Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Undercover. The True Story of Britain’s Political Police. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis. Review.

with 11 comments

Former Metropolitan police commissioner Lord Paul Condon has denied authorising undercover police officers to target the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

This book has become highly relevant.

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Undercover. The True Story of Britain’s Political Police. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis. Faber & Faber 2013.

Many of the reported 8,931 political campaigners on the “national data base of political extremists” took a keen interest in the publication of Undercover. Some police infiltrators had already been publicly unmasked. Mark Kennedy – “Stone” – has been fingered by Indymedia in 2010. ‘Progressive academic’ and advocate of a dialogue with Islamists, Bob Lambert, was confronted with his spy chief past at a conference to “celebrate diversity, defend multiculturalism, oppose Islamophobia and racism” in October 2011. Suddenly people on the left, and other campaigners, were reminded of the existence of intense police surveillance on our political activity.

Undercover has marked a new stage. The extracts in the Guardian, which contains fuller revelations about Kennedy and Lambert, and others’ including long-term relationships with activists, and the use of dead children’s birth certificates to procure undercover identities, did not just whet the appetite of a broader public. They raised serious issues about the involvement of what Evans and Lewis rightly call the “political police” in Britain.

One case continues to cause an uproar. On spy, Pete Black, began his work in the 1990s in anti-fascist groups, then the (what has become) Socialist Party’s Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE). He moved on to spy on community-organised fights against legal injustices affecting the black community. Black finally began to recoil when asked to “smear” those involved in the Stephan Lawrence campaign and discover anything he could to discredit the key figure of Duwayne Brooks. (Page 156)

Provocations.

Questions about their role have extended to allegations about their use as agents provocateurs. It has been claimed that Lambert helped write the anti-MacDonald leaflet by London Greenpeace (an autonomous body) – the origin of the notorious libel action. It’s also said that Lambert “encouraged and even participated in an arson campaign that caused millions of pounds of damage. Lambert has firmly denied that he planted the incendiary device at the Harrow store, of Debenehams.”(Page 43) He strongly denies this, though claims credit for putting the animal rights activists involved in prison.

Nor is this a purely domestic matter. Kennedy has been cited in the French case, the Tarnac Affair, in which he allegedly witnessed bomb making. Briefly alluded to in Undercover (Page 265) this – dismissed – claim made headlines in Le Monde. They raised questions (details here) about Kennedy’s role in the prosecution of a group of libertarian leftists.

They Steal Identities, They Break the Law, They Sleep with the Enemy. Under these words on the book cover there is a lot more detail to ponder over in this excellent book. The causal deception the spies used to maintain their ‘cover’ deceived more than their comrades and friends. “There was no specific rule against having sexual partners. It was so commonplace they, he says, it was barely remarked on.”(Page 142) The heartbreaking stories of Charlotte, and Helen Steel, abandoned by their lying long-term partners, Lambert, the mother of Charlotte’s child, and John Dimes, whom Helen was “madly in love with”, are gut-wrenching. There are plenty of others; nine of the operatives identified in the book had “meaningful relationships” with the opposite sex. (Page 322) When the time came the agents simply slunk away

History of the Political Police.

These human tragedies had their origins in government and security decisions. Undercover traces the history of the British political police. The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), founded in wake of 1968, put in place its agents throughout the left. Ideally they would be the “trusted confidant, a deputy who lingered in the background”(Page 23) It was disbanded in 2008. Another body, which with the increasing focus on civil resistance, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) – was founded in 1999, under Tony Blair, with 70 staff. What were (are) their targets? “Domestic extremists, police decided, were those who wanted to ‘prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy’, often doing so ‘outside of the normal democratic process.”(Page 202)

Initially they went for animal rights activists, including the less than appealing Animal Liberation Front, and “environmental extremists”.Then broadened their scope, “Domestic extremists now included campaigners against war, nuclear weapons, racism, genetically modified crops, globalisation, tax evasion, airport expansion and asylum laws, as well as those calling for reform of prisons and peace in the Middle East.”(Pages 203) Today we also have the National Domestic Extremism Team, all which are brought under the control and merged of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

There is little doubt that those who offer a violent threat, not just to “the demcoratic process” but the people at large – have to followed. But this is hardly the case for those of the above list.

Why these official bodies go to the lengths they do remains something of a mystery to many on the left. Why do they need infiltrators? Is it because we are all plotting something subversive – a wide term the previous paragraph suggests covers most of the activist left’s campaigning including large sections of the Labour Party – in secret?

