Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Mark Stone" and the Achilles' Heel of Activism

They called him "Flash": Kennedy made £50,000 a year undercover
The unmasking of activist "Mark Stone" as Police Constable Mark Kennedy has sent shockwaves through anti-capitalist groups around the UK. Police infiltration had long been considered a given by the more savvy demonstrators. But the fact that Kennedy had played such an integral part in the organisation of high profile direct actions - and police repression of them - has exposed the Achilles' heel of activism: its reliance on the good will of people who are often total strangers.

Kennedy had been an undercover agent since 2003, and was only outed last October, when his activist girlfriend found his original passport. As part of the secretive National Public Order Intelligence Unit, he'd spilled the beans on the attempt to shut down Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham, anti-fascist actions, and opposition to the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, amongst many other events. He had been due to present audio recordings in the power station case, but was dropped when it became clear that "The tapes I made meant that the police couldn’t prove their case." The revelation caused the case to collapse at Nottingham Crown Court last week.

"Lyn Watson" was said to be camera shy
Kennedy has now confirmed the suspicions of Leeds activists, namely that "Lyn Watson" was actually "Officer A". The Saturday Guardian unveiled "Officer B" as "Marco" Jacobs, who had successfully infiltrated the Cardiff Anarchist Network, No Borders, and early Climate Camps.

It needs to be recognised that the very nature of this type of protest group lends itself to state infiltration. People organise locally at first, but they will likely not have known each other before getting involved with the group. When a 'new person' arrives, they are often treated cautiously, and it normally takes a long time for a newcomer to be trusted for key roles. However, if their behaviour seems to fit with what is expected of them, they will eventually gain access to sensitive information.

Large scale, set piece direct actions are even more vulnerable. Though a certain 'scene' exists, and people know activists from around the country and indeed the world, if a 'new person' shows up at a set piece direct action, they will necessarily gain a certain amount of trust from people who don't know them. This is particularly dangerous when activists are committing illegal or potentially illegal acts. After all - it may be considered - if the are putting themselves at risk, they must be trustworthy. Unfortunately, the "Stone" case proves this is not true. As Kennedy told the Mail On Sunday:
"Marco Jacobs" was active in Wales
"Every action I took had to receive something called an ‘authority’ which covered me to infiltrate activist groups and be involved in minor crime such as trespass and criminal damage".
In other words, Kennedy had police licence to commit crimes, so long as his information led to the arrest of others.

These are not problems that say, the striking Wigan Heinz workers could have faced. If an unknown face had appeared at one of their meetings, he or she would have been placed under great suspicion. Similarly, even those taking part in the ongoing Tunisian uprising against the government would know a great many of their comrades to be their colleagues and neighbours.

In of itself, the infiltration problem does not mean that the 'anti-capitalist' style of demonstrating is a dead end, though it is surely impossible for such activists to guard against clandestine state intervention. But workplaces and neighbourhoods are where the day-to-day battle against capitalist domination is fought, and it is there that the resistance is most protected from state subterfuge.
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