The spycops experiment: from blacklisting agents to social pariahs – and next?

Recently it was revealed how the late Tory prime minister Edward Heath had not only been aware of but encouraged the broadcasting of a TV documentary critical of the Shrewsbury pickets. These were men who merely wanted better working conditions, including a minimum wage but jailed for doing so. It was an age when the intelligence services and the Tory press worked hand-in-glove to smear unions at every opportunity and disseminate disinformation to weaken them forever. But a decade or so on, despite the demise of the private blacklisting agency, The Economic League, attention switched to protest groups (and it didn’t take long before this new ‘enemy within’ was labelled ‘extremist’). Undercover ops were consigned to a new breed of James Bond wannabees – complete with licence to infiltrate – who would go on to portray themselves as ‘eco-warriors’ and ‘anarchists’, adopting libertarian guises (one spycop cheekily named himself after one of those jailed for Angry Brigade actions). Officially, the affiliations of the ‘spycops’ were to esoteric-sounding outfits like the NPOIU, NDET or the SDS, etc, though unofficially they were regarded as being nothing less than an arm of UK corporate-state intelligence. And it would be a mistake to think of these spycops as ‘lone wolves’ or an aberration: in truth, their orders and authorisation came from the highest levels of policing. But it didn’t take long for this phase of police-espionage to be brought to an undignified halt – partly due to the sheer cockiness of these ‘new kids on the block’, but also via the efforts of a handful of anarchists and the women victims the spycops had abused in the process. As for the next phase, spycop as ‘terrorism expert’ is still in the making. Let’s examine this trajectory further…

(Note: in case there are sound problems with videos shown in this article, here are the three transcipts: Episode 1; Episode 2: Episode 3.)

A. How Heath got his secret industrial relations briefings

Ned Walsh was a key conduit of intelligence from the blacklisting agency The Economic League to the Heath government and in 1988, as part of a series of exposes on The Economic League (see below), “World in Action” revealed that Walsh had been working undercover in the trades union ASTMS, now MSF, for more than twenty years. It was via Walsh and other EL officers that trade union intelligence was passed to (Lord) Victor Rothschild and from Rothschild to Ted Heath. The prime minister’s ‘interest’ in the Shrewsbury pickets case, however, was merely an instance of many, many briefings he had on ‘industrial relations’ from around the country – provided to him not just by the EL but also by MI5.

It was an age of unblinkered class war. And there were to be no prisoners.

Rothschild was a key player in the so-called Radical Right and his pals included the industrialist Sir James Goldsmith (head of British American Tobacco and father of Zac MP and Jemima Khan) and the soon-to-be wayward MI5 spook Peter Wright, etc. Goldsmith went on to fund Zeus Security, which was an MI5 plausible denial agency that spied on protesters, including the Sizewell ‘B’ protesters. (Rothschild, incidentally, did not just have the ear of the PM but also headed NM Rothschild in the City – one of the most prestigious banking houses in Europe.) With all his connections and wealth, it didn’t take long before Rothschild was appointed to head a prime ministerial “think tank” in 1971 on ‘industrial relations and security’. The following year, Rothschild contacted Wright and asked for regular updates on trade union militancy. Wright happily obliged. Wright’s MI5 boss, Furnival Jones, gave his approval to this ongoing relationship and told Wright to hand over all useful information. Rothschild was well placed in other ways: his mate David Barran just happened to be the president of The Economic League and was also on the board of Slater Walker, which was the fourth largest donor to The Economic League.

There were other organisations – ‘think tanks’ – eager to stamp out union militancy. Among a tranche of documents leaked from the Brian Crozier’s Institute for the Study of Conflict (a front for dirty tricks ops) to Time Out magazine in 1975 was a memo from John Whitehorn urging member companies of the CBI to increase their funding to five organisations working against “subversion” in British industry. ISC was one of the five organisations. Others included the The Economic League, Common Cause, Aims of Industry and Industrial Research and Information Services – all far-right organisations committed to countering trade unions.

And while all this was going on, in the wings there lurked a coterie of far-right nutters, plotting the two infamous coups against Harold Wilson, or in case the unions ever brought industry to a standstill. One such group of coup plotters was the Unison Committee, which was also known as “Civil Assistance” and which described itself as a ‘private army’, organised by General Walter Walker, MI6 chief George Kennedy Young (later implicated in the Westmister/VIP child sex abuse scandal), Colonel Robert Butler, Michael Ivens, the MacWhirter brothers (of the Guiness Book of Records) and MI6’s Anthony Cavendish. Unison was certainly no fly-by-night and received serious funding for at lease three years by Lord (Nicholas) Cayzer, who was the head of British and Commonwealth Shipping and — yes, you guessed it – a vice president of The Economic League. (Rothschild also represented the Unison Committee’s interests to Heath.)

