HT @pauljholden via Dan Whitehead
Today whilst revving up the ol’ Tweetdeck for the first time in ages to see wagwan with the global agin-Trump stuff, I spotted an RT by always reliably interesting MD twitterer Jen Gunter:
What’s this ‘Gadsden snake’ thing? thought I. Well…
The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words “DONT TREAD ON ME”. The flag is named after American general and politician Christopher Gadsden (1724–1805), who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution. It was used by the Continental Marines as an early motto flag, along with the Moultrie Flag.
Modern uses of the Gadsden flag include political movements such as Libertarianism and the American Tea Party as well as American soccer supporter groups, including Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws since the late 1980s.
So, I have been flicking through Undercover, the spy-cops book by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans. Some interesting stuff in there, much of it unfamiliar – notably the material on Mike Chitty AKA ‘Mike Blake’. They certainly kept him under wraps for a long time.
But first – the numbering issue. The best I can make out is that the Dispatches methodology excludes ‘Rod Richardson’ and both ‘Officer 10’ (who reportedly had a child) and ‘Officer 11’ (who reportedly took on the identity of a child killed in a car crash). This may be on the grounds either that there was not enough corroborating evidence to confirm that they were a police spy (in the case of ‘Richardson’, who in the book is referred to only as a “suspected police officer”), or for other reasons, such as not wanting to implicate a source. ‘Wellings’ appears to be the unnamed tenth officer in silhouette. It may be that there were rights issues over using the existing pictures of him, all of which appear to have been taken by Globalise Resistance people. That takes our twelve down to nine; then we add Chitty/‘Blake’ to take us back up to ten.
Of course, it may be that Chitty/‘Blake’ (presumably the “South African resident” mentioned in the acknowledgements) is either ‘Officer 10’ or ‘Officer 11’ (though more likely the latter than the former given the lack of any reference to a child fathered by him whilst on deployment).
In terms of anarchist groups, the book claims (at least) three in the early 1990s – one in the Direct Action Movement (a key component of Anti-Fascist Action, it should be noted), and two in Class War. Peter Francis/‘Pete Black’/‘Peter Daley’/‘Officer A’ was also to have been deployed into the anarchist milieu, but was retasked to anti-fascist/anti-racist groups at the last minute:
As Black prepared to start his covert mission, senior officers in the SDS were deciding on his future undercover role. They were constantly working out which political groups needed infiltrating and which officers would make suitable spies. Initially, Black was lined up to become an anarchist. At least three SDS officers had already been embedded in anarchist groups in the early 1990s. One was in a small anarchist group called the Direct Action Movement (DAM), which had existed since 1979. Its associates believed capitalism should be abolished by workers organising themselves at the grassroots level, a political philosophy known as anarcho-syndicalism dating back to the late 1890s. Oneconfidential Special Branch document states that a detective constable who worked as an SDS spy ‘successfully’ infiltrated DAM between 1990 and 1993.
Another group of interest to the SDS was the better-known Class War, which achieved some notoriety after it was set up in the 1980s.
…The SDS viewed [Ian] Bone and his friends as considerably more sinister. The unit posted at least two undercover police into the group.
There then follows a chortle-worthy reference to former MI5 ‘whistleblower’ David Shayler, who ruffled feathers in the late 1990s with his various claims. Adopting the stance of a courageous campaigner for a more efficient, more effective spy service, Shayler – who along with his girlfriend Annie Machon had worked on the counter-subversion F Branch desk – had characterised Class War as being very much full of crustie-with-a-dog-on-a-string types (suggesting ineffectiveness or dilettantism), whilst at other times claimed it had been riddled with informers.
When those such as Larry O’Hara (and others) have called on him to back up his claims, or asked him to explain the issue of the proven attempts of sometime-fascist Tim Hepple AKA Tim Matthews to infiltrate the orbit of Green Anarchist, and the interconnected targeting of effective Class War organiser Tim Scargill through smears and other such activity, Shayler has never responded satisfactorily.
Anyway, let’s continue with the story:
One was in place in February 1992 when he had a meeting in a London safe house with David Shayler, the MI5 officer later jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act after leaking details of alleged incompetence in the secret services. Shayler had at that time been assigned to investigate whether Class War posed a threat to British democracy. The SDS officer supplied intelligence to the Security Service, and had become an official MI5 informant, designated the code number M2589.
According to Shayler, the ‘peculiar arrangement’ in which the SDS officer lived the life of an anarchist for six days a week, returning only occasionally to his friends and family, had ‘affected the agent psychologically’. Shayler recounts: ‘After around four years of pretending to be an anarchist, he had clearly become one. To use the service jargon, he had gone native. He drank about six cans of Special Brew during the debrief, and regaled us with stories about beating up uniformed officers as part of his “cover”. Partly as a result, he was “terminated” after the 1992 general election. Without his organisational skills, Class War fell apart.’
