US diplomat wins libel action against "Phoenix" journal

Fri, Feb 9, 1996, 00:00

A FORMER political officer in the US embassy in Dublin yesterday settled his High Court libel action against Phoenix magazine for undisclosed damages and a published apology.

Mr George Dempsey, of Cloister Close, Carysfort Cloisters, Blackrock, Co Dublin, had brought a libel action against Penfield Enterprises, trading as Phoenix magazine, and Eason and Son.

He claimed that on September 10th, 1993, Phoenix and Eason falsely published, and Eason distributed, the magazine containing an article about "the recently departed CIA station chief in Dublin, George Dempsey".

Mr Dempsey's counsel, Mr Adrian Hardiman SC, claimed the article alleged his client was a spymaster, who had defied the policies of the Irish and US governments by going North and contacting subversives while a US diplomat, and telling them he was a CIA officer.

On the second day of the hearing, Mr Hardiman told Mr Justice Kinlen and a jury that a settlement had been agreed.

He read an apology in which Penfield Enterprises stated that it regretted the references to Mr Dempsey, which were untrue.

It acknowledged that Mr Dempsey was never a member of the CIA or a CIA station chief, spymaster or intelligence officer, and did not serve in Vietnam or Latin America before coming to Ireland.

It also acknowledged he never travelled to Belfast or Derry incognito or spoke to subversives of any kind and never infringed US State Department rules.

Phoenix acknowledged that Mr Dempsey had represented his country in Dublin as a diplomat in a professional and proper manner and agreed to pay a sum of money by way of damages.

Mr Dempsey said that, had he been found operating "undercover" in violation of his posting, he would have been expelled from Ireland.

People might feel there was something honourable about spying, but it was totally unacceptable. Whatever opinion a person might have about spies operating in an unfriendly country - say, the Soviet Union during the Cold War - there was nothing honourable about spying in a friendly country like Ireland. It was unacceptable behaviour, and being accused of it was very destructive.

Mr Dempsey said none of the people he had met regularly - so far as he was aware - had contacts with the IRA or Sinn Fein. The only person was the publisher of books by Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Danny Morrison.

He said he had been a first secretary at the embassy; that was not his cover. To suggest that was a title to cover other activities was false.

Mr Dempsey said he had felt violated when he read the article. He had spent his career as an honest diplomat, and this accused him of being dishonest and committing illegal acts.

When he first read the article he had felt scared that someone in the State Department would take the accusation seriously; not that he was in the CIA, but that he made illegal visits to the North and had contact with the IRA.

He was also scared that he might become a target. He could not imagine the CIA would be very welcome in paramilitary areas. In his 23 years in the US foreign service dozens of officers in service overseas had been targeted for assassination. It seemed some were CIA agents but clearly others were not.

Mr Dempsey said that when he read the article while serving in Venezuela he was outraged by the accusations of being a dishonest person and some sort of rogue diplomat breaking the law.

He had been concerned for his reputation in Ireland. He imagined there were people in Dublin discussing the idea that he had been deceiving them by lying about his supposed identity as a CIA officer. He had been seriously concerned about his safety.

The matter was adjourned for a week when Eason will apply to be dismissed from the action.