It was some years later, before The Economic League ran aground, that Michael Noar, then the Economic League’s director-general, said that “of course, the police and Special Branch are interested in some of the things we are interested in. They follow the activities of these groups in much the same way as we do and therefore they do get in touch with us from time to time and talk to us and say ‘were you at this demonstration or that’.” He added that “in the course of discussions, there is an exchange of information just in the ordinary course of talking.” Also Jack Winder, who worked for The Economic League from 1963, told a parliamentary inquiry some years after EL closed down that he had meetings with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch over a long time for what he called “general chit-chat”.

B. Smears and black propaganda

In the 1970s and 1980s (a period, incidentally, covered by the Pitchford Inquiry into the activities of spycops) undercover policing and infiltration of left-wing groups was largely organised by MI5, in co-operation with Special Branch (founded in 1883, initially as the Special Irish Branch and remained in existence until 2006 when Special Branch SO12 merged with the Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form the Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15)). It was only a few weeks into the 1972 miners’ strike when Charles Elwell – the head of MI5’s ‘F Division’, which specialised in domestic subversion, until 1979 and who was also a senior figure within the Institute for the Study of Conflict – ordered that surveillance on the left, including prime minister Harold Wilson (MI5’s file on him was codenamed “Henry Worthington”) should be stepped up. Intelligence would be garnered via infiltration and a number of right-wing trade union leaders were identified for this purpose – one was famously Joe Gormley, who was a former president of the National Union of Miners.

Also in the 1970s, Derek Robinson, a union convenor at the British Leyland plant at Longbridge, found himself systematically victimised by management and constantly smeared in the mass media, which would refer to him as ‘Red Robbo’. He was eventually sacked. A BBC2 programme later showed how BL’s managing director Sir Michael Edwardes conspired with the government and M15 to get rid of Robinson. Phones and meetings were bugged by MI5 (and GCHQ). Transcripts of Robinson’s phone calls were handed to Edwards, who used them to plot Robinson’s downfall. The public accepted all of this with little protest. Portraying Robinson as the ‘baddie’ worked.

But it was not long before a real test case for the radical right appeared on the horizon. Workers at the Strachan factory, which was owned by Giltspur and which made van bodies for Fords, decided to go on strike. Managers later admitted to The Sunday Times that they had been using the The Economic League to vet its employees; also that Special Branch agents had been spying on the workers at the factory for at least six months. Time Out magazine soon followed up with a story about how the Strachan workers had rung The Economic League’s secret number (686-9841) and quoted the Strachan management’s secret EL code (520) to ask for information on one of the shop stewards. The EL responded by alleging – wrongly – that one of the shop stewards at Strachan was a Communist Party member.

There were other revelations… According to ex-Special Branch officer, Tony Robinson, workers at Fords of Halewood were all vetted by MI5 and Special Branch (see a reference to this in the three extracts of the video from the ‘BBC2 documentary, “True Spies”).

Meanwhile into this heady mix of febrile coup and terrorism plotters walked ‘World Briefing’, a ‘bulletin’ edited by Elwell (then retired from MI5) and managed by Crozier. One of this publication’s early researchers was Paul Staines (aka blogger Guido Fawkes), who worked for the Committee for a Free Britain (which was overseen by Thatcher confidante David Hart, media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the ubiquitous Sir James Goldsmith), the Adam Smith Institute and the Libertarian Alliance. ‘World Briefing’ was soon renamed ‘British Briefing’ (has more of a ring to it). It was later shown that media mogul Rupert Murdoch, then as much into smears as he is still today, had helped fund it.

In 1990 Murdoch’s role in this venture was contemporaneously exposed by an anarchist newspaper and The Observer, which ran two stories on the ‘British Briefing’ smear campaigns, including how as a result of these revelations Murdoch would not be receiving an honorary knighthood. David Hart – not just an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, he also set up a scab union to defeat the miners during the 1984 strike – then took over the funding of the ‘bulletin’.

C. Case study 1: the NUM disinformation campaign

It was during the 1984 miners strike – while everyone was waiting ominously for Big Brother to hit their screens – that prime minister Margaret Thatcher decided to decimate the mining industry, crush the militant NUM and so ensure there would be no repeat of the 1972 strike that saw miners’ leader Arthur Scargill rally thousands of workers to his cause and in doing so paved the way for the defeat of the Heath government. Instead, under Thatcher, a very different battle was fought in a dirty war that saw scabs being organised by government aides, and the media using every opportunity to smear the striking miners and their leaders.

In November of 1984 allegations surfaced that Mr Scargill had met Libyan agents in Paris, and other senior National Union of Mineworkers officials had travelled to Libya. Some years later, in 1990, the Daily Mirror and the TV programme The Cook Report claimed that Scargill and the NUM had received money from the Libyan government. These allegations were based on allegations by Roger Windsor, who was the NUM official who had spoken to the Libyan officials.

