For insight into why Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was arrested this week for questioning about a notorious 1972 Belfast killing, venture across the Atlantic to a cradle of American academia.
In 2001 at 150-year-old Boston College, a prestigious Catholic institution in the city with America's largest Irish immigrant population, researchers quietly embarked on a project to interview participants in the Northern Ireland conflict known as the Troubles.
They set about constructing an oral history of the violent period, interviewing dozens of former Irish Republican Army members and participants in voluntary paramilitary groups that supported union with Britain.
With tensions still prompting fears of speaking out about the events of the late 1960s through the 1990s, interviewees were promised absolute anonymity until after their deaths.
That guarantee unraveled amid court orders, with potentially serious consequences for participants in Ireland, and fresh questions about academic freedom and the strength of researchers' confidentiality assertions in the face of a criminal investigation.
"Boston College sold us out," Belfast Project founder and journalist Ed Moloney told AFP, saying the school capitulated almost immediately when court officials demanded the recordings.
"They sold the interviewees out as well.
"Clearly, the project is playing a part (in the Adams case), but how much of a part, I have no idea."
The link to Adams traces back to 2008 with the death of interviewee Brendan Hughes, a former IRA member and close Adams friend, and the publication of Moloney's book, "Voices From the Grave," using material from the Hughes interview.
Fellow nationalist and Provisional IRA member Dolours Price, who was convicted for a 1973 attack on the Old Bailey criminal court in London, told Irish media that she too had been interviewed by Moloney's Belfast Project.
Price said she and Adams had been involved in the abduction and murder of 37-year-old mother of 10 Jean McConville, one of the most heinous crimes of the unrest.
Moloney insisted that Price "didn't say a word about Jean McConville in her interview with us."
Nevertheless, prompted by requests from the McConville family, the US Justice Department subpoenaed Boston College for the tapes and transcripts, and after a three-year legal battle led by Moloney, the school was forced to hand over much of the information.
In the midst of the fight, Moloney took his argument to Congress, imploring US senators like Boston College alumnus John Kerry and Robert Menendez to intervene to prevent the material from being used in civil suits, where the standard of proof is lower than in criminal cases.
Menendez took Kerry's spot as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his predecessor became secretary of state.
- Effort to discredit Adams -
Adams, 65, has been the public face of the movement to end British sovereignty in Northern Ireland for the past 30 years, but the Sinn Fein leadership has said the claims against him are an effort to discredit the party and derail the peace process.
"That was our great fear, that material would be used to facilitate civil action against Gerry Adams to discredit him," Moloney said.
To date, just three people from the Belfast Project have been identified, including two who are now dead.
Moloney expects that the names of the others, at least theoretically, will remain under wraps -- at least until they pass away.
But he warned that the case could have lasting repercussions for American universities, saying participants promised anonymity in US academic research would be "mad" to cooperate.