Category Archives: Politik

Gang warfare with a suit and a smile

Wikipediaphile: The Stennes Revolt

I’ve not done a WPP in ages, so I’ve shaken me folders and seen what drops out. This’un’s an interesting one, especially giving the brown-shirted tumults of recent year…

The Stennes Revolt was a revolt within the Nazi Party in 1930-1931 led by Walter Stennes (1895–1983), the Berlin commandant of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi’s “brownshirt” storm troops. The revolt arose from internal tensions and conflicts within the Nazi Party of Germany, particularly between the party organization headquartered in Munich and Adolf Hitler on the one hand, and the SA and its leadership on the other hand.[1] There is some evidence that Stennes may have been paid by the government of German chancellor Heinrich Brüning, with the intention of causing conflict within the Nazi movement.[2]

The role and purpose of the SA within National Socialism was still unsettled in 1930.[3] Hitler viewed the SA as serving strictly political purposes, a subordinate body whose function was to foster Nazi expansion and development. The SA’s proper functions, in Hitler’s view, were political ones such as protecting Nazi meetings from disruption by protesters, disrupting meetings of Nazi adversaries, distributing propaganda, recruiting, marching in the streets to propagandize by showing support for the Nazi cause, political campaigning, and brawling with Communists in the streets. He did not advocate the SA’s functioning as a military or paramilitary organization.[4]

Many in the SA itself — including the leadership — held a contrary, and more glorious, view of the SA’s role. To them, the SA was a nascent military organization: the basis for a future citizen-army on the Napoleonic model, an army which would, ideally, absorb the Reichswehr and displace its outmoded Prussian concepts with “modern” Nazi ideals.[5]

We then hear the details of the actual ‘revolt’. First, in the run-up to the Reichstag elections of September 1930, Stennes put forward a platform of demands (“These included the issuance of strident denunciations of Catholicism and capitalism (hardly a propos just before an election in a country with a substantial Catholic population), an end to corruption and bureaucratization in the NSDAP, the removal of Gauleiter power over SA men, the administration of SA independent of party administration and a fixed appropriation from party funds to be earmarked for the SA”). This did not go down well with the Hitlerian leadership. So Stennes doubled down and took his men into action, demonstrating against Goebbels instead of providing a security detail for his Sportspalast speech, and then storming the Gau office in Berlin, cracking SS heads into the bargain. In the immediate interim Hitler folded – taking personal control of the SA, to demonstrate its importance (rather than it being subordinate to the Gau bureaucracy), and raising funding for the stormtroopers. The revolutionary rump of the SA represented by Stennes saw it as vindication and perhaps even victory.

However, Hitler soon moved on to the next thing, and brought back sketchy scarface Ernst Röhm from his South American bolthole to run the SA on a day-to-day basis. Did this go down well with Stennes and his faction? No, it did not – especially when it also meant “emoving control of Silesia from Stennes”. “Stennes continued to complain; he noted that the SA in Breslau were not able to turn out for inspection in February 1931 because they lacked footwear.[28] He also complained about Röhm’s return to run the SA, objecting to the Chief of Staff’s homosexuality.[21]”

The pushback continued: “On 20 February 1931 Hitler issued a decree making the SA subordinate to the party organization at the Gau level…On 26 February, Röhm forbade the SA from taking part in street battles and also forbade its leaders from speaking in public.[30]”

When Brüning, the centrist Chancellor under the Presidency of Hindenburg (1930-1932) issued an emergency decree in March 1931 “requiring all political meetings to be registered and requiring all posters and political handouts to be subject to censorship [and delegating] wide powers to Brüning to curb ’political excesses.’,” Stennes was pushed over the edge, not least because Hitler’s “‘policy of legality’ appeared to be paying dividends in the economic misery of the depression—ordered strict compliance.”

And so Stennes “rebelled again.”

The SA once again stormed the party offices in Berlin on the night of March 31-April 1 and took physical control of them. In addition, the SA took over the offices of Goebbels’ newspaper, Der Angriff. Pro-Stennes versions of the newspaper appeared on 1 April and 2 April.[25]

The response from the leadership this time was swift and uncompromising.

