The Spying Game - Part 2

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In part one of this article, we mentioned the existence of spying throughout civilisation and the way that it’s been perfected by the capitalist ruling class, the bourgeoisie, a class which is Machiavellian and conspiratorial par excellence. We looked at the factors which underlie the spying activities of this class: economic, military and class domination. We saw, from the archives of the Russian secret services, the Okhrana, ‘liberated’ by the Russian Revolution of 1917, just how pervasive and extensive was the spying of the capitalist state over a hundred years ago and how the development of technology has taken this forward in an entirely ‘natural’ fashion. Finally, without underestimating the ruthlessness and intelligence of the bourgeoisie, whose different factions will not hesitate to spy on each other and the working class and its revolutionary forces, we look at the limitations of the state’s spying and repressive apparatus in controlling populations in revolt, particularly the organised proletariat.

The actions of the bourgeoisie only make bad situations worse

After the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, security and spying went onto another level as the spread of terrorism reinforced the idea that societies, countries and ‘allies’ are besieged fortresses fearing attacks of one sort or another on the ‘homeland’. The result has been an increase in barbed and razor-wire, floodlit, concrete and steel checkpoints, patrolled by military, police and vigilantes, and in electronic and droned surveillance along European and American borders. All this is often accompanied by a constant campaign against asylum-seekers and refugees, against the threat of ‘penetration’ of one kind or another, from ‘alien’ foreigners to cyber-warfare. Never before has a ruling class been forced to develop and deploy such sophisticated arsenals of surveillance and repression. It’s been estimated that 6000 miles of walls have gone up in the last ten years alone[1], a sure expression of the decomposition of capitalism in this so-called ‘globalised and inclusive’ world. But no matter how much the authorities try to set up surveillance mechanisms aimed both externally and internally, no matter how much the US (and others) turn their countries into fortresses against migrants, instability, trafficking, or potential terrorists, the system cannot stop the descent into greater chaos and violence. On the contrary, it contributes to it. The strongest, most well-equipped power in the world, the USA, cannot stop the destabilisation of its borders.

In Mexico twenty-six thousand people were killed in 2012 alone in its border-related drug wars and Russian RT News has reported that Mexico has “the highest levels of US intelligence assistance outside Afghanistan” (22/12/13). On the Canadian border there’s a whole united nations of crime gangs trafficking humans, narcotics and weapons. US/Canadian border patrols have increased by 700% since 9/11 and there’s even talk of building a wall there! More and more areas of the globe are prone to flights of refugees and migrants, victims of war, crime and poverty, of defeated uprisings in the slums and townships. None of this can be stopped by barbed-wire and fences and certainly not by the most powerful computer spyware yet invented which, for the most part, just looks on cynically and helplessly. The recent heart-rending events covered by TV, showing Africans, Iraqis, Afghans and, increasingly Syrians fleeing from wars and poverty, often perishing in the attempt in deserts or at sea, reveal the inability of the European powers to stem this flow of human misery. Indeed, their wars directly contribute to it. The Italian island of Lampedusa alone has, according to The Guardian, 3/10/13, seen more than 8000 migrants land in the first 8 months of the year, with the same article quoting human rights organisations in Italy saying that the Mediterranean had “become a cemetery. And it will become even more so”. And this while the region and its sea are under surveillance like never before.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”

