Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Discussions about serious topics, for serious people
Post Reply
User avatar
Fishnut
After Pie
Posts: 1928
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:15 pm
Location: UK

Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Fishnut » Mon Feb 14, 2022 10:06 pm

I've briefly touched on this in the police committing sexual crimes thread, mostly (but not exclusively) in relation to Mark Kennedy who had intimate relationships with women in order to help him infiltrate protest groups. But seeing this tweet by BLM Swansea announcing their dissolution, in part due to "an attempt of infiltration at the hands of South Wales Police" has made me want to have somewhere to discuss the broader problems that this undercover work has caused. Back in 2017 it was revealed that over 1,000 groups had been spied on by undercover officers. The Undercover Research Group have a database of organisations (though it's not hugely user-friendly) and it's striking how many of the groups are left-wing/social justice groups.

From wiki,
As of April 2018 the [Undercover Policing] inquiry has confirmed that undercover police had infiltrated the following groups and movements:

Anarchist groups, Animal Liberation Front, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Anti-Fascist Action, Big Flame, Black Power movement, Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Anglia Ruskin Churchill Society (Young Conservatives), Colin Roach Centre, Dambusters Mobilising Committee, Dissent!, Earth First!, Essex Hunt Saboteurs, Friends of Freedom Press Ltd, Globalise Resistance, Independent Labour Party, Independent Working Class Association, International Marxist Group, International Socialists, Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, London Animal Action, London Animal Rights Coalition, London Boots Action Group, London Greenpeace, Militant, No Platform, Antifa, Operation Omega, Reclaim the Streets, Red Action, Republican Forum, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, Socialist Party (England and Wales), Socialist Workers Party, South London Animal Movement (SLAM), Tri-Continental, Troops Out Movement, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, West London Hunt Saboteurs, Workers Revolutionary Party, Young Haganah, Young Liberals, Youth against Racism in Europe.
As Netpol pointed out, this infiltration "is about disruption as much as gathering intelligence". I think it was shared somewhere on the forum though I can't find it now, but I remember seeing a piece recently about how police infiltration caused such distrust and paranoia within and among groups that it essentially broke the environmental protest movement in the early 2000s right when it was starting to make major inroads. The consequences of that are something we are going to be living with for a long time.

The police weren't (for the most part) infiltrating groups that were a risk to the general public, they were infiltrating groups that were challenging the status quo, even when that status quo was obviously wrong. I'm too young (or was too politically unengaged at the time) to remember people being pro-Apartheid so it honestly boggles my mind that anti-Apartheid protests were seen as a threat to the state, but clearly someone in power thought they were and decided to target them for decades. The fact these infiltrations happened over decades - decades when the Conservatives were in power but also decades when Labour was - is interesting as the focus remained almost entirely on left-wing groups. I don't know how to interpret that, but I thought it was worth noting.

The inquiry is expected to report in 2023 and so far has cost over £47 million and looked at 54 years' worth of undercover policing.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

User avatar
Cardinal Fang
Snowbonk
Posts: 389
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 7:42 pm

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Cardinal Fang » Tue Feb 15, 2022 1:53 pm

It depends on the group as to whether it's just "because they're challenging the status quo" or whether they're actually a threat

The Animal Liberation Front, for example, have form for violence, which includes not only attacking facilities, but sending letter bombs and using fire bombs (not only on facilities themselves - in the US the ALF put a firebomb on the doorstep of a tenant of a house owned but not lived in by a researcher; the FBI said it was large enough to have killed the tenant had it gone off), kidnapping and branding a journalist, attacking the family homes of scientists who use animals in their research and so on. This is fundamentally terrorism, and therefore one can understand why such a group would be monitored

Hunt sabs too are not always renowned for their peaceful ways (I admit them and I sympathise with their position)

And I've been at enough demos over the course of my activist "career" to have seen first hand how some anarchists who don't give a fig about the actual cause will turn up just to smash things up, or have a tussle with the police (or anyone else they feel like). If I'm at something and I see the anarchist flag or black bloc people out, I automatically and constantly make more exit plans to get out of the way quickly if they kick off (granted I do the same if I see certain groups of police at a demo as well who have form for kicking off with no provocation)

CF
Image

User avatar
Woodchopper
Light of Blast
Posts: 5144
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:05 am

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Woodchopper » Tue Feb 15, 2022 2:38 pm

As for the left wing bias, after skimming the names of the groups, quite a few seem to go back as far as the 1960s and so its likely that a lot of the bias is due to geopolitics.