According to Black, the true story was a little different. He says the SDS officer in question was a ‘top end’ operative who served the unit well. During the encounter with the MI5 officer, he acted the part of a coarse anarchist because he had little time for Shayler, who was perceived to be a ‘desk wanker’ – though Black concedes that ‘some MI5 desk officers who came out to talk to us were superb and we had a very, very good relationship with them’. A second SDS officer was later sent into Class War, but it became apparent the group was fading out. Rather ignominiously for the anarchists who wanted to tear down the state, the SDS concluded they could no longer justify spending money to infiltrate them.
Ultimately Francis found himself (via the ‘stepping stone’ method) in Militant’s Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) group. This was at a time when the SWP had resurrected the Anti-Nazi League, and even the Labour Party had its own front, the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) (notable for calling for a pointless Trafalgar Square demonstration on the same day that YRE and the ANL announced their ‘Unity’ demo would ‘shut down the BNP bookshop’ in Welling). And, of course, the aforementioned AFA – which was definitely of interest to the state for both its willingness to engage in physical conflict with fascists on the streets and its robust, resolutely working class politics.
There is very little mention of AFA in the book – which is strange, really, considering how effective its record was on the streets at this time, and how much more ‘of interest’ it became when members of Red Action (another constituent part of AFA) were convicted for involvement in Irish Republican bomb campaigns. But then the small mention that there is does seem to be rather illuminating:
The key group the SDS believed was involved in confronting the far right was called Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Formed in the mid-1980s through a loose alliance of anarchists and left-wingers, the SDS said it was now subject to a political rift. In a trait painfully familiar to radical politics over the decades, there was an alphabet soup of competing organisations campaigning against racists. To make matters more complicated, each group was often just a front, controlled by another political faction.
It doesn’t betray a great deal of understanding of AFA or what was going on in the organisation at the time (for that see Beating The Fascists), but it does give an indication of why Francis was deployed where he was, and what the ultimate objective – in a best case scenario – was.
The book continues:
Black was told he should penetrate Youth Against Racism in Europe, better known by its acronym YRE. It was a front for the revolutionary left-wing group, Militant. The head of the SDS believed there was a new anti-fascist alliance forming ‘within the loose confederation’ of the YRE, a second Trotskyist group and ‘sundry ad-hoc student and Asian youth groups’. The SDS boss identified an obscure anti-fascist group at a further education college in Camden, north London, as a possible stepping stone into the YRE.
The SDS technique was to identify a key individual within a political group and get close to them. In Black’s case, the target was an anti-fascist campaigner at Kingsway College. Black was instructed to attend the college and befriend this particular individual, who had connections with the YRE. ‘This allows an entry into the YRE and possibly AFA,’ his boss wrote.
Again this lends itself to the interpretation that deployments were not defined by a single target organisation, but by political currents. London Greenpeace appears to have been infiltrated in order to build up legends for the spycops involved as much as it was a specific target of interest in itself. From that platform the infiltrators could then explore other groups and tendencies – such as those acting under the ALF banner.
Similarly whilst not doubting the sincerity of YRE activists, and notably their stewards’ group, clearly AFA was an even more prime target – as also suggested by the targeting of DAM. Trying to reach AFA both through having a pedigree within the physical anti-fascist left, and through DAM, seems entirely plausible given the evidence here and elseewhere.
Another intriguing titbit comes directly after this:
If this failed, there was a plan B: Black could penetrate ‘an autonomous group of anarchists’ based in Hackney, east London who had been previously infiltrated by the SDS.
As we have seen, Hackney – and Stoke Newington, and then also Haringey – was a prime hunting ground for the spycops. I feel certain we shall be returning to this issue.
Will try to clarify later but nothing more than C4 has slightly different rules / counting method to the G.
That’s not to say everything is now clear – no explicit clarification over whether Chitty/‘Blake’ is either ‘Officer 10’, ‘Officer 11’, or someone else; or whether the silhouette represents ‘Wellings’, ‘Richardson’, or someone else – but at least we seem to be still on track.
Meanwhile, some interesting links related to the theme of spycops and to the Dispatches programme…
Emily Apple from FITwatch has written an intensely personal post on the effect of infiltrators forming close relationships with and then betraying targets like her:
I also can’t express how important it is these revelations are coming out, and the depth of the operation against so many people is being exposed. We need to know who these bastards were, and we need to get their names and faces into the public domain. But it isn’t easy, and the psychological impact is massive.
Radical History of Hackney blog has a brief article pulling together the threads linking the spycops to the borough:
The radical history of Hackney has lead to police spies being active in the Borough.
This is a theme that it will hopefully return to in more detail at some point.