It is true that some groups cultivate an aura of mystery. Ian Bone once wrote that if anarchists ran the train carrying Lenin to the Finland Station they would have no identity on the side except a Post Office Box Number. The Socialist Workers Party has fought a losing battle to keep its internal discussions secret.

But most of what we do is easy to follow. Blogs, Facebook and the rest, are full of details about we do. Some people – specifically the tradition the Tendance comes from – believe in being as open as possible about how we reach decisions – by democratic vote – and what we do. To the great interest, no doubt of all coppers well up on Leftist Trainspotting and the finer points of the history of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Internationals.

Others have a way of reaching conclusions, and a distinct political culture, which may be harder for the political police to follow. That is the ‘consensus method’ of some of the groups covered in the course ofUndercover; “activists used a strange-looking ritual known as ‘jazz hands’, in which they wriggled their fingers in the air to express support for speakers.” (Page 245) But if they want to do this, why not? Wiggle away, we say, far far away from, say any industrial action where we suspect consensus would never permit a strike in the first place.

In reality, the Web, as they say, shows just about everything these days. Which may or may not be a good guide. Indeed it well may not as we found with our own visit from the local rozzers after a malicious complaint by a local Islamic cult.

It will be interesting to follow the Net news on Bob Lambert if he does, as Evans and Lewis suggest, convert to Islam. (Page 331) Perhaps he will find peace – in a religion of order. Some would say that the version he is most familiar with, from his days in the Muslim Contact Unit, Political Islam, offers many possibilities for police surveillance and repression. Or, it might be that, following Kennedy, his personality is unravelling – as indeed Bob’s last television interview seemed to suggest.

Wounds Remain Unhealed.

An open wound remains. The legal action taken by 11 of the deceived women is proceeding at a snail’s pace. The latest news suggests that the women are profoundly dissatisfied with the procedure. Public knowledge of the activities of the political police has not changed things. Post-Kennedy recommendations to clean up the system have not been implemented. Further official inquiries, are, as the authors predicted early on, less than forthcoming. Operation Herne has trawled wide, but “has not yet made a single disclosure about any undercover operation.”(Pages 327 –80)

The last word should go to Steel and Morris, to Lambert – “Shame on you!”

Tendance Coatesy

http://i1.birminghammail.co.uk/incoming/article5166266.ece/BINARY/undercover.jpg

Undercover. The True Story of Britain’s Political Police. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis. Faber & Faber 2013.

Many of the reported 8,931 political campaigners on the “national data base of political extremists” took a keen interest in the publication of Undercover. Some police infiltrators had already been publicly unmasked. Mark Kennedy – “Stone” – has been fingered by Indymedia in 2010. ‘Progressive academic’ and advocate of a dialogue with Islamists, Bob Lambert, was confronted with his spy chief past at a conference to “celebrate diversity, defend multiculturalism, oppose Islamophobia and racism” in October 2011. Suddenly people on the left, and other campaigners, were reminded of the existence of intense police surveillance on our political activity.

Undercover has marked a new stage. The extracts in the Guardian, which contains fuller revelations about Kennedy and Lambert, and others’ including long-term relationships with activists, and the use of dead children’s birth certificates…

View original post 1,195 more words

Written by Andrew Coates

March 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm

11 Responses

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  1. You’ve jogged my memory Andrew. That is where I remembered Lambert. I read the book when it first came out and found it fascinating although not entirely strange as anyone who has been around left politics for the last thirty or forty years will remember someone strange who turned up at meetings about some kind of direct action and was always advocating violence of some form or other.

    What of course has brought this back into the spotlight is the Lawrence affair but is should be remembered that serious though that aspect of it is there are a lot of ruined personal lives and careers out there.

    How many people have never been promoted because of the secret file that was kept on them? More importantly how many people are in prison on the fabricated evidence of not just undercover police officers but police forces across the country who have dragged us back to the days of the corruption of the 70s and 80s as depicted in Life on Mars? This is the tip of a very large wedge, hopefully.

    themadmullahofbricklane

    March 7, 2014 at 7:07 pm

  2. I knew that was where I had seen Lambert’s name as I read the book wen it first came out.

    themadmullahofbricklane

    March 7, 2014 at 7:09 pm

  3. The book is a waste of time and space (and money) though if you’ve read the articles on the subject published on the Guardian website in the months before its publication.

    It adds nothing new (of substance), but is amusing at times (the undercover cop who collected all the receipts from motorway service stations so he could claim them as expenses; or how they all seemed to be known inside their ‘anarcho grouplets’ by nicknames which suggested they were undercover coppers; or exactly how one or two of them ‘went native’ and tried (badly) to cover it up from the police.

