Several charges have been filed against the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police in connection with tactics used during police spying.
Originally published by Earth Island Journal and reprinted with permission from Adam Federman.
What are the limits — if any — to undercover policing? At what point is a moral, ethical, or legal threshold crossed when an undercover operative insinuates himself into a targeted group or the lives of its members?
Last Thursday British media reported that the UK's Metropolitan Police would pay £425,000 (about $686,000) in a settlement with a woman, known only as Jacqui, who was conned by a man who fathered her first child, said that he loved her, and then one day disappeared. She knew him as Bob Robinson. His real name, as she would learn 25 years later, was Bob Lambert. He was an operative with the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a special unit within the British police that infiltrated a host of environmentalist groups to gather intelligence. In several cases the operatives, almost always men, established long-term intimate relationships with women in order to gain access to the world of underground animal rights or environmental activists.
Jacqui was 22 when she first met Lambert. He was more than ten years older than her, and had already been a member of the Metropolitan police for several years. He went undercover in 1983 not long before he met Jacqui. As Rob Evans and Paul Lewis explain in their book Undercover, Lambert's mission was to work his way into the "intensely furtive, hard-core wing of the animal rights movement: the Animal Liberation Front." Having a girlfriend who was already trusted and well connected within activist circles was one of the easiest ways to become a "deep swimmer," a phrase used by members of the SDS to describe spies who completely immersed themselves in the groups they were monitoring. In addition to Jacqui, Lambert is known to have had romantic relationships with three other women during his career as an undercover operative. Seven other women have also filed charges against the Metropolitan police.
The revelation that she shared her life with a man she did not really know has wrecked Jacqui's life. The Guardian reports, "The woman has been receiving psychiatric treatment and has contemplated suicide since she read a newspaper in 2012 and found out the true identity of the man who had fathered her son before abandoning her and the child 24 years previously."
The extent to which such tactics were condoned is unclear. The police have denied that there was ever any formal policy authorizing such behavior, but the history of the SDS remains rather murky. It took the agency years to even acknowledge that Lambert had been a mole; only when it became publicly untenable to continue the denials did the agency move beyond the pro forma response of neither confirming nor denying his role. But clearly there was an informal culture of using relationships with women to gain access to activist circles. An internal police review, known as Operation Herne, found that, "There was informal tacit authority regarding sexual relationships and guidance was offered for officers faced with the prospect of a sexual relationship." Former SDS officer Peter Francis put it more plainly when he told the BBC that sex was "used by almost everybody who was serving in that unit."
To what end? To gain access, of course. In the process of destroying the lives of women like Jacqui, SDS agents may have committed other crimes as well. Lambert in particular has long been suspected of taking part in a bombing of a department store in 1987. Caroline Lucas, an MP for the Green Party, testified before parliament and alleged that Lambert was one of three individuals who took part in the attack. The other two spent several years in jail. Lucas also called for "a far-reaching public inquiry into police infiltrators and informers."
But last week's settlement may have the opposite effect. It heads off a potentially embarrassing lawsuit and essentially puts a lid on the case. As Jacqui told the BBC: "The amount of money [in the settlement] shows there is a cover-up." Indeed, Eveline Lubbers, the author of Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark, a history of corporate and police spying in Europe, says the settlement is yet another way for the police to "evade legal accountability." She notes that none of the police officers or their superiors, who were likely aware of the rampant sexual misconduct, have been prosecuted. "The money means that police abuse of power is not going to court," she wrote to me in an email over the weekend.
A full accounting of the SDS's activities throughout the 80s and 90s would have to include an investigation into the department's use of agents provocateur and incitement of violence, its sharing of intelligence with the private sector, and its role in recruiting activists. Lambert's story is sensational, but it is only one of many. By the 1990s, according to a Special Branch officer quoted by Evans and Lewis, there were some 100 paid informants working the ranks of the animal rights movement.
In the post-9/11 world there's little question that undercover policing is alive and well. Look no further than the streets of New York or Detroit. Environmental groups and activists remain targets of an ever-expanding national security state. Last year undercover officers infiltrated a tar sands resistance training camp in Oklahoma. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and state and local police routinely share information with the oil and gas industry with little or no public oversight.
