Activism and... Infiltrators

IssueFebruary 2011

PN has permission to quote long-term anarchist organiser Ian Bone, a key figure in Class War in the 1980s: “I’ve never knowingly met a police spy, but we had loads of journalists trying to infiltrate Class War. They stood out a mile. The journalist would always be the first to buy a round.”

A letter appeared in the Guardian in January from a Philip Foxe: “The late Tony Cliff, leading light of the SWP, had a clear position on undercover police infiltration. He used to say: ‘It’s inevitable that some of you will come across people you suspect of being police informers. Don’t let them know you suspect. They are always the best organisers, the best paper sellers, and the first ones to turn up to a paper sale outside the factory at 6.30am in the pouring rain.’ ”

It is said of Harry Newton, later an MI5 informant in CND, that during his time in the Communist party in the 1950s, a divisional committee of the party once devoted a whole meeting to discussing whether Harry Newton was or was not a police spy. “The general view was, apparently, that he was so obviously one, that he couldn’t be one in fact.” (Quaker and former communist Will Warren, quoted by Laurens Otter.)

Other experiences:

For my one concrete experience of infiltration, I felt slightly ridiculous. It was at this meeting. I’m trying to remember which action it was, it was to do with Hands Off Iraqi Oil.

This guy turned up. Afterwards, a few people said: “I’m very suspicious of that guy.” I asked why, and they said: “Because he talked so knowledgeably about financial matters”! I didn’t find this very plausible, but then Plane Stupid did expose him some time later.
Male activist, 30s

Hearing all this stuff about infiltrators, I’ve started wondering if I am an infiltrator. Could they have somehow wiped my memory of it? I actually doubt my own knowledge of myself!
Woman activist, 20s

We published a pamphlet many years ago which had transcripts of police interviews with activists, and we had a public reading that was advertised in Time Out.

We knew everyone who showed up, except for one smartly-dressed young woman. We started the meeting with a go-round of introductions, and everyone said who they were. When it came to the new person, she said: “My name is Dee. I’m black, I’m a lesbian, and I’m a [she mumbled].”

My dad was sitting next to her and asked her to repeat herself and she said: “I’m black, I’m a lesbian, and I’m a police officer.”

So it was the opposite of infiltration in that she said it out loud right at the beginning of the meeting.

She said at the end of the meeting that she’d thought it would be fair, as a police officer in training, to hear the other side of the story from the protestors. She hadn’t believed that police would really say the hilarious things we were reading out, but then she saw that we actually had the original police transcripts.

We never saw her again.
Woman activist, 40s

So, this is anonymous.

Well, then, there was once an unnamed special branch officer who came to an unspecified place to talk to an unnamed activist. They played chess.
Woman activist, 70s

I ran into another infiltrator 20 years ago, one who hasn’t been named yet, an MoD policewoman I knew about. She was a really nice woman who we liked. I think she liked us!

The thing was we suspected her from the beginning, so we never gave her information that was really going to land us in trouble.

We felt if we confronted her, they’d send someone else and we’d have to work out who they were. We did invite her on actions that needed a driver – quite a few actions wouldn’t have happened without her. None were ever stopped because of her. They were actions where we stayed to be accountable anyway.

She had a good story that fitted with being a spy or not being a spy, it explained odd things about her – we didn’t know.

If we’d really gone on the trail, we could have found out, but we decided we didn’t want to know. We were an open group, not at all as paranoid and security-conscious as people are now. We were doing open and accountable actions.

She stood out because she was different – not shiny shoes, but she was clean-living in a way that we weren’t. Her car was always really clean with none of the junk normal people have. Eventually someone phoned us up and told us they definitely knew she was MoD police. It was talked about more openly, and it got back to them and she stopped participating.
Woman activist, 50s

Topics: Activism
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