A few of the groups appear to have been Marxist organizations that were operating during the Cold War. Its not surprising that they were were surveilled, and that wasn't just paranoia as we now know that the Soviet Union did fund Marxist groups located in the West. Other organizations on the list appear to be from the same era but supporters of causes also pursued by groups which used political violence. Back in the 60s to 80s wars of national liberation were usually fought by groups that were either explicitly Marxist or aligned with the Soviet Union as a matter of convenience so as to get supplies of arms etc.

During the Cold War there wasn't a similar concern with right wing groups as they weren't likely to be aligned with a hostile superpower. So a rationale for surveilling them wasn't present.

Obviously this point doesn't apply to groups operating after the end of the 80s.

tom p
After Pie
Posts: 1603
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:14 pm
Location: the low countries

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by tom p » Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:34 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Mon Feb 14, 2022 10:06 pm
I've briefly touched on this in the police committing sexual crimes thread, mostly (but not exclusively) in relation to Mark Kennedy who had intimate relationships with women in order to help him infiltrate protest groups. But seeing this tweet by BLM Swansea announcing their dissolution, in part due to "an attempt of infiltration at the hands of South Wales Police" has made me want to have somewhere to discuss the broader problems that this undercover work has caused. Back in 2017 it was revealed that over 1,000 groups had been spied on by undercover officers. The Undercover Research Group have a database of organisations (though it's not hugely user-friendly) and it's striking how many of the groups are left-wing/social justice groups.

From wiki,
As of April 2018 the [Undercover Policing] inquiry has confirmed that undercover police had infiltrated the following groups and movements:

Anarchist groups, Animal Liberation Front, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Anti-Fascist Action, Big Flame, Black Power movement, Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Anglia Ruskin Churchill Society (Young Conservatives), Colin Roach Centre, Dambusters Mobilising Committee, Dissent!, Earth First!, Essex Hunt Saboteurs, Friends of Freedom Press Ltd, Globalise Resistance, Independent Labour Party, Independent Working Class Association, International Marxist Group, International Socialists, Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, London Animal Action, London Animal Rights Coalition, London Boots Action Group, London Greenpeace, Militant, No Platform, Antifa, Operation Omega, Reclaim the Streets, Red Action, Republican Forum, Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation, Socialist Party (England and Wales), Socialist Workers Party, South London Animal Movement (SLAM), Tri-Continental, Troops Out Movement, Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, West London Hunt Saboteurs, Workers Revolutionary Party, Young Haganah, Young Liberals, Youth against Racism in Europe.
As Netpol pointed out, this infiltration "is about disruption as much as gathering intelligence". I think it was shared somewhere on the forum though I can't find it now, but I remember seeing a piece recently about how police infiltration caused such distrust and paranoia within and among groups that it essentially broke the environmental protest movement in the early 2000s right when it was starting to make major inroads. The consequences of that are something we are going to be living with for a long time.

The police weren't (for the most part) infiltrating groups that were a risk to the general public, they were infiltrating groups that were challenging the status quo, even when that status quo was obviously wrong. I'm too young (or was too politically unengaged at the time) to remember people being pro-Apartheid so it honestly boggles my mind that anti-Apartheid protests were seen as a threat to the state, but clearly someone in power thought they were and decided to target them for decades. The fact these infiltrations happened over decades - decades when the Conservatives were in power but also decades when Labour was - is interesting as the focus remained almost entirely on left-wing groups. I don't know how to interpret that, but I thought it was worth noting.

The inquiry is expected to report in 2023 and so far has cost over £47 million and looked at 54 years' worth of undercover policing.
This is very interesting, thanks Fishnut.
Regarding the emboldened part, young conservatives would swan about in T-shirts with "Hang Nelson Mandela" on back in the 80s. The Thatcher government regarded the ANC as nothing but communist terrorists & were very supportive of the South African government. they were supporters of apartheid on a my enemy's enemy is my friend basis, as well as being generally ideologically in favour of it (even though they were too smart to honestly and openly say so)

tom p
After Pie
Posts: 1603
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:14 pm
Location: the low countries

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by tom p » Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:41 pm

That database of organisations is very interesting, ta.
I can see a couple of groups that my mum was associated with back in the day. She said about having been warned by cops that they were watching her.

tom p
After Pie
Posts: 1603
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:14 pm
Location: the low countries

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by tom p » Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:11 pm

For those of you interested in this, you'll find the latest Alexei Sayle podcast fascinating.
It features interviews with Paul Heron, a lawyer working for many of the women who the spy cops tricked into relationships & also an even more fascinating interview with Helen Steel. She was one of the McLibel 2 & was also tricked into such a relationship with a spy cop.
It's fascinating and disgraceful in equal measure

User avatar
Fishnut
After Pie
Posts: 1928
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:15 pm
Location: UK

