Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will say today that she is “appalled” by revelations about the Metropolitan Police’s use of undercover agents.
But to what extent are her calls for “scrutiny” a justification for continued snooping on huge numbers of people, as well as a cover for what happened in 13 years of New Labour rule?
High ranking police chiefs are involved in what is no so much a scandal as fairly routine practice. For example, retired deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve has admitted to authorising the bugging of Stephen Lawrence’s friend Duwayne Brooks.
Sir Norman Bettison, former West Yorkshire chief constable, already tarnished over Hillsborough disaster inquiry, is now said to have tried to influence the
The Met’s image is now so bad that ConDems policing minister Damien Green is calling for the “stables to be cleaned”. He says that recent disclosures are “hugely damaging”.
These “historic scandals”, as Green calls them, come on top of the continuing saga of US whistleblower Edward Snowden who revealed that Britain’s very own spy agency, GCHQ, works hand-in-glove with the American National Security Agency and its internet snooping programme, Prism.
Yesterday Snowden said that GCHQ was even worse than the NSA. It is the only body to operate what he terms a “full take” system of information. That means it monitors all data crossing its path for a total of 30 days.
Cooper continues to praise parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). So what should we make of her call for more “oversight and scrutiny”? Cooper became a member of the ISC after New Labour won the 1997 election and remained on it until 1999.
So she can’t be unaware that under the Blair governments, there was, according to a new book about undercover police agents, an “unprecedented increase in the undercover infiltration of political activists”.
Authors Rob Evans and Paul Lewis document how in 1999, a new squad of police spies was brought into existence – the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Its funding was supplied by the Home Office, then under secretary of state Jack Straw.
As the unit expanded, it received more than £30 million of public money. A new definition of who they were to spy on was created: “domestic extremism”. The authors say that the definition went beyond those engaged in criminal actions.
More significantly, it applied to those who “wanted to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy”, possibly “outside the normal democratic process”. Such a catch-all phrase covers virtually any form of protest. And funding under New Labour doubled, with animal rights’ surveillance taking the largest amount.
Corporate lobbying by Big Pharma and the banks who wanted the state to protect their nefarious activities led to more funding and a huge growth of surveillance, agent placing and deliberate entrapment. Money was not a problem for police spies like Mark Kennedy who received some £250,000 out of the state’s coffers.
No activist group or organisation – no matter how benign and peace-loving – was (or is) exempt. Climate Camp, anti-G8, anti-roadbuilding and anti-McDonalds’ campaigners, animal rights activists – you name them, they were all in the frame.
As some activists became concerned about individuals who for one reason or another became suspect, they began to uncover some deeply-placed spies, much to their horror. Women victims of undercover spying are being backed by Occupy London to take legal action against the police.
In the recent new round of spending cuts, the secret state bodies were the only agencies whose budget has not been cut, with MI5, MI6 and GCHQ receiving a 3% real terms increase in their annual budget of £2.6 billion.
Protecting citizens’ from criminals and terrorists is not the primary aim of these agencies or their spies in political movements. They are to defend the interests of corporate power, happily lining their own pockets in the process. It’s high time to open all the secret files and disband these spy agencies.
Just don’t expect Yvette Cooper to join such a campaign. She and Labour are part of the problem, not the solution.
A World to Win secretary