World-Check: Innocent people on commercial global watch list of terrorists and criminals

14 Jul

Working at ArgosIn spring 2017, I brought together an international team of reporters for an investigation into the secret World-Check database, which lists over 2 million people. 

The watch list of “high risk” people and organisations is compiled by Thomson Reuters, and sold to almost all the world’s major banks, police forces, intelligence agencies and non-government organisations.

With access to a copy of the database from late 2014, we found that the list is compiled using media reports and other public sources, without further research or regular updates. Often, information is incomplete, out of date or just plain wrong.

The system is supposed to identify people connected to terrorism and financial crime, as well as senior politicians who banks must monitor for money laundering activity.

People listed on the database could find themselves refused service by banks, while blacklisted charities and businesses may lose out on grants and contracts. Thomson Reuters does not contact the people it adds to its database, and banks are forbidden from telling customers they are on the watch list.

Joint publication exposing World-Check database

On Saturday 24 June 2017, after months of research, we all published our findings simultaneously, in print, online and at the radio. I’m quite proud of the results, and the impact.

Not only did many other media outlets report on our exposure specifically in the Netherlands and Belgium, the matter was brought up in Dutch parliament, and the Belgian, Italian and British Privacy Commissioners started an investigation. The Moslimliga in Belgium takes World-Check to court to get removed from the list. In each of the countries, upon hearing about our investigation, people wrote to World-Check to ask a copy of the data held on them, and to get them corrected or removed.

Also, the Italian Data Protection Authority asked the EU independent data protection authority to put World-Check blacklisting on the agenda. World-Check was discussed at the meeting of the Financial Matters subgroup of the Article 29 Working Group (the representatives of all EU data protection national authorities) held the 5th of July – and is monitoring World-Check since.

Online

Online and in print

Radio


Questionable entries

A copy of the database as it stood in 2014 was accidentally leaked on a public internet server, where it was discovered last summer by Chris Vickery, a computer security researcher in the US.

The investigation reveals a range of questionable entries, including:

  • José Miguel Vivanco, a director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), was added to the watch list with a note recording his work on the prosecution of Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator. Dinah PoKempner, the organization’s General Counsel, said: “We are surprised and puzzled to find ourselves and Mr Vivanco in this database and can’t imagine what standards are being applied.
  • The activist group Greenpeace was listed after being fined for accidentally damaging a coral reef, while Occupy Wall Street was blacklisted over alleged links to Anonymous hackers.
  • Muslim individuals and organisations – including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Belgian League of Muslims — were listed in the terrorism category on the basis of dubious claims including some drawn from internet hate sites.
  • The whistle-blower Chelsea Manning was added to the ‘financial crime’ category shortly after her arrest for passing information to WikiLeaks.
  • Opposition politicians in countries with poor human rights records, including Sri Lanka and Eritrea, were blacklisted on the basis of false allegations by their governments.
  • Former Guantanamo detainees Haji Faiz Mohammed and Naqib Ullah remained on the watch list even after being released and cleared.
  • Delphine Boël, the unrecognised daughter of the former King of Belgium, blamed the listing for the closure of her bank accounts in 2012.
  • A potato farmer in the Netherlands was listed as a potential money laundering risk after serving on a provincial council.

Tomaso Falchetta, a legal officer at Privacy International, said: “The risk of discriminating against individuals, groups, and communities is very high.”

Willem Debeuckelaere, the Belgian privacy commissioner, said there were multiple issues of concern with the World Check database, which he would be discussing with his counterparts across the EU.

Thomson Reuters previously apologised in court to London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which it had wrongly listed in the terrorism category.  Lawyers for the mosque say claims from others are likely to follow.

David Crundwell, Senior Vice-President at Thomson Reuters, said: “World-Check has a clear privacy statement available on its website which sets out how any individual can contact us if they believe any of the information held is inaccurate, and we would urge them to do so.” He said that inclusion in World-Check did not imply guilt, and users of the list were told to verify the information themselves before acting on it. He claimed the list was regularly updated.


The Team

Eveline LubbersEveline Lubbers PhD is an independent investigator and one of the founders of the Undercover Research Group and Spinwatch. She is the author of Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark, Corporate and Police spying on Activists (Pluto, 2012) and the initiator & contributing editor of Battling Big Business: Countering Greenwash, Front Groups and Other Forms of Corporate Bullying (2002).

Tom WillsTom Wills is Data Journalism Editor at The Times of London. He leads a small unit of investigative data journalists, who use computational techniques to find stories hidden in data.

Cora CurrierCora Currier is a staff reporter with The Intercept, a non-profit news organisation based in New York that covers national security, politics, civil liberties, the environment, international affairs, technology, criminal justice, the media, and more.