Roy Greenslade, the Mirror’s editor at the time, said much later that he believed his paper’s allegations were false. This was long after an investigation into the affair by Seumas Milne (now head of Labour’s stratefy and communications), who described the allegations “as wholly without substance” and a “classic smear campaign”. According to Milne: “Roger Windsor, the NUM’s chief executive during the 1984-5 strike, who was named in parliament as an undercover agent ” was sent into the NUM to destabilise and sabotage the union at its most critical juncture”. Windsor, who had himself filmed embracing Colonel Gadafy at the height of the strike, falsely claimed later that Scargill had used Libyan money to pay off a mortgage – tying the union up in a string of legal investigations. Windsor subsequently decamped to France, where he has been found by the French courts to have signed documents he claimed were forged by Scargill.” This was an elaborate disinformation operation, designed to portray Scargill and Peter Heathfield as personally corrupt. Windsor and Steve Hudson,another NUM staffer, and a Libyan living in England, had been persuaded to state that Scargill and Heathfield had used funds from Libya – in cash – to pay the mortgages on their houses during the strike. But neither the Daily Mirror or The Cook Report bothered to check one basic fact: did Scargill and Heathfield actually have mortgages? The simple answer was, they didn’t.

Twelve years later, Roy Greenslade, who was the editor of the Mirror at the time of the scandal, apologised to Scargill and Heathfield for running the story. Greenslade wondered if the story had been some kind of operation by the British state. In fact the only witness the Mirror had to the transfer of the Libyan money was Windsor (the Libyan, Abassi, merely confirmed that Libyan money had been given to the NUM, not how it had been dispersed.) Greenslade then changed his mind again when a former NUM finance officer, Steve Hudson, confirmed Windsor’s account of money being counted out and given to Scargill and Heathfield. Greenslade wrote: ‘Out of the blue, Steve Hudson, the finance officer whom Windsor had named as the other man in the room when the money was counted out, phoned one of our reporters. Hours later, he turned up in my office to give a taped interview in which he confirmed every word of Windsor’s account. He didn’t ask for payment and spoke under no duress.’  But Windsor was eventually paid a total of £80,000 by the Mirror. Right… (For more on this case, see: Lobster archives.)

D. The demise of The Economic League (the inside story)

Before it collapsed, ‘British Briefing’ published a story on an ‘anti-Economic League campaign’. This campaign consisted of a series of exposes in newspapers (The Guardian, The Observer and the New Statesmen) and ITV’s ‘World in Action’, as well as by some dastardly anarchists (them again!) who used very different tactics from the newspapers to expose the EL.

The anti-EL campaign was relentless, but perhaps reached its zenith when an undercover organisation called ‘League Watch’ sprang up from nowhere (in reality it was just two intrepid individuals and a few mates who helped out as needed) to employ a range of dirty tricks against EL so as to undermine its security and destabilise it. It was fighting fire with fire, dirty tricks with dirty tricks, or, as one anarchist paper put it, watching the watchers.

And it didn’t take long before The Economic League imploded, leaving its casualties broken or seriously wounded. This partly came about when ‘League Watch’ managed to get hold of several thousand names of EL donors. This list was (unbelievably) leaked to League Watch by a disaffected EL regional director – Richard Brett. The handover of documents was old school: face to face and in a brown paper envelope – what else!. The rendevous took place in a suitably spook manner – in a lounge in a posh hotel in Crewe, near the railway station. The two intrepid League Watchers turned up by train, the conversation with Brett was brief and the LW pair then decamped with their booty.

The next day copies of the list (see Appendix, below) were passed on to sympathetic journalists, as well as to senior trade unionists. This was a coup – a real coup.

‘League Watch’ then decided to move in for the kill. It decided to play the EL at its own game and infiltrate – yes, infiltrate! – an Economic league AGM. The only problem was that the location of the AGM was secret. But that small matter was not going to deter LW. This is what happened…

On the morning of the AGM one of the LW pair (plus a mate) travelled by motorcycle across London to the venue of the EL’s previous AGM – namely, a certain employers’ association. There was no reason to suspect that the AGM would be held there too, but it was worth checking. One of the pair, dressed in a suit, walked into the lobby of the premises and politely inquired as to which room the League’s AGM was being held. The receptionist answered: “Oh, I’m sorry, this year they’re not here – the AGM is being held at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly”.

The pair then revved up the bike and raced across London. Within 20 minutes they were there. That’s when matters began to get interesting. The League Watcher, still in his suit, walked into the club unchallenged, then straight into the room where the AGM was happening (again, he was unchallenged). He smiled at everyone – there were probably around fifty people present – and sat down in a chair near the exit. He then switched on a tape recorder, hidden in a bag. For the next half hour, until the talk grew exceedingly boring, he recorded everything. He then stood up and asked for everyone’s attention. That’s when he announced he was from League Watch and that he had been recording all the procedures. Without waiting for any reaction, he calmly walked out of the room and the building. Some minutes later, the EL delegates also left the building, appearing shocked and angry. As they left, each was photographed by the LW’er on the motorbike, parked just outside the club, on the opposite side of the road.