Unlike Lambert, though, the stories of most deep swimmers never come to light. And the moral, ethical, and legal questions raised by their conduct are often obscured by the secretive nature of the work itself. When it comes to undercover policing, the rules of the game are almost always made behind closed doors. As Lubbers points out, it's about more than just sexual misconduct.
"It's about disruption of political dissent," she says. "We need to know the extent of the undercover activities. And we need an end to it."
Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.
Photo by Fotolia/Ronald Hudson
In a way, ISIS is in Washington and every other American city thanks to the post-9/11 hysteria over the dangers of terrorism.
Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.
It happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.
Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out. I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued. At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”
She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.” Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.
All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York? ISIS, a danger in Washington? And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb. That’s where danger lies in American life. ISIS, not so much.
The Terrorists Have Our Number
I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that had broken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers. On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.
I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot. I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams. Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all. The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand! I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.
In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on. Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the "direct," not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life. These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home"); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they... say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.
The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee. The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.
If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number. The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country — and they worked. Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles. (In fact, the evidence is already in. From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)
Now, the Shia opponent of those jihadists had taken the hint and, not surprisingly, the very same path. The Iraqi prime minister, whose intelligence services had only recently been blindsided when IS militants captured huge swaths of his country, claimed to have evidence that was guaranteed to set loose the professional terror-mongers and hysterics in this country and so, assumedly, increase much-needed support for his government.
Or perhaps that woman I met had instead been struck by the news, only days earlier, that in launching a bombing campaign against the militants of the Islamic state in Syria, the Obama administration had also hit another outfit. It was called — so we were told — the Khorasan Group and, unlike the IS, it had the United States of America, the “homeland,” right in its bombsites. As became clear after the initial wave of hysteria swiftly passed, no one in our world or theirs had previously heard of such a group, which may have been a set of individuals in a larger al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel outfit called the al-Nusra Front who had no such name for themselves.
Whatever the case, it seemed that the Obama administration and connected intelligence outfits had our number, too. Although Khorasan was reputedly plotting against airplanes, not subways, transportation systems were evidently our jugular when it came to such outfits. This group, we were told in leaks by unnamed American intelligence officials, was made up of a “cadre” or “collection” of hardened, “senior” al-Qaeda types from Afghanistan, who had settled in Syria not to overthrow Bashir al-Assad or create a caliphate, but to prepare the way for devastating attacks on the American “homeland” and possibly Western Europe as well. It was, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper put it, “potentially yet another threat to the homeland,” and it was “imminent.” As U.S. Central Command insisted in announcing the bombing strikes against the group, it involved “imminent attack planning.” The Khorasan Group was, said Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland."
Had we not hit them hard, they would be — so American intelligence officials assured us — on the verge (or at least the verge of the verge) of developing bombs so advanced that, using toothpaste tubes, rigged electronic devices, or possibly clothes soaked in explosives, their agents would be able to pass through airport security undetected and knock plane after plane out of the sky. Civilization was in peril, which meant that blazing headlines about the plot and the group mixed with shots of actual bombs (ours) exploding in Syria, and a sense of crisis that was, as ever, taken up with gusto by the media.
As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pointed out in a devastating report at the Intercept, the whole Khorasan story began to disassemble within a day or so of the initial announcement and the bombing strikes in Syria. It took next to no time at all for that “imminent threat” to morph into “aspirational” planning; for reporters to check with their Syrian sources and find that no one knew a thing about the so-called Khorasan Group; for the taking down of those airliners to gain an ever more distant (and possibly even fictional) look. As ever, however, pointing out the real dangers in our world was left largely to non-mainstream sources, while the threat to our way of life, to Washington and New York, lingered in the air.
Terror-Phobia and a Demobilized Citizenry
This sort of soundtrack has been the background noise in our lives for the last 13 years. And like familiar music (or Muzak), it evokes a response that’s almost beyond our control. The terror about terror, sometimes quite professionally managed (as in the case of the Khorasan Group), has flooded through our world year after year after year. ISIS is just a recent example of the way the interests of a group of extremists in making themselves larger than life and the interests of groups in this country in building up or maintaining their institutional power have meshed. Terror as the preeminent danger to our American world now courses through the societal bloodstream, helped along by regular infusions of fear from the usual panic-meisters.
