Unleashing The Spies
Whenever political protest becomes effective enough to significantly register its concerns with big business, MI5 and the anti-terrorist squad are given new powers to investigate. Jim Carey reviews the implications.
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp.16-17.
In her four years as MI5’s Director General (1992-1996), Stella Rimmington worked hard to develop a public face for MI5 and facilitate a new role for the organisation in the post Cold War espionage vacuum.
In 1993, British Intelligence took the unusual step of publishing a brochure entitled ‘MI5: The Security Service’, part of a general push to instill a new public perception of openness. A year later, Rimmington confirmed this intention by delivering the annual BBC Dimbleby lecture. The title of her talk was ‘Security and Democracy - Is there a conflict?’. Sitting in the front row was Michael Howard.
The Security Services Bill, currently creeping through parliament and expected to be law by July will, for the first time, provide a legislative basis for MI5 involvement in the investigation of domestic ‘serious crime’.
It was an arena Rimmington originally claimed was of no interest to MI5. However, in the 1995 MI5 brochure, she states: “I said in the first edition of this booklet there were no plans for the service to become involved in matters such as organised crime. However, there is now increasing concern about the impact of large scale crime. The Government has therefore decided that the resources of the Security Service should be brought to bear.”
Within this redefined remit, MI5 are to include animal rights activism, an area they have been expressing an interest in for some years. Whilst hardly constituting “large scale crime”, animal rights activism is already included in the category of ‘serious crime’. Whether or not it deserves such a label is a debate largely bypassed by current practice.
Large scale news manufacture has helped engineer an image of prevalent animal rights terrorism, whilst constructed charges worse than the actual crime have also ensured long prison sentences. The justice of the 14 year sentence originally meted out to Keith Mann can be judged by reading ‘Compassion behind bars’ in SQUALL 12. Dave Callender on the other hand has recently been given a ten year sentence for sending dumby bombs (see page 8). Alarming though this may have been to the recipients does it warrant 10 years in prison?
By over-playing both the intention and danger of a few of the more overt animal activists, the whole animal rights movement has been manoeuvred into the category of potential terrorism.
This situation is of course welcomed by the big business interests whose profit plans are hindered by the animal rights movement. These powerful lobbies include the meat exports industry, the intensive farming and fast food industry, the fur trade and the pharmaceutical industry with its use of vivisection.
Up until now this terrorist imagery has facilitated the involvement of Special Branch’s Animal Rights National Index (ARNI) in monitoring any political activism remotely involving animal welfare. The integrity of these information gatherers was again proved questionable during the McLibel trial. As revealed recently in court, Special Branch freely offered information on certain protestors to McDonald’s, after monitoring protest pickets outside the Corporation’s UK headquarters.
After the enactment of the Security Services Bill, MI5 agents will assume this information gathering role. How will they use the information? The 1995 MI5 brochure states the organisation’s future responsibilities include advising “those elements of commerce and industry whose services and products are of critical national economic or civil importance”.
The term ‘serious crime’ contained within the Security Services Bill applies to any activity which would result in first time prison sentences of three years or over. It also includes “conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose”, as defined by the 1985 Interception of Communications Act.
This definition combined with MI5’s new areas of involvement has seriously worrying connotations, for it includes all political protest significant enough to affect big business. Indeed, during the Second Reading debate on the Security Services Bill, Lord Allen of Abbeydale pointed out that road protestors might well be included.
The 1985 Interception of Communications Act allowed for surveillance and bugging devices to be used to “safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom” but restricted this right to “acts or intentions of persons outside the British Islands”; a proviso which on a legislative basis at least, offered some protection to democratic protest within the UK. However, it is a distinction that will disappear when the Security Services Bill becomes law this summer.
Unlike the police, MI5 agents testifying against individuals in court, do so anonymously from behind a screen, undoubtedly inducing an impression of unquestionable authority to any presiding jury.
MI5 applications for domestic forced entry, surveillance and bugging are granted by the Home Secretary, with any complaints against the activities of MI5 being dealt with by a Secret Services Tribunal, once again overseen by the Home Secretary.
