Environmental infiltrators: 15 ways to recognise spy cops

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Nov 3 10:54:33 GMT 2015

The Fifteen Questions we work with

Posted on 
2, 2015
Undercover Research Group

Peter Salmon and Eveline Lubbers / Undercover Research Group,
2 November 2015

As we noted in a recent blogpost on 
we work, we have a list of questions that we have 
developed from close study of the undercovers 
exposed so far. If someone comes to us with a 
suspicion about someone in their group, we put 
these questions to them, to see whether their 
suspicions are well founded. If many boxes are 
ticked, there are strong grounds for further investigation.

Here we set out the questions we work with, 
putting them context (thanks for people taking 
part in our meeting at the London Anarchist 
Bookfair for their input!). Some questions are 
specifically related to the undercover 
tradecraft. Others are things about what 
infiltrating officers get wrong, or what we’ve 
picked up from our own analyses.
    * Is their background missing?
Generally, the undercover has very little in the 
way of background story. They will often have a

‘legend’ – where they are from, why they left. 
Details will generally be quite sparse, and there 
is very little overlap between their previous 
world and their activist one. It is rare to meet 
friends (or see their photos) from their 
‘previous’ life, even though they may be 
discussed or the suspect claims he goes to see 
them. Undercovers will also have a lack of 
presence in the public record, though this is not 
always obvious until one starts investigating them seriously.

Caveat: it is known that several undercovers did 
bring other people through – generally these are 
considered ‘background artistes’ used to help 
bolster an undercover’s story. For example, 
Watson introduced several boyfriends to activist 
friends. Generally these other people have only 
appeared once or twice, and at times have been 
noted for their unusual or provocative behaviour.
    * Is their politics missing, underdeveloped or stereotyped?
Related to the first question, in most cases 
undercovers have had very little to say in 
relation to the politics of the movement they are 
infiltrating. Although they are indeed interested 
in listening to others (though some eschewed any 
interest in the name of cynicism), they 
contribute little on that score and generally 
avoid or head-off such discussions. Where they 
demonstrate interest, it is often superficial and 
the books and background material they have are 
standard, popular stuff showing little depth or breathe.

Caveat: clearly this can be applied to a lot of 
campaigners, but in some groups it is a reason for standing out.
    * Has anyone ever met their family?
Some undercovers never talk about their family, 
while some talk about them a lot. However 
opportunities to meet them never quite come off – 
there are always excuses. Undercovers can produce 
photos and other material indicating the 
existence of supposed family members, and talk 
about having close relationships with them. 
Others have spun stories about abusive 
relationships (and used these stories to build 
trust), but inconsistently talk about how they 
are going to see them. Sometimes family crises, 
such as a seriously ill father, are used as an 
excuse to go away for extended periods of time.
    * Does their job take them away for periods at a time?
It appears that many undercovers have jobs that 
require them to be away for extended periods of 
time, up to several weeks at a time. These jobs 
would also supply them with money, vehicles and 
excuses to put receipts ‘through the books’. 
Depending on the nature of the job, most are 
reluctant to bring activists into contact with 
their employers. E.g., Lynn Watson was a 
care-worker, but when friends asked about working 
with her agency, she kept them at bay
    * Did their home look un-lived in?
A common theme is how un-homely or not lived-in 
their houses were, though – again – not in every 
case. There would be materials around that 
indicated ‘political activist’, but they are the 
exception rather than the norm, looking more 
staged than anything. There would also be a lack 
of personal touch and possessions. The most noted 
case of this was Lynn Watson’s house which had 
overdone Class War posters and little in the way of personal touch.
    * Did they have a vehicle?
Most undercovers had vehicles and showed willing 
to use them for the purposes of campaigning, 
including doing reconnaissances and actions. The 
vehicles would vary in type and model, and 
include vans. Sometimes the undercovers claimed 
the car came through their work.
    * Did they have above-average driving skills?
Something commented on a lot of undercovers is 
their above average driving skills, which is not 
unsurprising given Special Branch / police background.
    * Would you consider them someone who went out of their way to be helpful?
The charm, friendliness and general kindness of 
the undercovers is regularly noted upon. They 
come across as ready to go out of their way to 
help. In particular, they are happy to give lifts 
to and from campaigner’s homes.
    * Did they have ready access to money and were they generous with it?
They are often ready to help people out with 
money, such as wave petrol costs or buy rounds of 
food or drink. Sometimes they will claim that 
expenses are already covered it in some way – 
through their work for instance. They are not 
necessarily flash, but seem to have ready access 
to cash. They show willing to be generous, and 
will be quick to buy the rounds.
    * Did they focus relationships on key people?
It is not uncommon for them to – after getting 
involved in a group – to ‘make a beeline’ for key 
people and become very close to them personally 
and in campaigning. This often leads to them 
being been seen as ‘second in command’, etc.
    * Did they ever exhibit noticeable out-of-character behaviour?
A number of undercovers have been known to do 
something quite out of character that either 
disrupted an action and alerted police, or was 
distinctively away from the norm of the group. 
Examples are: inexplicable carelessness (Jim 
Boyling sabotaged a blockade during a Reclaim the 
Streets action by ‘ forgetting’ to keep window 
closed, so that the car was easy to remove by the 
police), or doing things beyond the group’s 
normal mode of behaviour (encouraging activities 
that put other members at risk, or take them into unplanned confrontations).

