New revelations published in an excellent article in today’s Schnews show police and/or government employees actively disrupting activist websites, posting comments designed to “sow mistrust, demoralise movements and to incite violence and illegality”.
We understand well over one hundred posts have been made to Indymedia UK, the activists open publishing news website, made by anonymous posters hiding behind the ‘303 gateway’ - part of the Government Secure Intranet (GSI). The GSI was set up to provide secure communications between government bodies, but appears also to be used to hide the origin of defamatory, misleading and malicious comments made on a number of activist websites.
Fitwatch has also been the target of posts from IP: 220.127.116.11, gateway-303.energis.gsi.gov.uk, leading to serious questions regarding how many political sites and blogs have been targeted.
Some posts have been deliberately provocative and divisive. One bleated, “Still a bit worried about the FITWATCH policy - is ALL fit activity to be opposed? Or is it only that we disagree with - hence not opposing FIT activity against the EDL?”
Other comments have publicised legal action taken against Fitwatch activists, presumably in an attempt to undermine our support. During one case, three people convicted for obstructing police cameras found the news of the verdict posted before they had even left court. Similarly, a Fitwatch activist deported from Copenhagen after being caught up in the mass (unlawful) preventative arrests during the COP 15 protests, had the news – along with her name – posted on the then unmoderated site from the 303 gateway address. The post was removed by Fitwatch in order to protect her privacy.
The latest comment from gateway 303 on Fitwatch, on 20 December 2010, crows that some of the Ratcliffe defendants – subjects of surveillance by undercover cop, Mark Kennedy – had been found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, and asks people to change/retract their comments.
The content and style of the posts, on both sites, strongly suggests they are part of a campaign of disruption by the police and home office, aimed at protest groups. The three ‘domestic extremism’ units, currently headed up by ACPO, are known to have several ‘disruption’ techniques in their armoury, including the use of undercover police officers. Given much protest organising and discussion now occurs over the internet, it is logical the same tactics of disruption and manipulation used by undercover operatives in activist meetings and communities is extended to internet debates.
Although the exact origin of these posts is unknown, we strongly suspect the ACPO domestic extremism units are behind them – and at least one was signed NETCU. However, given the cloaking nature of the gateway, there may be other police and government units involved in the monitoring and disruption of ‘extremist’ websites like Indymedia and Fitwatch
Clearly the state feels able to act without restraint when dealing with political activism and dissent. Increasingly protest activity is being treated in a similar way to terrorist activity – extremism that must be monitored, and disrupted. We must be vigilant to these attempts at subversion and develop strategies to deal with them. We are still investigating how many sites have been targeted by the gateway – please get in touch if you have further examples and we will collate the information.
We’d love to know the origin of these posts, who wrote them, and what the objectives of the operation were. Anyone from NCDE care to respond?
Although the actions of the students last week were inspiring and empowering, it should come as no surprise the media savvy police are using it as an ideal opportunity to both fight back against cuts to their budgets and to counter the recent bad press regarding protest policing.
The NCDE domestic extremist units are claiming they have suffered in the cuts. Former head of NCDE, Anton Setchell has retired, and head of NETCU, Steve Pearl has been given the boot, and both have been replaced by a cheaper, junior model - Detective Chief Supt Adrian Tudway. Steve seems particularly upset about getting sacked and has been whining to the Telegraph about how, if he was still running the units, their intelligence on the riots would have been better.
As usual, he is talking nonsense. The police didn’t predict the disorder because it wasn’t planned; the march wasn’t hijacked. I read the same websites as the cops, I know lots of activists, the intelligence we all had before the demo would have been similar. Yes, there were rumours of civil disobedience, and autonomous blocs, but this is true of every major demonstration. It would certainly have been true on the entirely peaceful February 15 Iraq demo, and there was no particular reason to believe this would be any different.
This is a desperate attempt by an unpopular unit to appear relevant and we must not be fooled. NCDE are bleating about cuts when only a few weeks ago they were squandering money sending Ian Caswell to Plymouth to monitor and photograph Trident Ploughshares pacifists.
The lack of police action at the protest had nothing to do with the cuts. Ever since the bad publicity surrounding G20 and Kingsnorth Climate Camp, the MET have taken a softly softly approach towards protest, and it was always obvious that eventually this would fail and it would be used as an excuse to continue repressing and harassing protesters. One senior police officer, speaking to The Guardian admitted the protests had done them “a favour”, stating “In the past we have been criticised for being too provocative. During the next demo no one can say a word.”
The students who occupied Millbank are not domestic extremists, they are angry, brave and passionate people who care about what this government is doing to the country. They have grown up witnessing the futility of being herded from A to B and listening to the platitudes of irrelevant politicians.
Ordinary people are angry, with even a Daily Star poll showing the majority in favour of the students rioting. The fight back is on, people will not be repressed, and no amount of intelligence on the usual suspects from a redundant unit is going to make a difference.