Jasmin Klofta Jasmin Klofta is an investigative journalist working for ARD Panorama and the NDR Ressort Investigation (research cooperation with the Süddeutsche Zeitung). She focuses on politics, surveillance and digital business.

Stefania MauriziStefania Maurizi works for La Repubblica. This is the Italian leading newspaper, belonging to the Leading European Alliance, set up by seven European newspapers, from Die Welt (Germany) to Le Figaro (France), producing quality journalism.

Lars BovéLars Bové, investigative journalist and coordinator of investigative journalism at De Tijd, a Belgian newspaper that focuses on business and financial news, but also politics.

Sanne Terlingen Sanne Terlingen works as an investigative journalist. For OneWorld, a multimedia platform specialised in reporting on cross-border issues such as migration, climate change and the war on terror. And for Argos, the main investigative reporting radio program on Dutch public radio. It has a long history of exposing abuse of power and holding authorities to account.


Journalismfund.eu
The investigation was supported by the Journalismfund.eu.

Paper published on Undercover Research

16 Nov

Proud to have a paper on my work published in (Vol 13, No 3/4, 2015)in fact a write-up of my presentation at the Surveillance Studies Network / Surveillance & Society Biennial Conference in Barcelona 2014.

Full paper in .pdf at the Surveillance & Society website.


Undercover Research: Corporate and police spying on activists.
An introduction to activist intelligence as a new field of study.
Eveline Lubbers

Abstract

Building on previous research published in Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark, corporate and police spying on activists (2012), the author proposes a new field of research called Activist intelligence and covert strategy.

Using exclusive access to previously confidential sources, Secret Manoeuvres showed how companies such as Nestlé, Shell and McDonald’s use covert methods to evade accountability. The author concluded that corporate intelligence gathering has shifted from being reactive to proactive, and identified a seriously under-researched area: the state’s concern with corporate interests, their close cooperation in collecting intelligence on campaigners, and a shared agenda in dealing with dissent.

This paper encompasses an introduction to the published case studies, a definition of the proposed research field, and an exploration of its positioning in a multidisciplinary area as well as its theoretical embedding. The discussion under Methods: Hybrid Projects makes a case for the fusion of journalistic and social scientific approaches to the subject matter.

Keywords Surveillance; political policing; infiltration; undercover policing; covert operations; transparency; accountability; secrecy.

Full paper in Surveillance & Society.

Three talks in Berlin

21 Sep

Going to Berlin at long last, we thought we’d make the best of it and set up some more talks. All about Undercover Research Group project, and the work before that. Here they are.


Saturday, 26 September 2015, 14.00 Uhr.
KonzernProtest

Honoured to be invited to the KonzernProtest conference, which focusses on issues discussed in my first book (co-authored/edited) Battling Big Business, published in 2002 but still very timely:

Battling Big Business

Countering greenwash, front groups and other forms of corporate deception

Understanding corporate deception can help people to recognize such manipulation in order to do something about it.

For my book Battling Big Business, I invited experienced activists and investigators to expose the counter-strategies which modern oil, tobacco, fast-food and high-tech industries are using against their critics: rebranding themselves as environmentally friendly; co-opting their critics; forming front groups which masquerade as citizens’ organizations; lobbying behind the scenes of governments and international agencies; suing their critics for libel; and employing private security firms to spy on, even infiltrate, the opposition.

It was only after I had finished BBB that I realised that spying was not just another set of counterstrategies, but that the gathering of intelligence precedes the development of all kinds of corporate strategies as well.

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Seminargebäude am Hegelplatz, Dorotheenstraße 24, 10117 Berlin. Seminarraum 1.401. Free admission. Eintritt frei. Eine kurze Anmeldung an programm.at.linkemedienakademie.de würde die Organisation der Veranstaltung sehr erleichtern.


Sunday, 27 September 2015, 19.30 Uhr
CILIP/Bürgerrechte & Polizei

Spitzeln für Staat und Kapital

Veranstaltung zu internationalen Netzwerken verdeckter ErmittlerInnen und Infiltrationen multinationaler Konzerne

secret_manoeuvresMark Kennedy, Simon Bromma, Iris Plate, Maria Böhmichen: Beinahe jährlich fliegen Polizeispitzel auf, die für Kriminalämter die linke Szene unterwandern. Ihre Einsätze bewegen sich am Rande der Legalität. Mitunter sind die verdeckten ErmittlerInnen auch bei Aktionen im Ausland aktiv. Stets reisen dabei Polizeiführer mit, um den Kontakt zu Behörden vor Ort zu halten und bei Gefahr einer Enttarnung einzugreifen. Einige Spitzel begannen sexuelle Beziehungen mit Ziel- oder Kontaktpersonen. Britische Betroffene klagen nun wegen Verletzung der Privatsphäre, aus Deutschland sind noch keine derartigen Verfahren bekannt.

