Investigating police infiltration of social movements

Dragging secrets into daylight: An interview with Eveline Lubbers

Eveline Lubbers has recently published the book, Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists in which she documents how private corporations — sometimes independently, sometimes in collusion with state police agencies — spy and target dissent, from environmentalists, to anti-globalization protestors and animal rights activists. Aaron Leonard corresponded with her via email to ask her about her investigations.

 Aaron Leonard: You open talking about Mark Kennedy, someone who was an infiltrator of the environmental movement in the UK for seven years. Then you make this point: "The feeling of loss an betrayal on both the political and personal levels tend to hamper crucial investigations by those involved in an attempt to map out what happened in more detail, and to understand the impact and the full consequences of the operation." Could you tell us who Kennedy was? What are the larger implications of his activity?

 Eveline Lubbers: Mark Kennedy made headlines in early 2011 and the fall-out still continues. Confronted by friends and fellow campaigners in the UK, Kennedy admitted to having been a spy for seven years. Using the name Mark Stone, he had embedded himself in the environmental movement, while widening his scope to protests against the summits of world leaders, anti-fascism and animal rights. His nickname was 'Flash' for the money he had at hand. He offered transport to set up climate camps and volunteered his climbing skills to add spectacular effects to for instance the occupation of power plants.

The Kennedy case has had a huge impact, not just for political and legal reasons, also for the damage at the personal level. First it is an exemplary of the infiltrator as a facilitator — providing transport and money — while crossing the thin line towards the role of agent provocateur. It is an extraordinary case, not only for the span of the operation, the many years and the amount of countries in Europe. Just recently the New York Times reported Kennedy spying in the U.S. in 2008.

The coverage in the press was huge, and as a result of public pressure more than a dozen of official reviews are now underway, most of them internal and thus secret. Since Kennedy, more than ten other undercover officers have been exposed — their activities spanning three decades. We know now that although the period of his assignment was extremely long, Kennedy was not just some rogue agent in an operation gone astray. Instead, his was an assignment that was consistent with a practice started in the 1980s, if not earlier. As a result of his involvement, the verdicts of activists have been overturned. More convictions may be declared unjust because undercover officers failed to divulge their involvement.

The Kennedy case reveals the increasingly blurring boundaries between public and private policing and puts the grey area of corporate intelligence in the spotlight. The set of secret police units Kennedy used to work for was founded explicitly to satisfy the needs of companies targeted by activists. What is more, the companies involved — such as electricity suppliers and air companies — also hire former police and intelligence staff to deal with security issues. That none of the official reviews look at the aspect of corporate spying underlines the urgent need for independent research.

Mark Kennedy has done a lot of damage on the personal level as well. During the seven years he was undercover he had various short and long-term relationships with women. It is difficult to understand how this could have happened, within the official hierarchy. It is unacceptable either way. The fact that someone authorized it seems just as impossible as the opposite, that it was allowed to continue for such a long time without permission. And Kennedy was not the only one. Nine out of the eleven spies that have been exposed since have had sex with women they met, some set up home, lived as a couple, some even had children with activists. Two groups of women have now filed complaints against the Metropolitan police, to hold the responsible authorities to account. However, no outcome, no financial compensation or public excuse, will be sufficient to heal the harm done.

There are several levels of violation that need to be addressed, that the women reclaim their rights, the autonomy over their bodies and their lives. With the court case they want to reinstate their right to speak up, as activists and as women or vise versa — without being denigrated in the most horrible way. Infiltration also means violation of community, of trust and private life. Devoting your life to protest, the relationship with a fellow activist fits the larger context of being part of a movement, wherein overall, there is less of a boundary between the working and the private life. Being part of a movement means the sharing of ideas, ideals, the risks of activism, the scary things at night, the confrontations with the authorities, the arrests maybe, the interrogations, prison for some, the pub afterwards, the long nights. Emily Apple wrote about this beautifully. The sharing of all this, means people are sharing their entire life, working hard to make this world a better place — to use a common phrase. Hence, the betrayal is not just in the relationship, not just in the private — as if that would not be enough — it's also in the political, in the beliefs, and the practical every-day life. CONTINUE

Leave a comment