One of the glib phrases used by the ruling class in order to justify its wholesale spying upon us is: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. It was used by British Foreign Secretary William Hague at the beginning of the National Security Agency (NSA) ‘scandal’ in the summer and has also been attributed to the Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Recent revelations (Newsnight, 18/12/13) show how there is not a whit of evidence that the NSA’s surveillance has prevented one terrorist attack. The ‘alert’ of August 3 and 4 last, which was based on the NSA’s uncovering of supposed planned attacks on western embassies in Arab countries, resulting in 19 diplomatic posts being shut down, shows how these completely unverifiable threats are used for political purposes, both to rally populations and intimidate them as well as to cover up or justify imperialist manoeuvring. And as for the excuses about ‘preventing another 9/11’, there’s plenty of publicly known evidence that the US security services knew quite a lot about the bombers before the event. All the major powers are now well on the way with drone technology which is used for both surveillance and attack - without your forces being hurt. China, for example, has recently deployed drones in the East China Sea, increasing its operational and strike capabilities. But these weapons used to strike ‘terrorist’ targets, with the majority of their victims being innocent civilians, are just oil on the fire, creating, from pools of disaffected, despondent unemployed youth, more suicide bombers, more jihadis. This in turn demands ever more sophisticated tools in the longer run to ‘contain and control’ ever more potential enemies. These latter, imbued with nationalism, religious fervour or just anger and a thirst for revenge are themselves just as much victims of capitalist decay. Yemen is an example of it, where Al-Qaeda is not “On the path to defeat” as President Obama put it, but is continually renewed and expanding, becoming increasingly dangerous and more difficult to track. And none of this whole range of surveillance does anything to counter the ‘home-grown’ terrorists from which there’s almost no protection. The 7/7 London bombers and the two deeply troubled Boston bombers, who had no links to Al Qaeda and who used an ordinary household appliance, a pressure cooker, to create carnage and havoc, are examples of this. And if the security forces, with all the money, technology and facilities thrown at them, can’t follow a couple of known potential terrorists how are they going to track the hundreds coming back to Europe from Syria, Somalia and elsewhere, let alone the ‘lone wolves’ already present?

Nevertheless, the fear of terrorist attacks ‘at home’, arising from the chaos spilling over from western-led wars in the Middle East, has sparked another push for the development of surveillance techniques and a mentality of ‘defend the state’ in those same western countries. This also applies to the increasing risk of world-wide cyber attacks, the latter being part of the same spiral. There are no innocent states here, and while the US is the strongest element, they are all at it against each other, France, Germany, Russia, China, etc. who all adapt their own national ideology to support their role as ‘victims’ and ‘protectors’. And democracy is strengthened particularly by those who object to this surveillance, the ‘whistleblowers’ like Edward Snowden and his ilk who want ‘transparency’ in order to boost the democratic state[2]. At the same time the ‘gap’ between the state and the general population has been growing with the former seeing the latter more and more as an element to be distrusted, tracked and spied upon. Technological developments have made this spying and surveillance easier and more extensive, as shown by the example of the US and Britain tapping directly into fibre optics at the bottom of ocean floors, which are a major part of everyone’s communications.

Alongside the development of spy technology there is also the cancerous growth of the forces of capitalist order. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people are working directly for the NSA, with something like 200,000 employed by 13 different secret services and any number of contractors, and there’s nothing new about contract spies working for the state - several large private security agencies worked for the US state at the beginning of the 1900s. There are no figures for the British GCHQ but it must be many thousands, and it’s notable that they are all heavily unionised. There’s growing infiltration by an army of police/security agents in protest movements, mosques, drug cartels and mafias and none of it makes any impression, it is even counter-productive in the state’s own terms, and becomes an end to itself swelling the security aspect and deepening the murkiness of the state apparatus[3]. The secret services themselves take on a certain ‘autonomisation’ and tend to get out of control, involved in all sorts of manipulations and shady dealings. The most recent example of that is the CIA in and around Syria providing arms and money directly and indirectly to jihadi forces while reporting to Congress that only the Free Syrian Army was receiving aid, sending its FSA stooges to Washington to insist that this was the case and that the FSA was a strong force on the ground with the jihadis being a small minority[4]. This ‘autonomisation’ is also evidenced by the British ex-Cabinet minister, Chris Huhne, who was in this exalted position for two years up to 2012 and who said that the Cabinet was in “utter ignorance” of the two biggest covert operations undertaken by GCHQ, Prism and Tempora (The Guardian, 6/10/13).