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Fishnut » Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:16 pm

tom p wrote:
Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:11 pm
For those of you interested in this, you'll find the latest Alexei Sayle podcast fascinating.
It features interviews with Paul Heron, a lawyer working for many of the women who the spy cops tricked into relationships & also an even more fascinating interview with Helen Steel. She was one of the McLibel 2 & was also tricked into such a relationship with a spy cop.
It's fascinating and disgraceful in equal measure
Oh, thank you! I'm downloading that as I type.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

tom p
After Pie
Posts: 1603
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:14 pm
Location: the low countries

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by tom p » Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:29 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:16 pm
tom p wrote:
Sat Feb 19, 2022 1:11 pm
For those of you interested in this, you'll find the latest Alexei Sayle podcast fascinating.
It features interviews with Paul Heron, a lawyer working for many of the women who the spy cops tricked into relationships & also an even more fascinating interview with Helen Steel. She was one of the McLibel 2 & was also tricked into such a relationship with a spy cop.
It's fascinating and disgraceful in equal measure
Oh, thank you! I'm downloading that as I type.
Hope you enjoy it.
I expect many people would find his delivery somewhat off-putting, but the guests are always fascinating. I reckon you would like quite a lot of the others too

Imrael
Fuzzable
Posts: 234
Joined: Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:59 am

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Imrael » Sun Feb 20, 2022 4:34 pm

I think part of it is that dissent can be a bit habit forming, so authorities keep tracks of even harmless groups and people.

I also suspect another part is that at a point where law enforcement budgets are squeezed this is somewhere that funds can be got. Rather the same way as the cold war arms race had examples of bigging up the enemy capabilities to get your own budget increased.

User avatar
Fishnut
After Pie
Posts: 1928
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:15 pm
Location: UK

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Fishnut » Thu Mar 03, 2022 12:13 am

I stumbled across a spreadsheet that I began when the Guardian first published the list of organisations infiltrated by police back in 2000. So I spent the afternoon updating it with the information in the Undercover Research Group's database. I'm happy to share with anyone who's interested but as it's on my Google account I'd prefer not to put a link here.

The database is a work in progress, but so far they have identified 3 far right groups which were infiltrated - the British National Party, Combat 18 and United British Alliance. The BNP was infiltrated by three officers, one in 1990-1991, one in 2000s and one in the early 90s. Combat 18 was infiltrated in the 1990s and UBA in 2007.

As a comparison, in the 1990s undercover officers also infiltrated Unison, the National Union of Students, the National Union of Teachers, the Fire Brigades Union, the Communications Workers Union and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. In the 2000s they sent officers undercover into the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). In other words they had more officers undercover in unions than they did in far right groups.

The Socialist Workers Party (International Socialists) was the clear focus of the undercover operations, with 29 officers sent in between the 60s and the 00s. I know very little about the SWP but my initial reaction is that this is probably overkill. Given that an (admittedly cursory) Google search brings up no prosecutions or convictions of anyone due to their connections with the group I'm going to stand by that reaction until shown evidence to the contrary.

Between the 80s and 00s, 21 justice campaigns were infiltrated, including the Jean Charles de Menezes Campaign and the Stephen Lawrence Campaign (which had 3 different spies in the 1990s). Hard not to see these as the Met trying to protect itself rather than the public.

Overall, the database has identified infiltration of 160 groups by at least 80 individuals (there's a number who have not yet been identified). Left-wing groups were the most actively targeted, with 24 groups infiltrated. 23 animal rights groups were infiltrated, 13 environment groups, 10 trade unions, 9 anti-racist groups, 3 anti-apartheid to pick just a selection. I'm not naive enough to think that all these groups were full of people just having tea and biscuits and sitting around quietly signing petitions, and it may be that the data on right-wing groups haven't been disclosed yet. But there'd have to be a major bias in the release of data for it to be so skewed at this stage, so I don't think it's a stretch to say that the police had a strong bias towards targeting left wing/social justice groups. The question I still have then is why did the police see these groups as such a threat that they needed undercover officers to infiltrate them and, in multiple cases form romantic relationships and even encourage criminal activity? We have the right to freedom of assembly and association, something that has been put at risk by these spies. What's the justification? Where are the prosecutions that resulted from these operations? So far, all I've seen is multiple lives harmed with nothing to show for it.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

User avatar
Woodchopper
Light of Blast
Posts: 5144
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:05 am

