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Indymedia and British Intelligence Services

imc-uk-features | 02.02.2007 01:21 | Analysis | Indymedia | Repression | Terror War

Following the American pattern after 9/11, the UK government has used its own alleged terrorist attacks to push towards a police state, which is not exactly a new phenomenon, as Nafeez Ahmed, for example, explains. This has involved increasing the funds allocated to 'security services' and granting them extra-judicial powers; the systematic assault on civil liberties and human rights; media-spun fear based on dubious 'terror plots'; the clamp-down on activists and the relentless attempts to infiltrate their networks. Even Indymedia, it seems, has not been spared. At least two Indymedia activists have recently been approached, in one way or another, by British intelligence services, offering them better-paid jobs.

Read: Recruiting Spies at British Airports | Coincidence or Grooming? Oscar Beard's chance to join MI5 | Is It Really About Terrorism?

National 'Security'

For the first time in its nearly-100-year history, the MI6 last April openly advertised in the British press for recruitments. The Secret Intelligence Service had also launched a website a few months before, supplying a P.O. box number where people could apply for jobs. The agency already has a total staff of some 2,000 (the actual figure is an 'official secret') and its budget has increased significantly over the last few years, but nothing compared to the fast-expanding domestic security service, MI5.

Within a context of media-fuelled terrorism hysteria, this was widely portrayed (or, rather, justified) as the increasing need for security. Almost none of the 'highly professional' corporate media mentioned that, between them, British intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) spend £1.5 billion of taxpayers' money annually; that the 'intelligence budget' has increased by about 35% since 2001. Compare this to the £56,529m spent on education in England in 2005-2006. Billions more are spent on the various police forces, which include the Special Branch and the Anti-Terrorism Branch. And the increase in the 'defence' budget from £29.7bn in 2004/05 to £33.4bn in 2007/08 is a whole separate story.

To cope with the 'growing terrorist threat', Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of MI5, has recently 'switched' another £16 million of her annual budget (some £200 million) towards 'fighting international terrorism'. Over 70% of all MI5 resources is now supposed to be directed at 'counter-terrorism operations'. But the agency, which is planning to open 8 new regional offices around the country, is still actively recruiting people, in a bid to increase its 'workforce' from the current (declared) 2,800 to around 3,500 by 2008. One of the funniest ways to do that was striking a deal with gymnasium chain Fitness First last July to put up MI5 recruitment posters in its women's changing rooms. The poster featured the back view of a black woman with an African hairstyle. According to official figures, about 14 per cent of new recruits in the past financial year were from ethnic minorities.

In 2003, StateWatch published a special report on the role of the Special Branch, dubbed as 'political police', in conducting surveillance operations for MI5. It revealed that the number of police Special Branch officers had more than doubled in size, from 1,638 in 1978 to 4,247 in 2002. In addition, it now has far more civilian staff and means for mass surveillance of telecommunications and the payment of informers, which it never had in those days.

In July 2006, Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (who was himself a target of MI5 surveillance in the 1980's because of his activities as an environmental protester) accused the government of "hoarding information about people who pose no danger to this country", after it emerged that MI5 holds secret files on 272,000 individuals - equivalent to one in 160 adults. Again, all the fuss was mostly about where to 'invest the resources'. The Mail on Sunday, for example, wrote: "MPs and civil rights campaigners said resources should be concentrated on combating genuine threats - such as Islamic terrorism - rather than storing personal and political data about innocent citizens."

In a Parliamentary Answers, it was revealed that 10% of those files were active, or coded Green. 46% were coded Orange, for which inquiries are prohibited but further information may be added, while 44% were coded Red, where inquiries are prohibited and no substantial information may be added. So, it follows that one in every 1,600 people pose a 'real threat to the country' - 27,200 terrorists and criminals!

MI5 admitted it was 'actively monitoring' only 1,200 (but still 3 times as many as in 2004), and that each case can require a team of up to 30 people to maintain a full surveillance operation. It was, however, hardly surprising. In July 1998, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw announced in Parliament that, in 1972, MI5 had an estimated 535,000 files on individuals and organisations. From mid 1992 to mid 1998, 110,000 were allegedly earmarked for destruction.