When an individual files a complaint to this tribunal, they are not told whether or not they have actually been the target of MI5 surveillance. Under current procedure, they are only told if the tribunal considers MI5 to have acted wrongly. In effect, filling in one of the complaints forms, available from most police stations, simply alerts the security services to the fact that the individual suspects they are being watched.
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, the judge appointed to monitor the activities of the other intelligence services has also officially confirmed that GCHQ, the Government’s electronic eavesdropping agency has already been targeting British citizens as well as foreign communications.
Lord Nolan’s interception of communications report, published in June, also reveals that the number of telephone taps authorised by Michael Howard is already double the number granted by the Home Secretary five years ago. This figure only applies to telephones, not to any other form of surveillance.
Nolan’s report did not differentiate the targets of these telephone taps, but does acknowledge that domestic “subversion” was amongst them, although he describes this category as “very small”. This situation is likely to radically change after the enactment of the Security Services Bill.
MI5 involvement in domestic crime investigation has been the subject of much police concern, with a widely recognised turf war being fought between the police and MI5.
The investigation of animal rights activism has been a territory dominated up to now by Special Branch.
According to William Taylor, the Commissioner of the City of London police: “We are concerned that in the absence of any legislation, we have a twin-tack system, one where MI5 has a statutory basis and one where the police do not.” (The Times 6/5/96)
In order to placate these fears, the wording of the Security Services Bill was actually changed to offer MI5 a “supporting” role in domestic investigation. This concession of terminology is not the only device designed to satisfy the police. In April this year the Association of Chief Police Officers met and agreed that the Anti-terrorist squad should incorporate environmental protest as part of its investigative brief. This alarming decision went almost unheralded in the media. When Observer journalist David Rose spoke to an anonymous spokesperson from the Anti-terrorist squad, he pointed out that no terrorist activity had taken place in the avowedly non-violent environmental protest movement.
The spokesperson replied: “It is our job to know about these things before they happen.”
Once again the inclusion of environmental protest as a category of terrorism, is reflective of the fact that such protests are registering a significant affect on big business lobbies. The furrowed brows in this case belong to large landowners, the oil industry, the pre-privatisation nuclear industry, and of course the massive road-building and car industry.
In new legislation promised by the government in November, police will also be given increased powers of forced entry, bugging and surveillance, putting them more on a par with MI5. Although these are activities the police have been involved in for some time, they have only had loose Home Office guidelines to back them up rather than a more conducive statutorily- based right. However, the creation of a legislative backbone this autumn will facilitate the ease and expansion of such activities. The proposed new laws will also create a new National Crime Squad responsible for co-ordinating this and other police operations, as promised by the Government at the last Conservative Party conference.
Whilst security service interest in pro-animal activism has been publicly legitimised, environmental protest has so far escaped unscathed from media attempts to engineer a similar situation. Not for the want of trying: an article printed in Construction News in 1994 falsely suggested road protesters were building spiked man traps. The Sunday Times reprinted the story under the headline ‘Green guerillas booby-trap sites’ and followed it up with a series of unsubstantiated articles about other similar incidents.
The deliberate engineering of a serious incident designed to discredit the environmental movement is now a worrying possibility.
The new police and security service powers obviously present alarming implications for democratic protest. Whenever a political campaign becomes effective enough to significantly register its concerns with big business, British security services will be statutorily entitled to investigate and potentially undermine its operation.
With Michael Howard sitting in a front row seat, Stella Rimmington concluded her Dimbleby Lecture by saying there was after all no conflict between Security and Democracy. However, all evidence suggests that MI5’s new public relations openness is a mask designed to cover draconian new involvement in the investigation, infiltration and undermining of any groups considered “subversive” to big business interests. And what’s more, the police have been given powers to match.
As John Alderson, ex-Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, observed recently:
“Howard is putting the building blocks in place for an East German-style Stasi-like force, where half the population finishes up spying on the other half. At the moment the acorn of a Stasi has been planted but it is there for future governments to build on. No government in my lifetime has ever given liberty back. It is not in the nature of governments to grant liberty - they are all about power.”
GREEN TERRORISM? - Environmental protestors are considered the new terrorist 'enemy within' - Squall 13, Summer 1996