Monday, February 06, 2012

mark kennedy: the hmic report

The latest report on undercover police infiltration of activists came out last week. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary looked into the work of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) who ran the network of spy cops until 2008, and especially at the work of their officer Mark Kennedy.

Radio 4's Today programme said that HMIC are independent and 'this was not the police investigating themselves'. The report was written last year by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Chief Constable of Merseyside, now Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. When it finally came out it was presented as the work former Surrey Police Chief Constable, Sir Dennis O'Connor.

This was the second attempt at releasing Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's findings. They were all set to publish last October, and were widely believed to say Kennedy was a rogue officer off mission, and no outside oversight is needed for undercover cops.

But with just hours to go before publication the whole thing got pulled after the Guardian published a report of another undercover cop, Jim Boyling, who went through a court case under his activist alias. This proved that it's not about one cop and, as Boyling's bosses must have known about his prosecution, the beyond-the-lawness of the undercover unit is something systemic.

The new version of the HMIC report makes passing reference to this, merely dismissing it as outside the report's remit. This raises an important question; if the Boyling revelations are not the subject matter of the report, why did it need to be withdrawn and given a four-month rewrite?

The most obvious answer is that the report was going to hang Kennedy out to dry but say everything else in the garden was rosy. If that's so, the original report was either a pile of lies or else the product of pathetically superficial research into its subject. I'll leave you to decide for yourself which is the more likely.


This time it's gone one level up; they've decided it was one rogue officer and his one rogue unit. But nothing worse than that, honest. The report says that those who were asked to sign the approval to deploy officers weren't aware of what they were authorising; indeed, it says the NPOIU kept it from them.

No single authorising officer appears to have been fully aware either of the complete intelligence picture in relation to Mark Kennedy or the NPOIU's activities overall, or of the other intelligence opportunities available to negate the need for an undercover officer. Additionally, it was not evident that the authorising officers were cognisant of the extent and nature of the intrusion that occurred; nor is it clear that the type and level of intrusion was completely explained to them by the NPOIU.

You might have thought it would occur to them to ask.

Even more shocking is that the people running the operations make their own job up. The actual undercover officers are trained before they are deployed but, the HMIC report says, neither those who authorise them, nor their supervisory handlers known as 'cover officers', receive proper training.

The cover officer is the personal daily liaison that the undercover officer speaks to. The psychological stress of being an undercover cop is easily imaginable and probably all but universal. A cover officer's twin roles are to ensure someone keeps doing something that's profoundly fucking them up whilst also being responsible for them not getting fucked up.

With the cover officer's boss handing out plaudits for the intelligence received, it's easy to see how the undercover officer gets left in place for too long. It's also easy to imagine how they get pushed to garner information by any means available.

The HMIC report timidly posits

appropriate training for Cover Officers in dealing with people who are in extremely testing operational conditions needs to be considered.

So not only is it not happening yet, but in future it only needs to be considered?

What of the ranks above, the ones who authorised the spying? Even if they are being told the full truth or it occurs to them to check, have they got any clear idea of who they should and shouldn't target? In a report full of qualifiers and conditional language, the statement is startling in its plainness:

there is no formal training provision for authorising officers

It's just their own decision and gut feeling, then. Gene Hunt is alive and well.

To tap a single phone call takes the approval of the Home Secretary. To send in an undercover officer to integrate into your life, have children with you and then leave without warning when the mission is over, it only needs the approval of a police Superintendent.

There were insufficient checks and balances to evaluate and manage Mark Kennedy's deployment. The measures in place (such as monitoring intelligence reporting on Mark Kennedy's activities whilst deployed) proved ineffective... the evidence suggests the risks of intrusion into the lives of members of the public while undercover were not well managed

Later on it makes an allied point with a key difference in phrasing

Mark Kennedy operated outside the code of conduct for undercover officers. This suggests that NPOIU operational supervision, review and oversight were insufficient to identify that his behaviour had led to disproportionate intrusion.