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Mar 03, 2022 8:57 am

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Mar 03, 2022 12:13 am
As a comparison, in the 1990s undercover officers also infiltrated Unison, the National Union of Students, the National Union of Teachers, the Fire Brigades Union, the Communications Workers Union and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. In the 2000s they sent officers undercover into the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). In other words they had more officers undercover in unions than they did in far right groups.
This looks dodgy.
Fishnut wrote:
Thu Mar 03, 2022 12:13 am
Between the 80s and 00s, 21 justice campaigns were infiltrated, including the Jean Charles de Menezes Campaign and the Stephen Lawrence Campaign (which had 3 different spies in the 1990s). Hard not to see these as the Met trying to protect itself rather than the public.
As does this. It looks very much more like PR management rather than national security.
Fishnut wrote:
Thu Mar 03, 2022 12:13 am
The Socialist Workers Party (International Socialists) was the clear focus of the undercover operations, with 29 officers sent in between the 60s and the 00s. I know very little about the SWP but my initial reaction is that this is probably overkill. Given that an (admittedly cursory) Google search brings up no prosecutions or convictions of anyone due to their connections with the group I'm going to stand by that reaction until shown evidence to the contrary.
The concern during the Cold War was not so much that Marxist groups were directly involved in sedition etc. By the 50s and after they weren't seriously planning to take part in a revolution. Instead a concern was whether they would be used to help recruit people who would be used by Soviet intelligence agencies, either as willing agents or as "useful idiots". Those Soviet intelligence agencies did have some success, for example in recruiting students who went on to work in the British government and intelligence services.
Fishnut wrote:
Thu Mar 03, 2022 12:13 am
Overall, the database has identified infiltration of 160 groups by at least 80 individuals (there's a number who have not yet been identified). Left-wing groups were the most actively targeted, with 24 groups infiltrated. 23 animal rights groups were infiltrated, 13 environment groups, 10 trade unions, 9 anti-racist groups, 3 anti-apartheid to pick just a selection. I'm not naive enough to think that all these groups were full of people just having tea and biscuits and sitting around quietly signing petitions, and it may be that the data on right-wing groups haven't been disclosed yet. But there'd have to be a major bias in the release of data for it to be so skewed at this stage, so I don't think it's a stretch to say that the police had a strong bias towards targeting left wing/social justice groups. The question I still have then is why did the police see these groups as such a threat that they needed undercover officers to infiltrate them and, in multiple cases form romantic relationships and even encourage criminal activity? We have the right to freedom of assembly and association, something that has been put at risk by these spies. What's the justification? Where are the prosecutions that resulted from these operations? So far, all I've seen is multiple lives harmed with nothing to show for it.
I agree, after 1992 I don't see that there was a rationale for infiltrating organizations that had no links to violent acts or to ideologies that encouraged violence.

User avatar
Fishnut
After Pie
Posts: 1928
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:15 pm
Location: UK

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Fishnut » Mon May 09, 2022 7:23 pm

A married undercover police officer gave testimony that he had sex with a woman as part of his work,
David Barr QC, counsel to the inquiry, said HN21 infiltrated the Socialist Workers Party at the end of the 1970s and start of the 1980s. Speaking about HN21 in his opening statement on Monday, Mr Barr said: “Like most SDS undercover officers he was a married man.

“He gave oral evidence that he had had sex on two occasions, six or seven months apart, with a woman whom he had got to know quite well at an evening class he attended whilst undercover. He stated that the woman was apolitical and not an activist. He socialised with her as part of a small group.” [my emphasis]
The quote shows just how many lives have been affected by these undercover officers. I'm not saying that activist groups should expect to be infiltrated (though I suspect many now do) but I can see it being seen as a potential risk of doing business, so to speak. But the woman this man slept with wasn't an activist. She was simply someone he met while working undercover and he lied to her, and used her as much as he lied and used the activists he was infiltrating. It seems that they have been unable to work out who the woman is and hopefully she never knew that their relationship was built on deception, but there's no guarantee.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

User avatar
Fishnut
After Pie
Posts: 1928
Joined: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:15 pm
Location: UK

Re: Police infiltrating left-wing groups

Post by Fishnut » Mon May 09, 2022 7:29 pm

Another revelation - MI5 asked police to spy on kids in the 70s.

Barr highlighted the request circulated by MI5 to chief constables in December 1975, about what it called “subversive activity in schools”.
MI5 said it wanted information about “older pupils (14 or over) who are active in subversive organisations which are exploited for subversive purposes”. It also requested details of teachers who “are using their position for subversive purposes, eg attempting to convert pupils or making school premises available to subversive organisations”...

He said the request had been approved by Sir Michael Hanley, the then director general of MI5, and Sir Arthur Peterson, then the Home Office’s most senior civil servant.

Barr added the request could explain why undercover police officers had spied on children involved in political activism, citing their “extensive” reports on a group called School Kids Against the Nazis (SKAN). Large numbers of schoolchildren joined this group in the 1970s to oppose fascists recruiting supporters in schools.
it's okay to say "I don't know"

Post Reply