The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­crat­ic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the glob­al impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cov­er cop in the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­cred­it the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Steph­en Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­gin­al invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tion­al police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­in­al tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Steph­en Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wag­on, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish Nation­al Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cov­er officers were try­ing to gath­er advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cov­er cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­gin­al scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­ment­al protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to nation­al secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Ger­many.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the form­al hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­crat­ic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  With­in a notion­al demo­cracy, this is just gobsmack­ing.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by seni­or spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-over­due nation­al debate becomes ever more neces­sary.

Fair trials in the UK courts? Anyone?

This art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an about the ongo­ing reper­cus­sions of the Mark Kennedy under­cov­er cop scan­dal earli­er this year piqued my interest.

Mark_KennedyIt appears that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice (CPS) has sup­pressed key evid­ence about the all-too-appar­ent inno­cence of envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers in the run-up to their tri­als.  In this case Mark Kennedy aka Stone, the police­man who for years infilt­rated protest groups across Europe, had cov­ertly recor­ded con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the plan­ning ses­sions to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power sta­tion.

Kennedy offered to give evid­ence to prove that the unit he worked for at the time, the private and unac­count­able ACPO-run Nation­al Pub­lic Order Invest­ig­a­tions Unit (NPOIU), had witheld this key evid­ence.  It now appears that the police are claim­ing that they passed all the inform­a­tion on to the CPS, which then seems to have neg­lected  to hand it over to the pro­test­ers’ defence law­yers.

Keir_StarmerWhich makes it even more fas­cin­at­ing that in April this year the Dir­ect­or of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, fam­ous civil liber­ties QC Keir Starm­er no less, took the unpre­ced­en­ted step of encour­aging those same pro­test­ers to appeal against their con­vic­tions because of poten­tial “police” cov­er-ups.

It’s just amaz­ing, isn’t it, that when vital inform­a­tion can be kept safely under wraps these doughty crime-fight­ing agen­cies present a united front to the world?  But once someone shines a light into the slith­ery dark corners, they all scramble to avoid blame and leak against each oth­er?

And yet this case is just the tip of a titan­ic leg­al ice­berg, where for years the police and the CPS have been in cahoots to cov­er up many cases of, at best, mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, and at worst out­right lies about incom­pet­ence and poten­tially crim­in­al activ­ity.

Ian_TomlinsonA couple of months ago George Mon­bi­ot provided an excel­lent sum­mary of recent “mis­state­ments” (a won­der­fully euphemist­ic neo­lo­gism) by the police over the last few years, includ­ing such blatant cases as the death of Ian Tom­lin­son dur­ing the Lon­don G20 protests two years ago, the ongo­ing News of the World phone hack­ing case, and the counter-ter­ror­ism style exe­cu­tion, sorry, shoot­ing of the entirely inno­cent Jean Charles de Menezes, to name but a few.

Mon­bi­ot also dwelt at length on the appalling case of Michael Doherty, a con­cerned fath­er who dis­covered that his 13 year-old daugh­ter was appar­ently being groomed by a pae­do­phile over the inter­net.  He took his con­cerns to the police, who brushed the issue aside.  When Doherty tried to push for a more informed and pro­act­ive response, he was the one who was snatched from his house in an early morn­ing raid and ended up in court, accused of abus­ive and angry phone calls to the sta­tion in a sworn state­ment by a mem­ber of the rel­ev­ant police force, sorry, ser­vice.

And that would have been that — he would have appar­ently been bang to rights on the word of a police sec­ret­ary — apart from the fact he had recor­ded all his phone calls to the police and kept metic­u­lous notes on the pro­gress of the case.  Only this evid­ence led to his right­ful acquit­tal.

As Mon­bi­ot rightly con­cludes, “justice is impossible if we can­not trust police forces to tell the truth”.

It appears that the notion of “cit­izen journ­al­ists” is just sooo 2006.  Now we all need to be not only journ­al­ists but also “cit­izen law­yers”, just in case we have to defend ourselves against poten­tial police lies.  Yet these are the very organ­isa­tions that are paid from the pub­lic purse to pro­tect civil soci­ety.  Is it any won­der that so many people have a grow­ing dis­trust of them and con­cerns about an encroach­ing, Stasi-like, police state?

This is all part of engrained, top-down Brit­ish cul­ture of secrecy that allows the amorph­ous “secur­ity ser­vices” to think they can get away with any­thing and everything if they make a force­ful enough pub­lic state­ment: black is white, tor­ture is “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion”, and war is peace (or at least a “peace­keep­ing” mis­sion in Libya.…).  Espe­cially if there is no mean­ing­ful over­sight.  We have entered the Orwellian world of NewS­peak.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  This all happened in the 1970s and 80s with the Irish com­munity, and also in the 1990s with the ter­rible mis­car­riage of justice around the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in 1994.  If you have the time, please do read the detailed case here: Down­load Israeli_Embassy_Case

We need to remem­ber our his­tory.