Nicht alle verdeckte ErmittlerInnen arbeiten für Behörden. Multinationale Konzerne bezahlen Spitzel, um Netzwerke kritischer AktivistInnen zu unterwandern oder zu spalten. Viele frühere PolizistInnen heuern inzwischen bei solchen privaten Sicherheitsfirmen an.

Kate Wilson wird auf der Veranstaltung berichten, wie hinter ihrer Beziehung mit Mark Kennedy eigentlich ein Polizeiapparat stand.

Eveline Lubbers schrieb ein Buch über die Spitzelei multinationaler Firmen. Sie erklärt die Techniken von Infiltration, Spaltung und Desinformation.

Galerie Zeitzone, Waldemarstraße/ Ecke Adalbertstraße, Berlin-Kreuzberg


Monday, 28 September 2015, 20.00 Uhr
CCC C-base.org

From Secret Manoeuvres to Undercover Research

Eveline Lubbers the author of Battling Big Business and Secret Manoeuvres in the dark, on corporate and police spying on activists, talks about the importance of research in exposing political policing and the underminding of dissent.

Since Secret Manoeuvres with its detailed case studies of corporate spying and networks with of former police, Eveline has set up the Undercover Research Group. A project of people who were instrumental in exposing Mark Kennedy and other undercover officers, the group publishes profiles of officers and units involved and the networks of careers
since.
How does this support the activist groups?
And how can you help the Undercover Research group?

C-base, Rungestrasse 20, 10179 Berlin

Dazu auf Deutch. 2010 enttarnten britische Aktivist_innen einen verdeckten Ermittler, der als Aktivist seit sieben Jahren unter ihnen lebte. Die Enttarnung von Mark Kennedy war der Anfang, danach gab es eine ganze Reihe weiterer Fälle. Wir wissen, dass geheime Polizei-Einheiten seit mehr als 40 Jahren politische Gruppen und soziale Bewegungen infiltrieren – seit den Demonstrationen in den 60ern gegen den Vietnamkrieg der USA.
Wie arbeiten die verdeckten Ermittler_innen und was sind die Auswirkungen?

Auch in Deutschland wurden in den letzten Jahren Spitzel enttarnt, in Hamburg und in Heidelberg. Im Vergleich zu Großbritannien sind es wenige Fälle. Muss das Thema stärker erforscht werden? Wie findet man sie und wo fängt man an?

Eveline Lubbers berichtet, wie sie anfing, sich mit dem Thema zu beschäftigen; erst in den Niederlanden und jetzt in Großbritannien. Wie sie festgestellt hat, dass nicht nur Polizei und Geheimdienste Aktivist_innen ausspionieren, sondern auch Unternehmen. Einige ehemalige Polizeibeamt_innen haben Beraterfirmen gegründet, oder arbeiten in den Sicherheitsabteilungen großer Unternehmen, etwa für Stromkonzerne oder Flughäfen. Als Ziele von Klimaschutz-Kampagnen arbeiten solche Unternehmen eng mit der Polizei zusammen, um auf mögliche Kampagnen vorbereitet zu sein.

Es wird auch darum gehen, wie Aktivist_innen mit Verdächtigungen umgehen und wie Eveline sie dabei in der Vergangenheit unterstützt hat. Was können Hacker tun? Und was hat Online-Überwachung mit Infiltration und Spitzelei zu tun?

More in English. Eveline Lubbers will talk about what is now the undercover police scandal in the UK, wondering how the situation is in Germany, whether this does happen at the same scale here.

In 2010 activists exposed an undercover officer who had lived amongst them as an activist for seven years. The exposure of Mark Kennedy was the start of many more stories coming out. As we know now, secret police units infiltrated political and activist groups for more than 40 years, since 1968 demonstrations against the American war in Vietnam? What does the spying involve, what is the impact?
In Germany over the past year, several spies have been exposed as well, in Hamburg and Heidelberg. Only a few stories compared to the UK. Is more research needed? How to find out, and where to start?

Eveline will explain how she got into exposing spies, first in the Netherlands, and now in the UK. How she found out it’s not just police and intelligence services spying on activist, but also corporate spies. Former police officers move on to start their own consultancy, or to work at the security department of large corporations, such as energy companies or airports. Being at the receiving end of climate campaigns, such companies work closely with the police to be prepared to what is coming.