The next day copies of the photos were handed over to a journalist and some were published in an anarchist paper. Names of those photographed were identified and circulated to trade union leaders

The whole point of this exercise was to embarrass the EL, to show that its security was crap. This was at a time when the EL was already in disarray, with some of its leading lights jumping ship. Eventually, the EL sank, leaving only one or two stalwarts to sally forth under a new guise – the Consulting Association.

E. The new EL comes and goes

The Consulting Association was a smaller version of the EL and led by Ian Kerr. But it, too, suffered a suitably painful demise, in 2009, when the Information Commissioner’s Office ICO) seized a Consulting Association database (based on the EL data) of 3,213 construction workers and environmental activists, used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. At a court hearing it was revealed that in one year alone around 40,000 checks on individuals were undertaken by The Consulting Association. Former spycop Peter Francis later revealed how his unit, NETCU, liaised directly with the Consulting Association, passing on intelligence about trade unionists.

In time, talks between the GMB trade union and construction employers (Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC) about a compensation scheme for blacklisted workers took place, but broke down in June 2014 over the amount of money put into the scheme by the employers. Employers then nilaterally launched a cut price scheme. Claims for compensation were then separately served by law firm Leigh Day for GMB members. GMB’s claims were then joined with a further 449 claims by other unions and parties at the High Court. At one count 1,724 out of the 3,213 workers on the list discovered that they were on the blacklist. 571 cases submitted claims for compensation in the High Court. The ICO contacted direct a further 1,257 and of these 776 workers were sent a copy of their files.  That still left a further 1,489 to trace.

The GMB trade union organized the “Crocodile Tears” protests at 16 locations across the UK to shame 63 construction industry managers named as blacklisters, who have yet to come clean and apologise for their actions (see Appendix).

F. Case study 2: the private espionage strand

Private and corporate espionage agencies, often acting for corporate clients and in close liaison with state agencies (police, security etc) have always been integral to intelligence-gathering. One researcher on this aspect is Eveline Lubbers. There are many cases that she details in her research. One such case is that of Threat Response International (TRI), a private espionage agency run by Evelyn le Chêne in the 1990s.

TRI was a family business that extended to le Chêne’s son, who infiltrated anti-arms trade groups in France while his mother was co-ordinating the infiltration of a broad range of peace and environmental groups in Britain. The case that led to her exposure was the infiltration of Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

According to one review of Lubbers’ research:

“Threat Response International had up to eight agents infiltrating CAAT over a five-year period in the late 1990s. Le Chêne passed on the information she collected to British Aerospace, who did the rare thing and admitted they had employed her. Le Chêne’s spies managed to get on CAAT’s payroll. Martin Hogbin had begun as a volunteer in 1997: in 2001 he joined its small team of paid employees. Working as a paid campaigner, Hogbin had access to detailed information, which he regularly passed on to le Chêne, who then passed it on to BAe. Hogbin had access not only to CAAT’s protest plans but also to details of legal cases, and to its accounts: at the ‘London office a cheque for £5542 was banked’, le Chêne reported to BAe. Crucially, Hogbin also had access to the members’ database. As national campaigns and events co-ordinator, Hogbin was in a unique position to steer the group in one direction rather than another…

“He was responsible for organising protests at BAe meetings, planning direct actions, buying token shares in BAe to allow activists to attend shareholder meetings, and organising transport to protests. He also represented CAAT at meetings of the European Network against the Arms Trade (meetings which le Chêne’s son attended as a representative of French anti-arms groups). This looks more like incitement than spying: Hogbin seemed to be engaged in the very activity that he had been employed to monitor. He was effectively spying on himself. With Hogbin’s information at her fingertips, le Chêne was able to give detailed advice to BAe on how to manage protests. Demonstrations would be thwarted by tip-offs from infiltrators; protesters were served with injunctions before they arrived at the site, making any demonstrations which breached the injunctions illegal. Providing BAe with advance warning of protests was, however, just one part of le Chêne’s job. She also monitored CAAT’s lobbying activities, alerting BAe to any meetings with MPs or parliamentary events that activists attended. When CAAT attempted to get a judicial review of the granting of export licences for arms companies, BAe knew in advance. Le Chêne also provided advice on the timing of press releases and other tactics that could shape public debate in BAe’s favour.”

In March 1996, le Chêne claimed to have the identities of and confidential information about 148,900 activists, covering a range of political campaigns. In many respects, this one organisation vastly out-performed the intelligence-gathering capacity of the EL.

le Chene also headed an outfit called the West European Defence Association (WEDA), which liaised regularly with Brian Crozier. le Chene’s connection with Crozier is intriguing, given that one spycop who also infiltrated CAAT was Paul Mercer (see below). It’s not clear who Mercer was working for: Special Branch or TRI. If the latter, then that provides a possible link between Crozier (old-school dirty tricks operative) with Mercer (new school infiltrator).