Newham Monitoring Project has released a statement in relation to the vague ‘cops spied on groups that held cops to account’ story it closed the evening with yesterday:
…Whilst the limited information in the Guardian report suggests NMP was never infiltrated directly, it nevertheless raises severe concerns that we do not have the full facts and the confidential nature of our casework might have been compromised. We demand, for the sake of transparency, that the name of the second SDS officer who was responsible for spying on NMP is made public immediately…
The Met’s current muscular Chief Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has put out a statement of his own on the Lawrence family smears, distancing himself and officers now serving under him from any of the beastly business we’re hearing about, which obviously happened a long, long time ago, if it did happen, and if it did happen then it was only ever the work of a few bad apples, etc:
…Finding out the truth about what happened 20 years ago is not a straightforward task. There are many, many documents and a large number of witnesses which is complicating the review. It has proved difficult to recapture the way in which police officers in this specialist area have operated since the Special Demonstration Squad was formed in the 1960’s…
Of course, the Stephen Lawrence murder was a long time ago, twenty years back, and many lessons were learned, it couldn’t happen again. Oh wait – here’s the Yorkshire Post reporting how police tried to smear the family of Christopher Alder, a former serviceman – and would you believe it, a Black Briton – who died in police custody in 1998:
…As part of their investigation into Mr Alder’s death, Humberside Police obtained social service records dating back to the births of all the Alder children – Christopher, Richard, Emmanuel, Stephen, and Janet, who were brought up in care…
Finally the Guardian is again plugging the imminent release of the Undercover book with another titbit story, this time with the revelation that the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) tracks nearly 9,000 ‘domestic extremists’ (as those previously deemed worthy of the equally ill-defined label ‘subversive’ are now officially described):
…A total of 8,931 individuals “have their own record” on a database kept by the unit, for which the Metropolitan police is the lead force. It currently uses surveillance techniques, including undercover police, paid informants, and intercepts against political campaigners from across the spectrum.
Senior officers familiar with the workings of the unit have indicated to the Guardian that many of the campaigners listed on the database have no criminal record…
One slightly odd bit: “Francis’s unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), was disbanded in 2008, but later replaced with the National Domestic Extremism Unit.”
Yet the NDEU was more a successor unit to the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) which employed Kennedy/‘Stone’. It was one of three units run through the aegis of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) by the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism, until the #phnat fuck-ups bled into the spycops shitstorm first flaring up in 2010. Then, along with the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET), NPOIU was transferred over to the Metropolitan Police in 2011, where the three were jointly rebranded NDEU. Exciting stuff I think you will agree.
Tonight’s Dispatches documentary, ‘The Police’s Dirty Secret’ – with The Guardian‘s Paul Lewis fronting it based on the reports filed by him and Rob Evans (and others) over the past couple of years on undercover police infiltrating protest groups – was an interesting watch.
Whilst much of it felt like an extended trailer for the forthcoming book, plus a stage-managed opportunity for star witness ‘Officer A’ AKA ‘Peter Daley’ AKA ‘Pete Black’ to come out from the shadows to call for an independent inquiry under his own name of Peter Francis, it was a powerful film.
Whilst much of it was built around the whistleblower testimony of Francis, it did not dwell on the personalities of the professional liars of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) or the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), but on their actions and the effects of these on their victims.
Three women – Jacqui (AKA ‘Charlotte’), Belinda Harvey (AKA ‘Sarah’), and Helen Steel (AKA ‘Claire’) – bore powerful witness to the lengths Special Branch was prepared to go to in order to maintain a political status quo.
As Belinda put it:
You hear about people having their phones hacked – well that’s nothing compared to what happened to me, and what happened to us, absolutely nothing. It’s like our bodies were hacked. It’s… It’s just unforgivable.
This was echoed just as potently by Jacqui:
For my body to be used to gain intelligence on a protest group, yeah… Well, I feel like I was raped. Multiple times, wasn’t I? It’s like being raped by the state. And I just want it all to go away, and it doesn’t. It doesn’t go away. And the thing is I’m going to have Lambert in my life for a long time because he’s the father of my son.
Both Belinda and Jacqui had been seduced by Bob Lambert, a veteran detective who went undercover in pursuit of the ALF. Animal rights activist Jacqui bore him a son. Belinda was not even involved in politics, and was seemingly a (and I know this sounds distasteful) tactical conquest for Lambert. But she still had her doors kicked in by police on a cover-bolstering search for ‘Bob Robinson’ in the aftermath of the Debenham’s bombings.
All that, plus the spying-on-the-Lawrence-family bombshell dropped earlier in the day, made it a packed three-quarters-of-an-hour programme.
Yet in places it posed more questions than it answered.
Take this curious section from Paul Lewis:
In 2008 the SDS closed its doors. But its work continues in the form of the NPOIU.
