The curious case of the UK spycop, the (French) ‘Invisible Committee’ and the FBI

Police raid in Tarnac

The dead hand of notorious UK spycop Mark Kennedy has reached out once again – this time in France, where a major trial involving a so-called ‘metaphysical anarchist’ cell saw the most serious charge – terrorism – dismissed. In a statement afterwards one of the defendants accused the prosecution of having based its case on false statements made by the police – in other words, fabricated (or exaggerated) evidence. Here is what happened…

On 11 November 2008, twenty French men and women were arrested simultaneously in Paris, Rouen, and in the small village of Tarnac (located in the district of Corrèze, Massif Central). Those in Tarnac were living in a small farmhouse – and in the village they had reorganised the local grocery store as a cooperative and taken up a number of civic activities, from the running of a film club to the delivery of food to the elderly.

The police operation was dramatic: it involved helicopters, one hundred and fifty balaclava-clad anti-terrorist police and massive media coverage. The arrests sparked huge protests in Paris and in other French cities and towns, as well as the village of Tarnac, which describes itself as communist and where those arrested were seen as highly-respected members of the community.

The arrested were accused of having participated in a number of sabotage attacks against the high-speed TGV train routes by obstructing the trains’ power cables with horseshoe-shaped iron bars, so causing delays that affected 160 trains. Eleven of the suspects were freed almost immediately; the remainder were subsequently dubbed in the media as the ‘Tarnac Nine’.

Prior to the raids, certain events happened in France, the UK and the USA…

Responding to a request from French authorities for help with the case, Detective Chief Inspector Richard May, of the UK’s National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU), wrote to his French counterpart: “The United Kingdom law enforcement units are able to confirm that information is available” that Julien Coupat (whom the French authorities regarded as the mastermind of the Tarnac ‘anarchist cell’) had attended a meeting in Nancy, a city in north-east France, in February 2008. May added: “Later that same day the meeting moved to a location in a village called Moussey, France. During these meetings, the making of improvised explosive devices was both discussed and practised.” Two other activists were named as being present at the meetings. This information that May passed on was crucial to the prosecution case.

Spycop Mark Kennedy, who was based within the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and which worked alongside the NDET, alleged how he had met certain ‘activists’ at a meeting of international anarchists in New York. May’s letter also referred to this meeting: “The United Kingdom law enforcement units are able to state that information is available that Julien Coupat was present at a meeting in New York, USA, between 12 and 13 January 2008.”

It was Mark Kennedy who claimed how he had witnessed the French ‘activists’ practising making explosives. And it was he who had provided ‘intelligence’ about the alleged New York meeting. Kennedy, it should be remembered, was the UK spycop whose ‘evidence’ led to the dramatic collapse of the trials of environmental ‘activists’ in the UK – whom Kennedy had infiltrated as an agent provocateur. Kennedy has also admitted how he had sexual relationships with female ‘activists’.

Mark Kennedy, spycop

Meanwhile, the FBI had similarly contacted their French counterparts and informed them of an alleged illegal crossing from Canada into the USA by Coupat and his companion, Yildune Levy. The FBI also informed the French how they had allegedly discovered a rucksack, left at the border, that had in it a picture of a recruiting office in New York’s Times Square, which would later be the target of a small bomb attack. The rucksack also allegedly contained documents from certain North American anarchists.

Back in France, the Renseignements géneraux [RG] was describing Coupat as a ‘critical metaphysician’ and an ‘anarcho-autonomist’ and that the Tarnac Nine were basically a 21st Century version of Action Directe. Others – probably more accurately – would describe them as the natural inheritors of the Situationist Internationale (Coupat wrote a dissertation on the Situationist, Guy Debord, who, together with Raoul Vaneigem, was influential in the May 68 ‘insurrection’ in Paris.) Indeed. supporters of Coupat and the other accused simply stated that far from being terrorists the Nine were idealists who wanted to see the end of capitalism and commodification; also, that the so-called prosecution evidence was manufactured.

Julien Coupat

The French authorities continued to justify the arrests, claiming that the Nine were guilty of terrorism given that Coupat is the alleged author of a textbook, published by the “Invisible Committee of the Imaginary Party”, called “The Coming Insurrection”. This book, published in 2007, soon became widely available in bookshops and even on Amazon. The book discussed sabotage and the means to overthrow the state. (Note: a review of this book and a sequel, together with their relevance to the recent anti-austerity movements across Europe, is given below.)