Detailing her work supporting activists in dealing with suspicions, we can discuss how hackers could be of help. Which leads to the question of how online surveillance relates to infiltration and spying…

In-depth research to support campaining for justice – review of Blacklisted

19 Mar
  • Jack Winder - Ecomonic League, recruted Kerr, moved on 
    to found Caprim Ltd, testified @ Scottish Committee
  • Micheal Noar former EL boss: 'of course we helped 
    Special Branch' (source Hollingsworth)
  • Ken Day (p.247) 1969 – 1998 Met Special Branch spent time 
    cultivating top union sources source (True Spies)

Instead of writing a review, I find myself jotting down notes, names of Special Branch officers that the authors of the Blacklisted have quoted, sources that I have yet to scrutinise in much more detail myself. The reports of the Blacklisting in Employment Inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee, for instance, have been sitting on my desk for almost two years, and I now regret not have made time for it before. Although it is good to have some kind of division of labour and I gladly leave the topic of blacklisting in the hands of these two, the rigorous job they did brought up quite a few precious nuggets that just beg for further research.

Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain have done an incredible job, their combined expertise leading to an excellent book. Continue reading

Blacklisted the book is out.

11 Mar

Repost from the new project I’m involved in: UndercoverResearch.net
blacklisted cover

The book Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists finally hit the shelves this week. Authored by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, Blacklisted tells the controversial story of the illegal strategies that transnational construction companies used to keep union activists away from work. We have the honour to publish an extract, and we selected something from chapter 9, Under constant watch. Dealing with spying on activists it ties in with the work of the Undercover Research Group.

This particular piece shows how the authors found out that information gathered by undercover officers ended up in the files of the Consultancy Association, the secret blacklisting service set up by the large building companies. It was a matter of meticulously going through files, after campaigning to get access to the material seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who in turn had acted upon an article in the Guardian written by Phil Chamberlain. Interviews with those blacklisted, with whistle blowers and people professionally involved in blacklisting added a further layer of understanding.

The story published here adds some interesting detail to our profile of Mark Jenner spying on the Colin Roach Centre in Stoke Newington, London, in the mid 1990s, the same time as his former colleague and now whistleblower Peter Francis was also infiltrating left wing and anti-racism groups in London.

Continue reading

Betrayal of Spycops Involves More Than Sex

16 Oct

Some thoughts I wrote last year, after the hearing in Parliament on the undercover officers who had longterm relationships with women as part of operations to undermine activist groups.

Does it make things worse, a weird question that comes to mind, that sex was involved? The only sensible thing to say about this, is that the aspect of intimate involvement provides an opportunity – or at least makes it less difficult – to take legal steps at all. It remains next to impossible to estimate the damage, should it become clear which rules have been violated.

The betrayal is not just on the personal level, although it is the intimate and sexual part that seems to be the most shocking to satisfy the sensation-sensitive parts of the public. The double-life let by some of the police men involved, married with children while having moved in with their activist partners as well.

For the women here, or for most of them, I would think from my own experience, it’s not just about the sexual involvement. Devoting your life to protest, the relationship with a fellow activist fits the larger context of being part of a movement, wherein overall, there is less of a boundary between the working and the private life. Being part of a movement means the sharing of ideas, ideals, the risks of activism, the scary things at night, the confrontations with the authorities, the arrests maybe, the interrogations, prison for some, the pub afterwards, the long nights. Emily Apple wrote about this impressively beautiful.

The sharing of all this, means people are sharing their entire life, working hard to make this world a better place – to use a common phrase. Hence, the betrayal is not just in the relationship, not just in the private – as if that would not be enough – it’s also in the political, in the beliefs, and the practical every-day life.

With the betrayal on so many levels, one can only begin to understand the trauma caused. Trauma not restricted to those who have had the intimate relationships. Their cases, in a way, represent the damage done to a larger part of the movements involved, all those people who thought they had friends and mates – only to find out they were betrayed by the state.

Still that’s not all, though this is where it links to the need for further research.

From the chronology of the stories that have come out to date and the police men involved, we know that it continued for years – several decades in fact. We know of undercover officers that moved on to become supervisors of a next generation that did exactly the same. It makes you wonder whether the intimate relationships and sexual involvement was not just accepted practice, but in fact part of the strategy to get ‘deeply penetrated’ (No pun intended, Gary T. Marx pointed at the loaded language surrounding infiltration, as I discussed here).

The research needs to get beyond the rules or the lack thereof. We are only beginning to understand how big this is, and what was behind it. Continue reading

McSpy – Bob Lambert

23 Jun

The spying on London Greenpeace is one of the case studies in my book Secret Manoeuvres. The chapter is called McSpy – just as the trial was called McLibel as a playful reference to the hamburger giant that brought this upon us. I brought up possible further cooperation, with Special Branch using the corporate infiltration as a stepping-stone to target animal rights activists.

Little did I know then about the role of Bob Lambert and his blueprint for future spies – identical concepts anywhere you go.

Continue reading