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An Uncanny Deception

“No man walks this earth at the moment who is more absolutely good and honest and noble-minded”.

Herbert Ward, 1903.

In October 1914, Roger Casement was 49 years old. The ex-consul had worked and travelled in north and south America, Europe and Africa; his pioneering human rights investigations had made him world famous and had brought him honours from the British crown.  A growing disaffection with imperial colonialism and the Home Rule crisis had led Casement to an active role in the cause of Irish independence. By 1914 he was on the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers, a renegade to the crown and a revolutionary plotter. On 29th October, 87 days had passed since George V had ordered Foreign Secretary Edward Grey to declare war on Germany; Casement was in Oslo for 39 hours en route to Berlin. Unknown to Casement, a secret plot began on that evening of 29th October in the British Legation at Oslo which would eventually lead him to a brief meeting with hangman John Ellis eighteen months hence on the scaffold in Pentonville Prison. The germ of the plot to destroy Casement was written in a four-page memorandum marked top secret and sent late that evening by diplomatic bag to Grey in London. This memo contained a brief unfounded allegation of ‘unnatural vice’. The authors were Francis Lindley and legation minister Findlay.

In July 1913, after much deliberation, Casement had formally resigned from the consular service. During his years with the Foreign Office he had personally met and known dozens of high ranking civil servants and ministers of state, diplomats both British and foreign, members of parliament, lawyers and journalists, police and judicial officers. Among these were Foreign Secretary Grey, Herbert Samuel, Louis Mallet, Lord Lansdowne, Gerard Spicer, William Tyrrell head of Political Intelligence Department, Charles Roberts MP, the journalist H.W. Nevinson, Sydney Parry, J.H. Morgan professor of Constitutional Law, E.D. Morel of the Congo Reform Association, Baron Nordenflycht German consul in Brazil and King Leopold of Belgium. Among his close friends were Dick Morten, sculptor Herbert Ward, historian Alice Stopford-Green, Irish language pioneer Agnes O’Farrelly and the Cadbury family in whose homes he had been a welcome guest. In Ireland he had spent much time with those involved in the Irish language revival movement and later with the organizers of the Irish National Volunteers. In 1910 on his investigation in the Putumayo, Casement spent some three and a half months in the company of four English commissioners representing the Peruvian Amazon Company ; their names were Bell, Gielgud, Barnes and Fox. The long list of notable people known personally to Casement included barrister Patrick Pearse, Conan Doyle, political leader John Redmond, missionary John Harris, former ambassador James Bryce, Joseph Conrad and British Minister in Brazil Sir William Haggard.

On 18th July, 1914 Casement arrived in New York. He stayed 89 days in the US and visited Philadelphia, Buffalo, Virginia, Chicago, Baltimore and Long Island where he addressed public meetings of Irish Americans on the path to independence and the need for German support. During this period he spent time with most of the leaders of Clan na Gael including the editor of The Gaelic American, John Devoy and Philadelphia businessman Joseph McGarrity. Two pro-British lawyers, neither sympathetic to Clan na Gael, also befriended Casement; John Quinn, the renowned art collector, and Sligo-born Bourke Cockran, democratic Congressman and political mentor and friend of Winston Churchill. Casement was house guest for three weeks in Quinn’s New York home.

He also met painter John Butler Yeats, former US president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Theodore Roosevelt, author Mary Colum and the German consul in the US, von Bernstorff. It was clear to British Intelligence even before Casement arrived in New York that he had ‘turned’ and had become ‘a person of interest’. Anti-war and anti-recruitment declarations made abroad by a famous former Foreign Office consul could not be ignored. Casement was under British surveillance throughout his US sojourn and reports to Wiseman’s SIS Section V were forwarded to London. Casement’s role also drew the attention of the IRB, some of whom were unconvinced that a well-connected former British official who had served the crown for twenty years and had been knighted, was indeed now an Irish revolutionary. His curriculum did not suggest deep, long-term revolutionary commitment. Indeed, his conversion to revolutionary plotting seemed difficult to understand. The IRB hired a detective to trail Casement in the US.