    But as I said, these things were merely amusing asides. The book is very thin indeed, little more than the Guardian articles which have been padded out a bit.

    dagmar

    March 8, 2014 at 12:01 am

  4. I read both articles and the book and found the book fascinating and full of detail which most certainly wasn’t in the articles. You are also assuming that the books potential readership as already seen the articles in The Guardian.

    Judging by the Guardian sales that won’t be the case and there are a potential thirty thousand copies to be sold to members of the Metropolitan Police and others in police and security work both in this country and around the world.

    It is the legal and political implications of what has happened that are even more important than the actual historical events themselves. Reportedly one of the first things that Nixon said when he was told about the Watergate burglars was ” Are they deniable”?

    This is the crucial question that has always faced any authority when confronted with something like this, and this is most certainly not deniable any more than the complicity of a Chief Constable is now in the covering up of the Hillsborough disaster.

    There are now a series of events unfolding which are taking policing in this country back to the 1960s and 70s depicted in TV series like ” Life on Mars” and ” The Sweeney” which were very realistic pictures of policing at the time.

    A whole series of cover ups are beginning to be unraveled especially the 1987 murder of a private detective in the car park of a pub in south London. There will be a lot of worried coppers this morning especially ones who thought they had a long and happy retirement ahead of them.

    themadmullahofbricklane

    March 8, 2014 at 7:25 am

  5. As they used to say at the beginning of every edition of Monty Python “and now for something completely different”. trialbyjeory.wordpress.com has an incredible series of videos of the Tower Hamlets council chamber and the antics of the Lutfur Rahman group. Just remember that this man is the current mayor of Tower Hamlets and that Ken Livingstone campaigned for him against the official Labour candidate in 2010. Livingstone should have been kicked out of the party and today would be which just shows how far he has fallen.

    themadmullahofbricklane

    March 8, 2014 at 8:52 am

  6. @madmullah
    “. You are also assuming that the books potential readership as already seen the articles in The Guardian.”

    No – I specifically wrote that the book is a waste of money and space *if you’ve already read the articles in the Guardian* (by that, I also meant *on the guardian website*).

    If not, you might find it interesting. In any case it is basically confirming everything you have assumed might have been true, and more, if you ever seriously thought about the police and their ‘role’ in campaigns/social and protest movements

    dagmar

    March 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

  7. I hadn’t thought the police would be so stupid as to waste public money on infiltrating groups of no importance, and spending years getting in close relationships with marginal activists.

    Opps – I should cut the first part of the sentence about money.

    They were also exceptionally cruel to some individuals, like Helen.

    Andrew Coates

    March 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm

  8. Dagmar Why is the book a waste of money and space, given that most of what is in it did not appear either in the Guardian or, as you now claim, on CiF which it didn’t? Most of the world doesn’t read the Guardian and neither does most of this country. It is a newspaper of declining sales and importance for which a couple of journalists happened to work when they researched a very important book.

    Andrew. You do yourself no advantage by snide remarks about Helen. You sound like a Trot.

    themadmullahofbricklane

    March 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm

  9. @madmullah Please learn to read.

    Most of the content of the book was on the Guardian website, maybe in not so much detail, but the concrete stuff was, over months and months. There were scores of articles on Mark Kennedy, there were even ones about the clothes he wears after running off to the States (with photos). This obsession of theirs only ended when it turned out Kennedy hadn’t got Stockholm Syndrome and was basically encouraging companies to do the same kind of stuff through his new employer/company.

    As is often the case on the Guardian website, I also suspect that many of those articles have now been removed “for copyright/syndication reasons”, and also to get you to buy the book.

    I read it the day it was published.

    @Andrew – by Helen you mean Helen Steel? Many of the facts about McLibel have been in the public domain since the mid-to-late 1990s, and if McDonalds could be bothered to do what they did over a tiny, unread leaflet (packing a group on the verge of collapse with spies so that the campaign kept on going instead of being wound up as would have otherwise been the case), then that is why it surprises me little that Special Branch did the same kind of thing. I was only surprised by the information that Special Branch was a Met only thing until New Labour attempted (badly) to spread it nationally (badly: crap clowns, expenses collecting ‘anarcho’ driver cop, etc.).

    Maybe I’ve lived in Germany for too long (probably, in fact) when such state infiltration is not only taken as read (unhealthy paranoia amongst the left) but they are fairly open about it, knocking on young activists’ doors asking them to provide info for cash.

    dagmar

    March 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm

  10. I’ve had the police round about this Blog, so I know something about it!

    Andrew Coates

    March 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm

  11. Well blimey sometimes even he knocks the nail on the head perfectly

    dagmar's SPP comments watch

    March 11, 2014 at 3:22 pm


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