Hitler instructed Goebbels to take whatever means were necessary to put down the revolt. This time, the Berlin police were called to expel the SA intruders from the party’s offices. Goebbels and Göring purged the SA in Berlin and environs. Since all money for SA was dispensed through the Gau headquarters, it was a simple matter to cut this off and the lack of funding caused the rebellion to collapse. Stennes was expelled from the party.[32]

In an article by Hitler in the Völkischer Beobachter he justified Stennes’ expulsion, referring to him as a “salon socialist.” Hitler’s editorial demanded that all SA men choose between Stennes and Hitler, declaring that the mutinous Stennes was a conspirator against National Socialism.

Hitler demonstrated his confidence in the SS by his replacement of Stennes with an SS man.[33]

And what of Stennes?

Stennes had a following among leftist oriented SA in Berlin, Pomerania, Mecklenburg and Silesia. When he left the SA and NSDAP he founded the National Socialist Fighting League of Germany (Nationalsozialistische Kampfbewegung Deutschlands, NSKD) and made connection with Otto Strasser, as well as Hermann Ehrhardt, ex-leader of the defunct Viking League (Bund Wiking). He recruited about 2000 SA men from Berlin and elsewhere along with 2000 Ehrhardt followers, and the leaders protested that the ‘NSDAP has abandoned the revolutionary course of true national socialism’ and will become ‘just another coalition party.’[34]

Well, I guess things might not have panned out how he thought. But he did swerve the Night of the Long Knives the following year, by virtue of already having been expelled from the SA and left Germany in 1933 to work “as a military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek until 1949, when he returned to Germany.”

As noted elsewhere:

In 1951, he was a leading member of the right wing Deutsche Soziale Partei (German Social Party). Afterwards, Stennes retired to private life. He applied for recognition as a victim of National Socialist tyranny, which was rejected in 1957 by the Federal Court. He lived in Lüdenscheid, until his death in 1983.

Meanwhile, link-hopping from this takes us to Otto Wagener (29 April 1888 – 9 August 1971), “a German major general and, for a period, Adolf Hitler’s economic advisor and confidant.” After service in the Great War leading to a position in the General Staff as a twenty-something young officer, “Wagener was [subsequently] involved in the planning of an attack against the city of Posen (now Poznań, in Poland), but had to flee to the Baltic countries to avoid arrest. There he merged all Freikorps associations into the German Legion, and assumed leadership after its leader, Paul Siewert, was murdered. After returning to Germany, he was active in Freikorps operations in Upper Silesia, Saxony, and the Ruhr area.”

After spending most of the 1920s travelling, by the decade’s close he had joined the NSDAP and the SA following recruitment by old Freikorps pal Franz Pfeffer von Salomon. “Wagener was able to put his business acumen and contacts to good usage for the Nazi Party [and] the SA…”

Wagener had used his business contacts to persuade a cigarette firm to produce “Sturm” cigarettes for SA men – a “sponsorship” deal benefiting both the firm and SA coffers. Stormtroopers were strongly encouraged to smoke only these cigarettes. A cut from the profit went to the SA ….[1]

I think we are allowed something of a W. T. A. F?! reaction here.

Wagener “functioned as SA Chief of Staff from October 1929 through December 1930, assuming effective command of the SA for a few months in the wake of the Stennes Revolt until the assumption of command by Ernst Röhm as the new Chief of Staff in early January 1931.”

He then became a prominent economic advisor to Hitler, until internal wrangling and expediency saw him replaced. He was nicked during the Night of the Long Knives, though only briefly, and after ‘rehabilitation’ “he resumed his career in the army,” serving during the war “at the front, rising to the rank of major general and becoming a division commander. After the war, Wagener found himself first in British and later, from 1947 to 1952, Italian prisoner of war camps.”

In 1946 he wrote a memoir “about Hitler and the Nazi Party’s early history,” though “it was not published until seven years after his death, in 1978.”

He died in 1971 in the Bavarian town of Chieming.

Shellshock & Awe – kiddie edition

How did I miss this at the time? A mind-blowing piece of agitprop/art put together by Darren Cullen with director Price James and others for Veterans For Peace UK back in 2015.