According to another review of Lubbers’ work, however, Crozier was also into infiltration via an outfit called The 61, which planted moles into Miltant Tendency and CND. The 61 also created fake “peace” groups to counter the work of CND. One such group, the Coalition for Peace Through Security, was set up by Edward Leigh (who went on to become a Thatcherite MP) and Julian Lewis, who became The 61’s leading activist in Britain.

G. Stitch-ups, cover-ups and an identity crisis

On a very different front, in the late 1970s the Met police via the Anti-Terrorist Squad was busy trying to frame six anarchists for conspiracy to rob and possession of explosive substances. The eventual trial lasted a year and the six were defended by some of the UK’s leading lawyers. The ‘Person’s Unknown’ trial soon became a cause celebre, attracting support from such diverse personages as Monsignor Bruce Kent (head of CND), Julie Christie (actress) and Lord Gifford QC. During the trial the defence showed that their had been no explosions, that the explosive substances were innocuous items found in any household, and that the police were the real conspirators who had tried to fit the six up. The jury agreed with the defence.

This was a major blow for the ATS, from which it would never recover. Indeed the chickens came home to roost when less than a decade later, in 1989, three of the Guildford Four were released with all convictions quashed (the fourth was later released too) after it was shown that the police had concealed crucial evidence that proved alibis submitted by the accused had been valid. Members of the Maguire Seven, who had been caught up in this same police conspiracy, were also exonerated in 1991 (though one, Guiseppe Conlan, the father of one of the Guildford Four, had died in prison in 1980). Additionally, information about who had really carried out the Guildford bombing – namely the ‘Balcombe Street Gang’ – was passed to Gareth Pierce, the lawyer representing the Guildford Four, by two anarchists who had been given this intelligence when visiting one of the Birmingham Six in Long Lartin gaol (the Birmingham Six were also acquitted of all charges in 1991). At the Guildford Four appeal hearing Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said that the police had either: “completely fabricated the typed notes, amending them to make them look more effective, and then creating hand-written notes to give the appearance of contemporaneous notes”; or “started off with contemporaneous notes, typed them up to make them more legible, amended them to make them read better, and then converted them back to hand-written notes”.

Meanwhile undercover intelligence-gathering of both the MI5 and police kind was going through something of an identity crisis. According to former MI5 spook, Annie Machon (in a 2011 article originally published in The Guardian):

“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.

Machon added:

“It [MI5] also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cover cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands. It 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.”

H. Spycops transformed?

Whilst still, presumably, infiltrating trade unions, according to testimony given earlier this year the focus of Special Branch and its offshoots switched to the mostly anarchist-oriented protests, such as ‘Stop The City’, Reclaim The Streets, animal liberation, environmental actions, etc. Thus protesters would suddenly find themselves elevated from political campaigner to outright extremist, seen as the new ‘enemy within’ that had to be stopped at all costs.

But for the cops the consequences of this experiment in community intelligence gathering would prove to be nothing short of disasterous – witness, for example, the outcome of McLibel trial, or the eventual outcomes of the Ratcliffe and Drax trials. Compared to the real spooks in MI5 these spycop clones not only failed in the longer term their attempt to criminalise protest, but were in time identified and spectacularly outed to become the subject of a major national inquiry. (Not forgetting, too, that in the process of conducting their scurrillous activities, these agent-provocateurs also succeeded in destroying the lives of several women, with whom they had formed relationships in order to spy on the protesters.)

Thus, suitably exposed, these societal misfits were given little choice but to quickly disappear into the shadows to seek remuneration from obscure private industry firms, or from academia, or even from some oddly-named think-tank. Though it’s worth adding that this move from policing was not entirely without its merits for the authorities, in that the gap in the market left by the EL clearly needed filling and Government has always been content for ex-spooks and coppers to take over the more peripheral intelligence-gathering work, if only to save itself from embarrassing revelations.

So it was that the spycops did what many in government and the intelligence services do: they sought out the revolving door…

I. Spycops opt for diversification

The first indications of the latest transformation of the spycops genre came when, last year, a parliamentary Select Committee investigation found that representatives from the undercover police unit known as the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) attended and gave presentations to meetings of the EL successor, the Consulting Association. In 2008, Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mills, then of NETCU, allegedly (he debies this) met up with the Consultancy Association to facilitate an exchange of information.