Guardian article: the role of the spies in the UK

Here’s the text of an art­icle I wrote for The Guard­i­an a while ago, where I sug­gest we need a fresh per­spect­ive and some clear think­ing on the role of the spies in the UK

Worth reit­er­at­ing, fol­low­ing the pre-empt­ive arrest of pro­test­ers:

Mark_KennedyThe cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men, start­ing with PC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”, has high­lighted the iden­tity crisis afflict­ing the Brit­ish secur­ity estab­lish­ment. Private under­cov­er police units are hav­ing their James Bond moment – cider shaken, not stirred – while MI5 has become ever more plod-like, yet without the accom­pa­ny­ing over­sight. How has this happened to our demo­cracy without any pub­lic debate?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously tar­nished. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

Acpo_logoIt should there­fore come as little sur­prise that Acpo, the private lim­ited com­pany com­pris­ing seni­or police officers across the coun­try, came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. Acpo set up the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU). This first focused primar­ily on anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able, Stasi-like unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism. So, plod has become increas­ingly spooky. What of the spooks?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks are now allegedly doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 oper­ate out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. The remit of the intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment only cov­ers the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role. The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

Climate_camp_and_policeThe core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 70s-90s.

Once we under­stand the real threats, we as a nation can dis­cuss the steps to take to pro­tect ourselves; what meas­ures should be taken and what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

Just how many unaccountable spy organisations are out there in the UK?

Black_sheep?Unsuc­cess­fully res­ist­ing the tempta­tion to say that the obvi­ous ones (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) are still pretty unac­count­able, I was intrigued by a few recent art­icles in The Guard­i­an

George Mon­bi­ot, someone I have enorm­ous respect for but don’t always see eye-to-swiv­el­ling-eye with, wrote an excel­lent piece about the after­shocks of the Mark Kennedy/undercover cop scan­dal earli­er this year. 

Mon­bi­ot calls for the abol­i­tion of that demo­crat­ic­ally unac­count­able seni­or plod organ­isa­tion and PLC, the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  This was the organ­isa­tion under whose aegis the under­cov­er cops spied on hap­less envir­on­ment protest­ors — the very people who are now being encour­aged to appeal against their con­vic­tions by Dir­ect­or of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, no less.

Mon­bi­ot quotes a couple of acronyms cov­er­ing this shady world of police spy­ing: NPOIU and NECTU.   But in anoth­er Guard­i­an art­icle today — about the police tak­ing pre-empt­ive steps against so-called anarch­ists in the run-up to the roy­al wed­ding — I saw this:

The Met is also get­ting intel­li­gence from the Fix­ated Threat Assess­ment Centre, a police unit set up in 2006 togeth­er with men­tal health agen­cies to identi­fy indi­vidu­als who are obsessed with mem­bers of the roy­al fam­ily, politi­cians or celebrit­ies.”

Que?  When was this unit set up, and who runs it?  What about data pro­tec­tion and pri­vacy of med­ic­al records?  Or are these notions already just quaint ana­chron­isms, and a de facto Big Broth­er data­base is already in place?

Per­haps it is time for ACPO to make a clean breast of all the little group­ings it has set up over the last dec­ade.….

Blitz Spirit?

Sir_Paul_StephensonThe most seni­or police officer in the UK, the Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Sir Paul Steph­en­son no less, is say­ing that the Brit­ish cit­izens are not tak­ing the threat of ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough.  “Al Qaeda” could strike at any minute, the enemy is with­in etc, etc.…

Now, for a man of his seni­or­ity, one pre­sumes that he has served as a police­man for a fair few years — pos­sibly in the 1970s, cer­tainly the 80s and 90s.  Which means that he should have a memory of what it means to be under the real, daily threat of bombs explod­ing that aimed to maim, kill and ter­ror­ize the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Lon­don and the rest of the UK.  After all, through­out those dec­ades the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, backed by the fund-rais­ing activ­it­ies of cer­tain Amer­ic­an cit­izens and Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya — that erstwhile pat­ron of free­dom fight­ers every­where, now a staunch ally of the West in the “war on ter­ror” — was pretty much put­ting bombs down at will on UK streets.

Bishopsgate_Bombing_1993Dur­ing these years the UK has endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now? 

Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sion­al life at the time, I have per­son­al memor­ies of what it was like to live and work in Lon­don in the 1990s under the shad­ow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work when I was a fledging MI5 intel­li­gence officer in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­tor­ia train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 90s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­don­er was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.  Yet because of the pre­ced­ing couple of dec­ades, this was already a nor­mal way of life in the city. 

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_PosterLon­don­ers have grown used to incon­veni­ence; they grumble a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then get on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurn­al rhythm was that there were few­er US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

Sep­ar­ate from the IRA, in 1994 a car bomb exploded out­side the Israeli embassy in Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don.  Des­pite ini­tial reports that Ira­ni­an-backed groups were respons­ible (and, it turns out, MI5 may have dropped the ball), Palestini­an act­iv­ists were blamed and con­victed, wrongly it turns out, as MI5 assessed that the Israeli intel­li­gence agency, Mossad, had pulled a dirty trick.

