Who are the spooks?

Tilly Gifford from Plane Stupid on the infiltration of the environmental movement by the police and private security services.
16 January 2011

The outing of Mark Kennedy and two (and counting) other undercover police officers working within the environmental movement has created a significant media controversy, leading for calls for enquiries into police infiltration tactics. Plane Stupid, a network which takes action against the aviation industry's climate impact, have been subject to two recent infiltration attempts, one of which took place in 2009, seemingly involving Strathclyde police.

In March 2009 we safely and effectively closed down Aberdeen Airport, cutting CO2 emissions and drawing attention to the social and environmental impacts of their expansion plans. Two men claiming to be from the police afterwards attempted to spy on Plane Stupid's activities, by offering me cash for information. We recorded the conversations using a spy cam and a mobile phone, and exposed them in the media. We still don’t know who they are.

Strathclyde Police confirmed on multiple occasions that the names of the two police officers did not feature on any of their databases. To get any answers as to who the 2 spooks were, we've been locked into a bureaucratic ping-pong ever since.

At a whole other level of police intrusion, Mark Kennedy had been embedded within the environmental movement for 7 years. In last Monday's BBC interview, without blushing or skipping a beat, former undercover police officer Peter Berklsey confirmed not only that there are more officers embedded, but that "people there are also undercover from the private security sector working against climate campaigners”. This makes my blood run cold.

The language itself is telling. Not ‘protestors’, but ‘campaigners’. Targeted not for taking illegal direct action, but simply for holding a view. And not simply monitoring: the ‘against’ testifies to an agenda in policing. As for the unnamed companies of the ‘private security sector’:

“Providing Peace of Mind in a Changing World”, “We take care of your security so that you can focus your energies on your personal and business affairs, free from distraction and anxiety”.

Sounds as inoffensive and sanitary as an advert for odour-removing, floral-fragrance deodorant? Meet C2i, the “Specialists in Security Crisis Risk Management” who infiltrated Plane Stupid in 2007 (and were exposed the next year). The private security sector can sell on information (names, databases, minutes of meetings) to large companies to whom grassroots campaigns pose a threat. They sometimes work with the police. They are not accountable.

There is a range of unpleasant options as to who might have been harassing and monitoring Plane Stupid in 2009: National Public Order Unit Intelligence Order, Confidential Intelligence Unit - both reporting back to the private company, the Association of Chief Police Officers. Or corporate espionage a la C2i? In view of such a range of possibilities, we are seeking simply to establish that the officers who approached us were indeed Strathclyde police, as they later claimed he was, under the public glare.

Strathclyde Police were uncooperative, so it went all the way to the Scottish Information Commissioner. Our request simply for the officer's date of commission within the Strathclyde Police force was refused. I was told I could take it to the Court of Session (the Scottish version of the Supreme Court), or drop it. I would be liable for up to £20 000 in court costs. I'm an apprentice farmer, a researcher and a ceramicist: the epic financial risk makes pursuing this case entirely unfeasible for me.

The collapse of the prosecution case of the Ratcliffe 114 against 6 activists coincides with information on Kennedy’s involvement being required. Undeniably, strings are being pulled from high-up to avoid shedding any light on covert policing. If the Freedom of Information process and the Legal Justice system are covering up for the spooks, could it be that the very mechanisms which are designed to deliver transparency and accountability to protect the public, are being manipulated? The police need to start talking. We need answers. Silence is not acceptable.

Should we want to know what information Mark Kennedy was gathering and for whom, to know who appoints such considerable police resources to monitor the environmental movement, to know who decides to pull the plug on an entire prosecution case, to know who the men slinking around with brown envelopes and dark glasses claiming to be Strathclyde Police actually are, and we find all processes are either prohibitively expensive or opaque, where do we turn to?

Towards a demand for a full inquiry, not lead politically, nor carried out by the police, but in front of a judge. Towards the awareness of links between big financial interests and policing: the businesses we target have social and environmental consequences as massive only as the money they have behind them. Towards self-organising to monitor the police's activities. Towards the silver lining of the proliferation of techno-gadgets: camera phones and YouTube. These can serve to bear witness: as in the killing of Ian Tomlinson, or to share budding tactics of resistance: Book Bloc.

We can turn to the knowledge that, in the environmental justice movement, we’re onto something – the reason we’re being so heavily targeted is that our impact is real and effective.


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Dwight Towers 17 January 2011, 13.31

But is any of us really surprised that these dickheads exist? They are an occupational hazard, and all the more reason to only do the big set piece stuff very very occasionally/when it is absolutely necessary. Over the last five years (well, longer, since Drax was part of a chain involving Gleneagles) the climate/NVDA crew have been drawn to the big set piece adrenaline and attention things, drowning out or at least overwhelming the energy for small scale stuff. I haven’t heard anyone claim Kennedy and the other agents directed the “movement” to this. Because they didn’t. “We” chose the path that has led us to this. And now we complain about police infiltration. (NB I am not saying Kennedy should be allowed to get away with it, nor that we should not support those personally affected by his actions, very probably illegal, certainly grotesque and inhuman.)
I AM saying we should use this as an opportunity to think “hullo, the cops can’t infiltrate a thousand small groups doing solid and useful nonviolent stuff, they don’t have the staffing levels for it”. But we won’t. We’d rather blame others for our current shituation.”

Jeremy 18 January 2011, 12.39

The thing is Dwight Towers that those big set pieces have helped stop Heathrow and Kingsnorth, without question.

I’m the first to say that we need to focus a lot more attention on building a thousand small groups but in reality without those groups feeling they’re part of something bigger you get a dozen or so small groups in cities with social centres, which are just as easy to infiltrate.

What we need is an honest discussion about how to achieve both, with respect on both sides for people whose preference is to do one or the other.

Dwight Towers 18 January 2011, 14.46

The implication in your last sentence seems to be that I am not engaging in an “honest” discussion. Thanks for that.

The reality *might* be that lots of people (including experienced activists, as well as ‘normal people’) have gotten seriously fed up with the lip service paid to local action and the focus on spectaculars. There is such a thing as “opportunity-costs” With limited time and energy, you can’t have BOTH an annual camp and all the local activity (that more people might be interested in getting involved in. Some of us have been trying to have this “honest discussion” for years, and have proposed alternatives that sink without trace. We tend to get ignored or mis-represented. Only a cynic would suspect that the big set pieces are easy, and feed the smugosphere.

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