Both of these units are operated by an organisation which clearly states on its website that it is a private company. It is registered as such at Companies House, and provides annual returns. This company is ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers.
NETCU and the NPIOU (and believe it or not there is a third unit, the NDET – National Domestic Extremism Team) employ serving police officers seconded from police forces across the country. They appear to have access to police resources and intelligence. They gather and analyse intelligence which is then used to ‘advise’ police operations, investigations and public order strategy. They are, in effect, a privatised police force.
Unlike existing police forces, they do not have to answer publicly to a police authority - a body which is usually made up of local politicians and members of the public. Unlike police forces, they are not required to provide any information under the Freedom of Information Act. They appear able to operate without justifying their actions to anyone, save the Home Secretary.
This lack of openness and transparency is remarkable in an era where even MI5 must comply with the Freedom of Information Act. This total lack of accountability makes it even more disturbing that they are able to plant misleading and potentially damaging articles in a newspaper like the Observer.
Given they operate under this shroud of secrecy, little is known about these three interlinked units. We know they have in the past focused their attentions on animal rights campaigns, but have now developed a wider circle of interest. They have a stated aim to ‘reduce or remove the threat from domestic extremism’ with an apparent emphasis on protecting the interests of private business. Given the presence of the above officers at EDO, it seems the campaign against the Brighton arms company has also come under the heading of ‘domestic extremism’.
We also know these units have friends in high places. They have direct representation on the Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, a high level committee including counter terrorism units, the security services and high level government officials. One of the key roles of this committee is to work out what new laws might be needed in the struggle against terrorism and domestic extremism, and how best to use (or misuse) the huge amount of legislation they already have.
This is an unaccountable, outsourced police force, which has a clear self interest in promoting fear of ‘domestic extremism’ and in promoting the need for ‘intelligence’ on political campaigns. Alongside this, there is an obvious remit for promoting the needs of big business over such campaigns. The Forward Intelligence Teams know the value of having ‘intelligence’ on your opponents. It is therefore only right that we should make it our business to know what NETCU and NPIOU are up to, so that we can make sure we can devise strategies to, in their words, deal with them “effectively and robustly”.
We cannot afford to ignore the power of these organisations. However, we can arm ourselves with a knowledge and an awareness of the lengths these organisations are prepared to go to quash political protest and dissent.
Information is power, which is why so many police officers dislike the FIT Watch blog. It is why FIT Watch, despite whatever legislation they devise, will continue to publish all the information we have on these police officers and the units that support and control them.