As a childhood fan of Action Man, a would-be boy soldier (but for OfC cutbacks and downsizing), and yet also of a certain political persuasion, I find it utterly chilling. I hope that it helped VfP get its message across.

Plenty of other great stuff on Cullen’s website too, and he has a short exhibition of new sculptures up in That There Lunnon at the beginning of October.

H/T: John Freeman at Down The Tubes

Really good documentary films online for free

Recently I had a Twitter exchange with Dorian Cope on the topic of documentaries on YouTube.

She recommended some really good ones (listed below), including The Leonard Peltier Story, which I knew as Incident At Oglala.

By Michael Apted (he of The World Is Not Enough Bond fame, as well as the Up series of documentaries), Incident At Oglala is a righteous retelling of the story of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the fight for indigenous people’s rights in the United States, the siege at Pine Ridge and the case of Leonard Peltier – still banged up in Federal chokey today. Apted subsequently made a thinly-veiled fictional version of the attempts by the FBI and others to quash AIM, Thunderheart, which was in part based on an earlier standoff at Wounded Knee.

I first came across the story of AIM and Pine Ridge through the writings of Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall – Agents Of Repression, and The COINTELPRO Papers. Together the two books utilise the then-relatively novel application of Freedom of Information Act rights, and cover in depth the FBI’s decades-long (though the Bureau clings to the orthodoxy that COINTELPROs only existed from 1956-1971) ‘counter intelligence programs’ directed at civil society, involving agents provocateurs, informers, fabricated documents, planted evidence, smears and even what could be considered assassination. AIM was just one of a long list of targeted groups and individuals, the vast majority from the left of the political spectrum – others included the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Students for a Democratic Society, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Socialist Workers’ Party USA.

The formal COINTELPRO project was brought to an abrupt end in 1971, when a small group of activists, the Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI, broke into a Bureau field office in Pennsylvania and stole reams of documents which exposed the existence of a massive, nationwide conspiracy to defame, disrupt and destroy political campaigners. However, empirical evidence supports the assertion that COINTELPRO in spirit if not in name continued for many years to come. Certainly there were COINTELPRO fingerprints all over the bombing of Earth First! activists Judy Bari and Darryl Cherney in 1990 (see, for example, ‘The Judi Bari Bombing: How the FBI targeted Earth First!’ by Ward Churchill in Open Eye #3, 1995).

The more recent use of agents provocateurs, informants and undercover officers in cases including but not limited to the supposed Nimbus Dam sabotage plot (with FBI plant Zoe Elizabeth Voss, AKA ‘Anna’ – see here, here and here), Brandon Darby’s entrapment of protesters at the 2008 RNC (see here, here and here), and the various stings by Saeed Torres AKA ‘Shariff’ on behalf of the FBI (see here, here and here) suggest that the principles of COINTELPRO linger long in the Bureau’s institutional memory.

Anyhow, here’s some of my free-to-view documentary selections – and I have put Dorian Cope’s at the bottom.

80 Blocks From Tiffany’s
Superb stuff from 1979, with Gary Weis interviewing members of two gangs – the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads – in the South Bronx.

NY77: The Coolest Year In Hell
A nearly bankrupted city, disco, punk rock, hip hop, brown outs and black outs, arson and riots, music and love.

Planet Rock The Story Of Hip Hop And The Crack Generation
Exploring the interconnectedness of two eighties phenomena.

Style Wars
Classic hip hop ‘five elements’ documentary, whose influence via its focus on grafitti and breakdancing was global – inspiring the likes of Goldie and 3D in Britain.

Bombin’
The UK Style Wars

Proper Bristol Hip Hop (part one)
Superb cultural artefact from Matt ‘Mr Monk’ Orren, with many of the original Bristol hip hop heads simply telling how it all started for them, how it developed, and how it got to here.

The Way Of The Crowd
Looking back on Northern Soul at the Wigan Casino, with stacks of people who were there, including Paul Sadot (Tuff in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes).

The Jeffrey Johns Story
If you’ve ever been to a gig in Bristol, you’ve been stood behind Big Jeff. HERE IS HIS STORY!