So from the Prosecution’s point of view the case looked cut and dry. However…

Yidune Levy

However, yesterday Judge Jeanne Duyé rejected the government’s attempt to have three of the activists – Coupat, Levy and Gabrielle Hallez – tried for “terrorism” and decided that four of the defendants – namely Coupat, Levy and two others – should now face the charge of “conspiracy” (which, in France, is a far lesser charge).

After the court’s decision the Defence lawyers told the press: “Right from the start, our clients have been regarded and treated as terrorists. Finally it’s been realised that this just doesn’t hold up”. Mathieu Burnel, one of the defendants, poignantly added: “Our arrests were purely political and based on false statements from the police. The whole thing is going to fall apart once it goes to trial”.

The prosecution refused to acknowledge that the UK and US reports, via Kennedy, etc contributed to the legal case, though the defence maintains that if it was not for those reports the arrests and the subsequent charges may never have eventuated.

Julien Coupat – supposedly one of the main authors of The Coming Insurrection (he denies this) – also added that it was “laughable” that the “terrorism” case brought against him should be based merely on a book that can be bought in high street book chains in France, such as Fnac.

Meanwhile, back in the UK the Pitchford Inquiry into Undercover Policing still refuses to examine cases of UK spycops who were active outside the UK.

For background on the ‘Tarnac 9’ see: https://www.vice.com/read/vive-le-tarnac-nine-407-v17n4

For more on Mark Kennedy:

For more on The Invisible Committee of The Imaginary Party: https://libcom.org/library/theses-imaginary-party

For info on Situationism:

Appendix: A review of “The Coming Insurrection” and its sequel, by Paul Cudenec

In 2007 a group of radicals in France, calling themselves le comité invisible (The Invisible Committee) brought out a book called L’Insurrection qui vient or, in English, The Coming Insurrection. A lot has happened since then. For a start, the waves created by their writing led to a group of people, who became known as the Tarnac Nine, being arrested on dubious charges of sabotaging high-speed rail lines, with the French state claiming they were also the authors of the pamphlet.

The wider picture of what has become of the struggle against neo-liberalism, and where it might go from here, is what is addressed in their follow-up book, A nos amis, recently published by La fabrique éditions. “Insurrections finally came,” they tell us with a nod back to the title of the previous book, although they obviously have to admit: “Insurrections came, but not the revolution”.

They refer throughout to the whole gamut of uprisings we have witnessed over the last seven years – from Cairo to Rio, Athens to London, Istanbul to Madrid and beyond. The problem, from an anti-capitalist point of view is that despite all of that resistance the system is still standing – everywhere. Revolutions never seem to develop any further than rioting, as they concede.

But, on the positive side, there is an increasing feeling of something happening, the commonly-shared intuition that “an insurrection can break out at any moment, for whatever reason, in any country and lead anywhere”. This, insist The Invisible Committee, is not just wishful thinking on the part of the world’s dissidents – there really is a pattern emerging: “What has been happening in the world since 2008 isn’t an incoherent  series of random eruptions in sealed national spaces, but one big historical sequence”. They suggest they it is wrong to lament the demise of the specific anti-globalisation movement that seemed such an unstoppable force at Genoa, Seattle, or the City of London in the years leading up to 9/11. Instead, they suggest, it has become absorbed into the Zeitgeist. “It has disappeared, precisely because it has been fulfilled. Everything that made up its basic vocabulary has entered into the public domain: is there anyone today who questions the existence of ‘the dictatorship of finance’, of the political aims behind IMF-imposed reforms, of the ‘destruction of the environment’ by capitalist greed, of the insane arrogance of the nuclear lobby, of the barefaced lies of power, of the open corruption of the ruling class? You have to remind yourself that over the course of ten years, views once held only by radicals have now become the very stuff of common sense”.

More people have absorbed the fact that neo-liberal capitalism is not just a theoretical entity but something that exists on a real everyday level. Stripping away the mystique of power, we see the criminality behind the facade: “The state is the mafia which has beaten off all the other mafia”. We also see that capitalism is, basically, the infrastructure of life in modern industrial society: “Power is now immanent in life as it is organised…” “Power has now become the very order of things, with the police in charge of defending it”. While outright brutality is of course constantly deployed to defend capitalism, the Committee suggest that a more significant aspect of repression is “a war of influence – subtle, psychological and indirect”.

