Europe. Here’s a link to listen to the interview:

http://www.talkradioeurope.com/clients/dcomerford.mp3

And of course make sure you buy a copy from Amazon in Kindle or Paperback. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1500314021?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1500314021&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

If you buy my book please leave a review on either on either Amazon or Goodreads or both. Here is the link to my Goodreads page:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22610845-cover-up

Happy reading !

Sometimes I Don’t Understand Our Legal System

Sometimes the legal system needs to metaphorically hang its head in shame. It will make decisions based on some bizarre notion of political correctness instead of exercising plain common sense. Instead of upholding free speech, as you might expect in a healthy democracy, the legal system subjects it to a full blooded, frontal assault.

A well known British performing artist has been forced by a court to shelve plans for a book detailing his own childhood sexual abuse after (get this) his ex-wife was granted an injunction because their young son might read what he wrote.

Quite separate from the issue of the book banning, this case has already been the subject of some of the most intense and blanket suppression orders I have ever come across in 30 years of journalism. It makes a mockery of the notion of open British justice.

The performing artist can’t be named. The performance art that he is known for can’t be identified. His book publishers can’t be named. The ex-wife can’t be named or identified nor can their son. The exact age of their son can’t be released other than to say: “he is approaching teenage years.”

The ex-wife moved away from the United Kingdom after the couple, were divorced in 2009. But the country she moved to can’t be identified other than to describe it as a place called “ Ruritania.” Why they decided to call it that is anyone’s guess. Maybe the learned judges read too many Harry Potter books.

Seriously, this is Noddyland. The performing artist claimed he had a couple of compelling reasons for wanting to write the book. Firstly, to help him come to terms with a particularly dark and traumatic period in his life and secondly, to encourage other victims, who might have endured similar abuse, to come forward and tell their story.

In successfully applying for the temporary injunction, the man’s ex-wife relied on a legal case dating back to 1897. It involved a man who played a practical joke on an East London pub lady but was found guilty of the “intentional infliction of mental distress.”

The legal action was launched after a copy of the manuscript was leaked to the ex-wife. She said she was acting on behalf of their son who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, as well as attention deficit disorder and a number of other health problems. She claimed that publication of the book would be a misuse of private information and what her husband was doing amounted to negligence. She also argued that both she, and her former husband, had agreed to a court order at the time of their divorce to prevent their son from learning about the past lives of both parents which could have a detrimental effect on the boy’s wellbeing.

However, the court rejected any suggestion of negligence on the husband’s part. It said parents could not be liable for damages that might arise from parental decisions, made everyday, that might impact on their children. Similarly the court rejected the ex-wife’s claim that the manuscript was a misuse of private information. The book was about the performing artist not his son.

But even though it rejected these legal arguments, the court still found it was necessary to grant a temporary injunction.

In granting the injunction, the court said the performing artist’s book was semi-autobiographical. He was highly successful in his chosen career, despite a tormented childhood. He had endured sexual abuse at school over a number of years, which caused him to suffer physical effects as well as mental illness. He also got a thrill out of self-harm. But through his art he had discovered a means by which he could cope with the trauma of the past. In the manuscript, which the court read, the performing artist was described as having written with clarity and purpose offering some new perspectives on his life and career. But despite this, the court ruled no-one should be allowed to read it.

The court said while it accepted there was a public interest in the book being published, it decided to grant the injunction so that a trial could take place at a later time on the over-riding issue of whether the son’s rights should have precedence over the rights of the father.

Needless to say this case has sounded alarm bells for advocates of free speech. They claim it could establish a very dangerous precedent, which many book publishers say is deeply disturbing because it could undermine the rights of other authors.

A British group that lobbies to defend the rights of writers says the court’s decision paves the way for the injunction of memoirs of any work of non-fiction that may expose or investigate the past. The case allows an aggrieved party to cite the distress of a relative or friend as grounds for censorship.

Another group, Index on Censorship warned that this case represented yet more erosion of the boundaries of freedom of expression.

The performing artist says his right to free speech and the written word is particularly acute and should be respected because of what he went through. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with him.

Penn Book Review

A PRB Starred Review

An articulate, principled work on five mysterious world crimes in an era of press handouts and news curation.  The authorities wish for whistle-blowers to become an extinct species, while the world has a responsibility to expose the heinous crimes committed by those in positions of power—let the whistle-blowing begin with Cover Up.