The Box, as MI5 is commonly known, has a long history of involvement in illegal activities, from assassinations in Northern Ireland to the 'extraordinary rendition' and interrogation of British citizens at such notorious centres as the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A famous example is the case of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, first published by The Independent in March, 2006. Both men were recruited by MI5, then 'rendered' into the hands of the CIA in Africa. The agency has even been accused of a 7/7 cover-up, after it emerged that it had failed to disclose to a parliamentary watchdog that it had bugged the leader of the July 7 alleged bombers discussing the building of a bomb months before the London attacks.


In Septemeber last year, London's Olympia hosted the first Counter Terror World exhibition, at which companies and countries from around the world "shared with each other lessons learned in the war on terror." Their own website stated: "The Counter Terror World exhibition is the first event of its kind to reflect the increasingly blurred boundaries between the world of defence and that of state security. Systems and solutions which have been traditionally deployed in the military arena, are now being adopted in the fight against terrorism and in strengthening civil defence and state security measures."

The exhibition was sponsored by Thales, Smiths Detection and Oracle, and was supported by official media partner SMT Magazine. The list of exhibitors included such companies as the Global Strategies Group, a private security company operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the Security Industry Authority's 2003 strategic analysis, the annual revenue of the UK's private security industry is between £3 billion to £4 billion, and there are around half a million security operatives working within the industry. This compares to approximately 136,000 police officers. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) is responsible for regulating and licensing the private security industry as set out in the Private Security Industry Act 2001 (For more information, check the websites of the Joint Security Industry Council, the "voice of the private security industry", and the British Security Industry Association).

A week after the 7/7 alleged bormings, police 'advised' businesses in London's City to "consider updating their security arrangements to protect themselves against the threat of suicide attacks." Although Chief Superintendent Alex Robertson, the head of the City's anti-terrorist section, stressed that his advice was not based on any specific intelligence of an imminent attack on the City, his suggested measures included creating physical barriers near the entrance to buildings, increased security checks of visitors and underground carparks, and restricting the number of entry points to ensure adequate cover by security staff.

The increasing 'anti-terrorism' partnership between the state and business is not, of course, an exclusively British phenomenon. All over the world, states are seeking 'closer ties' with the private sector in their efforts to 'fight terrorism', while the fast-growing 'homeland security' market has an army of lobbyists working for its interests.

In February 2006, the Russian Initiative on Antiterrorism Partnership of State and Business was presented in Brussels, Belgium, at the Third Annual Worldwide Security Conference, organised by the EastWest Institute in cooperation with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Customs Organisation in Brussels. The Initiative was described as "one of the key undertakings of Russia's G8 presidency".

In the United States, there are now more than 33,890 companies with federal Homeland Security contracts, compared to only 9 seven years ago and 3,512 by 2003. Since 2000, $130bn (£70bn) of contracts have been dished out. By 2015, the annual federal spending on the industry is estimated to hit $170bn (see this Observer article).

Even Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, took it upon himself, in a message to the Global Forum for Anti-Terrorism Partnership between Government and Business, held in Moscow in November 2006, to "urge innovative private sector approaches" to security.

The Real Target(s)

Many have argued that the 'war on terrorism' is just a myth, a fruad or a lie; it only exists to act as a cover for the state's repressive activities against Left activists and Muslim communities, and to justify the massive increase in security services' budgets which enable them to carry out such activities. Others have described it as the "strategy of tension gone global". The unsubstantiated warnings of 'imminent terrorist attacks', and the strange disappearance or oblivion that these 'terror plots' end up with, only invite more scepticism (see also this speech by Craig Murray).

The last apocalyptic warning by MI5's Dame Eliza was even more than typical. She claimed there were now 30 “priority 1, ongoing, mass-casualty terror plots” in Britain and that the Security Service had “identified 200 terrorist networks” involving “at least 1,600 people”. Needless to say, her comments dominated the headlines for several days. Craig Murray commented on this saying: "Eliza Manningham-Buller claims that there are 1,600 actual Islamic terrorists active in the UK. Not supporters, not sympathisers, not people prepared to give a bedroom or save haven, but people actually prepared to commit acts of violence. 1,600 active Islamic terrorists based on intelligence. Is it true? No, total bollocks."