Today, while NETCU is no more, several of its officers have moved on to ‘risk control’ – particularly for the pharmaceutical companies, such as Novartis and Glaxo-Smith-Kline. Superintendent Stephen Pearl, who headed NETCU, was appointed non-executive director of Agenda Screening Services (ASS), which carries out vetting of applicants for jobs in animal laboratories. Checks include identity, address, internet mining searches, employment history, gaps in employment and credit references. ASS explains that its intelligence can be gathered on “threats to the organisation, animal rights, extremists, competitors and counterfeiters to name but a few.”.

Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, who was the senior police officer in charge of the UK police’s domestic extremism machinery between 2004 and 2010, was appointed head of global security at Laing O’Rourke – one of the top construction companies that subscribed to the Consulting Association.

Following retirement Assistant Chief Constable John Wright who headed Special Branch between 2007 and 2013, became ‘Global Director of Public Safety and Justice Solutions’ for the IT company Unisys.

Rod Leeming, who was the head of Special Branch’s Animal Rights National Index (which kept tabs on animal rights activists) went on to found the security firm Global Open, which advises pharmaceutical companies – presumably by assisting in the vetting of job applicants and identifying risks (threats)..

Mark Kennedy, who specialised in monitoring ‘domestic extremism‘ under the aegis of ACPO), also joined Global Open for a short while. After leaving the police (where he had become too much of a liability, given his over-the-top role at the Drax and Ratcliffe actions – never mind his role in undercover ops abroad) he set up a company called “Stanage Consulting” and then another called Tokra Ltd, which was linked to Global Open. In March 2010 Kennedy set up yet another company, Black Star High Access Limited. But that didn’t work out either, so he applied for work with a US intelligence company, Stratfor (they didn’t want him). But he did manage to join Densus Group, a US security firm right up his street ( it specialised in spying on political activists, including those involved with Occupy).

Then there was Paul Mercer… In 1986 far-right leaning Lord Chalfont wrote an introduction to a book, ‘Peace of the Dead – The Truth Behind the Nuclear Disarmers’. ‘Freelance’ spycop Paul Mercer (it’s unclear which police or security agency Mercer reported to) was its author.  Mercer stood out from the rest of the new breed of spycops in that he was a link between the ‘old school’ dirty-tricks brigade and the newer breed of infiltrators. But even he fell foul when exposed for his part in spying on the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in 2007 (his contract for the operation had been negotiated via Global Open). After being outed, Mercer found work as a security consultant for LigneDeux Associates, identifying ‘threats’ to BAE. His current status is unknown. (For more on Mercer’s exploits, click here.)

As for spycop Bob Lambert… After he was publicly outed by London Greenpeace, he took a very different route to that adopted by his former collaborators and was appointed head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit (which also employed spycop Jim Boyling). Lambert was astute and could see that Muslim extremism and preventing it would be the next big thing. Later he decided to move into academia and became a Research Fellow at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in the University of Exeter’s politics department. Whilst there he also set up the European Muslim Research Centre. In 2008, Lambert also began teaching, lecturing and supervising dissertations on the e-learning MLitt Terrorism course at St. Andrews University’s Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. In September 2012, he was hired by the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety at the London Metropolitan University. But Lambert’s luck was running out. After a sustained campaign to have him sacked from his academic positions, it was finally announced just over a week back that he had resigned from St Andrew’s and LMU. No doubt he’ll now be looking at possible speaking tours in the US and elsewhere.

J. Undercover policing and the transnational ops


Kennedy as ‘eco-warrior’

Back to Mark Kennedy… While Kennedy was also outed (when his real passport was discovered by one of the women he was having a relationship with) and did not appear to have much success in his private sector ventures, where he did succeed while still a police officer was in his prolific undercover work outside of the UK. Kennedy is believed to have worked on undercover ops in Scotland, in Ireland, in Germany, in Spain, in Denmark, in France, in the USA, in Italy, in Belgium, in Poland and in Iceland, among other places. Kennedy was authorised to conduct this ‘transnational policing’ by UK senior police officers, including in the French case, by Detective Chief Inspector Richard May, of the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU). He was also authorised (see image below) by an Assistant Chief Constable and his assistant to conduct surveillance ops on environmental activists in France. All of Kennedy’s other activities abroad would have been similarly authorised.

Screenshot from 2015-12-26 14:34:39

But this may not have been entirely the case in certain countries. In Iceland, for example, as a consequence of Kennedy’s undercover ops, the Minister of the Interior instigated an inquiry into his role. The case also sparked parliamentary debates and brought into question police investigations and even led to re-trials. Indeed, Kennedy’s role may still impact on the Tarnac 9 case in France.

Interestingly, according to the German Federal Government, police cooperation with the UK authorities in the exchange of intelligence using infiltrators like Mark Kennedy had been via “the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), [and] with the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard)”. But when asked which authority would take the place of NPOIU – Kennedy’s nominal unit and which could no longer coordinate infiltrators after their highly controversial investigation techniques were exposed – the German Federal Government claimed it had “not yet been informed of any changes.” (The NPOIU, which had been established as a national Special Branch unit in 1999, did not come under the control of the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism properly until 2006. The Confidential Intelligence Unit (headed by the association of Chief Police Officers – ACPO) was the sub-section of the NPOIU that ran Kennedy.)