Overall winner at the Qantas Media Awards, investigative journalist Damien Comerford has released Cover Up, which sheds light on five select dark, mysterious, and most-compelling world crimes. All remain mysterious and unsolved, however, the author’s writing points to some interesting conclusions; and not in an average conspiracy theorist way. Secrets of the Alma Tunnel questions the death of Princess Diana and the rigidity of the investigations by French and British Police. A Poison Chalice magnifies evidence that was overlooked after the murder of Pope John Paul I, which possibly prevented the disclosure of Vatican involvement in the Mafia.   Crime on Capitol Hill suggests that political whistle-blowers have, in a sense, an unrealized death wish. Like many others, Ron Brown was about to blow the whistle on a shady political act before he was permanently silenced. Fallen Arrow asks a question so controversial that it takes the investigation of the 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles, in an entirely new direction. And finally, Preparing for the Apocalypse makes it clear that the terrible crime of President Habyarimana’s murder, which also led to one of the worst genocides in history, may have been the result of a European superpower.

Comerford’s work is highly provocative, intellectually rigorous, and filled with mysterious insights. Each story is given an in depth analysis and unbiased evidence with a compelling argument. His admirable quest to bring investigative journalism to life in an “era of press handouts and spin doctoring” is realized within the pages of Cover Up.

A political work you likely won’t find on the shelf of your local bookstore; an absolutely brilliant, must-read!

Review for Cover Up

A good conspiracy theory is like a good detective movie. Half the fun is watching the crime unfold and the other half is trying to solve the mystery. And in Damien Comerford’s meticulously researched book, Cover Up, the reader is given more than enough information to try and figure out the secrets behind plane crashes, papal poisonings and the infamous automobile accident that claimed the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The five tragic mysteries explored in this book are each as compelling today as they were the day they occurred. The greatest strength of the book is how well each chapter speaks to a “Where were you on that day?” type of memory that readers will have while still bringing up new ideas. With the trained eye of a journalist, Comerford has collected and organized a tremendous amount of information in this book and he has taken great pains to deliver it without the sort of bias normally associated with conspiracy theorists. And while sometimes that means the book reads like a history essay, this is offset by the more dramatic scenes which introduce the reader to the characters, situations and contexts which become so important later on. Comerford’s stories are equal parts education and guilty pleasure, though it would be nice if the two blended a little more seamlessly.

The trouble with conspiracy theories, unfortunately, is that unlike a good detective movie, we know from the start that these real-life mysteries never get solved. For all the exciting ideas and closed-door scandals the book gives us, there’s not much to say in the end except that we may never know the full truth. It might not give the same type of satisfaction as a crime thriller, but at its core this book is an example of truth being stranger than fiction. One of the greatest pleasures for readers isn’t so much asking What Really Happened? as much as realizing that This Really Happened. Fans of history and true crime alike will find something to love in Comerford’s book.

Portland Book Review

Part of the first chapter which gives you a taste of my new book

Chapter 1: Secrets Of The Alma Tunnel

 

It’s Saturday August 30, 1997. The end of a long, hot, Paris summer. All of the popular restaurants and cafes close in August as the population escapes for summer holiday, leaving a city almost deserted except for tourists. But Paris will always be romantic Paris. The city of light celebrates beauty. It’s in love with lovers. And two have just arrived by private jet at Le Bourget airport. But they’re star-crossed lovers. He’s the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, an Egyptian millionaire, who owns Harrods, the most famous department store in the world, the Paris Ritz Hotel as well as an English Premier league soccer team. And she’s a blue blood, the most photographed woman in the World, a former member of the British royal family and the mother of a Prince who will one day become King of England. Dodi Al Fayed and Diana Spencer Princess of Wales. No match made in heaven according to the British Upper Class. Money can’t buy Mohamed Al Fayed respectability with the establishment. To them the Al Fayed family will always be a bunch of immigrant shopkeepers who own a flash foreign pub. And what’s worse, they’re Muslim. So this love story was never going to have the happy ending.

 

Headstrong, impetuous, defiant and principled, Princess Diana had it all. But this is not the kind of behaviour tolerated in the British Royal family where following the company line over rides individual expression. And it certainly didn’t help to be more popular than the Queen and loved by a public who couldn’t get enough of her. To top it off Diana’s much publicized and bitter divorce, the TV interview she gave that sent shock-waves through the Royal family and her politically embarrassing causes like the abolition of land mines when England is one of the largest land mine manufacturers and exporters in the world. Princess Diana was trouble. Big trouble. But did she cause the kind of trouble that gets you killed? It’s a question that goes to the heart of this extraordinary, intriguing and baffling mystery.