Related to this is spreading stories about more 
serious involvement in radical action elsewhere 
to give the impression they are ‘up for it’, 
though this would differ from how they normally 
present and actually behave in given situations.
12. Have you spotted oddities?

A number of things we have encountered in our 
research, that are worth noting if you encounter them:
    * Have documents in other names (sometimes 
can be explained away; not all are without good reason).
    * Organisational skills at odds with their persona.
    * Not having the skills they claim, 
especially where it is within their alleged job 
Jenner, for instance claimed to be a professional 
joiner but was unable to fit a kitchen). Related 
to this is not knowing enough about something 
they claim to be into, particularly a football team.
    * A focus on cleanliness and order that puts 
them at the far end of the activist spectrum, or 
at odds with it (e.g. 
Kennedy getting his hair regularly styled in professional hairdressers).
    * Characteristics that indicate some formal 
training (the way they do their boots).
    * Reacting to surprise situations in ways 
that indicated some other training (At a noise 
outside Jenner dropping in the correct moves to react to a bomb explosion).
    * Owning a very expensive bit of equipment 
that is somewhat out of characteristic for them 
or their milieu (top of the range phone, watch).
    * Doing something that seems to be signalling to someone else.
    * Have there been weird things around court 
cases or – lack of – police interest?
Sometimes undercover officers have been dropped 
inexplicably from a legal case, or chose to have 
a different solicitor from everyone else. Or you 
may have experienced a noticeable lack of police 
interest during the period the undercover was 
part of your group, or people would not be 
arrested when it would be otherwise be expected 
It is now known that the undercovers’ handlers 
were turning a blind eye to illegal activities at 
occasions, and would go out of their way to keep 
the undercover from going to court.

Caveat: The opposite might be true too: there are 
several strong examples of 
turning up in court using their false names to 
give evidence for instance – leading to overturned convictions eventually.
    * Did he or she suddenly disappear and cut off all contact?
This question is a section in itself as the ‘exit 
strategy’ is one of the most important aspects of 
the tradecraft when investigating a suspicion. In 
every case, undercovers have served a term of 
four to five years, then left relatively 
abruptly. It is quite telling how time and again 
two strategies are used, sometimes in 
combination: a) they go abroad, or b) act out and 
demonstrate a kind of mental breakdown, including 
actual tears. More importantly, they disappear 
completely, totally cutting off from their activist social life.

In several cases, not attending funerals or 
coming to other events related to people they 
were once very close to, gave rise to suspicions.

Sometimes, the situation has been more 
complicated, because the undercover continued to 
tangle up their personal life and their 
professional undercover one, which is called 
‘going native’. 
Chitty, for instance, returned after supposedly 
having left for Canada to socialise with activist 
friends, while he continued his job in the 
protective service – a different section of 
Spacial Branch. Kennedy came back after he had 
left the police, and tried to use his activist 
contacts to set up shop as a corporate spy 
selling the information he gathered.
    * Can you help us kill these myths?
We are aware from conversations that some people 
believe or have believed undercovers had a code 
of conduct, that there were things they would not 
do. We flag them up here to put an end to these myths:
    * commit illegal activities;
    * have sexual relationships with people they were targeting;
    * deny they are police when asked directly 
(some would even joke about it).

We now know that all of these things have been 
done regularly by undercover officers.

Important caveats.

If you find someone whose story ticks a number of 
these boxes, it does not necessarily mean you are 
dealing with an undercover officer. It merely 
means that your suspicions warrant further 
digging and investigating. These questions are a 
starting point, not an end in themselves to proof a case.

We strongly discourage people from spreading 
rumours based on suspicions alone, and recommend 
following up with research and proceeding with 
that as quickly as possible. Gossiping without 
confirmation can do much harm and destroy groups 
from within, regardless of the actual infiltration.

It is important to remember that while there 
might be commonalities among the way undercovers 
operate, there are as many differences, 
particularly around what they seek to achieve: 
some directly facilitate a group, while others 
seek to destroy it, for instance.

We also note that there are many good reasons for 
people to fall into the same categories without 
being an undercover, our framework is not 
fail-safe. For example, there are pretty valid 
reasons for not having contact with your family, 
or for people to disappear. Suffering from burn 
out is too common a reason for activists to 
withdraw, for instance (which should not happen 
in the first place – but that is another story. 
For support contact 
for Social Change).

Furthermore, not all undercover stories are 
exactly the same, there will be variations: so 
not fitting the pattern does not necessarily put 
someone in the clear either. Apart from that, 
other forms of infiltration (by security services 
or corporations, or through informers) will have 
very different patterns. If you have any 
questions or concerns or want to run unusual 
situations by us, do get in 

N.B. If you post these questions anywhere, please leave the caveats in place.

Final note

The nature of this work means all our experience 
and research is about historical undercovers, all 
prior to 2011 and all about those who have been 
extracted from their role. As this tradecraft is 
exposed, the police will have to change tactics to some degree.

Furthermore, the growing use of social media 
makes it more and more impossible to enter into a 
scene without any traces of a past, another part 
of one’s life and without family (though we know 
the police are actively looking into 
‘online legends’ to deal with this problem).

This article is here to help those who have been 
targeted in the past to identify individuals who 
should be investigated further, and should not be 
seen as the most up-to-date understanding of undercover police tradecraft.

Profiles of undercovers mentioned in this article 
can be found 
Some details taken from undercovers yet to be publicly exposed.
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