Methods of infiltration by the democratic state

See also :

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

That the police have infiltrated the environmental and anti-globalisation protest movements over the past decade should come as no surprise to those living in ‘perfidious Albion’. In the 1840s the ‘Peelers’ had informers inside the Chartist movement (Thomas Powell) and the Cold War machinations of MI6 are legendary. The state infiltration of the Irish Republican movement has given us the ‘Stakeknife’ affair, where one of the IRA’s chief spy-catchers was himself a British agent for 25 years, with the British government allowing at least 40 people to be tortured and killed to protect his identity. (See WR 274, ‘British state organises terrorism in Ireland’).

The revelations in The Guardian during January that exposed four undercover agents of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), and the outraged response to them from the ‘democratic’ media and politicians, are nevertheless worthy of attention. Concerns about the first agent – PC Mark Stone (aka Mark Kennedy) – were first made public in October 2010 on Indymedia[1], but it was the collapse of the trial in early January of 6 activists accused of conspiring to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station that grabbed the headlines. Apparently Stone, wracked with remorse, had threatened to ‘go native’ and give evidence for the defence.

He obviously has plenty of evidence at hand. According to The Guardian, from the day his undercover operation began, “Kennedy would live a remarkable double life lasting more than seven years... Kennedy was feeding back detailed reports to his police commanders as he participated in, and sometimes even organised, some of the most high-profile demonstrations of the past decade. He took part in almost every major environmental protest in the UK from 2003, and also managed to infiltrate groups of anti-racists, anarchists and animal rights protesters. Using a fake passport, Kennedy visited more than 22 countries, taking part in protests against the building of a dam in Iceland, touring Spain with eco-activists, and penetrating anarchist networks in Germany and Italy.” (‘Mark Kennedy: A journey from undercover cop to ‘bona fide’ activist’, 10/01/11.) His success was down to having transport and money. Socially, he seemed to get on well with his targets, even having relationships with women, who rightly feel disgusted and betrayed by his duplicity.

The same cannot be said for PC Mark ‘Marco’ Jacobs who infiltrated the Cardiff Anarchist Network between 2005 and 2009. According to CAN, Jacobs’ key objectives were “to gather intelligence and disrupt the activities of CAN; to use the reputation and trust CAN had built up to infiltrate other groups, including a European network of activists; and to stop CAN functioning as a coherent group.” (‘They come at us because we are strong’, fitwatch.org). While Jacobs shared the first two objectives with Kennedy, it is the third that stands out, and was probably used by the police because the CAN was more politicised. The tactics used to achieve this aim are reminiscent of the Stalinist GPU within the Trotskyist movement during the 1930s: “He changed the culture of the organisation, encouraging a lot of drinking, gossip and back-stabbing, and trivialised and ran down any attempt made by anyone in the group to achieve objectives. He clearly aimed to separate and isolate certain people from the group and from each other, and subtly exaggerated political and personal differences, telling lies to both ‘sides’ to create distrust and ill-feeling. In the four years he was in Cardiff a strong, cohesive and active group had all but disintegrated. Marco left after anarchist meetings in the city stopped being held.” (ibid).

Activists from CAN approached The Guardian with their concerns, who took them to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which confirmed that Jacobs was an officer with the NPOIU. Environmentalist activists in Leeds also had concerns about one Lynne Watson (and subsequently her partner) who had been involved in protest groups from 2004 to 2008. After Mark Kennedy was exposed in the autumn he apparently confirmed Watson was, like him, an NPOIU officer. The Leeds activists approached The Guardian, and the ACPO confirmed their suspicions, asking that she not be named until she was ‘extracted’ from her current operation. (See the ActivistSecurity.org statement on Lynn Watson[2]).

The subsequent inquiries into the Mark Stone case have shed light on the accountability of the various police agencies. The connection between the NPOIU and the ACPO is revealing. The ACPO is actually a private limited company. Before the Stone story broke, the NPOIU reported directly to the ACPO, not the government’s Home Office, meaning that it was not bound by the Freedom of Information Act. While we can have no illusions in a free and fair ‘democratic’ police force, the growing ‘privatisation’ of policing is interesting. The US government’s contracting out of security to private firms in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to have inspired the Labour Party’s approach to policing during the Blair administration. The NPOIU was formed in 1990, and is now part of the National Domestic Extremism Unit, responsibility for which has been handed to the Metropolitan Police.

Another element in the Kennedy affair has been the degree to which different European states – in this case Ireland, Iceland and Germany - cooperated in both using and covering up for Kennedy in his work of penetrating European activist and anarchist networks (wsws.org, 3/2/11, ‘Police agent Kennedy was active throughout Europe’).   

The technology of police surveillance has, of course, become much more sophisticated since Victor Serge wrote ‘What every revolutionary should know about state repression’ in 1926, basing himself on the activities of the Tsarist Okhrana. But the basic methods for infiltrating and sabotaging the work of ‘subversive’ elements remain substantially the same: get your agents inside as many of these dissident networks and organisations as possible; once inside, stir up personal animosities and rivalries; encourage all kinds of ‘extreme’ actions that give the state an excuse to smash the organisation. The work of Kennedy and his colleagues was directed mainly at a very amorphous activist milieu which presents numerous opportunities for infiltration and acts of provocation. But revolutionary communists should be under no illusion that the state, democratic or otherwise, will not use the same tricks against them.   

Colin, 27/01/11