 

The death of the Princess provoked much speculation and allegations of a murder conspiracy involving British intelligence and the Royal Family. But conspiracy theories never go anywhere. They remain theories and nothing more. Never any proof that leads to a prosecution or a conviction.

 

Before I began this journey, I knew very little about what happened in the Alma Tunnel. But as an investigative journalist of 30 years’ experience and some curiosity I decided to look for whatever pointed me in the right direction: books, newspapers and magazine articles as well as television documentaries. But most importantly, what’s inside the official transcripts of the British and French investigations. I wanted to revisit and deconstruct the main parts of the evidence to see what questions it raised and more importantly if it revealed any previously unreported information. And I discovered plenty of everything, especially new information.

 

As I began looking it became very apparent you don’t need a conspiracy theory to ring alarm bells about this case. What happened to Diana, Dodi and their temporary chauffeur, Henri Paul, isn’t just a tragedy. It’s wrong and very troubling. Wrong in a way that makes a mockery of justice and the law.

 

Finding the relevant transcripts isn’t easy. In fact the French Investigation, comprising a dossier of six thousand pages and standing more than one metre high, has vanished. A fact revealed by a French lawyer, Jean-Louis Pelletier who made the discovery while defending a paparazzi photographer who was in the Alma Tunnel on the night of the crash. The photographer was fighting a private civil prosecution brought against him by Mohamed Al Fayed. Pelletier was out to prove his client took a notorious picture of Princess Diana, in the wreckage of the Mercedes moments after the crash. The picture was published in magazines and newspapers but quickly withdrawn and placed in the French Investigation files. Pelletier told a newspaper reporter when he requested access to the dossier from the French authorities, he was told all the files were missing.

 

We are talking about a dossier that represents one of the longest and most expensive investigations in French legal history. It includes 200 witness statements, files of photographs and detailed test results. Pelletier said:

It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like this…. I know files go missing occasionally but, bearing in mind the size and importance of this particular one, it is extraordinary. I went to every different part of the building, thinking perhaps it had been moved from the High court archives to the Criminal court or the Appeal court, but no one could find it. A search on the computer to try to locate it also revealed nothing. I am amazed that something like this could simply vanish.

 

Along with the French Inquiry there was a parallel British Investigation, code named Operation Paget and conducted by Lord John Stevens, a former London Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

 

Fortunately, British investigators accessed the French Dossier before it disappeared using some of the French information in the British report, otherwise much of the French Investigation and its key findings would never be publicly known. But one statement can be made with a great deal of certainty. This is not some tragic but straightforward fatal car accident. When you look at the official transcripts of the case, nothing that happened in the seconds, minutes, hours and days after the black Mercedes Benz carrying Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed crashed into pylon 13 in the Alma Tunnel makes any sense.

 

But in order to understand the events of the early hours of Sunday the 31st of August 1997 you need to step back further in time. The story begins a month earlier when Diana and her two sons the Princes, William and Harry, went on summer holiday to St Tropez as guests of Mohamed Al Fayed. Diana was a friend but this was the first time she’d accepted Al Fayed’s invitation to stay at his holiday house in the south of France. The Princess told close friends she wanted to spend quality time with her two boys in a secure environment and felt reassured about staying in St Tropez because Mohamed Al Fayed had his own security team.

 

In addition to a nice holiday, a blossoming romance was happening between Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, Mohamed’s eldest son. Three days after Diana and her sons had arrived in St Tropez, Dodi joined them on holiday. That was enough to send the paparazzi into overdrive. Diana was photographed wearing the famous leopard print swimsuit and her slightly rounded belly prompted British tabloids to run a story suggesting she was pregnant. But most importantly, Diana who seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the press made this cryptic media comment during the holiday: “You’re going to get a big surprise. You’ll see, you’re going to get a big surprise with the next thing I do.”

 

After the Princess and her sons flew back to England she told friends she really enjoyed the holiday. She must have because not long after, Diana and Dodi began spending more time together. A weekend away in Paris was followed by another summer break on the French and Italian Rivieras on board the Jonikal, Mohamed Al Fayed’s $30 million yacht. This holiday would be memorable for the infamous photograph taken by Italian paparazzi, Mario Brenna, showing Dodi kissing Diana. It would be interesting to speculate on the reaction inside Buckingham Palace when they saw that picture. The photograph earned big bucks for Brenna, $7 million from worldwide sales. Diana and Dodi returned to England to a blaze of publicity and a media feeding frenzy.