The use of conditionals is crucial here; it only 'suggests' that his supervision was inadequate, but it baldly accepts that there was disproportionate intrusion in the lives of those he spied upon.


The idea that Kennedy was going wildly astray and that his superiors didn't really know what this £5,000 a week asset was doing is just laughable. As I said in October, from Mark Kennedy's intelligence reports that were later disclosed to Ratcliffe defendants we know he was recording things in minute detail, right down to people's biscuit preferences.

Kennedy - for whatever negligible amount his word may be worth - repeated last week that he was in contact with his cover officer every day of his seven year deployment. He alleges that his bosses had complete access to his phone calls, texts and emails.

Even if we disregard what this walking bullshit engine claims, as the report's quote says, his activist persona of Mark Stone would have been reported on by other undercover officers and informants (we know he worked alongside Lynn Watson for some time). Did they also fail to report what they were seeing and doing? Or do his bosses know more than they're letting on?

Kennedy also reasserted that his long term relationships with activists were never discussed. But if he was in contact every day when he was at his partners' houses or on holiday with them, did he not say where he was? Even if it didn't occur to his cover officer to ask where Kennedy was and what he was doing - which would often, surely, have been a major point of the phone call taking place - Watson and co will have seen what was happening.

Despite the fact that most exposed undercover officers had such relationships, and that it goes back to at least the 1980s, the report claims that those in charge hadn't really considered that it might occur.

Mark Kennedy, by his own admission, had intimate relationships with a number of people while undercover, and in doing so encroached very significantly into their lives. NPOIU documentation did not provide assurance that such risks of intrusion were being systematically considered and well managed across the organisation.

As to whether officers are permitted to have such relationships, whether it even forms an encouraged part of the strategy, the report stays deafeningly silent about it.

The Association of Chief Police Officers' Jon Murphy has been unequivocal in the past:

It is absolutely not authorised. It is never acceptable for an undercover officer to behave in that way.

Yet in the wake of the HMIC report's glaring omission, it has been reported this week that 

Undercover officers are not banned from having sex with targets because it would give those they are infiltrating an easy way to “test” them, police chiefs and inspectors said.

The report clarifies a point that's been much discussed in the last year.

The law does allow for an undercover officer to participate in criminal activity, but this must be authorised, and the limits of the authorised conduct made clear. In addition, specific restrictions must be placed on the behaviour of the undercover officer, such that:

- they must not actively engage in planning and committing the crime;
- they are intended to play only a minor role; and
- their participation is essential to enable the police to frustrate the crime and to make arrests.

It's clear that Kennedy's deployment at Ratcliffe fails on all three counts. You can comfortably argue that his shining star case of the G8 protests in 2005 fail on all three counts too.


Kennedy's unit, the NPOIU, had a serious job to do.

The NPOIU was involved in the successful collection of intelligence on violent individuals, whose criminal intentions or acts were subsequently disrupted, and who were in some cases brought to justice.

These were not individuals engaging in peaceful protest, or even people who were found to be guilty of lesser public order offences. They were individuals intent on perpetrating acts of a serious and violent nature against citizens going about their everyday lives.

Against this backdrop the report, like many police who deal with protest, talks of those spied on as 'Domestic Extremists'. The report concedes it's a loose term but settles on a definition;

activity, individuals or campaign groups that carry out criminal acts of direct action in furtherance of what is typically a single issue campaign. They usually seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process.

This means anyone who blockades a shop doorway or stands in a road is on the list, alongside firebombers and armed gangs of racist thugs. It would certainly have included the Suffragettes and indeed the legion of womens' rights groups who found the suffragettes too extreme. Black civil rights campaigners in 1960s America were arrested for having sit-ins at racially segregated restaurants and cafes. Had the term existed then, they too would have unarguably been domestic extremists.

People who protest and take direct action are often a nuisance; they often intend themselves to be. That is, in fact, part of the 'normal democratic process'; it's just not the electoral system. If you are not a threat to life and limb then nobody can credibly argue that you warrant the intrusion of an undercover police officer in your home and family for years on end.