Ter­ror­ism on the streets of Lon­don was noth­ing new.  In the early 1980s my fath­er was in Lon­don attend­ing an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism course and nar­rowly missed two bomb­ings — one in a res­taur­ant at Marble Arch a couple of hours after he and the rest of the course mem­bers had been eat­ing there, and anoth­er later that night close to the hotel he was stay­ing in at Lan­caster Gate. 

Dawson's_Field_VC10My Pa had anoth­er near miss in 1970 when he was a young air­line pilot fly­ing VC-10s around the world for BOAC. He was sup­posed to be the pilot of the VC-10 that ended up at Dawson’s Field in Jordan — hijacked by mem­bers of the PFLP and even­tu­ally blown up.  He had been pre­ven­ted from fly­ing from Bahrain that day as he was suf­fer­ing a bad dose of the ‘flu.

To this day, his view about both these incid­ents is to shrug and carry on.  Yes, it was a close shave, but if you allow incid­ents like that to col­our the rest of your life, then the concept of ter­ror­ism has already won.

The UK and its cit­izens have had plenty of hands-on exper­i­ence of liv­ing with the real­ity of war, polit­ic­al viol­ence and ter­ror­ism.   As a res­ult, I’m con­stantly flab­ber­gas­ted by the glob­al secur­ity crack­down since 9/11 and par­tic­u­larly in the UK after 7th July 2005.  It was ghastly, and my heart bleeds for the vic­tims, fam­il­ies, and sur­viv­ors, but major ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are hardly new to the UK

Gerard_Conlan_Guildford_4_releaseThe UK gov­ern­ment seems now to have for­got­ten hard-learned les­sons from the 1970s and 80s in the war in North­ern Ire­land: that dra­coni­an meas­ures — tor­ture, shoot to kill, intern­ment, mil­it­ary-style tribunals —  not only don’t work, but also are counter-pro­duct­ive and act as recruit­ing grounds for ter­ror­ist groups.  The flag­rant mis­car­riages of justice around cases like the Guild­ford Four and Birm­ing­ham Six rein­forced this per­spect­ive.  

And the UK has not been alone in Europe when it comes to liv­ing with the daily real­ity of ter­ror­ism: the Span­ish have endured Basque sep­ar­at­ist attacks for four dec­ades, as have the French — in addi­tion to those per­pet­rated in Par­is with dev­ast­at­ing res­ults by Algeri­an Islam­ic groups in the 1990s.  Ger­many suc­cess­fully dealt with the Baader-Mein­hof Gang (Red Army Fac­tion), and oth­er European coun­tries, such as Bel­gi­um and Italy, have endured Oper­a­tion Gla­dio style ter­ror­ist attacks over recent dec­ades.

But in all those years, none of our coun­tries gave up on the concept of basic val­ues and freedoms — indeed they seemed to learn use­ful les­sons from the repress­ive, failed exper­i­ment in North­ern Ire­land.  So why are we now fall­ing in line, unthink­ingly, with the hys­ter­ic­al and bru­tal US response post 9/11? 

Das_leben_der_anderenIn the UK we are effect­ively liv­ing under a Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance state, as I have pre­vi­ously and extens­ively writ­ten.  Oth­er North­ern European coun­tries are con­stantly pres­sured to fall in line with the US “war on ter­ror” fear men­tal­ity.  To its cred­it Ger­many is react­ing cau­tiously, even in the face of the cur­rent, hyped-up ter­ror threat.  But then we Europeans know the les­sons of his­tory — we’ve lived them, and Ger­many more than most.  The ghosts of the Gestapo and the Stasi still cre­ate a fris­son of fear in the col­lect­ive Ger­man­ic memory.

But return­ing to that doughty crime fight­er, Sir Paul Steph­en­son.  The day after he ticked off the UK pub­lic for not tak­ing ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough, he is once again in the media, pre­dict­ing an era of grow­ing civil unrest in the wake of the stu­dent riots in Lon­don, and chillingly stat­ing that the rules of the game had changed.  For­get about try­ing to nego­ti­ate with cam­paign­ers — now the only way to deal with them is to spy on them, as The Guard­i­an repor­ted:

We have been going through a peri­od where we have not seen that sort of viol­ent dis­order,” Steph­en­son said. “We had dealt with stu­dent organ­isers before and I think we based it too much on his­tory. If we fol­low an intel­li­gence-based mod­el that stops you doing that. Obvi­ously you real­ise the game has changed. Regret­tably, the game has changed and we must act.”

Big_BrotherLast year the same news­pa­per revealed that ACPO, the seni­or police officers’ private asso­ci­ation, was run­ning an illeg­al unit to spy on “domest­ic extrem­ists” (read polit­ic­ally act­ive cit­izens).  In response to the pub­lic out­cry, the head of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde, prom­ised to stop this Stasi-like prac­tice.  In the wake of the stu­dent protests, Sir Paul will prob­ably see a renewed need for the unit, no doubt under anoth­er name.  Big Broth­er grows apace — because, of course, we all know that Ocean­ia has always been at war with East­as­ia.…..