EU: Surveillance and spying: "the time to be politically active on these themes is now"

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The scandal surrounding police infiltration of protest movements has rumbled on since late 2010, when undercover officer Mark Kennedy was exposed by his former friends. While Kennedy is known to have chiefly infilitrated the environmental movement, the most recent revelations have centred on attempts by London's Metropolitan Police to use undercover officers to gain intelligence on anti-racist and justice campaigns, such as that of Stephen Lawrence's family.

Attempts to shed more light on the scandal have come in various forms. In the UK, court cases and parliamentary committee enquiries are ongoing. Despite numerous calls for an independent public inquiry, the police's own investigation into undercover operations continues. Journalists Paul Lewis and Rob Evans of The Guardian recently published a book, Undercover, on the British police's infiltration of protest movements since the late 1960s.

Meanwhile, film director Jason Kirkpatrick, a former friend of Mark Kennedy's, has decided to make a documentary on the scandal. A UK 'sneak preview' tour of the film starts next week in London. Statewatch asked him some questions about the film and the wider issues surrounding the exposure of undercover officers in protest movements.

Since October 2010 there have been a vast number of newspaper articles as well as books and television programmes on the exposure of British undercover police officers. Why did you decide to make a film about the subject?

Because I was and still am totally pissed off and outraged about the abuse some of these police and private security undercovers have been getting away with. They apparently think they will never be personally held accountable for what they've done, and that should not be an option for them.

In my life I've been a grassroots activist, a student lobbyist, a Vice Mayor, and recently a filmmaker. I believe with this story at this particular historical moment in time, making a film that helps shine light on what these cops have been doing is the most effective thing I can be doing with my time right now in terms of creating change.

What did you make of Mark Kennedy's media performances after his exposure?

I read one report that he seemed to be giving testimony that would later help him in court, such as by talking about lack of proper psychological care, self-harming, etc. I recently re-watched one of his interviews where he absolutely denies ever "going native", liking his activist life. Somehow I doubt this was true, as Mark was also a drum and bass DJ, and I couldn't really picture him having as much fun being DJ at the Annual Policeman's Ball as he did at activist parties.

A couple of other former undercover police have also come out saying they had suffered symptoms of PTSD, as Kennedy claimed. Well, if undercover cops are still targeting innocent people and they are getting headaches or nightmares because of it, I hope they figure out it's time to come clean and blow the whistle on those giving orders at the top.

How does the narrative in Spied Upon work? Does it revolve mainly around your own story, or do you use that as a way to explore other people's experiences of undercover policing?

My role in the story is mainly that of being the "connecting thread" that brings the various pieces together. I plan to start the story from the point that I found out my "friend" Mark Stone was actually the cop Mark Kennedy, who had been targeting me over a period of years. The story then evolves as I travel with the camera to meet other people that Kennedy had known and spied on. My experiences and perspectives then intermingle with the stories that others have to tell, with the complicated puzzle pieces coming together by the end of the film to tell a fuller story.

Already we've filmed extensively in the UK, but also Germany, Italy, France, and the USA, all places where Kennedy had worked under contract with various police forces. One twist of this story also took us to Tunisia this year, where European private companies helped the former dictator Ben Ali to spy on his democratic opposition. Just like in where I live in former East Germany, the hated police-state in Tunisia was effectively overthrown by an outraged public not willing to tolerate further abuse.

I've been actually stunned at how UK activists seem to know nothing of Kennedy's work outside the UK. For example, a number of innocent French activists have spent up to six months in prison apparently based on some flawed reports from Kennedy. What has happened to these French activists because of Kennedy is horrible, they were publicly named as terrorists yet never found guilty of anything. I don't speak French, but I'm told there is a great book on the Tarnac case that Kennedy was central to called Tarnac, Magasin General.

In 2012 Mark Kennedy made French national headlines when he was outed as "The Mole in Tarnac". His name and reputation is pretty tarnished across France now, as it is in Germany where he was labeled "A Cop out of Control", and his operation was compared to those of the hated Stasi East German police.