Britain: you don’t need jackboots for a police state

‘Democratic Britain’, the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, has more CCTV cameras than anywhere in the world by a large margin. In 2011, Cheshire police came up with a number of 1.85 million, along with sharply improving facial recognition software. There’s also the development of internet-enabled computer chips which are increasingly going into many products and were even being put in litter bins on the streets of London, enabling them to ‘communicate’ with passing smart phones. Everywhere are spies: on workers (trackers, personalised computers for jobs, individual productivity targets, etc.), universities, schools, local authorities, companies, uniformed thugs at tube stations, social security informer lines, grass-up an immigrant adverts - all these outside the ‘official’ secret services, but no less part of the militarisation of society. Under the whip of competition and profits, companies establish ‘profiles’ of every single customer. Once you have bought a product via electronic means or with a store card then this technology is used to know the when and where of your buying habits. Although employee blacklists have existed since the working class was born, technology has vastly improved their reach. Police forces across the country supplied information on thousands of workers to a blacklist operation run by Britain’s biggest construction companies in a conspiracy of the state with its police and industry (The Observer, 13/10/13). Such talk had been dismissed by elements of the state as ‘a conspiracy theory’ but this is just the tip of the iceberg, going well beyond the construction industry.

When Tony Blair left office in 2007, his Labour government had built up a surveillance state that out-performed the Stasi in its scope and in the technology used. Parliament passed 45 criminal justice laws and created 3000 new criminal offences. Labour Prime Minister Brown, who followed Blair, extended this record and the Tories have further extended it since (The Guardian, 14/8/13).

In the 1984 miners’ strike six pickets were killed and eleven thousand arrests were made by the paramilitary police, who assaulted miners and their families with impunity, used snatch squads, set up illegal road blocks and vandalised cars and property belonging to miners and their supporters. No expense was spared by the state in this campaign, one that it was determined to win at all costs, and much of this was under the direction of the secret Whitehall group, MISC57, set up in 1981 for this very purpose. Also against the miners were the DHSS, which illegally stopped dole payments, the media of course with the BBC at its head showing it was not above some North Korean-style film manipulation. The Director-General of MI5 at the time, Stella Rimington, wrote in her 2001 biography about how MI5 used its counter-subversive agents against the miners. Stipendiary magistrates were leaned upon, legal rights for the miners were ignored, police evidence was crudely fabricated and tightly restrictive bail conditions were backed up by courts. All this could have been overcome, and many workers were being further radicalised by the repression, but the NUM with its nationalist and corporatist agenda was mainly responsible for isolating the strike.

The trade unions are now state structures whose role is to oversee, channel, even initiate the actions of workers in order to subsequently control the force of the working class. As state organisations representing the national interest, the trade unions rely on a regimen of information coming to the top through the union conduits that exist deep into any strike, discontent or actions by the workers. The union structures also lend themselves to infiltration by other parts of the state and the secret services in particular. A news report for the BBC, 24 October 2002, said that Joe Gormley, a past president of the National Union of Miners, was a Special Branch informant. Also, during the 70’s when more and more wildcat strikes were breaking out, the report said that more than 20 trade union leaders were talking to Special Branch. Files released under the Freedom of Information Act point to the use of secret service ‘moles’ within the NUM during the 1984 strike and the same report (The Guardian,16/5/05) details how MI5 and GCHQ eavesdropped on striking miners. It’s worth noting that only a tiny fraction of secret service and government documents relating to these events have been released because of “national security”. In relation to the role of the secret services in industrial relations, the same BBC report above details how the car company Ford only agreed to invest in Halewood on Merseyside because of a suspected secret deal with MI5 and Special Branch. According to a former SB officer, Tony Robinson, part of his responsibilities was “to make certain that the Ford factory is kept clear of subversives”. Also on the role of Special Branch, ex-agent Annie Machon in “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers” writes about how this agency constantly spied on groups like the Socialist Workers’ Party, Militant Tendency and the CPGB. She adds that in the time before computerised spying took off, MI5 had more than a million personal files (PFs) on people some of them written in long-hand. A file was even made up for a school pupil who had written to the CPGB for information for his school project; he was labelled “a communist sympathiser”.

