Monday, 10 January 2011

Touts and agent-provocateurs

My first reaction was hilarity on hearing  that the case against a group of direct action eco-activists  had collapsed because undercover copper Mark Kennedy (pic here for future reference) who infiltrated them for ten years appears to have 'gone native' and offered to testify for the defence.

It's not the first time  that an undercover officer should find  that he's met  a nicer class of person amongst his 'targets' than in the police canteen.  I remember reading the  autobiography  of William McQueen - the ATF agent who went undercover in the notorious Mongols MC California. He recounts how he was overwhelmed at the genuine compassion shown by his MC brothers when his mum died in contrast to his law-enforcement colleagues who barely acknowledged his loss.  And you also can't help but laugh at  the old bill's consistent ability to get it wrong in who and what they target. Undoubtedly there are some terrorist  threats in this country  - but they don't come from vegans armed with nothing more deadly than wire cutters. Ten years infiltration at vast public expense probably prevented no more than a glorified act of vandalism.

But humour rapidly gives way to outrage that unaccountable state forces not only take it upon themselves to target entirely peaceful activists,  but actually use agent provocateurs to incite them to take extreme action. This is a conscious strategy to de-legitimise activism, alienate the 'public' from the activists and provide an excuse for ever-more repressive state powers.

Sounds paranoid ? Consider this - two of the most important 'terrorist' incidents in English history conformed to this strategy:

The original Gunpowder plotters may have been genuine religious fanatics who needed no encouragement but Wallsingham's secret service undoubtedly infiltrated their network and let the conspiracy run its course. With the result that it could be exposed at the eleventh hour and the regime strengthened with an anti-Catholic backlash. And centuries later the Cato Street Conspiracy - the last significant attempt at a coup d'etat in this country - was the result of a government agent providing a group of radical democrats with a plan to blow up the cabinet. This of course was the period of the notorious Six Acts - blanket repressive legislation that was a forerunner of the Anti-Terrorist Act of our own time.

Interestingly it was also  in this period - the first quarter of the nineteenth century - that English radical movements became so infiltrated with government agents that the system collapsed. Juries were reluctant to convict on dubious evidence against activists they were sympathetic with.  This, and outrage at the mis-handling of public order, were the  reasons why unaccountable agents backed by military force were replaced with a civilian police that was supposed to rely on public consent and co-operation.

Seems we're coming full-circle.


Anonymous said...

I think this story would make a really good subject for a feel good Hollywood film. He ended up loving the people he was betraying. Starring Daniel Craig in a wig

Paul said...

He didn't go native at all. See Merrick Godhaven's blog, for more info.

Journeyman said...

Thanks for that link Paul. The truth seems not to make for such a good movie - but it's even more an indictement of the unaccountable and anti-democratice state of policing.