My monthly column for Ceasefire Magazine, 22 October.
In Thursday’s Guardian (20th Oct) there was an important feature article describing a “mounting crisis” in the Metropolitan Police’s spying outfit targeting activist groups. This comes on the heels of a series of dramatic journalistic revelations this year that have unmasked several police officers who had infiltrated environmental, anti-fascist and anarchist activist groups.
The revelations began late last year when former friends of activist “Mark Stone” became suspicious of his conduct, eventually confronting him. He was, it turns out, Mark Kennedy, an undercover police officer sent to disrupt non-violent activist groups. His former friends published their findings on Indymedia and, not long after, the mainstream media got wind of the story and, in an attempt to catch up, started to do more digging.
The Guardian‘s article sums up the current state of what has been uncovered thus far. Again, several secret police agents who had posed as activists were named: as well as Kennedy, there was Jim Boyling, who operated undercover within Reclaim the Streets, as well as “Mark Jacobs”, “Lynn Watson”, “Pete Black” (all three are fake identities) and Simon Wellings.
These people went to extraordinary lengths to subvert perfectly legal protest groups. Kennedy even had a long-term activist girlfriend while Boyling married a fellow campaigner. Some have stated that Kennedy, far from being a mere passive observer, had in fact acted as an agent provocateur, trying to goad activists into more assertive direct action in order to entrap them into offences they could be prosecuted for.
It seems Kennedy’s sham came to light after suspicions were raised when a trial of activists had, somewhat unexpectedly, collapsed – police presumably did not want to reveal how they knew so much about the protests in question. The latest revelations in the Guardian is that Boyling allegedly committed perjury in court by giving false testimony under oath.
But the name that most caught my eye in recent police spy revelations was Robert Lambert. For the past few years, Lambert has been an academic, with particular expertise in Islamophobia, at the University of Exeter. He had previously been head of the Muslim Contact Unit, an anti-terrorist unit set up to “build relations” with the Muslim community after 9/11.
However, last weekend, the Guardian named him as a spy who’d infiltrated Greenpeace in the 1980s, later becoming head of the unit which worked on such infiltrations.
This caught my attention, because of Lambert’s connection to the case of Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian leader who the UK is currently attempting to deport. On Electronic Intifada, I have been closely covering Salah’s case, exposing the bizarre way the UK government has been acting towards him.
In Salah’s appeal against deportation, his lawyers called Lambert as an expert witness. Lambert duly testified to the unreliability of the Community Security Trust (CST) when it comes to Muslim criticism of Israel. The CST seems to have provided the vast majority (if not all) of the material used by Theresa May to secretly ban, and then order, the deportation of Salah. The CST’s secret reports to the government on Salah are often based on dubious sources – including highly hostile Israeli sources.
Lambert’s supporters point to the fact he had never made a secret of having been part of Special Branch before his retirement and subsequent move into academia. This is of course true, but for many it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions, the first of which is this: who are the active spies today?
Indeed, although we now know a lot about police subversion and infiltration of the protest/activist movement, virtually nothing has emerged so far on whether UK pro-Palestinian groups had, or have, been similarly infiltrated. In theory, it seems a likely possibility. For example, London is regarded by influential Israeli thinktank the Reut Institute as a global “hub of delegitimisation”.
From talking to activists in Palestine solidarity groups, many have for years suspected the presence of spies within the movement, presumably working in a similar way to Kennedy and the rest: mostly engaging in low level disruption and intelligence gathering. The Guardian says the spies named above were involved in infiltrating Stop the War (although so far they’ve not gone into much detail on that aspect). Considering STW’s considerable involvement in the Palestinian cause over the years, I would certainly like to know more, notably whether similar infiltrators are currently moving in pro-Palestinian circles right now.
Having said that, it’s clearly important for campaigners and activists to bear in mind that paranoia (however justified it may prove to be in some cases) can be paralysing, and getting too obsessive about “alleged” spies cannot be healthy. Of course, should proof of cases similar to Kennedy’s come to light, it would be yet another telling indictment of the state and its often immoral methods.