In the name of security, as Nafeez Ahmed put it, "the government has systematically erected a vast legal apparatus of social control, which in both principle and practice violates our most cherished and hard-won human rights and civil liberties." People have been detained under terrorism laws for wearing "anti-Blair" T-shirts; a man named Steve Jago was arrested for displaying a placard quoting Orwell near Downing Street; a mime artist, Neil Goodwin, appeared in court recently charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) for doing an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin outside Parliament and so on and so forth (see Indymedia's SOCPA page for more examples).

Increasingly, anti-terrorist laws are being used against activists and protesters, and words like "terrorism" and "extremism" are being used by the authorities and mainstream media to describe their activities. An obvious example would be the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU), a Home Office unit set up in May 2004 to coordinate intelligence and police action against animal rights activists and other 'extremists'. Their website states: "The term 'domestic extremism' applies to unlawful action that is part of a protest or campaign. It is most often associated with 'single-issue' protests, such as animal rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-GM crops." (For more information, see NETCU Watch).

As early as 2001, Europol had added two new categories to 'terrorism' in its “Situation and Trends” report on 'terrorist activities' in the European Union, namely "eco-terrorism" and "anarchist terrorism", referring to environmental and anti-capitalist activists (see StateWatch's report: Anarchists to be targeted as "terrorists" alongside Al Qaeda). In an interview with a German newspaper in August that year, Europol's Director, Jurgen Storbeck, said the "so-called Black Block of anarchists" could be seen as "terrorist or pre-terrorist". As StateWatch editor Tony Bunyan commented: "The exclusion of right-wing bombing attacks in Italy - let alone violent and murderous attacks on migrants in several EU countries by racists - suggests that the inclusion of "anarchist terrorism" and "eco-terrorism" in this EU Situation report is aimed at criminalising the radical left and expanding the concept of terrorism".

On the other hand, these 'counter-terror' measures and legislation have managed to criminalise communities, particularly Muslims, while also escalating racial hatred and socio-cultural division based on the perception of Islam and Muslims as some sort of grave existential and ideological threat to the national security and national identity. The "Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU" report, released by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights on 7 March, 2005, described how British media have created the impression that the country's criminal justice system is successfully prosecuting 'Muslim terrorists', while in reality only three out of hundreds of Muslims arrested under terrorist legislation are known to have been convicted of terrorist crimes and a vast majority of those arrested have been released without charge.

Surveillance and Infiltration

A common scene at all protests and demonstrations nowadays is police 'evidence gatherers' filming protesters. It is no longer a secret that the surveillance department of Special Branch profiles everyone. What for? Because each Special Branch division is expected to provide the names and profiles of activists expected to participate in major actions.

At the end of 1994, Special Branch announced it was shifting its priorities to concentrate on monitoring demonstrations and gathering intelligence on environmental activists. Set up by the Metropolitan Police to monitor the growing violence at football matches, Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) had gained considerable experience throughout the 1990's. In December 1995, FIT's Inspector Barry Norman and Sergeant Andy Brittan first came into the open when they arrested a Reclaim The Streets activist. The team said they wanted to start a "dialogue" with RTS, as they "actually agreed with what they were trying to achieve, but didn't want those nasty anarchists coming along and spoiling it for everyone."

During Britains' Presidency, the EU's Joint Home Affairs Council, chaired by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw and composed of EU interior ministers, agreed without debate on 26 May, 1998, a program of "joint action with regard to co-operation on law and order and security". It required all 15 EU countries to share information on the size, routes, nature, objectives and background of all "sizeable groups which may pose a threat to law and order and security" travelling to another member state in order to participate in events.

A further step was the creation of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) in March 1999 to track green activists and public demonstrations. Based in Scotland Yard, it was expected to be headed by Commander Barry Moss, head of Special Branch, and incorporate the Animal Rights National Index (for further details, see Tash's homepage).