The struggle for the right to protest does not only take place in the streets and in what we discuss, but in the words we use to discuss it. 'Domestic Extremist' is a piece of political phraseology dressed up as something neutral, like 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice'. Every time it is used it reinforces the political point it was designed to trojan-horse into our minds.

It is used to conjour up images of rabid, terrifying obsessives threatening the lives of random people with violence; that done, we can then feel that anyone labelled as one probably deserves surveillance, beating and jailing.

Among the HMIC report's recommendations are

ACPO and the Home Office should agree a definition of domestic extremism that reflects the severity of crimes that might warrant this title, and that includes serious disruption to the life of the community arising from criminal activity.

Yet this is just as conveniently broad and vague as the previous definition. It certainly covers the traffic chaos caused by a peaceful anti-war march blocking a road.

The NPOIU has now become part of the National Domestic Extremist Unit (NDEU). They run a database of political activists. It merrily conflates numerous levels of activism, described in the HMIC report as

protest associated with extreme methods used in environmental protest, animal rights and violent political extremism

However, despite having a 'weeding policy' of removing ex-activists, they are retaining information on many people who pose no danger. In producing the HMIC report a number of cases on the NDEU's files were examined and it was found found that

the rationale for recording and retaining the intelligence was not strong enough

It also found that Mark Kennedy was only one of many undercover officers to become private corporate spies.

A number of police officers have retired from NDEU's precursor units and continued their careers in the security industry, using their skills and experience for commercial purposes.

The ex-officers still like to use the database though, as the HMIC admitted there have been

attempts by retired officers to then contact and work with NDEU

What's the NDEU up to now? We're not really told. What's to be done? In future undercover officers must be approved by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners. You can judge their effectiveness in this matter already. They're the people who've been overseeing the authorisations of undercover police up till now.


Rather like the way the authorities are granting access to the truth about the Hillsborough Disaster now because it's 20 years later and nobody's career's at risk any more, so the HMIC report roasts Kennedy as off-mission and blames his unit the NPOIU, who conveniently no longer exist. This isn't the police fessing up; it's finding a scapegoat that won't hurt them.

It's clear Mark Kennedy is one of many. It's risible to suggest he went seven years without major details of his action being noticed. It just went unquestioned. "We're the good guys; therefore anything we do is right; therefore anyone who disobeys us is wrong; therefore anything that undermines them is good."

But now they behave as police at all levels do when accused of wrongdoing. Irrespective of the strength and clarity of the evidence and of the immorality of the misdeed, they clam up for as long as possible, lie when forced to speak, and try to appease any sustained clamour for justice by pushing a low ranking grunt out as a sacrifice.

The report concedes that Kennedy ended up spending a long time a long way beyond defensible behaviour. Either he did this himself due to negligence and shoddy oversight, or else this was the deliberate strategy of his superiors. There is no third option. Either way, his bosses are culpable.

Given what has been exposed - up to now all of it by activists and journalists, the few scant unredacted details in the HMIC report are only there because the first version was exposed as a whitewash - the report has had to admit that the system of oversight doesn't work. But by focusing on just Kennedy and the NPOIU it ignores the fact that the police have spent forty years with dedicated squads doing this to political activists, and that political policing reaches much further than that.

There appears to be nothing in Kennedy's behaviour, aside of the length of his deployment, that was unusual. We know of eight other undercover officers who behaved similarly, at least six of whom had intimate relationships with the citizens they spied on, two of them fathering children.

The obvious implication is that other officers before him were likewise wrongly intruding into the lives of activists; if Kennedy warrants a shiny important report, then what about the rest?


Anonymous said...

good analysis. saves me from reading the report! chris, bristol

merrick said...

Fitwatch do some excellent analysis of the report:

"The overriding view that if the officers had behaved properly then none of this would have happened is simply not good enough. In contrast to the emotive language of train “hijacking”, the lives NPIOU have stamped over; the lives to which they have caused irreparable damage are simply and disgustingly labelled “collateral intrusion”. Meanwhile there are several references to the psychological difficulties these poor police officers have to endure."