Environmental infiltrators: 15 ways to recognise spy cops
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Nov 3 10:54:33 GMT 2015
The Fifteen Questions we work with
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 weve
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 undercovers 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 Watsons 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 campaigners 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 groups
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
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.
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.
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 ones 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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