 

Dodi Al Fayed employed two private bodyguards for personal security. Trevor Rees-Jones and Keiran Wingfield. But Dodi Al Fayed didn’t always follow the advice of his bodyguards when it came to security matters. Had he done so, he and the Princess might still be alive. But I will discuss this point later in the chapter.

 

In the week leading up to the crash, Diana and Dodi again travelled to Nice to re join the Jonikal, for a brief cruise of the Mediterranean coasts of France, Monaco and Sardinia. At the end of the holiday, the couple flew by private jet from Sardinia to Le Bourget airport on the outskirts of Paris. Overnight in Paris was the plan before flying to London. Finding a comfortable bed wasn’t a problem. Mohamed Al Fayed owns the Ritz Hotel, as well as an apartment in Rue Arsene Houssaye just off the Champs Elysee. He also rents the historic villa in the Bois de Boulogne, once the private home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

 

Paparazzi photographers greeted the couple at Le Bourget taking pictures as they left the plane. Two private cars were ready to pick them up: a Mercedes and a Range Rover. Dodi’s regular chauffeur Phillipe Dourneau would drive the couple in the Mercedes to Villa Windsor. The Range Rover, driven by Henri Paul, acting head of security at the Paris Ritz Hotel, would transport the support staff as well as the couple’s luggage to the apartment on Rue Arsene Houssaye. Henri Paul, not meant to be on duty that weekend, volunteered to help with the arrival of two very important guests. Witnesses gave interesting accounts of aggressive paparazzi behaviour on the drive from the airport into Paris. Normally these freelance photographers travel on low powered but highly manoeuvrable scooters keeping a discreet distance but on this occasion, several witnesses reported seeing paparazzi on powerful motorcycles travelling close to the Mercedes and behaving in a noticeably aggressive manner. Behaviour so unusual witnesses were left wondering if these motorbike riders were really paparazzi. Interestingly, no photographs taken of the couple during the road trip from Le Bourget, were ever published.

 

After the support party and luggage was dropped off at the apartment, Henri Paul and bodyguard Kieran Wingfield drove to the Villa Windsor to meet up with Dodi and Diana and provide extra security for the trip into the Ritz Hotel. It was now 4.30 pm and Dodi had some very important private business to attend to at Repossi’s jewellers in the Place Vendome, a short walk from the Ritz. He’d arranged to meet senior Ritz Hotel executive Charles Roulet at Repossi’s because Dodi planned some shopping and Monsieur Roulet would pay the bill. There is no doubt Dodi wanted to buy a special piece of jewellery for Princess Diana. Security camera pictures show him in Repossi’s jewellers. But was it a generous gift for someone he liked or something more serious? Was Dodi buying an engagement ring because he planned to ask the Princess to marry him? Of course that kind of news would send shockwaves throughout the British establishment especially if there was a chance that Diana might accept the proposal.

 

There were plenty of press rumors doing the rounds. Photographer Thierry Orban of the Sigma Photo Agency said that around 9pm, on the 30th of August 1997, his chief editor asked him to go to the Paris Ritz Hotel specifically because big news was expected: “He told me that there were rumors of an announcement that Lady Diana was getting married or having a baby and asked me to go to the Ritz Hotel.”

 

Henri Paul left the Ritz around 7 pm because he had finished his duties for the weekend. But in reality there was no way he was off duty. The enigmatic Henri Paul remains at the very heart of this extraordinary mystery so it’s important to understand his character.

 

Paul was described to investigators as a careful, secretive man who would never discuss his private or professional life. And that might have been because he had much to hide. Henri Paul joined the Ritz Hotel in 1986 getting the job of Assistant Head of Security. But at the time of the crash, Paul was the acting Head of Security. Franz Klein, the President of the Ritz Hotel told French investigators that Paul also “dealt with outside contacts on security issues.” In fact Ritz staff gave him the nickname ‘The Ferret’ for “sticking his nose in everywhere.” It is clear from the evidence that Henri Paul took his role and responsibilities at the Ritz very seriously. He liked his job and was regarded as a very conscientious employee.

 

But Franz Klein would also tell investigators that chauffeuring was not part of Henri Paul’s duties. In fact driving was never part of his job description. Claude Garrec one of Henri Paul’s closest friends gave the following insight:

He didn’t particularly like driving cars. If he could let someone else drive, he would or, if he could avoid driving, he would.