Arrogant and confident after their success over the miners, the police, from chief constables downwards, engineered a major conspiracy over their deadly role in the manslaughter of 96 people at Hillsborough football stadium in April 1989. The conspiracy extended across the whole state including the NHS, local councils, the media with its police-induced slanders and innuendo, local and national politicians, the Football Association and others. Then there’s the infiltration of police spies into mainly innocuous protests, again showing how fragile the state is, paranoid and intolerant of its citizens who think that they have democratic ‘rights’. The ruling class’ complete lack of scruples was shown in the way the police used the names of dead children in order to do their dirty work, including inciting provocations and having sex with the women that they duped - “raped by the state” indeed. And there are the death squads and the slanders of innocent victims and the conspiracies following their murders: the electrician Charles de Menezes and the paper-seller Ian Tomlinson. There are also what appear to be the cold-blooded killings of Azelle Rodney in April 2005, and Mark Duggan more recently. There are many more examples, too numerous to mention here, of how the police get away with murder. The state is everywhere and the police and security services are its main agents. And all this violence, violation and abuse is happening in democratic Britain where, increasingly, any form of protest is deemed illegal by the state and its police.

None of this is peculiar to Britain: spying and state repression are natural to the rule of capital, and they can only be strengthened by the descent of the system into crisis and chaos. In the face of this, calls for ‘transparency’ and the ‘right to know’ are just feeble attempts to shore up the democratic system. No amount of transparency can alter the general tendency to the fortress state. Only the class struggle of the exploited can obstruct the repressive power of the state and open the way to its ultimate destruction. 

Baboon 24/12/13 ((This article was contributed by a sympathiser of the ICC)

[1]. Joe Henley, ‘Walls: an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank’, The Guardian, 19.11.13.


[2]. It’s beyond irony that Snowden has been welcomed to Russia by the Putin regime whose agents still operate from the notorious Stalinist-era Lubyanka building in Moscow. The investigative journalist and security expert, Andrei Soldatov, estimates that the FSB spy agency employs 200,000 people. The same could be said about Snowden’s elevation to hero by some of the most oppressive left wing states of Latin America - all of whom are involved in using the latest technology for spying and surveillance and who want to use Snowden in order to push their own nationalistic anti-Americanism. Thus any whistleblower can easily become a tool in the hands of one state or another, showing that the tentacles of ‘Big Brother’ can’t be broken by individuals - who can become integrated into democratic or nationalist campaigns - but by the smashing of the state as a whole. These tentacles are thus not an exception nor a scandal but the true face of capitalist society based on militarism, competition and the oppression of the exploited and its revolutionary minorities.


[3]. Against this trend of increases in the security apparatus of the state throughout decadent capitalism, between the wars, the US, wary of covert state activity and underestimating part of its responsibility as the major power, shut down or degraded most of its own intelligence agencies, with the exception of the FBI. That led them to rely more on the British whose Empire had intelligence structures that had existed since the 19th century and which had been constantly updated and strengthened. These British agencies were even used to spy on sections of the political apparatus of the US during the inter-war years and throughout the Second World War. See In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence by Rhodri Jeffreys--Jones. But the US has learned its lessons since.


[4]. A couple of days after the now discredited FSA spokeswoman was giving her CIA-inspired lies to Congress, IHS Janes Consultancy published its authoritative findings saying that there were up to 45,000 hard-line Islamists fighting in Syria with some 10,000 directly linked to Al Qaeda (Daily Telegraph, 15.9.13). These startling facts seem to have contributed to the administration’s overall re-think on the Syrian war.




State Surveillance