What scope does the film have? Is it based mainly around the UK, whose police forces most of the recently-ousted undercover operatives worked for, or do you look at what has happened in other countries, like Germany?

In recent years, undercover cops and informants have also been exposed in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the USA, and New Zealand, just to name a few examples. The UK scandal will definitely be a central part of my film Spied Upon, but by far not the only part. Also, for example, most people in the UK don't know that because of the UK scandal, the German head of the BKA National Police was forced to state in Parliament that absolutely under no circumstances would a German police officer ever be allowed to have sex with their targets. This is a position that should be standard right across the board in Europe. However, we've also been bringing this issue to the European Union, where it's been revealed that such international operations have absolutely no political oversight, something even EU politicians themselves hadn't realised.

Are you surprised at the extent of police infiltration of protest movements (animal rights, environmental, deaths in custody, anti-racism/anti-fascist, etc.) that has been revealed? Do you think there are more revelations to come?

I'm from the USA where I think that to a large degree things are often worse than even the UK. It's widely known now because of whistleblowers that the FBI killed many Black Panthers and even threatened Martin Luther King, encouraging him to commit suicide. There was also a big case in 1990 called Operation Thermcon where an FBI undercover cop was selling LSD to environmentalists and sleeping with women and acting as an agent provocateur encouraging (unsuccessfully) the use of explosives. In that case, as in many UK cases, the clearly stated goal is to "chill" protests, which in many countries is explicitly not allowed.

It's been good to see the whistleblowers such as Peter Francis and Edward Snowden coming forward, and I'm sure the next ones will be even more effective in exposing further problems and forcing change. I'd be happy to use this international film Spied Upon as a great platform to expose any new information if more whistleblowers want to drop me an email.

Most people would assume that the exposure of undercover police would lead to significant paranoia within and amongst extra-parliamentary political groups and movements. On the other hand it may also give disparate organisations the chance to work together over a common issue. What do you make of the response from the movements that have been affected?

The day I write this it has been revealed that in the late 1960's the NSA even spied upon US politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I've personally been asked by elected officials in both England and Scotland if I think they were being spied on. The answer has come out that yes, they were. So, on the one hand, I think politicians are now realising that they have not been taking the responsibility they should have been in controlling their security forces.

On the other hand, the mainstream public as well as political activists have seen more clearly that their politicians have not been acting in their best interests. As we learn that the USA and NSA have been targeting Brasilian oil company Petrobras, that CIA workers moonlight for Chevron oil, and that ex-British police now work for private energy companies, it becomes clear that the goal of much of this spying is economic, and not for the stated reason of stopping terrorist violence. So, I think this helps give social movements good valid reasons to work together to stop these overbearing spy practices.

What lessons do you think political organisations and movements should take from the revelations?

Clearly people are coming together and organising in larger numbers because of the UK undercover cop scandal, as well as the NSA and GCHQ spy scandals. Finally USA public opinion has changed to where a majority wants more protection from governmental spying. So, the time to be politically active on these themes is now, not any other time. As more people begin to actively work together, they are sensing their own power more clearly, leaving the staid remnants of paranoia behind and finding the strength to make demands they didn't think possible a few years ago.

A 'sneak preview' tour of Spied Upon begins next week in London on Wednesday 9 October at Vibe Bar in Brick Lane. Screenings will also take place in Nottingham, Leeds, and Edinburgh. Statewatch is working with Jason Kirkpatrick to assist in the promotion of the film.

Further reading

  • Spied Upon website
  • Informants, spies and subversion, Statewatch Journal, August 2013
  • State guidelines for the exchange of undercover police officers revealed, Statewatch News Online, 17 May 2013
  • Home Affairs Committee: Undercover Policing: Interim Report, March 2013
  • UN Special Rapporteur calls for a "judge-led public inquiry" into undercover police operations and condemns a number of other police practices, Statewatch News Online, 23 January 2013

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