Thursday, June 20, 2013

undercover oversight

As the undercover policing scandal rolls on - with the tenacious Guardian journalists about to publish their book and have the accompanying documentary screened by Channel 4 on Monday - the government has announced tighter rules for future operations.

All long-term undercover policing operations will be independently authorised

Well that sounds reassuring. But which outside body will be scrutinising the police's desires?

the Office for Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) will be notified at the start of all undercover police deployments – and must approve any lasting beyond 12 months.


We've come across these people before. They already had the ultimate sign-off on undercover deployment. Hiring a bunch of judges and asking them to question the motives of police, well, no need to guess how well that went and why we've had decades of unjustifiable invasion into political groups and outrageous abuse of the individuals therein.

We've even had Surveillance Commissioners look at this specific issue after everyone knew it had gone wrong. In the wake of the exposure of Mark Kennedy and the revelation that witholding his evidence had led to a miscarriage of justice that saw 20 people wrongfully convicted, Sir Christopher Rose produced a report looking into whether the Crown Prosecution Service had colluded with the police.

Rose was a former judge and a Surveillance Commissioner. Just like the way police had initially tried to make out Kennedy was one rogue officer, Rose's report scapegoated one CPS official, Ian Cunningham. He specifically said there was no conspiracy.

Nothing I have seen or heard suggests that, at any stage of this prosecution, there was deliberate, still less dishonest, withholding of information which the holder believed was disclosable

It takes a hell of a lot of front to say that, given that months earlier emails had been leaked showing Cunningham and a more senior CPS official discussing the 'sensitive disclosure issues' around the 'participating informant' Kennedy. If you have two people involved in a cover-up it is, by definition, a conspiracy. If they document it then it is, by dint of plain evidence, not an oversight.

Rose said that although there were transcripts of Kennedy's recordings of the activists' planning meeting, nobody at the CPS thought they might have important information in regarding what happened in the meeting and so didn't look at them or think to give copies to the defence.

These are the people who will be checking the police's motivations and need for future deployment of undercover officers. Just like the "Independent" Police Complaints Commission, they're a rubber-stamp body made up of people who spend their professional and personal lives trusting police officers.


Police enjoy self-regulation and, if anything goes wrong, what amounts to self-investigation, often without the pretence of an independent body.

After it was revealed that undercover police used the identities of dead children - a practice that is not only ghoulish but puts bereaved families in real danger - the investigation into undercover officers was taken away from the force that did it, the Metropolitan Police, and put in the hands of, oh... a different Chief Constable.

After 24 years of campaigning the Hillsborough families have proven there was a cover up (pertinently, it also went beyond police into the judiciary) and the original inquest verdicts have been quashed. Last week we learned that the new inquiry, to prove itself free of any bias towards the police who have been so thoroughly discredited, will be relying on a report from, oh... a former Chief Constable.

What other body can be so indisputably shown to have acted so deplorably and ruined so many lives yet still be given self-investigation as a response? If a Manchester United player commits an extreme offence on camera, it's not investigated by Manchester United officials. Furthermore, responding to pressure by getting Manchester United's reserves team manager to look into it instead does not qualify as an independent investigation.

The proposals once again say undercover officers will be used for "terrorism and for serious organised crime". But this is the line they've always spun as they target non-terrorists who are merely politically undesirable, people with ideas that challenge the status quo and are in danger of catching on. We've seen undercover officers like Bob Lambert MBE say that he had to go through less dangerous groups to establish credibility before moving on to actual terrorists (in his case, people who did not threaten anybody's life but did property damage). Like Kennedy he was an agent provocateur, becoming a successful firebomber.

Even this stepping-stone argument seems to be largely bollocks as many officers, such as Kennedy, spent years with the fluffier groups without ever graduating to any bomb-weilders. These protest groups are often the end target in themselves.

The use of the term 'domestic extremist' to mean anyone who would break a law for a political reason (and that's everyone, by the way) shows that the authorities are trying to conflate civil disobedience with terrorism. The deliberate lies spun about climate activists  - they want to commit serious violence against citizens, they want to hurt your granny - is a stark underlining of that point.


But the most important thing about the new proposals for undercover officers is what is omitted. The scandal broke because Kennedy was caught by his partner of six years. Since then we have learned of a dozen officers, almost all of whom had long-term, committed life-partner relationships with activists they targeted. A quarter of them fathered children. It is the most shocking and controversial aspect of the whole scandal. And yet the new proposals on making undercover operations fair and accountable contain nothing, not a single word, about the most intrusive act that the state performs on a person.

The officer is sent into someone's life to be their partner - their most trusted confidante, their lover, in numerous cases to co-habit and co-parent - all the while having it monitored, analysed and presumably directed by an unseen group back at Scotland Yard. The person targeted doesn't know it is going on so they do not hold back in the way that others, such as people imprisoned, retain some privacy and personal identity from the state agents ranged against them.

Last year Home Office minister Nick Herbert was glove-puppeted to say officers must be allowed to have sex with the people they spy upon.

to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them.

So with that, and the absence of anything in the new proposals, we know that they intend to continue as before. Lives will be ruined, women will be violated and left rearing children single handed.

More, there is no justification for it to ever happen. To anybody at all, under any circumstances, ever. The 'ready made test' argument is absolute unmitigated bullshit. Are undercover officers infiltrating paedophile gangs are authorised to rape children? Otherwise the group concerned have a ready-made test.

Even presuming that political activists warrant infiltration to defend society and it's not just the powerful protecting their political interests, what is it that can be got from activists by this means that cannot be got other ways? The fact that two officers - Lynn Watson and Rod Richardson - were deployed without having relationships and weren't rumbled shows that it is not necessary. The police just prefer it.

So this new announcement isn't about genuine oversight or a change from the wanton abuse of citizens. It's the police trying to make a few of the right noises to protect their existing methods and power.

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