In 2003, human rights organisation Liberty brought a law suit against the unlawful tapping by police and MI5. Back in 1990, the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) had demanded a change in security laws after the Council of Europe ruled that MI5 surveillance operations breached the human rights of two of its leading members and the government was forced to pay £50,000 court costs. Ironically, these were none but Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt (that is, before becoming Labour front-bench MP's).

Yet, in a country where over 4 million surveillance cameras (that's one for every 15 people) record some 600,000 images an hour, it is hardly surprising that surveillance of groups and demonstrations has become one of police's first priorities, where a considerable amount of their budget is spent on these 'big operations' (see these incidents for example: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 ).

Of course there is nothing new about intelligence services' obsession with dissident groups and campaigns, and apparently surveillance alone is not enough. A BBC series in 2002, True Spies, documented that the 1970's saw the Special Branch infiltrating and recruiting paid agents in trade unions and left-wing organisations, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the National Union of Mineworkers (see also this Guardian article).

Over the years, there have been quite a few cases where people found out that one of their fellow activists or comrades was spying on them. Indeed, as a Wombles statement on the Telegraph journalist infiltration case put it: "We assume at every meeting that there are at least one journalist and one Special Branch officer."

In the run-up to the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland, an American woman, known as Anna, contacted anti-G8 medics and various IMC's claiming she wanted to get involved with the protests. She was later identified in the set-up of the Auburn Three trial and turned out to be an FBI informant/agent. According to the FBI's own affidavit, "Anna" had been involved in gathering information on 12 separate cases in the anarchist movement.

It is worth mentioning that, under the Data Protection Act 1998, everyone has the right to get hold of a copy of their photos taken by police as well as any other kind of data they might hold on you, such as your Police National Computer records. Well, in theory anyway. This process is called a Subject Access Request (see here for more information).


Being the 'activist hub' it is, Indymedia is surely 'kept an eye on'. Since it was established in 1999, the network has had many encounters with 'security' services, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. From assaulting Indymedia reporters and photographers, IMC volunteers being put under surveillence, to seizing the actual servers where Indymedia sites are hosted.

On October 7, 2004, the FBI seized two Indymedia servers in London, affecting some 20 IMC websites, mainly European. Then, on 27 June, 2005, the IMC Bristol server was seized by police and one IMC volunteer arrested on suspicion of incitement to criminal damage. In both cases, it was claimed by the authorities that they were only after the IP logs because of some posts, never mind that it is Indymedia's policy not to log IP addresses. Both times, however, it was in the run-up to a major event: the first prior to the European Social Forum in London, the second one week before the G8 Summit in Scotland.

Police are also increasingly using various 'legal' devices and violence to 'remove' independent journalists from the scene of actions, where they feel their actions may be portrayed in a less flattering light (see, for example, these incidents: 1 | 2 ). And, of course, it should come as no surprise that some IMC volunteers, just like other activists, are known to have been put under surveillance.

Yet, it is not that common for dedicated IMCers to be approached directly by MI5 or Special Branch officers, trying to recruit them as spies, when they already know who they are and what they do. The two stories mentioned above [ 1 | 2 ] make you wonder: are they really that desperate? Or are we just a bunch or 'paranoid nuts'?

Notes on using Indymedia in a secure way can be found on the security page. More general activist security advice can be found on and



To Overthrow the Government

02.02.2007 02:13

Just before this feature was published (i.e this morning), two women police officers from the local police station (I've seen them around before) paid me a 'visit'. They were basically 'concerned' about what I'd said at Coventry airport. And guess what that was? That I wanted to "overthrow the government"!! Since all I could do was laugh, they made sure my name was spelled right on their papers, checked who else was living at that address, wished me a good day and left.



Display the following 4 comments

  1. Surveillance Camera Players — SCP typing pool
  2. remember brad will — friend of brad will
  3. Craig Murray Candidate for Dundee Uni Rector — mike
  4. IMC spook post example — let fury have the hour
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