1971
Story of the activists who exposed COINTELPRO by burgling the FBI’s Media, PA office.

Reclaim The Streets – The Film (1999) (as broadcast on Channel 4, January 2000)
A from-the-movement documentary on RTS by Agustín de Quijano, from the beginning through to J18 – lots of great footage.

Reclaim The Streets – Reloaded (2012 re-edit)
As above, expanded to include references to Andrew James Boyling, the undercover Special Branch officer who posed as RTS activist ‘Jim Sutton’ for half a decade.

McLibel
Franny Armstrong’s on-a-shoestring classic about Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the two London Greenpeace anarchists who refused to be bullied by a corporation, defended themselves in court, and to all intents and purposes defeated McDonald’s after it accused them of making untrue statements in a campaign leaflet (which, lest we forget, was co-authored by a long-term police infiltrator).

Big Rattle In Seattle /Capital’s Ill Crowd Bites Wolf (all three by Si Mitchell)
Not just three of the best but also the funniest summit-hopping gonzo activist-journalist documentaries of the dawn of the 21st century, capturing not just the excitement and action on the streets, but also breaking down the issues into easily understandable chunks – which with dull stuff like the IMF is not easy.

The Coconut Revolution
Behind the lines with the low-tech independence fighters of Bougainville Island, who face the might of the Papua New Guinea army, backed by multinational corporations like RTZ, in a fight to protect their homeland and its resources. First saw this at a screening in Bristol’s fine microplex the Cube.

If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front
A very human telling of how the ELF came to become America’s Public Enemy No.1 (until Al Qaeda came to be a little more prominent), with the focus on ELF activist Daniel McGowan, one of a number who went to prison after the FBI’s major Operation Backfire dragnet.

The Panama Deception
I first saw this Oscar-winning doc by Barbara Trent about the post-Cold War, what-the-hell-do-we-do-now? US invasion of Panama at – no honestly – a Revolutionary Communist Party conference. It was the most interesting thing there.

BBS: The Documentary (in 8 parts)
Thoroughly absorbing, detailed look at the early communities which grew up around the original bulletin board systems, and how they developed as the forums themselves developed. Made in 2005, it is interesting to consider how we got from there to here, with #anonymous and /pol/ and GamerGate and manosphere idiots and whatnot.


Touching The Void
Best fell-off-a-mountain documentary ever; best use of Boney M in hallucination scene ever.

Room 237
Dissection of the meaning – hidden or otherwise – of Stanley Kubrick’s fast-and-loose adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Beautiful (though unfortunately picture and sound quality here are deliberately degraded, presumably to get round copyright detection tools) and thought provoking.

Staircases To Nowhere: Making Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
Folk history of how The Shining got made, by the crew who made it.

Hells Angels
Hilarious early 1970s BBC documentary following the hapless London chapter of the global outlaw motorcycle club as they mooch about doing very little. The decision to go on holiday is one of history’s most fateful. Played absolutely straight in both script and voiceover.

American Movie (trailer only)
One of the loveliest docs in the world, I can’t find it free online anywhere, but this trailer gives a flavour of it.

Dorian Cope’s documentary selection:

Radio ramblings: on Interference FM and the need for mass communications to sustain mass movements

Interference FM J18 flyer 1

In times like these – a post-truth world of alternative facts – having access to the tools of mass communication is essential; but then so it ever was, even in the pre-blog, pre-Twitter, pre-YouTube era (if you can imagine such a palaeolithic era).

In the late 1990s, a confluence of environmental activists, anarchists and socialists helped build a transnational anti-capitalist, ‘anti-globalisation [of the rich]’ movement, helped in no small part by energy, enthusiasm, tactical successes and growing public disquiet.

In the UK this growing movement necessitated (given the antipathy of the mainstream media) the creation of effective communication channels, both for internal discussion and to reach outside. In time these included things such as the SchNEWS weekly alternative news sheet, Squall magazine (for ‘sorted itinerants’), the monthly Earth First! Action Update and the EF! journal Do Or Die, each of which helped facilitate nationally (and even internationally) wider discourse between and amongst what were often localised campaigns and groups. As online technology and culture grew, so this movement also sequestered tools such as email discussion lists. Similarly, as video cameras became more of a mass market commodity, so too did this movement appropriate the trappings of television and film, either with wholly produced ‘video magazines’ (such as Undercurrents and iContact) or by providing activist-shot footage to the mainstream news programmes.

