Emily Apple writing about Martin Hogbin

Emily Apple (@emilyapple) invites people who – like her – considered Martin Hogbin a good friend to share their thoughts. At her blog, beautifully called Random Reflections of a Domestic Extremist, she announced her plans earlier this week:

Please excuse the cliché, but I think we need to talk about Martin. It’s been a while coming – next year it will be ten years since we first found out our friend, colleague and comrade was in fact a BAE spy, but it’s finally time to write about what happened in detail and with the hindsight of perspective.

Martin Hogbin is the name of the spy who infiltrated the Campaign Against Arms Trade for many years, from the very moment he became active as a volunteer, until he got exposed by the Sunday Times back in 2003.

Five years earlier, in 1998, I was involved in exposing Adrian Franks who had been spying on networks of peace groups in several European countries. We found out that both Hogbin and Franks (and many others!) had been working for Evelyn le Chêne and her company Threat Response International, hired by BAE. Moreover, Evelyn and Adrian turned out to be mother and son. The Sunday Times Insight Team had laid hands on spy reports that Evelyn le Chêne sent to BAE. Because of my involvement in the case, the journo’s allowed me access to these files. The Secret Manoeuvres book has a long chapter based on these files and CAAT internal research in an effort to analyse the spying in great detail.

Early findings can be found at my old evel.nl website, but the book has more!

I have also investigated the history and career of Evelyn le Chêne, to discover that her work rooted in fierce ‘anti-communist’ ideas. Cold War believes got her involved in Thatcherite circles in the 1980s and campaigns in Southern Africa until the early 1990s. Her general aversion of the left and her links with intelligence smoothly got her into spying on activists, on CAAT, but also on road protest, animal rights and Earth First!.

Emily’s call triggered some thoughts about the difficulties of dealing with infiltration, and writing about it. Difficulties that I have also encountered when talking to people involved in investigating Mark Kennedy, and with women taking legal steps against undercover officers who engaged in (sexual) relations with them.

I will try to address these thoughts here, exploring the field, building on bits & pieces of Emily’s wording.

For Emily,  Martin was a close friend for the best part of five years, and the secular Godfather to her son even. She wants the book to be the account of their times together, from planning meetings and pints, to arrests and tear gas on the streets of international summits. But it will not just be the story of what she believed was their journey together, she writes, and how this narrative has been shattered and replaced only with questions:

There is so much which will always remain unanswered. There are no truths, because the one person who could answer so many of the questions is a professional liar.

I think the last sentence touches upon the most difficult aspect of the project. ‘Analysing who Martin really was’ may turn out to be next to impossible in this context. There is a great risk of ending up in a hall of mirrors, where nothing is what it seems – just reflections of what you thought it be, impressions and memories.
In reality, his relationships with other people ultimately were nothing more than useful, instrumental even, in reaching his goal.  If you want to explore the motives and agendas of an undercover officer, remember it is all  about gaining trust, securing his or her position and getting access to information (in the broadest sense).

The trouble with infiltrators who spend years and years undercover, such as Hogbin and Kennedy, is that they get involved in all kind of relations  some of which seem to be real friendships. But they are not.

One of the women now filing complaints said that her relationship felt perfect, because her partner seemed to be everything she needed at that moment. The realisation that this was all part of an operation makes it even harder to deal with.

It might be useful to address such pain as trauma, indeed, because that’s what it is: severe trauma. What we are dealing with here is the betrayal of trust on many levels, of ideals in political struggles, of the closeness of being together on the road, at night, in the streets, abroad, sharing a drink afterwards. Betrayal of friendship, of sharing secrets, uncertainties, of helping out, of supporting each other also in difficult times. Betrayal of intimacy, of privacy, of the closest people can get together. Betrayal of a shared future, of plans, of dreams, having kids together maybe.

Getting the story out of what has happened can be a good way of dealing with trauma. Time is a good healer too, as banal as it may sound. It took comedian/activist Mark Thomas years to come to terms with the fact that Hogbin was a traitor; in Martin and me he addresses the growing doubts about his friend in the anti-arms trade movement.

Emily describes a similar process:

Over the years, I have come up with a myriad of excuses for what Martin did ranging from complete denial to a vain hope that there was a limit to the information he was passing on. However I am coming to accept this was just naive posturing. There can be no excuses for what Martin did, for the betrayal, the manipulation and the lies. There is no middle ground, no half truth that makes sense of his actions. This has been the hardest part to accept; not to make excuses for my friend; not to let him still have a small piece of my heart.

But time as a healer might not be enough. Serious professional help might be necessary too. There are initiatives like Counseling for Social Change in Cornwall (in which Emily happens to be involved), but since the exposure of Mark Kennedy has hit the press it might be easier to get help elsewhere too. I will get back to this at a later stage.

In getting together the stories about infiltration, we should never forget that the trauma was caused by the police, intelligence services and the corporations that paid for it. The goal was spying, collecting information in order to undermine protest. Anything else was collateral damage, so to say.

Getting the stories out can help to understand the damage done, and to hold the responsible authorities to account. The women involved in the court case against the police agreed to tell their story on the BBC’s File on 4 a few weeks ago because they wanted to give the full picture, to go beyond the general focus on the ‘sexy’ bits (no pun!) of what has happened to them.

Getting the stories out is what my research will be focused on in the next few years. But I do think it is essential to make a distinction between two of the things one wants to achieve.
Processing the pain, as Emily Apple writes, is one thing. ‘Understanding how a corporate spy lived and worked amongst us for so many years’, is another. As impossible as this may seem, knowing how completely entangled everything is, I think it is of utter importance to have two separate tracks in the writing about Martin Hogbin or in any other investigation.

Working on a time-line, as a reconstruction of where Martin Hogbin was, when and with whom, can be very useful. Such a chronology can help structure memories and, when built around major meetings and events, will put his activities into context. People investigating the whereabouts of Mark Kennedy, published a first time line at Powerbase.info, the wiki maintained by Spinwatch.org. The lay-out is far from ideal, and the overview far from complete, but for us the format works.
Practical solutions, such as this one, can be a guide going down a difficult road.

Just a few thoughts for today, more later.

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