K. And next?

For a while Mark Kennedy was the epitome of what a spycop of the new tradition was meant to be: not just someone who would infiltrate protest movements, but who would also operate, seamlessly, across national boundaries as well as those boundaries that divide policing from the intelligence agencies. And if transnational undercover policing is continuing – and there is no reason to doubt that – then the role and status of those spycops involved must surely be equivalent to that enjoyed by MI6 operatives.

While some may argue that spycops’ have had their day, others may argue that undercover political policing has simply taken on a new agenda – counter-terrorism – and new guises, such as Prevent, which is believed to be the successor to Special Branch and which focuses largely on the Muslim community, whom the authorities now regard in the same way that the Irish diaspora in Britain was seen in relation to the IRA during the ‘The troubles’.

As the cliche goes, history often repeats itself. Which brings us back to where we started in this ‘overview’: the smearing of striking building workers, who were unjustly imprisoned. One of the pickets selected for martrydom, Des Warren, made a pre-sentence speech at his trial, claiming that “the real conspiracy was between the Home Secretary, the employers and the police”. As Paul Mason later commented, “By today’s standards, that sounds accurate. A politicised police investigation, fuelled by pressure and intelligence from business owners engaged for decades in the illegal blacklisting of militants, ordered by a home secretary and amplified by willing journalists.”

Likewise, those brave individuals who, via the Drax and Ratcliffe actions, tried to warn about the environmental costs of carbon production can now point to just one of many consequences of state intervention in their protests: the flooding each winter of villages, towns and cities across the British Isles.

Meanwhile, Lord Justice Pitchford will do his duty to the Crown, conduct an overlong inquiry, ensure no spycop or supervisor is prosecuted, and make a few recommendations to superficially tweak current undercover policing practices.


For more on what the spycops did in official policing recent years – and how they formed relationship with women activists in order to gather intelligence – click here.

For more on blacklisting – its history and how it works today, see: Blacklisting, a book by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, and Spies at Work, by Mike Hughes.

See also: “Undercover Research: Corporate and police spying on activists. An introduction to activist intelligence as a new field of surveillance”, by Eveline Lubbers (pdf)

Appendix: the blacklisters exposed

  1. The Economic League

Here is a list (pdf) of companies that were either known to be active subscribers to the Economic League (predecessor to the Consulting Association) or were linked to that organisation. (Document courtesy of Spies At Work website.)

Here is a longer  list of the above companies, which- additionally includes those companies identified as funding the Economic League. The list is very long: 600 companies.

2. The Consulting Association

Amec Building Ltd
Amec Construction Ltd
Amec Facilities Ltd
Amec Ind Div
Amec Process & Energy Ltd
Amey Construction – Ex Member
B Sunley & Sons – Ex Member
Balfour Beatty
Balfour Kilpatrick
Ballast (Wiltshire) PLc –Ex Member
Bam Construction (HBC Construction)
Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd)
C B & I Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd
Costain UK Ltd
Crown House Technologies (Carillion/Tarmac Const)
Diamond M & E Services
Dudley Bower & Co Ltd – Ex Member
Emcor (Drake & Scull) – ‘Ex Ref’
Emcor Rail
G Wimpey Ltd – Ex Member
Haden Young
Kier Ltd
John Mowlem Ltd – Ex Member
Laing O’Rourk (Laing Ltd)
Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd – Ex Member
Miller Construction Limited – Ex Member
Morgan Ashurst
Morgan Est
Morrison Construction Group – Ex Member
N G Bailey
Shepherd Engineering Services
Sias Building Services
Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd
Skanska (Kaverna/Trafalgar House Plc)
SPIE (Matthew Hall) – ex Member
Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd – ex Member
Turriff Construction Ltd –ex Member
Tysons Contractors – ex Member
Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd – ex Member
Whessoe Oil & Gas
Willmott Dixon – ex Member
Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group).

3. Managers who blacklisted

The following are the managers named as blacklisters, visited as part of Crocodile Tears Tour 2014/15. (Most derived from initials from files of those blacklisted.)