And then there was the trusty old radio. Of course, whilst the reception equipment for radio was ubiquitous (for all intents and purposes every single person in the land had at least one radio), the transmission side of things was firmly in the grip of those licensed by the state – big, fusty old ‘public’ bodies such as the BBC, or else avaricious commercial beasts locked into the current economic and social status quo. However, bar the legal niceties of radio broadcasting, in terms of the cash costs and complexity of technology set against potential audience reach and likelihood of getting away with it, radio – more specifically, illegal pirate radio – was a no-brainer.

So it was that in the mid- to late nineties a small group of people connected to both music pirates and anti-capitalist politics set about fusing these two worlds together, and providing the means for mass communication beyond of the boundaries of state control and commercial imperatives, to a political groundswell aiming at becoming a mass movement. It all came to a head in the lengthy preparations which built to the J18 ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’ (AKA ‘Global Street Party’ etc) in June 1999, of which one autonomous component was the ‘Interference FM’ pirate radio group.

There’s a decent summary of the J18 radio project and the setting up of Interference FM/Radio Interference, with links to various articles on the Pirate Radio Archive.

But anyway, a nice excuse to post these flyers.* Oh, and here’s a spread from The Big Issue magazine, under the groansome title of ‘MUSIC FArticle on Interference FM in The Big Issue #352 (1999)OR YOUR BUCCANEARS’:

» Article on Interference FM in The Big Issue #352 (1999)

Interference FM J18 flyer 2

  • The flyers were put together with torn-off bits of old paper, newspaper financial pages, the stickers from TDK D90 cassettes, and appropriated bits of Carlos Ezquerra artwork from his and Pat Mills‘ near future dystopian comic strip ‘Third World War’, which ran in Crisis from the late 80s to the early 90s. Oh, and look – EMAIL ADDRESS! MOBILE PHONE NUMBER!! REQUESTS FOR MINIDISKS!!!

Wikipediaphile: Gadsden flag

Feminist ‘Gadsden snake’ t-shirts

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsden_flag

The murky world of private security and its involvement in spying on ‘enemies of the state’: the road protest years

What follows is a skeleton summary of the involvement of private security firm Brays – amongst others – in monitoring anti-roads protesters on behalf of the state (at great public expense, almost entirely unaccountably, and largely in secret) during the Thatcher and Major administrations’ massive expansionist programme of building. It is mostly based on Hansard – the official Parliamentary record – and is offered here by way of rekindling interest in the topic, especially as it brings together both the issue of construction industry (and activist) blacklisting, and the use of long-term police (and private) infiltrators.

The Brays Detective Agency was hired to monitor roads protesters during the 1990s – variously by the Department of Transport, the Highways Agency (an Ibbs/Next Steps ‘Executive Agency’ under the purview of DoT) and the Treasury Solicitor.

There is no clear overall picture of exactly how much money was spent, as the various overlapping, conflicting or otherwise obfuscatory Ministerial and Agency replies to Parliamentary questions over the course of three years show:

