It has been revealed that the UK’s Metropolitan Police has despatched undercover agents into peaceful protest movements, where they have engaged in intimate sexual relationships, sharing their lives and homes and even having children, with the targets of their espionage. This horror story forms part of a worrying trend of late, which has seen civil dissent and disobedience rebranded as Domestic Extremism by increasingly bellicose ‘liberal democracies’ across Europe and North America. As the very nature of democracy, is the freedom to disagree, if dissenting from the political elite is now domestic extremism, democracy is dead.
The Case of the Met
A British Parliamentary Inquiry (see The Inquiry Report) has revealed a forty year history of the British government deploying undercover police officers from the Special Demonstration Squad into long term assignments where they develop intimate relationships with members of political and activist groups for the purpose of extracting information.
The first high profile case was that of Mark Kennedy, who was undercover for seven years, targeting environmental campaign groups. During his cover, he enjoyed several sexual and long term relationships with women who believed he was actually an eco activist called Mark Stone. He continued a full romantic relationship with a woman psuedonymised in the Inquiry report as ‘Lisa’, for six years. During that time she had been to political events with Kennedy in Iceland, Spain, Germany and Italy. She had even shared a home with him. It was only when activists, suspicious at Kennedy’s eagerness to promote action, and continuous ‘luck’ in receiving leniency by the courts, that they found his passport bearing his true name. This led them to the discovery that he was in fact an undercover police officer.
Undercover agent Mark Jenner lived as unemployed joiner Mark Cassidy for six years to infiltrate left wing political groups. He had a relationship with ‘Alyson’ in which he lived with her for four years, attended family weddings, became a full member of the family despite having a wife in ‘real life’. One day, ‘Alison’ came home to a note from Jenner saying: “We want different things. I can’t cope … When I said I loved you, I meant it, but I can’t do it.”
Speaking to the Inquiry, ‘Alison’ said:
“I met him when I was 29. It was the time when I wanted to have children, and for the last 18 months of our relationship he went to relationship counselling with me about the fact that I wanted children and he did not.” At the same time, Jenner was attended counselling sessions with his wife to restore some of the intimacy they had lost.
One woman was devastated to discover that the father of her child Bob Jones who’d disappeared from her life in the late 1980’s, was in fact undercover spy Bob Lambert.
Alison summed it up best when she said “”This is not about just a lying boyfriend or a boyfriend who has cheated on you,” she said.”It is about a fictional character who was created by the state and funded by taxpayers’ money.”
These women have been left utterly traumatised by the discovery of such an enormous abuse of trust. They have shared their homes, their beds, their dreams and their lives with men who were sent by the state to spy on them and their political networks.
Furthermore, the police had been using the identities of dead children to create their undercover aliases.
There is a serious cost to these operations. The tax payer is charged £250,000 a year for each undercover agent sent to spy upon them. There have been serious psychological and emotional impacts on the women who have had their worlds torn apart by these fraudulent relationships. But all the while, all this cost has been spent simply to spy on political and activist groups which are supposed to be free to operate in a liberal democracy. Groups targeted by the agents include Greenpeace, Climate Camp among others and the case of Mark Kennedy has raised serious questions about the agents not simply spying, but actively promoting and engaging in criminal actions, which raises the issue of entrapment.
This report makes terrifying reading and raises serious questions about exactly what kind of democracy the UK is living under, where such acts are considered within the law. This behaviour was sanctioned by a state which no longer separates the peaceful protester from the common criminal, and employs the same kind of surveillance and heavy handed suppression on both.
The Occupy Crackdown
Britain is sadly not alone in condemning those seeking to organise political dissent as domestic extremists. In the US, a Freedom of Information Request by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund revealed the Occupy Movement had been heavily surveilled by a specially established Domestic Security Alliance Council (a more Orwellian title you could not conjure!) which saw all the major security agencies coordinating a crackdown with Banks and Corporations.
Writing on the issue in The Guardian, Naomi Klein states:
“The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves…The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.”
This is a proven collaboration of corporate interests and the state to suppress a political movement challenging their power. The purpose of the infiltration was to pass information on the composition and the plans of the Occupy Movement to the financial services industry they were demonstrating. The tax payer funded security agencies were effectively spying on tax payers, to banks. They were passing information to The Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to name but a few.
Perhaps the most sinister revelation in the documents, is the outline plans for assassination of ‘prominent’ activists by sniper fire, whilst the heavily redacted documents mean we do not know by who, when, how or under what conditions.