  • Michael Aird (MA) – Balfour Kilpatrick – Glasgow;
  • Kathy Almansoor (KA) – Kier Group – Sandy, Bedfordshire
  • Dave Aspinall (DA) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Alan Audley (AA) – Vinci – Watford
  • John Ball (JB) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Ron Barron (RB) – CB & I – Tonbridge, Kent
  • Valerie Bennison (VB) – Whessoe – Darlington
  • Ernie Boswell (EB) – Kier Group – Sandy, Bedfordshire
  • Richard Bull (RB) – HBG Construction (BAM) – Colindale, London
  • Iain Coates (IC) – Emcor – Kew Bridge, Twickenham
  • David Cochrane (DC) – Sir Robert McAlpine – Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
  • Ann Cowrie (AC) – Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering – Edinburgh
  • Tony Crowther – AMEC – Knutsford, Cheshire
  • John Dangerfield (JD) – Balfour Beatty Scottish & Southern – Basingstoke, Hampshire
  • Lynn Day (LD) – Cleveland Bridge UK – Darlington
  • John Dickinson (JD) – Skanska – Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
  • Frank Duggan (FD) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • John Edwards (JE) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Kevin Gorman (KG) – Carillion / Crown House – Solihull
  • Elaine Gallagher (EG) – Balfour Kilpatrick – Glasgow
  • Gerry Harvey (GH) – Balfour Kilpatrick – Glasgow
  • Roy Hay (RH) – Tarmac – Solihull
  • David Hillman – Sir Robert McAlpine – Birmingham
  • Keith Horner (KH) – Ballast Wiltshire
  • Dianne Hughes (DH) – Tarmac / Crown House  – Solihull
  • Geoff Hughes (GH) – Costain – Maidenhead, Berkshire
  • Greg Ingleton (GI) – Emcor – Kew Bridge, Twickenham
  • Prue Jackson (PJ) – Haden Young – Watford
  • Vince James (VJ) – Balfour Beatty Scottish & Southern – Basingstoke, Hampshire
  • Armar Johnston (AJ) – Balfour Kilpatrick – Livingstone
  • Liz Keates (LK) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Sheila Knight (SK) – Emcor – Kew Bridge, Twickenham
  • Ian Leake (IL) – Taylor Woodrow, Watford
  • Tim Llewellyn (TL) – Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Eastbourne, East Sussex
  • Alf Lucas (AL) – Mowlem
  • Bridget May (BM) – Nuttall – Camberley, Surrey
  • Cullum McAlpine – Sir Robert McAlpine – Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
  • Paul McCreath (PM) – HBG Construction (BAM) – Colindale, London
  • Steve McGuire (SM) – Morgan Est plc – Warrington
  • John Morrison (JM) – Morrison Construction – Edinburgh
  • Arnold Nestler (AN) – AMEC – Knutsford, Cheshire
  • Lisa O’Mahoney (LOM) – Laing O’Rourke – Dartford, Kent
  • Danny O’Sullivan (DOS) – Kier Group – Sandy, Bedfordshire
  • Sandy Palmer (SP) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Harry Pooley (HP) – Rosser & Russell – Watford
  • Derek Price – Morgan Ashurst – Stratford upon Avon
  • Stephen Quant (SQ) – Skanska – Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
  • Paul Raby (PR) – Balfour Kilpatrick – Glasgow
  • Murray Reid (MR) – NG Bailey – Ilkley, West Yorkshire
  • Roger Robinson (RR) – Carillion / Crown House – Wolverhampton
  • Sylvia Smith (SS) – Laing O’Rourke – Dartford, Kent
  • Trevor Spice (TS) – Costain – Maidenhead, Berkshire
  • Lisa Stevenson (LS) – Shepherd Engineering Services – York
  • John Stoddart (JS) – SIAS Building Services – Keighley
  • Alan Swift – Crown House Technologies – Manchester
  • Pat Swift (PS) – BAM Nuttall – Guildford
  • Alan Thorniley (AT) – Vinci – Watford
  • Brian Tock (BT) – Carillion / Crown House – Solihull
  • Ken Ward (KW) – Costain – Maidenhead, Berkshire
  • Trevor Watchman (TW) – Balfour Beatty Major Projects – Redhill, Surrey
  • Steve Wigmore – Crown House Technologies – Solihull
  • Allison Wilkins – Skanska – Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire
  • Carolyn Williams (CW) – Haden Young – Watford
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15 Responses to The spycops experiment: from blacklisting agents to social pariahs – and next?

  1. Pingback: The spycops experiment: from blacklisting agents to social pariahs – and next? | State of Globe

  2. joekano76 says:

    Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth.


  3. peter wright was mi5 surely? spycatcher –


  4. peter wright was mi5 – spycatcher


  5. Pingback: Blacklist Support Group update – 11th January 2016 | The LU Engineering Branch of the RMT

  6. Pingback: The surveillance software applications that are assisting (replacing?) spycops | UndercoverInfo

  7. Pingback: The surveillance software applications that are assisting (replacing?) spycops – WRITTEN BY UNDERCOVER1 | winstonclose

  8. Pingback: Spycops: seek prosecution if anonymity breached at Pitchford Inquiry | UndercoverInfo

  9. Pingback: Blacklisting Update | The LU Engineering Branch of the RMT

  10. Pingback: ACPO guide advised spycops on online infiltration of political activists | UndercoverInfo

  11. Pingback: Operation Gladio and Gladio B | cathy fox blog on child abuse

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