  • 25 February 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 26 February 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 18 March 1993: £7,000 (detective agency fees to Brays on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 11 May 1993: £35,000 (detective agency fees on M3/Twyford Down protests since February 1992)
  • 18 January 1994: £256,211 (total manpower costs of security and policing in 1993 for M11 link road)
  • 23 February 1994: £200,000+ (additional costs of police operation on 16 February at M11 link)
  • 23 February 1994: £470,075 (total manpower costs of policing and security since September 1993 at M11 link)
  • 4 March 1994: £228,000 (payments to Brays by DoT from March 1992 to end of January 1994)
  • 4 March 1994: £193,875 (£165,000 ex VAT) (total cost of legal fees to date at Twyford Down)
  • 22 April 1994: £16,163 (additional manpower costs – NI contributions and overtime but not basic pay – for policing at M11 link/Wanstead Common in January)
  • 25 April 1994: £760,000 (total spend with private detective agencies by DoT since 1991)
  • 4 May 1994: £250,829.52 (detective agency fees on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 1 July 1994: £253,800 (£216,000 ex VAT) (total legal fees on M3/Twyford Down protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £100,000 (sum set aside to cover HA’s solicitors’ payment to private detective agencies in relation to Batheaston/Swainswick (Solsbury Hill) bypass protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £21,000 (payment due to be made to private detective agencies by HA’s solicitors in relation to Batheaston/Swainswick (Solsbury Hill) bypass protests)
  • 14 July 1994: £71,450 (expenditure to date by HA with Bray’s relating to M11 link, A11 (Norfolk) & Batheaston bypass)
  • 12 December 1994: £1 million (approximate security cost to HA of operation the previous week at M11 link protest site)
  • 12 December 1994: £100,000 (approximate cost to HA of site clearance at Claremont Road M11 link protest)
  • 12 December 1994: £3 million (approximate cost to HA for security staff at M11 link/Claremont Road from September 1993 to date)
  • 12 December 1994: £185,000 (fees paid by HA to Brays for Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £180,000 (approximate legal fees payable by HA for Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £500,000 (estimated monthly cost to HA for security at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £25,000 (estimated monthly cost to HA for engaging Brays at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 12 December 1994: £4,000 (estimated monthly cost in legal fees to HA at Claremont Road/M11 link)
  • 27 February 1995: £267,377 (total sum paid to Brays by DoT up to end of contract 31 July 1994)
  • 21 March 1995: £276,000 (total legal fees payable by HA for M3 Twyford Down protests)
  • 23 March 1995: £310,930 (total expenditure by Treasury Solicitor to Brays for work sponsored by DoT)
  • 5 April 1995: £294,000 (payments to Brays by HA, M11 link)
  • 5 April 1995: £25,000 (monthly payments to Brays by HA, M11 link)
  • 5 April 1995: £150,000 (payments to Brays by HA, Batheaston bypass)
  • 5 April 1995: £259,000 (payments to Brays by HA, M3 Twyford Down)
  • 5 April 1995: £1,500 (payments to Brays by HA, M65 Blackburn)
  • 5 April 1995: £200 (payments to other detective agencies by HA, M65 Blackburn)
  • 5 April 1995: £300 (payments to Brays by HA, A34 Newbury Bypass)
  • 5 April 1995: £450 (payments to Brays by HA, A11 Besthorpe-Wymondham)
  • 5 April 1995: £705,450 (total payments to Brays & other detective agencies by HA in relation to road protests)
  • 9 January 1996: £950,588 (total expenditure by HA’s solicitors on services supplied by Brays)

John Denham, MP for Southampton Itchen raised some interesting points in his adjournment debate of 2 December 1994:

Twyford down was, as far as I can establish, the first time that widespread surveillance was carried out on British people by private detective agencies acting on behalf of the Government. Secondly, the Government have played a direct role in the retention of private security guards who used violence against protestors. Thirdly, the Government are now pursuing, at taxpayers’ expense, a punitive legal action against people who allegedly took part in protests of the most innocuous and innocent form.

Brays detective agency was hired, for what turned out to be a cost of more than £250,000, to take photographs of protesters and to serve papers on them. As far as I can establish, that scale of surveillance has never been undertaken by any Department. The privatisation of surveillance and snooping should therefore have been approached with great sensitivity and care—but far from it.

There are no guidelines, either in the Department of Transport or in the Government, as to the use of private detective agencies. I asked the National Audit Office to investigate the hiring of Brays, and the Comptroller and Auditor General confirmed to me in a letter dated 18 October that expenditure on Brays was allowed to grow from an initial £836 allowed within delegated authorisation to £250,000.

Expenditure reached nearly £100,000 before a proper written contract was let—albeit then without competitive tendering. It was only after I had tabled parliamentary questions about contracts that any formal contract was let. The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded: Whilst the Department felt they had to respond quickly to the escalating protest action it is still important for them to follow authorised contract procedures … in this case, however, the Department neither established a contract when the scope of the work changed from a one-off action to an on-going surveillance operation, nor held a competitive tender exercise once they recognised the extent of the work involved. The rules of the Department were not followed.

