We all know that the police and intelligence agencies monitor activist groups and campaigns and that such activity has increased since 9/11. Less is known about the activities of corporate spies and their crossover links with the state surveillance network.
Many people could argue that a certain amount of this activity is vital for national security, to track down extremists planning to cause widespread harm to innocent people. But evidence for the widespread infiltration of environmental, labour, human right and other such protest groups has raised big questions about our civil liberties.
A recent book adds to our knowledge: ‘Secret Manoeuvres In The Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists’ by Eveline Lubbers [Pluto Press. 2012]. There is a lengthy review by Katrina Forrester in the London Review of Books. The website for the book has many more.
The issue was brought into the headlines when Mark Kennedy was unmasked. Kennedy, posing as Mark Stone, infiltrated activist organisations in 22 countries during 2003-2010. [ A chronology of his activities can be found on POWER BASE] What was most shocking was the fact that he had a long-term activist partner and had had sexual relations with other activists.
Forrester writes: ‘There was nothing unique about his case. A number of undercover police officers have even had children with activists. In December 2011, eight women – all of whom were deceived into having relationships with infiltrators – began legal action against the Metropolitan Police. Many of these tactics are amounting to state-sponsored sexual abuse.’
‘Police spies: In bed with a fictional character’ by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans [The Guardian/1 March 2013]
‘British MPs have condemned practices used by undercover police, including sleeping with those they were investigating and using dead infants’ names for their covert identity. The MPs have called for legislation to regulate undercover work.’
You can download a pdf of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee interim report on Under Cover policing here.
‘Undercover police must be allowed to have sex with activists, says minister’ [The Telegraph/14 June 2012]
In the famous McDonald’s case, the company hired two teams from separate agencies - 7 individuals in all - to infiltrate Greenpeace London. At some of the meetings, there was as many spies as activists. This in turn raises the important issue of when spying becomes incitement.
Such civil agencies, with names like Threat Response International and Cyber-Sleuth, did compile detailed databases of activists, information that may have been sold to the police.
The Metropolitan Police’s Public Order Intelligence Unit sends out its Forward Intelligence Teams to every protest and every march in Britain. Forrester writes: ‘the FIT teams justify their information-gathering as necessary to prevent unlawful direct action, its part of a much broader operation to document the make-up of activist movements.’
Lubbers makes the argument that most activists are part of what she calls ‘civil society groups’ that exist to ‘promote democracy’.
This is a counter to the slur promoted by the National Domestic Extremism Unit – established by the Association of Chief Police Officers. The whole concept of ‘domestic extremism’ leaves a nasty taste in the mind.
Swiss food giant Nestle fined for infiltrating activist group’ [The Independent/30 Jan 2013]
‘Infiltrating the Campaign: Corporate Spies in Activism’ [off corporate coast.com/30 Nov 2012]
‘Infiltration of activist groups by police and government agencies is not confined to the UK. The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that in Australia, Minister for Energy and Resources, Martin Ferguson, pressed Attorney General Robert McLelland in 2009 to use “the intelligence-gathering services of the Australian Federal Police” to find information of potential protests that might disrupt coal mining operations. In reply to the urgings of Minister Ferguson, McLelland stated that the Australian Police Force “continually monitors the activities of issues-motivated groups and individuals who may target establishments through direct action, or action designed to disrupt of interfere with essential services.”
This article has documented a few cases where spies working for corporate intelligence organisations have been unmasked, however the likelihood that there are numerous, as yet undetected, corporate spies infiltrating environment groups is very high, if not certain. Though there are examples where blunt tactics have been used by spies that have been detected with relative ease, the fact that there are highly skilled spies targeting activist groups should be cause for considerable concern.’
COINTELPRO 101 is a 56 minute educational video which can be viewed here
READ ABOUT COINTELPRO – covert operations by the FBI from 1956 to 1971 aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations.