When is an undercover police officer not an undercover officer? On The Guardian’s spy-cop arithmetical methodology

In many respects the reporting by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans on the spy-cop story at The Guardian over the past two years has been exemplary.

However, in some areas they can be seen to obfuscate rather than illuminate.

A case in point: in January 2013 Lewis & Evans wrote an article on the legal action brought by women activists against the Met in relation to long term intimate relationships its undercover officers entered into in the course of their operations.

As the journalists put it:

Of the nine undercover police identified by the Guardian over the past two years, eight are believed to have slept with the people they were spying on. In other words, it was the norm.

Note that this was after the January 2012 ‘Officer 10’ revelation (that an undercover who wasn’t Lambert or Boyling had fathered a child by an activist with whom he had had a brief relationship), but before the ‘Rod Richardson’ story broke in February 2013.

The legal action, started back in December 2011, names five officers: Lambert, Kennedy, Boyling, ‘Barker’ (subsequently identified – in February 2013 – as Dines) and ‘Cassidy’. Let us call that five out of five.

Both ‘Watson’ and ‘Jacobs’ had also by this point been accused of sleeping with targets. The tally moves to seven for seven.

‘Pete Black’ has said ‘it was “part of the job” for fellow agents to use “the tool of sex” to maintain their cover and glean intelligence’, though I can’t find any direct admission of having done it himself. Let’s err on the side of ‘Black’ – following in the footsteps of his predecessor libertine cops Lambert and Dines and providing a good operational example to his own mentee Boyling – using “the tool of sex’ in his work. 8/8.

At this stage the only other publicly uncovered undercover was ‘Simon Wellings’. I can find no reference to him sleeping with any targets. That gives us more or less 8 out of 9.

However, The Guardian identified neither ‘Black’ (The Observer) nor ‘Wellings’ (BBC). So let’s scrub them and take the tally back down to 7/7.

So let’s go back to the mystery ‘Officer 10’ – he definitely had sex, insofar as like Boyling and Lambert he fathered a child. We are now back at 8/8.

Now, one of the interesting things with the ‘Rod Richardson’ story that Lewis & Evans gave us in February 2013 is the assertion that “the man calling himself Rod Richardson was an exception” to the ‘rule’ of having sex with targets. If in their January story Lewis & Evans were already working the ‘Richardson’ angle, then this could give us  the magic ‘eight out of nine’.

But then what about the anonymous Special Branch officer Lewis & Evans use to corroborate their ‘Jackal Run’ stories this month (for reference purposes ‘Officer 11’)? Is ‘Officer 11’ the same person as ‘Officer 10’? Or someone who they only became aware of after the January reference to “nine undercover police identified by the Guardian”?

Given that they are journalists who have ploughed this furrow largely alone in the mainstream media, Lewis and Evans are clearly in a position where they must protect their sources. It is notable that they appear to have gained the trust of the SDS whistleblower ‘Pete Black’, who initially only featured in stories co-bylined by The Observer‘s Tony Thompson.

To this end, it is conceivable that ‘Officer 10’ is also ‘Officer 11’, or that either or both is also ‘Mark Cassidy’, or even ‘Simon Wellings’ or ‘Marco Jacobs’, and that Lewis and Evans have deliberately blurred the details in each mention of their anonymous sources.

In the case of ‘Wellings’ and ‘Jacobs’ this is unlikely without knowingly publishing false information. ‘Officer 10’ bore a child from a target relationship, and no one has come forward to indicate that either ‘Wellings’ and ‘Jacobs’ became spy-parents. ‘Officer 11’ is described as an SDS infiltrator – and the SDS was supplanted in 1999 by the NPIOU. ‘Wellings’ first appeared in 2001, and ‘Jacobs’ in 2005 – so we may reasonably discount both of them.

The are other elements which muddy the water. When ‘Watson’ was identified in the wake of the Kennedy story in January 2011 in a pair of stories by Lewis and Evans co-written with Northern Editor Martin Wainwrightfirst tangentially and then directlyThe Guardian gave her a pseudonym and sat on pictures of her. This was:

At the request of intelligence officials, the Guardian has agreed to withhold identifying details about the woman, who is still a serving officer, and will refer to her only as “Officer A”.

It was three days after the first mention of the female undercover officer on 10 January 2011 that The Guardian published a pixelated photo of ‘Watson’ (story by Lewis, Evans and Crime Correspondent Vikram Dodd). It would not be until 19 January – a full nine days on from the original story – before her cover name was used, in a story attributed to Rajeev Syal, who covers the Whitehall beat, and Wainwright. Note that her undercover name and photos of her were already circulating via IndyMedia from at least 13 January.

A similar situation came about on 15 January 2011 with the initial unmasking of ‘Marco Jacobs’ – again without naming or picturing him:

The latest officer, whose identity has been withheld amid fears for his safety in other criminal operations, worked for four years undercover with an anarchist group in Cardiff.

That story was bylined to Lewis, reporter Matthew Taylor and Syal. Again, his ‘true fake identity’ and picture were not published until 19 January 2011 (story by Syal), despite his details being published on FITwatch (14 January), IndyMedia (15 January) and elsewhere before then.

These are clearly not issues relating to the protection of sources: this was a favour extended to the Met, ostensibly to facilitate the safe exfiltration of ‘Watson’ and ‘Jacobs’ from the undercover operations they were then engaged in.

And if nurturing and protecting sources is so important, why in 2009 did Lewis give assurances to his source that the CO11 spotter card he had been shown in confidence would not be published in full if he could not deliver on that promise?

Of course we all make mistakes. But to stonewall straightforward requests to elucidate on opaque reporting is not the way to remedy them.

ETA:

Paul Lewis has clarified in a series of tweets [1, 2, 3] that the ‘eight of nine identified undercover officers slept with targets’ reference takes into consideration all those identified publicly, with ‘Simon Wellings’ the only abstinent (and not for want of trying):

Ha. Well. The nine are all those who have been identified in public, by us and others.

Doesn’t include Rod, or the others we know of/have spoken to, but not yet identified. Includes Black and Wellings.

PS: Blog post is right: Wellings is the one who didn’t have sex. (Though he often complained he wasn’t getting any)

That means the “nine undercover police identified…over the past two years” when that particular report was published in January 2013 are:

  1. ‘Pete Black’
  2. Mark Kennedy
  3. ‘Lynn Watson’
  4. ‘Marco Jacobs’
  5. Jim Boyling
  6. ‘Simon Wellings’
  7. Bob Lambert
  8. John Dines
  9. ‘Mark Cassidy’

…And that “eight are believed to have slept with the people they were spying on

  1. ‘Pete Black’
  2. Mark Kennedy
  3. ‘Lynn Watson’
  4. ‘Marco Jacobs’
  5. Jim Boyling
  6. Bob Lambert
  7. John Dines
  8. ‘Mark Cassidy’

He also confirms that ‘Officer 10’ and ‘Officer 11’ are different people:

They’re not the same person.

With the subsequent ‘Jackal Run’ articles of February which revealed ‘Rod Richardson’, and the confirmation above of the existence of ‘Officer 10’ and ‘Officer 11’ as separate individuals, this indicates that the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list I posted up yesterday is accurate.

That certainly clears up some of the confusion. Thanks Paul.

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