Accusations of undercover officers engaging in sexual relations have persisted.
Mark Jenner, who infiltrated left wing groups posing as ‘Mark Cassidy’, reportedly lived with an activist girlfriend for four years.
Jim Boyling is said to have had two serious relationships in his time undercover.
Marco Jacobs, who posed as an anarchist, allegedly also had two unsuspecting girlfriends before he disappeared in 2009.
And Mark Kennedy – outed as a police spy in 2010 – had several relationships with women, all over Europe, the longest lasting six years.
In total, ten undercover officers have been identified; of those, it’s alleged that nine had sexual relationships with people they were spying on.
The graphic above is then shown – from left to right, top row then bottom, we have:
But previously we have established that the Lewis/Evans team has been working with a list of (probably) twelve known – if not publicly identified – undercover officers.
The Dispatches list of ten broadly matches that list, except for the new face on the block, Mike Chitty AKA ‘Mike Blake’, mentioned nowhere else except in the brief photo gallery released a couple of days ago, in which we are told he “infiltrated animal rights campaigners in the 1980s”. This makes him a possible fit for ‘Officer 10’ or ‘Officer 11’.
Yet where is ‘Rod Richardson’ or ‘Simon Wellings’ on the list? Both were noted for not having had sexual relationships whilst undercover – which means either would chime with the 1/10 on the Dispatches graphic having been abstinent, if Mike Chitty (in keeping with the SDS tradecraft of the 1980s) was not.
Either way, the pond is getting muddy once more – and not helped by the post-show release of another (peculiarly vague and limp) story telling us one unnamed officer didn’t infiltrate Newham Monitoring Project…
PS Another related story released after the show:
So the spycop story – bubbling away on a low simmer for many months, publicly at least – has boiled over once more.
With Friday’s ‘revelation’ that police infiltrator Detective Inspector Bob Lambert co-wrote the contentious ‘What’s Wrong With McDonald’s’ fact sheet which precipitated the libel action against London Greenpeace finally coming out into the open, The Guardian‘s Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (Lewvans? Evis?) have brought the whole sorry saga back into the public eye.
Whilst not strictly news (after all, the core London Greenpeace activists knew all along who contributed to their leaflet, and Lambert was publicly unmasked in October 2011), the story that a cop effectively set loose the whole McLibel chain of events has had a strong impact. Of course, that impact will be compounded by the Evans/Lewis book Undercover: The True Story Of Britain’s Secret Police due out in early July, and the joint investigation with Channel 4’s Dispatches that will air on Monday night.
However, for me more interesting was the more in-depth article published on Saturday, which didn’t even merit a link at the top of the front page of the Grauniad‘s website: Undercover policemen, undercover lovers.
Tucked away in the Family section, it was an extended excerpt from the book which more effectively ties together the different threads, and shows the patterns in the behaviour of the supposed cops-gone-rogue/few rotten apples/whatever label NSY senior management damage control is running this week.
By way of a flavour, committed but non-violent activist Helen Steel was:
…spied on by three undercover officers – [Boyling], Lambert and John Dines.
First by Lambert, the sexual and emotional predator, a consummate liar and a proven Janus, seasoned Special Branch provocateur turned trainer, teacher of tradecraft, mentor…
Second by Dines, committed political cop, stealing into the feelings of a committed campaigner, conniving to be privy to privileged legal information…
Third by Boyling, Lambert’s protégé, the controlling sociopath sent in to undermine links and interconnections between environmental, labour and social movements.
The cynical abuse of people – just collateral damage in some secretive, ill-defined dirty war on dissent – that is something that leaps out from the relatively brief overview that the article gives, whether we are talking about the SDS, ARNI or NPOIU.
And you know what? It’s simply not cricket. These pricks don’t fight fair. And I think that’s why the McLibel article has had such resonance – this goes beyond cracking hippy heads, or somesuch similar rationalisation. This is as bent as is possible to be.
We know – we know – this is not about ‘isolated instances’ or ‘exceptional circumstances’ or ‘the actions of an inexperienced new recruit’. This was planned, strategised, calculated. This involved malice aforethought, stepped approval processes, the involvement of lawyers both internal and external. Paper trails. Inter-service rivalries. Personality conflicts. All the petty bullshit that these muppets can never keep a lid on indefinitely. And no matter how many internal reviews they instigate, with tightly defined scopes and pre-limited evidence, the truth will out.
Because already we know what it will look like. All that’s really left is to match the shade of shit all over the walls to a colour chart.
PS After reading Friday’s article but before Saturday’s, I started to put together a brief timeline of what was going on with the few infiltrations we do know about in the 1980s and 1990s around London Greenpeace, and to put them into some kind of context. The Saturday article rather took away the need to do that, but I’ll stick it up anyway, as incomplete as it is.