By October 15th, 1914, when Casement sailed for Norway, he had been spied on for about 15 months by RIC informers, by British agents in the US and by the IRB’s detective. Neither these agents and informers nor the scores of persons he encountered during many years of consular service, nor any of those he encountered in the US had noted or reported any sign of a disposition to ‘unnatural vice’. On the contrary, the remarks made about his character for decades show a remarkable consistency with that made by Herbert Ward in 1903.

Nonetheless, the 1911 diary clearly shows a man with more than a mere disposition; it reveals a victim helplessly addicted to ‘unnatural vice’. Therefore, all those named above plus the informers and spies must have been cleverly deceived by a man with the capacity of a Houdini.

Casement arrived in Berlin on 31st October, 1914 and there he continued a further and perhaps even more remarkable phase of systematic deception of German officials, state, police and military, for almost eighteen months. These included Zimmerman, von Wedel, Secretary of State Jugow, Professor Schiemann, the Meyer brothers, von Nadolny, Isendahl,  generals de Graaff, Baron von Stumm head of General Staff political department, Baron von Lersner, Baron von Berckheim, Count Graf von Lutterich, Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg and the Admiralty specialist in espionage Captain Hans W. Boehm. Also deceived were his personal friends, US Consul St. John Gaffney and Dr. Charles Curry.>

While spied on by both sides in the USA, Casement was to find himself again under police surveillance in Germany. Some elements in the military shared the same uneasiness as the IRB men in the US. Those elements could not understand why so many state officials seemed to trust Casement so easily and to give him so much attention. Once again his curriculum and worldwide reputation raised suspicions that he might be a particularly audacious British spy ingeniously representing himself as an Irish revolutionary. The KV intelligence files in the UK National Archives show that British spies in Germany also followed his movements. By the time Casement finally left Germany in April 1916, he had been constantly spied upon in Ireland, USA, Norway and Germany for over two and a half years.

This then was a most remarkable and uncanny deception. The deceived listed here include top state officials, lawyers, prominent clergymen, high-ranking military staff and diplomats, academics, journalists, informers, spies and secret police all of whom failed to perceive any sign of Casement’s secret nature which was nonetheless uncannily detected on October 29th by two British officials who had never met or seen Casement. They alone did not fall under his spell.

A deception on this scale spanning many years in many places is impossible to comprehend unless it be attributed to a strange blindness afflicting all these people or some kind of complicity. However neither of these has any credibility, That Casement was indeed a master of concealment finds confirmation in a short article published in the New York Herald on 25th April, 1916 which reported that eight months earlier he had plotted with German agents in Peru to facilitate the escape from jail of the Putumayo murderers, the very men he had indicted in his 1910 investigation.

“Prisoners … held for three years for trial for the Putumayo atrocities, in August 1915, escaped from jail in Iquitos, Peru, and in canoes at hand fled down the Amazon … led by Armando Normand, who, Sir Roger Casement declared at the time of his (Normand’s) arrest, was the worst criminal in the world. In the escape of these prisoners evidences of German intrigue, with Sir Roger as the guiding genius, were apparent.”

Thus this master deceiver was also an accomplice in the murders he had denounced. This complicity was not self-protective; rather it revealed a criminal instinct of an almost diabolical nature contrary to all justice and all civilized values. This instinct he had also concealed. And it was this evil instinct which guided his disposition to unnatural vice and which enabled him to deceive so many for so long, enabled him to conspire with the barbaric destroyers of civilization in Germany and enabled him to secretly condone the murder of the innocents of Putumayo while denouncing the atrocity to the world. The treason he was charged with seemed almost the least of the evils he had perpetrated.

Either the 55 persons named above (and dozens more un-named) suffered from the same neurological dysfunction in the cortical zones of the brain which prevented them from decoding the signs of Casement’s disposition or he was miraculously capable of totally concealing all such signs from everyone for many years. Or there were no signs to conceal, therefore none to decode.  Therefore no-one was deceived except British officials Lindley and Findlay who never set eyes on Casement. In which case it was they who accomplished the uncanny deception by ‘deceiving’ themselves.