The National Audit Office was clearly not initially convinced that expenditure on Brays was even legal. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to me, saying: there were no special guidelines in place on employing private detective agencies; our financial auditors have looked into whether this expenditure should have treated as novel and contentious, and therefore subject to Treasury approval. I understand that the Treasury has now ruled that the expenditure was allowable, and there I suspect that the issue will remain unless it is challenged in the courts.

I must say that I doubt whether Parliament has ever knowingly voted money to the Department of Transport for such a use of private detective agencies. I hope that we can be told what the role of Ministers was in the affair. Were all the decisions taken by junior civil servants rattling around out of control, or were Ministers involved in the decisions on the surveillance? If so, which Minister took the decision to use Brays in this role, to overrule normal contracting procedures and to spend £250,000 of public money? I hope that the Minister for Railways and Roads can tell the House the answers.

Exactly who Brays were/are is an interesting question. The company has a surprisingly light internet footprint, comprising mostly an array of corporate records (such company and director filings) which are difficult to hide, being legally required documentation and made available for free by Companies House licensees such as Duedil, or else references on listings sites derived from scraped content from same.

A moderately detailed search on Brays will tell you that it began as a detective agency in 1929, but with little or no more detail than that.

In terms of Brays’ involvement in the monitoring of roads protests, the first reference to them comes on 11 November 1992, again via John Denham MP, during a debate on the Rio Agreement:

Are there no limits on how far the Government will sink in the promotion of environmental destruction, including the hiring of a private detective agency, Bray’s detective agency of Southampton, to photograph peaceful protesters at Twyford Down? Does the Minister have any limits as to how far the Government will go in destroying the environment and suspending the basic civil liberties of Her Majesty’s subjects?

On 18 November 1992 Roads & Traffic Minister Kenneth Carlisle MP acknowledged that the Department of Transport “has employed Bray’s Detective Agency (Southampton) Ltd. to serve papers on people who have trespassed on the Department’s land and to photograph trespassers” in relation to protests against the M3 extension at Twyford Down.

Carlisle further admitted that Brays “has been employed from time to time since March this year on an hourly basis at its standard rates, plus expenses,” an arrangement he envisages “will continue to be employed on this basis for as long as necessary.” (A statement by Carlisle on 4 March 1994 confirms that Brays was engaged by the DoT in March 1992, adding that “its contract runs until the end of July 1994”.)

A week later, on 25 November, Carlisle states (whilst describing the range of work for which the DoT might use private detectives) that “the cost of tracing an individual is usually in the range of £60 to £90 per case.”

The first reference to the specific cost to the tax payer of the DoT’s arrangement with Brays in relation to roads protests is, as noted in the list above, on 25 February 1993, when Mr Carlisle states that Brays – recommended to the Department by the Twyford Down engineer (presumably WS Atkins) – has up until that point “been paid approximately £7,000.” The £7,000 figure is repeated in Carlisle’s response to Bob Cryer MP the next day (26 February 1993), and then again on 18 March in response to a question from Mike Gapes MP.

Yet in just over a month, the cost of doing business had jumped up six-fold to £35,000, according to Carlisle’s 11 May response to Denham, snowballing yet further to £228,000 by the end of January 1994 (according to a subsequent Carlisle statement on 4 March), and then £250, 829.52 a couple of months later (see written answer on 4 May 1994 by Carlisle’s successor as Minister for Roads & Traffic, Robert Key MP).

Curiously, by 25 April 1994 Key was telling Martyn Jones MP that the Department of Transport had spent a whopping £760,000 on private detective agencies since 1991. No breakdown was offered of when, where and with whom this vast amount of spy cash was doled out.

The government did not even seem to be getting value for money, regardless of the constitutional or ethical ins and outs of spying on the citizenry. In his 11 May 1994 comment, Carlisle stated that Brays had by then served papers on “an additional three individuals” to the three served at the time of his 12 March statement (serving papers being – according to Denham himself on 25 February the sole reason for engaging Brays in the first place). In other words, by its own figures the government was paying a private company nearly £6,000 to serve papers on each protester accused of committing a civil offence of trespass.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

The Chuckle Brothers – A Neo-Maoist Posadist Perspective On Chuckle Theory

A chuckle by one is a chuckle for all