Originally posted at my blog spin.off , while working on the book.
Mark Kennedy is now selling his experience as an undercover agent within ‘extreme left political and animal right groups’ to the highest bidder. His apparent move into corporate spying is yet another sign of the increasingly blurred boundaries between public and private forces in undermining protest.
Kennedy’s LinkedIn profile – first spotted by Indymedia early June – is clarifying in many ways. On a personal front, it strips away any last doubt about his position. He is not a turned agent, as he suggested just after he was first exposed in the mainstream media. Nor is he a lonely soul longing for his true love and missing his activist friends, as he claimed in a documentary devoted to his double play.
Kennedy claims to now work as a consultant for the US based Densus Group, a security firm specialised in risk analysis and assessing threats from protest groups and domestic extremism. Densus serves both companies and law enforcement – a prime example of the blurred boundaries mentioned above. Today its focus is on containing the Occupy movement.
The founders of the Densus Group share a history in the military and in homeland security, from the British Army to the US Marine, with experience stretching from Northern Ireland to Iraq. For such consultancies, crowd management and counter terrorist tactics sit on the same spectrum. This could have worrying consequences for their advice on how protests should be dealt with.
Moreover, these private forces are not subject to freedom of information laws, or any other democratic oversight tools. There is no system of accountability for private security efforts, and zero regulation.
That said, the official reviews into organisational failures that allowed Mark Kennedy to infiltrate climate groups for more than a decade hardly make a case for transparency either. Most conclusions remain secret, as Caroline Lucas pointed out in Parliament a few weeks ago, while the only review focusing on the undercover activities of Mark Kennedy was shockingly superficial. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary explained the history of the units Kennedy worked for, but left many pressing issues untouched.
The unit that was supposed to supervise Kennedy was originally set up to deal only with ‘domestic extremism’ – a term coined shortly after 2001, but without any legal definition. It worked closely with a sister team initially formed at the request of companies confronted with animal rights activism. Instead of addressing the blurring of public and private concerns, the HMIC stopped short at merely warning retired officers now working in the security industry about ‘potential conflicts of interests’.
However, the revolving door is just one of the issues at stake. We need to know, for instance, how closely undercover teams cooperated with the utility companies that sought protection from climate activists. How much intelligence did the secret units exchange with E.ON, the company exploiting the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant? And what kind of information did they get in return? A French privatised electricity company was recently sentenced for having the Greenpeace computer network hacked.
Over the past few years, various – unofficial – investigations have revealed pieces of information, but never the bigger picture. Put together, as in a first attempt below, it becomes clear that there is more than just the issue of undercover agents infiltrating activist groups to worry about. What we are dealing with here is corporate spying as well, while the boundaries between the attempts to undermine protest are increasingly blurred.
A Freedom of Information request by the Liberal Democrats in April 2009 revealed how both the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the police passed on intelligence to E.ON about the Climate Camp demonstrations at Kingsnorth power station.
An investigation by activists in 2010 exposed the private security company Vericola for secretly monitoring climate groups. E.ON admitted to paying for its services, but said it had only asked for publicly available information. Two other large energy companies were on the client list too, Scottish Resources Group and Scottish Power. Security director Gordon Irving had joined Scottish in 2001, after 30 years in Strathclyde Police where he was head of Special Branch.
To monitor protest groups, E.ON also hired Global Open. It was founded a decade ago by Rod Leeming, yet another former special branch officer. In the late 1990s, he ran the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI), a secret Metropolitan police unit gathering intelligence on activists. Last year, the Guardian revealed that Global Open offered to employ several ex-police officers, including Mark Kennedy. After he left the police, Kennedy set up his own spy shop, using the address of one of Global Open’s then-directors to register it.
Notwithstanding the omissions, even the HMIC review indicates that things went seriously wrong. Gathering intelligence, undercover officers were confusing or even ‘conflating’ policing protest with tackling ‘serious criminality associated with domestic extremism’, the HMIC wrote. The Kennedy units operated in isolation and lacked effective governance. Consequently, they took responsibility for operations when no other organisation was prepared to take the lead.
In plain English, these units did the dirty work that nobody else was willing to take on, or that nobody knew or wanted to know about. And it should not be forgotten that this includes the grey area of entanglement with corporate interests.
More research into these secret manoeuvres is required to put the events in perspective and to understand the wider context of what I would call activist intelligence.
A full public inquiry into police infiltrating activist groups should include corporate spying, and the joint attempts to undermine protest.
But no official reviews will bring answers without outside pressure. It is the continuing research of dedicated activists and corporate critics with the help of investigative journalists and whistleblowers that first brought most of the stories into the spotlight. Apart from exposure, discovering proof, detailing individual cases and mapping out networks seems the best way to raise the issue of corporate counterstrategies.