The so-called “crisis” is a prime example of this, they say, distorting the way that opponents are able to even think about capitalism. “We are not experiencing a crisis of  capitalism, but the triumph of crisis capitalism”. “There isn’t a ‘crisis’ we have to get out of, there is a war we have to win.”

If the key to understanding capitalism is to appreciate the diffuse nature of its existence in the very infrastructure of its world, it is also important to understand our own role, insist the Committee.

The counter-insurgency strategies of the status quo always assume the existence of an “enemy” which is competing with it for the loyalties of the “population” – and thus it will always try to create divisions between the two, whether by propaganda or subterfuge of various kinds (such as false flag “terrorism”).

But we should know that we are ourselves part of the population: “We are the ‘hearts and minds’ that they want to win over. We are the crowds that they want to ‘control’. We are the underworld in which government agents operate and which they hope to subdue, and not a rival entity in the pursuit of power. We don’t fight from within the population ‘like a fish in the water’ for we are the water in which our enemies are wading – soluble fish. We are that matter which grows from the inside, organises itself and develops. There lies the real asymmetry and our real position of strength”. Anti-capitalists therefore need sometimes to “disappear” back inside the population of which they are part so they can never be isolated from it.

Already in The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee displayed similarities to the thinking of the oft-neglected  German-Jewish anarchist Gustav Landauer when they wrote that “revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance”. In his most important text, For Socialism, Landauer wrote: “There is no need to fear a lack of revolutionaries: they actually arise by a sort of spontaneous generation – namely when the revolution comes…” In A nos amis, the Committee quote Landauer at one stage and are making the very same point as he did above, when they declare: “It’s not ‘the people’ which creates the uprising, but the uprising which creates its people”.

In order to start this process moving, they stress that we need to organise ourselves. Without that, our numbers count for nothing – the 99% per cent will remain disempowered by the 1%. “There is a world of difference,” they point out, “between a mass of poor people and a mass of poor people determined to act together”. But worry not – this does not mean they want us all to rally under their flag and set up local franchises of The Invisible Committee in our own home towns: “Getting organised doesn’t mean  joining the same organisation. Getting organised is about acting according to a common perception, whatever level that might be on.”

With a view to building that shared perception, they propose an emphasis on the idea of the revolutionary Commune – what might also be termed the building-up of a culture of resistance. From struggling together we can discover “a quality of connection  and a way of being in the world”.

Our personal experiences of being involved in occupied spaces of various kinds, the Communes they have in mind, show us “that we can organise ourselves and that this power is fundamentally joyful”. The power that comes from resisting is therefore in itself a kind of victory. Importantly, they understand that a revolutionary urge is not something that can be artificially constructed or easily controlled or quantified, but is instead a “living force”. We have to be able to “see a world populated not by things, but by forces, not by subjects but by powers, not by bodies but by connections”.

The big question facing us, they say, is “How can we build a force which isn’t an organisation?” It is here that the depth of their conception of the Commune comes in. They refer back to the “medieval” sense of the idea, which they say had been long lost before being rediscovered by the federalist faction of the Paris Commune in 1871, and which has kept on resurfacing every since. This is the same “force without name” that was understood by the proto-anarchist heretics of the Brothers of the Free Spirit.

The activation of this nameless force will be crucial in turning insurrection into revolution, in turning opposition to the industrial capitalism world into a positive longing for something different. At the moment, this positive longing is only expressing itself in negative terms, as a deep rejection of all that it is not, all that is preventing its vision from being fulfilled. “Incurable disgust, pure negativity and total rejection are the only political forces in evidence at the moment,” note the Committee.

The real driving force behind the Occupy movement was not the specific grievances that it voiced but a much broader “disgust for the world we are made to live in”. This disgust, however, is itself proof of a contrasting conception of how things should be, how we should be living. The disgust arises from an ethical awareness, something that has been largely abandoned by anti-capitalists and has thus been able to be appropriated, in a distorted form, by Islamicists and fascists.

“The importance of the theme of prevailing corruption in nearly all today’s revolts shows the extent to which they are primarily ethical rather than political,” say the Committee. For them, there are such things as “ethical truths”, but they are aware that this is not so for everyone: “These are two words which, when placed together, sound to the modern spirit like an oxymoron”.