 

So, for someone who disliked driving so much and did not have it as part of their job description, why was Henri Paul driving the Mercedes that struck the pylon in the Alma Tunnel? Part of the reason might have something to do with the missing three hours of Henri Paul’s movements from the time he finished work at 7 pm until he returned unexpectedly to the Ritz Hotel at 10.10 pm. What was he doing in those missing three hours?

 

Here is one possible explanation. One of the witnesses interviewed by British investigators from the Operation Paget Inquiry was Gerald Posner, an American lawyer, author and investigative journalist. Posner came to the attention of British investigators when a story he wrote about the Alma Tunnel crash was published in Talk Magazine in the United States. What Posner told British investigators was based on what he claimed was information received from sources inside the United States National Security Agency. His statement is very interesting because it went largely unchallenged by the British Operation Paget investigators.

Posner said:

As for Henri Paul’s missing three hours I have spoken to a source in the US National Security Agency (name not disclosed) who learned from French colleagues – employed by French security agencies – that Henri Paul had a meeting with a member of the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite ) that evening he died. Henri Paul was an informer and this was his informant handler with whom he met.

His position at the hotel evidently enabled him to obtain details on high ranking visitors and any liaisons with which they may have been involved. There is apparently a file on him in this role with the French authorities confirming he had a standard informant/pay relationship with this agency.. …The DGSE is the equivalent to and performs the same function as the CIA in the USA and MI6 in the United Kingdom.

Although I was not told what this meeting was about that day I was told what it was not about. It had nothing to do with Diana, Princess of Wales. I was told the subject did come up but only in general conversation and that it was pure coincidence that this meeting took place on the same day as the crash occurred. He was paid FF12, 560.

 

This is a compelling reason for why Posner’s story should be taken seriously. When French police removed the body of Henri Paul from the crashed Mercedes in the Alma Tunnel they discovered FF12, 565 in his possession, a fact that was not made public until the release of the Operation Paget Report by British investigators in 2006. The probability of Henri Paul having this almost precise amount of money and it being a mere coincidence is extremely remote. The source of this intelligence, the American National Security Agency, which Posner talks about, operates very much like the CIA. It was keenly interested in Princess Diana and had gathered a good deal of intelligence information on her. We know this because of a Freedom of Information request made by Mohamed Al Fayed to the agency. Al Fayed understandably wanted to know what the NSA might have known about the car crash that killed his son and the Princess.

 

In response to the Al Fayed request, the NSA confirmed it had a thousand pages of documents in its possession relating to the Princess of Wales. But, it refused to release any material on the grounds that the:

Disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States by revealing intelligence sources and methods.

 

Why would an American spy agency be interested in keeping tabs on Princess Diana? Do they have secret information on the crash in the Alma Tunnel? And why is the information on Diana so secret that releasing it would cause “grave damage” to the national security of the United States?

 

Posner says the meeting between Henri Paul and his DGSE handler had nothing to do with Princess Diana and that it was “pure coincidence that this meeting took place on the same day as the crash occurred.” But if Henri Paul was an informant paid to provide information on “high ranking visitors and any liaisons with which they may have been involved” then they don’t come much higher than the Princess of Wales who was in Paris that day and was having a romantic relationship with someone who the British establishment regarded as objectionable in the extreme. Henri Paul knew in advance that Dodi and Diana were coming to Paris. He had made plans with other staff to meet and assist the couple on their arrival at Le Bourget airport.

 

As acting Head of Security at the Ritz he was in a unique position to provide valuable inside knowledge of their movements and plans.

 

And there is additional evidence, apart from Posner’s testimony, that points to Henri Paul being an informer for French Intelligence. When French Police searched his apartment and his office after he died, they found two telephone notebooks. A computerized version and a hard copy notebook with the names and telephone numbers of two people next to the letters ‘DST’ an abbreviation for “La Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire.” DST is a domestic French intelligence agency that deals with espionage and terrorism within France itself. Not surprisingly, the British investigators wanted to know more about the Henri Paul links to the DST. They contacted the French Ministry of the Interior, which in turn received this reply from the Deputy Head of the French DST:

Henri Paul, born 3rd July 1956 in Lorient (56), is known to our Department, as a former Head of Security at the Ritz Hotel, 15 Place Vendôme, Paris (1e). As such Henri Paul has been in touch with members of the DST specifically tasked with enquiries in hotel circles.

