Your very own spy

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by

It is never pleasant to think that one of the people you are working with, possibly very closely, who you go drinking with, who is sleeping with one of your friends, who seems so full of life and passion is actually trying to undermine everything you are doing.

It does not matter if your group is very open rather than closed and covert. There is still much that a skilled operative can do to cause disruption to make you ineffective. For example, planting false information such as at the Heathrow Camp for Climate Action’s plenary.

Just because you have nothing to hide does not mean that you are going to be able to avoid the issue. It just means you have different methods to deal with dishonest intentions.

If there is one thing to take away from this article it is to always have proof before you start making accusations against someone. Witch-hunts based on insufficient evidence and vague rumours have ended up destroying groups.

Do you have an infiltrator?
Why would you suspect you have an infiltrator in the first place? Consider:

    • Things going wrong when they’ve not been doing so previously.


    • Your opponents seem to know what you are planning despite your precautions.


    • Constant internal disruption.


    • New faces at meetings acting dubiously.


  • Your opponents have a history of targeting campaign groups (in some situations/groups it is good to be pro-active before any damage is done).

It is rare that straight away there is clear proof you have an insider working against you. The first question to ask is: could the events that have aroused your suspicion be based on intelligence gathered through other means such as phone taps, bugs and so on. The more of these you can eliminate from the start, the better. Looking for infiltrators should be at the bottom of the list.

Infiltrators tend to go for positions were they can either get the most information or do the most damage. Watch out for the following behaviour:

Information gathering

    1. Volunteering for tasks which give access to important meetings and papers such as financial records, membership lists, minutes and confidential files, including typing up notes and “recycling” the paperwork. Often they are quite dull tasks, so people are happy to pass them on to others despite how much they expose details of the group’s members.


    1. Asking probing questions bordering on the intrusive, particularly about people’s personal details and actions that the questioner was not involved in. This allows them to build up a picture of people’s roles in the group.


    1. Regularly being overgenerous with money, including financing stuff or buying people drinks and/or drugs to gain access to activists socially with the aim of gaining their confidence or just causing them to become talkative.


  1. Regularly coming to meetings, joining discussions in the pub, but never getting involved in the group as such.

Disruption & discrediting

    1. Not following through on, or completing, important tasks, or doing them poorly despite an obvious ability to do good work.


    1. Causing problems for a group such as committing it to activities or expenses without following proper channels; or encouraging the group to plan activities that divide group unity.


    1. Seeming to be in the middle of personal or political differences that are disruptive to the group.


    1. Urge the use of violence or breaking the law, and provide information and resources to enable such ventures, but never quite get involved in the actions they have facilitated setting up. This depends closely on the nature & atmosphere of your group. Context is important here, especially on how heavily monitored the group is.


    1. Charge other people with being agents (a process called snitch-jacketing), thereby diverting attention from him- or herself, and draining the group’s energy from other work.


  1. Offering to supply key equipment which they do not follow through with, or else is of consistently poor quality.


    1. Having no obvious source of income over a period of time, or having more money available than their job should pay; eg an expensive car.


    1. Inconsistent about their background – lies at this level are hard to maintain completely, and slip-ups do occur; take note of inconsistencies and follow up on any “facts” about themselves that they tell you.


  1. Going out of their way to avoid answering questions about their home family life, jobs.
  2. Often disappearing for several days at a time – regularly happens with local police infiltrating as they have other work to do.
  3. Live in houses that do not have the feeling of being “lived in” – sparse details about themselves, lacking in photos, etc.
  4. Seeming immunity from prosecution.
  5. If the infiltrator is from the media they will often deliberately put forward mad ideas in order to create a more exciting response or story, in order to set up opportunities for their stories.

Remember, none of the above is by itself proof that someone is an infiltrator. It may be that information is leaking through carelessness or surveillance on you.
That someone is disruptive by nature, power hungry, or a pathological liar does not mean that they are an informer, but they do need to be dealt with appropriately.

Once you are sure your suspicions have substance, check with a couple of others whom you trust to check you are not alone. If several of you feel the same way, all independently, then that is a good sign there is something afoot. With them on board, the next stage is to gather evidence to back up your suspicions.
Alleging infiltration, informing or grassing is serious and not to be placed lightly at anybody’s door. Nor is it acceptable to ignore the evidence that your group might have one.