On that set of emotions, an unparalleled global security state has been built (and funded), as well as a military that, in terms of its destructive power, leaves the rest of the world in the dust. In the process, and in the name of protecting Americans from the supposedly near-apocalyptic dangers posed by the original al-Qaeda and its various wannabe successors, a new version of America has come into being — one increasingly willing to bulldoze the most basic liberties, invested in the spread of blanket secrecy over government actions, committed to wholesale surveillance, and dedicated to a full-scale loss of privacy.
You can repeat until you're blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits are vanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life. It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work. So, in a sense, that woman was right. For all intents and purposes, without ever leaving Iraq and Syria, ISIS is in Washington — and New York, and Topeka, and El Paso (or, as local fear-mongers in Texas suggest, ready to cross the Rio Grande at any moment), and Salt Lake City, and Sacramento. ISIS has, by now, wormed its way inside our heads. So perhaps she was right as well to suggest that Washington and New York (not to speak of wherever you happen to live) are not great places to be right now.
Let’s be honest. Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons. Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name.
The history of the demobilization of the American people as a true force in their own country’s actions abroad could be said to have begun in 1973, when a draft army was officially put into the history books. In the years before that, in Vietnam and at home, the evidence of how such an army could vote with its feet and through its activism had been too much for the top brass, and so the citizen army, that creation of the French Revolution, was ended with a stroke of the presidential pen. The next time around, the ranks were to be filled with “volunteers,” thanks in part to millions of dollars sunk into Mad Men-style advertising.
In the meantime, those in charge wanted to make sure that the citizenry was thoroughly demobilized and sent home. In the wake of 9/11, this desire was expressed particularly vividly when President George W. Bush urged Americans to show their patriotism (and restore the fortunes of the airlines) by visiting Disney World, vacationing, and going about their business, while his administration took care of al-Qaeda (and of course, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq).
In the ensuing years, propaganda for and an insistence that we “support,” “thank,” and adulate our “warriors” (in ways that would have been inconceivable with a citizen’s army) became the order of the day. At the same time, that force morphed into an ever more “professional,” “expeditionary” and “foreign” (as in Foreign Legion-style) outfit. When it came to the U.S. military, adulation was the only relationship that all but a tiny percentage of Americans were to be allowed. For those in the ever-expanding U.S. military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-corporate complex, terror was the gift that just kept giving, the excuse for any institution-building action and career enhancement, no matter how it might contravene previous American traditions.
In this context, perhaps we should think of the puffing up of an ugly but limited reality into an all-encompassing, eternally “imminent” threat to our way of life as the final chapter in the demobilization of the American people. Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection. The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you "safe."
Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions. Welcome to the Terrordome.
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.
Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt
Photo by Fotolia/ETIEN
A report looks at 323 movements to see which were most successful.
Assessing the effectiveness of civil resistance is a complex undertaking. The causes of change are often linked to a number of factors, and many what-if scenarios can be conjured up to imagine alternate endings; how adequate would nonviolent or violent resistance have been during WWII is a common hypothetical. But a new report that analyzed 323 campaigns which unfolded between 1900 and 2006 attempts to sort the ins and outs of success and failure in countries where people were striving for self-determination, unseating a leader, or driving out a military occupation. Tactics for the groups studied included anything from sit-ins to noncooperation to armed rebellion, and the results are telling:
- Nonviolent movements were found to attract more people and be more powerful than violent ones—11 times bigger and twice as effective against authoritarian rulers. Co-author Erica Chenoweth remarks, "People power is really the main story here."
- Including people from different backgrounds (gender, socio-economic, and religious) also led to a higher likelihood of accomplishing an end goal.
- Utilizing a diversity of nonviolent tactics was found to be more compelling because it stretched thin the resources for quelling a movement. Scholar Gene Sharp cataloged 198 tactics which have since been added to with tools such as social media.