They go on to define these ethical foundations for our resistance: “These are truths which connect us, to ourselves, to that which surrounds us, and each to the other. They take us to a world which is suddenly held in common,  to a non-separated existence free of the illusory walls of our egos”. It is not entirely clear to me to what extent the authors see these ethical truths as being embedded in human nature, as I would argue they are. On the one hand they reject the notion that political order is needed in order to constrain a basically selfish human nature, that we are all separate and competing individuals who have to be held together by some kind of artifice. They comment: “As Marshall Sahlins showed, this idea of a human nature which it is up to ‘culture’ to hold down is a Western illusion”.

On the other hand, they go on to dismiss mutual aid and a belief in the innate goodness of humanity as “fundamentally Christian” ideas, apparently unaware of the notion of original sin and the necessity, for Christians, of finding salvation from this innate state of sin through redemption in Christ. A belief in the innate goodness of humanity – of an innate tendency to co-operation and solidarity – is as alien to orthodox Christian thinking as it is essential to the alternative panenhenist (“all-in-one-ist”) view of our connection to the universe to which the Committee’s views elsewhere come so close.

It is the loss of our understanding that we, as individuals form a living part of a much bigger organic entity (or series of entities – humankind, the planet, the cosmos…) that has left us stranded with little understanding of the forces around us. When one is simply part of a bigger being (in the way that our various organs and limbs are part of our body), ideas of mutual aid and working for the common good are not even matters of choice, but of necessity. The “goodness” involved is therefore not altruistic in some abstract or religious way, but a natural result of our organic belonging to the wider Whole.

The Committee seem aware of this when they write that “the real catastrophe is existential and metaphysical” and when they add: “To be free and to be connected (lié) is one and the same thing. I am free because I am connected, because I am part of a reality much bigger than me”. They comment on the existence of “a universal thirst for rediscovering ourselves that can only be explained by universal separation” and stress the importance of a spiritual aspect to our struggle “whether that takes the form of theory, literature, art or metaphysics”.

The idea of the individual as part of an organic humanity and of humanity as, in turn, part of an organic planet leads inevitably to an environmental basis for our culture of resistance and this is indeed embraced by the Committee. They explicitly reject the leftist slogan of putting humanity at the centre of our thinking: “We other revolutionaries, with our atavistic humanism, would do well to take a look at the constant uprisings of indigenous peoples in central and south America over the last 20 years. Their slogan could be: ‘Put the Earth at the centre’”.

The authors are clearly inspired by the Zapatista movement and indigenous Indian thinkers are quoted in support of the importance of interconnections between people and land, which the Committee also pinpoints as a crucial motivation behind uprisings elsewhere in the world.

Threats to our environment – whether it be the felling of hundreds of trees in an Istanbul park, the construction of high-speed rail line through the Italian Alps or the building of a new airport at Nantes – are prompting many of the most significant outbreaks of resistance against capitalism. Moreover, this resistance is targeting the very infrastructure which in fact now constitutes the essential reality of capitalism. Blocking infrastructure is becoming the most effective way of fighting power.

“More and more revolutionaries are coming to throw themselves as greedily into what they call ‘local struggles’ as they yesterday did into ‘social struggles’”, note the authors. “What connects them are the gestures of resistance that flow from them – blocking, occupying, rioting and sabotaging as direct attacks on the production of value by the circulation of information and goods…”

As I noted recently, this phenomenon has been particularly apparent in France, where the controversy surrounding the police murder of environmental protester Rémi Fraisse has revealed to the public the extent of the resistance to grands projets designed to expand capitalist domination at the expense of the natural world and human communities.

The way in which these struggles often combine different types and levels of resistance – from traditional “local” campaigning to direct action approaches – fits well with the Committee’s vision of the way forward for anti-capitalists. They emphasise that a fully-functioning resistance must retain all its aspects, which they break down into three main elements – spiritual, combative (whether orientated towards attack or self-defence) and possessing material means and spaces.

“Each time that one of these dimensions loses contact with the others and becomes independent of them, the movement degenerates – into armed avant-gardes, cults of theorists or alternative businesses”.

The principal activities in which we should be involved can therefore be summed up as thinking, attacking and building. Writing theoretical texts such as these is evidently only one aspect of the revolutionary work being carried out by the authors and they conclude the book on a positive message to the amis across the world who increasingly understand that they are fighting the same struggle, not just against the capitalist system but for another way of being.

“We will do what has to be done,” they promise. “This text is the start of a plan”.

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