If it’s not big brother, it’s mr plod watching you

Yet more news out of Britain about police abuse of surveillance powers to spy on peaceful and completely legitimate politicians and activists who deviate even modestly from the status quo consensus. This time it is two Green Party politicians who have been spied on for over a decade despite never breaking the law or being arrested. My last post referred to New Zealand’s Special Investigations Group (SIG) and their involvement with the Dot Com raid and Operation 8 in the Ureweras.

In this British case it is their police equivalents, a trio of overlapping and secretive divisions, as in New Zealand, all drawing from a data base of over 9000 people, the vast majority of whom have never committed a crime but have been identified as potential “domestic extremists” – the new designation for dissenters and protesters of note. Guardian reporters Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, authors of the expository book Undercover outlined their modus operandi as far back as 2009.

There are three little-known organisations at the heart of this apparatus. ….

The main branch is the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), essentially a giant database of protest groups and protesters in the country.

Housed at a secret location in London, its purpose is “to gather, assess, analyse and disseminate intelligence and information relating to criminal activities in the United Kingdom where there is a threat of crime or to public order which arises from domestic extremism or protest activity”.

Police in England and Wales collect intelligence on individuals and then feed it to the NPOIU which, Setchell said, “can read across” all the forces’ intelligence and deliver back to them “coherent” assessments.

Setchell said the “fair proportion” of the intelligence comes from Special Branch officers and police who monitor and photograph demonstrations.

Sensitive information from informants in protest groups and covert intercepts are handled by a section of the NPOIU called the Confidential Intelligence Unit.

The NPOIU database consists of entries indexed by descriptions of people, nicknames or pseudonyms.

The second part of Acpo’s triumvirate, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu), helps police forces, companies, universities and other bodies that are on the receiving end of protest campaigns.

Netcu’s job is to give “security advice, risk assessments and information that can minimise disruption and keep their employees safe”. Its head, Superintendent Steve Pearl, says his 16-strong unit works with police forces across the country, keeps detailed files on protest groups, rather than individuals, and liaises with thousands of companies in aviation, energy, research, farming and retail.

Netcu was set up in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in 2004 by the Home Office which, Pearl said, was “getting really pressurised by big business – pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks – that they were not able to go about their lawful business because of the extreme criminal behaviour of some people within the animal rights movement.”

Pearl denied the unit was engaged in mission creep but admitted that environmental protesters had now been brought “more on their radar” as they had been “shutting down airports, and shutting down coal-fired power stations, more recently stopping coal trains, hijacking coal trains and ships in the river Medway.”

The third leg of the trio, the National Domestic Extremism Team, was set up in 2005 and consists of detectives who help police forces around the UK.

It is remarkable how similarly the British and New Zealand police operate. It is no surprise that Operation 8 took place under Howard Broad as he had just finished a period of secondment to Britain prior to being appointed Commissioner. He must have been champing at the bit to implement what he had observed. A Labour Government, now led not by Helen the activist but Helen the obsequious, was only too happy to let him loose on those pesky Maoris who had deserted Labour in droves for the Maori Party. The cartoonish Tame Iti and his childish antics in the bush provided the perfect excuse.

As the previous post noted, how is anyone to know what constitutes “extremist” behaviour that puts you on a surveillance list? And what are the unknown consequences of being on such a list? Are Jane Kelsey and other anti TPPA activists considered extreme? It would appear so. The Mana Party? How many of our current politicians have been the object of police and intelligence service surveillance, as Fraser, Nash and Savage were, for no more than advocating for something outside our cosy two party consensus. For political or economic thought crime.

Guardian commentator and author George Monbiot nails the Orwellian situation British (and by extension New Zealand) citizens face in a piece titled How can we invest our trust in a government that spies on us. For the Conservatives and Labour in the UK, substitute National and Labour in New Zealand, Liberals or Labour in Australia, the  Republicans or Democrats in the US.

Talking to Sunday’s Observer, a senior intelligence source expressed his or her concerns about mass surveillance. “If there was the wrong political change, it could be very dangerous. All you need is to have the wrong government in place.” But it seems to me that any government prepared to subject its citizens to mass surveillance is by definition the wrong one. No one can be trusted with powers as wide and inscrutable as these.

In various forms – Conservative, New Labour, the coalition – we have had the wrong government for 30 years. Across that period its undemocratic powers have been consolidated. It has begun to form an elective dictatorship, in which the three major parties are united in their desire to create a security state; to wage unprovoked wars; to defend corporate power against democracy; to act as a doormat for the United States; to fight political dissent all the way to the bedroom and the birthing pool. There’s no need to wait for the “wrong” state to arise to conclude that mass surveillance endangers liberty, pluralism and democracy. We’re there already.

Also in the Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed makes similar points while noting in addition the increase in government (defence) funded social research projects which

highlighted the extent to which (US) security agencies, assisted by civilian academic institutions, view entire populations – particularly those involved in political activism – as potential terror suspects who, therefore, deserve to be carefully monitored and studied.

He goes on to point out what the authorities view as an extremist – anyone who actively opposes the status quo.

….ideologies which oppose global capitalism are “extreme” or “radical”, and assumed to be inherently vulnerable to political violence….

The underlying assumption is that the present system is the most advanced ever possible for humanity, and thus must be protected in its current structure at all cost.

New Zealand’s security legislation identifies threats to its “economic well-being” as legitimate targets for spying but does not define what that “well-being” is. Does any political party, NGO, activist group or individual that advocates for dramatic change to the current, flawed, neo liberal prescription constitute a threat? At what point does one become an “extremist” and subject to surveillance even though they are doing nothing illegal? My only consolation is that intelligence services is somewhat of a misnomer as they often, especially in New Zealand’s case, appear to be staffed by bumbling incompetents and managed by an incompetent prime minister. (For an example of New Zealand’s perceived terrorist threat….) Mr Plod indeed.


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