- It was also helpful for those involved to have a longer outlook; the average length of time the movements lasted was almost three years.
- In cases where the campaign fails, the study found that nonviolent movements were still more likely (four times as compared to violent campaigns) to eventually democratize, which was attributed to experiences in mobilization and coalition building.
The developments from the Arab Spring (which are still being felt) can be held up for comparison. Tunisia encompassed many of the successful indicators, such as a diverse group of people who used different tactics, and the road to democracy there looks plausible. While both Egypt (nonviolent) and Libya (violent) succeeded in ousting their leaders, their futures are less secure. These examples illustrate the fact that implementing change, even after the fall of reviled regimes, is no easy task. But chances are, had Egypt turned violent, its road would be even more precarious and vice versa with Libya. And although such hypotheticals are impossible to verify, the study’s conclusions point in such directions. As for Syria, which attempted nonviolence but gave way to armed groups, the future does not look bright. Turning to violence pushed many people away and rebel forces began to rely on outside forces for aid and arms which is risky (support is "usually conditional and fickle.")
In terms of external involvement, the report calls on outside governments to support nonviolent resistance early on in order to prevent escalation of violence (from within or from forces such as NATO strikes). Had the nonviolent groups in Syria been given support from the onset, who knows what may or may not have transpired. Assisting independent media outlets, monitoring the criminal justice system, and pressuring leaders not to react with violence are also advantageous actions.
Photo by sari dennise, licensed under Creative Commons.
File this under Funniest Zines Ever: “How to Talk to Your Cat About Evolution.” A whip-smart take-down of creationism, the writing is angry, alright, but its rage is mitigated by frequent mentions—and photos—of cute, fluffy cats.
The zine was written by Zachary of Slaton, Texas, who publishes it under the cheeky pseudonym the American Association of Patriots (and who wishes to keep his last name private). As the AAP, Zachary uses the question-and-answer format of “histrionic religious pamphlets”—it’s kind of “Jack Chick meets Alex Jones” in its approach, he suggests, only with a few cat puns thrown in.
“How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety” was the AAP’s first publication in 2013. Carried mainly by independent bookstores and comic book shops, it sold 9,000 copies in just under a year—a remarkable sales record for a zine. “It made the front page of Reddit at one point,” Zachary said. “Some guy wrote an electronica song about it. Apparently, people on the internet love things about cats. Who knew!”
We spoke briefly with the AAP, who offered a few tough lessons to Utne readers (and their cats):
Which is the greater threat to cats in America today, evolution or gun control legislation?
A foolish question, but no more than we would expect from your publication of weak-kneed liberalism. To ask which is the greater threat is like asking which of an octopus’s arms are a greater threat. Both are merely limbs of a greater beast, which has but one thought in its black heart: a yearning desire to overthrow America and turn our cats against us.
We thought only human citizens could be true patriots. How do cats fit in?
The idea that cats cannot be patriots is a lie, propagated by our enemies, who seek to divide the forces of freedom and deprive us of our greatest military asset. There are almost 100 million cats living in American households, and untold millions more loosely organized into feral militias. Do you not think that the enemies of America quake in fear at the thought of an extra 100 million soldiers defending our country, soldiers who are possessing of superhuman reflexes, balance, and the ability to see in the dark? The importance of cats to American sovereignty is something that, as vigilant citizens, we must never furget.
What about dogs? Are they safe from the liberal propaganda machine?
The American Association of Patriots recommends that every member of your household be armed and trained in the safe handling of that weapon. Unfortunately, following a class action lawsuit in 1996 we are now legally required to state that firearms are not suitable for dogs, and we were forced to discontinue our line of “How to Talk to Your Dog…” educational brochures.
What would you say to those who would try to keep this vital information out of our cats' paws?
Your days are numbered! Soon the true patriots of America will rise up, cats at our side, and cast off the imperialist yoke imposed on us by the puppet Obama and his masters: the effete, atheist, socialist oligarchs of Europe who wish to rob America of its manhood, its cats, and its God.
Photo by Fotolia/andrewgenn