 

And almost as if they might have been anticipating the next obvious question without being asked, the DST said in its reply that it had no information on the whereabouts of Henri Paul from the time he finished work at 7pm at the Ritz until he returned to the hotel three hours later. Interestingly none of Henri Paul’s friends, relatives or work colleagues or his employer for that matter was aware of his official link with the French Intelligence community. Henri Paul was a spy who knew how to keep a secret.

 

That wasn’t his only secret. He kept banks accounts with very large deposits. At the time of his death, Henri Paul had the equivalent of almost $400,000 sitting in about 15 different bank accounts. In fact he had deposited around $120,000 in the last eight months of his life. So how does a man earning around $65,000 a year get to have that kind of money at his disposal? Then of course there’s the cost of indulging in his expensive hobby of flying a plane. At the time of his death Henri Paul had amassed 605 hours of flying time at approximately $600 an hour so he has spent an additional six figure sum. The amount of money that he had at his disposal and needed to pay for his lifestyle would seem to rule out tips from wealthy guests as the main source of the extra funds. So where did he get the cash? Unfortunately the evidence from his bank accounts gathered by British and French investigators does not answer this question although these same investigators could have traced the source of the money if they’d wanted to. And if the investigators discovered that some, or all, of the money originated from the UK then they’d have a serious line of inquiry worth following. But no attempt was made to trace the source of these deposits.

 

British agent Richard Tomlinson who worked for MI6 from 1991 to 1995 told French investigators that British Intelligence had a paid informer working at the Ritz Hotel:

I cannot say for sure that it was Henri Paul but I am positive that it was a Frenchman working in the security department of the Ritz Hotel.

 

Tomlinson went on to say that he believed an informer like a Henri Paul would have received money, from an organization like MI6 and not French Intelligence for the following reason:

I should explain that only MI6, Mossad and the CIA pay their informants, unlike other countries, including France.

So who or what might have persuaded Henri Paul to come back to the Ritz Hotel when he was off duty? And how did he end up driving the couple on the ill-fated journey into the Alma Tunnel?

 

Dodi and Diana left the apartment in Rue Arsene Houssaye at 9.30 pm to have dinner at the Chez Benoit Restaurant east of the center of Paris. En route, the paparazzi were aggressive and intrusive. Didier Gamblin, a fire safety officer at the Ritz who also doubled as a security officer at the apartment on the Rue Arsene Houssaye had this to say to French investigators about the behavior of the paparazzi:

Although we had come to an agreement with the paparazzi they did not do what we had asked them. They came closer to the car than expected, although they didn’t rush forward as they had done when the couple arrived. But when the couple’s car drove off they went completely crazy. They called their motorbikes and set off like lunatics to follow the car. They could have knocked pedestrians over on the pavement. People had to press themselves against the wall to let the paparazzi’s motorbikes pass, they were driving on the pavement…

 

The paparazzi forced Dodi and Diana into abandoning dinner at Chez Benoit. Instead they would dine at the Ritz Hotel where their security would be guaranteed. Chauffeur Phillipe Dourneau has a vivid recollection of arriving at the front of the Ritz:

Once we got to the hotel, there was a sea of people. Mr Dodi made a gesture of annoyance when the doorman opened the door for him and people rushed up to him. It was a slightly aggressive movement. However, the Princess pacified him and I also suggested that he smile so as to avoid walking into a trap because of the situation.

 

Dodi was upset at the failure of his personal security to keep the crowds away. So did Henri Paul return to the Ritz because of the behavior of the paparazzi? Or was he following someone else’s instructions like British Intelligence?

 

What is certain he was not acting at the direction of his employer, the Ritz Hotel. Claude Roulet, assistant to the President of the Ritz Hotel told French investigators:

I had no intention whatsoever of asking him (Henri Paul) to come back to the Ritz… I called Mr Tendil, the guard in the lobby, again at around 2325 hrs but it was Henri Paul who answered. I was very surprised and asked him what he was doing there. Henri Paul decided to return to the hotel off his own bat and without being asked by Mr Tendil or myself.

 

The Ritz Night Duty Security Officer François Tendil telephoned the off-duty Henri Paul around 9.50 pm to tell him that the couple had abandoned plans to dine at Chez Benoit and instead were returning to the Ritz. Within 15 minutes of that phone call ending, Henri Paul was back at the Hotel. The Espadon Restaurant at the Ritz was full of diners so Dodi and Diana headed to the Imperial Suite and had their food brought to the room. And here we come to some crucial questions: Did Henri Paul drink alcohol after returning to the Ritz and before setting off on the fateful drive into the Alma Tunnel? If he did, how much did he drink?