“This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
In both Britain, and the US, the world’s so called foremost liberal democracies – dissent is the new extremism.
A Taste of Their Own Medicine
Despite the endemic surveillance by the state in its citizens, and the argument of the state that if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear –the state responds quite differently when faced with the same treatment by its citizens. Citizens found to have surveilled the state and opened the machinery of state to the people paying for it have been ruthlessly taken down by the state.
Bradley Manning, a 23 year old US marine was alleged to have provided a raft of US Iraq War Logs, US Diplomatic Cables and video footage of US helicopter gunships massacring innocents. This information was instrumental in uncovering the real conversations happening behind the scenes, which were in stark contrast to the stories told to the civilian population about what was happening in Iraq. It was the 21st century version of the Pentagon Papers which detailed the truth behind the Vietnam War. Revelations from this information have been published in almost every mainstream newspaper and TV news source in existence and are still referred to as source data in news stories today.
Bradley Manning has now spent over one thousand days behind bars without trial. He was arrested in Baghdad to a prison tent in Kuwait, onto 14 months in the harshest conditions in Quantico Marine Base. During this time Manning spent much of this time in solitary confinement, limited to the confines of his cell for twenty three hours a day. He was stripped naked each night, deprived of his prescription glasses leaving him practically blind, and verbally taunted.
He faces 22 criminal charges, the most serious of which (aiding and abetting the enemy) carries the death penalty.
Aaron Swartz an internet freedom activist was faced with similar treatment after allegedly using MIT’s network to illegally download 4.8 million documents from JSTOR, one of the Internet’s largest collections of scholarly articles with the aim of distributing them to people for free.
Swartz had founded reddit, was part of the Demand Progress campaign group which seeks to end internet censorship and was roundly considered as a programming genius and force for good in the world. Swartz also suffered from depression, sometimes posting his thoughts online.
Swartz was arrested in Boston in 2011. Though JSTOR didn’t press charges, The Justice Department proceeded to threaten Swartz with 13 felony counts that carried up to 35 years in prison and $4m in fines.
The case continued for two years, with prosecutor Stephen Heymann aggressively pushing for jail time for Swartz. Under pressure, Swartz’s lawyers presented a plea deal which Heymann rejected on January 9th 2013. Swartz was found dead in his New York apartment, having killed himself at the age of just 26, on January 11th. In a statement, his family said:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
One might argue that this was a one off tragic event. However, the very same prosecutor was involved in a stunningly similar case in 2008, when 24 year old depressive hacker Jonathan James shot himself dead after being chased by Heymann.
This Has To Stop
The UK government used the Terrorism Act 2000, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to dramatically curtail the right to protest – increasing the scope of the police to limit the freedom of movement, assembly, and protest enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.
We have clear, proven cases where the liberal democratic state is launching spies into the bedrooms of lawful citizens, are incarcerating dissenters without trial or harassing them to point of death, and making a mockery of their liberal democratic credentials.
It is simply unacceptable to see this overwhelming force of state applied upon individuals. It is an abuse of power.
We are every day moving toward a politicised criminal justice system; which makes lawful the surveillance and suppression of citizens by the state while making it unlawful for citizens to exercise any meaningful method to exercise their dissent. This matters because if we cannot express our dissent peaceably, the only people left to challenge power are those willing to commit acts of violence as the suppressing force of fear is effective. It matters because we are supposed to live in a democracy, and if people are not free to live their lives peacefully consistent with their political views then this is a pretence. It matters because if the police are, as proven, permitted to enter the lives and the bedrooms of people simply to extract information on their political views, we live in a police state. It matters because, as with so much else today, this is not a static thing, powers are continuing to be eroded. .
It is on us to defend our liberties from state and private interests who gain from throwing unreasonable ring-fences around them. It is nothing new. Rather, it is a break with a recent history of expanding liberty, to ever accelerating retrograde steps. It is not enough for us to simply watch this play out with some sort of misguided faith in the power of passing time to bring our rights back again. Each one lost will have to be won back, actively, by people committed to do so in the face of whatever the state and private interest throw at them. Some of us might not choose to be one of those people, in which case the very least we can do is support them every step of the way. In our conversations, in our blogs, our tweets, our Facebook newsfeeds, on the streets, in the courts, with our cash, and any other way we are asked. These people are the heroes and the true agents of democracy in our time.
Bradley Manning Support Network – find out how you can support
Demand Progress – join the campaign and support the ongoing efforts to pursue justice for Aaron Swartz.
Defend the Right To Protest – a UK based group seeking to stem the tide aainst freedom to protest