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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

ACPO 'extremist' units operating at Climate Camp









The cop above is Ian Caswell, known to many of us as 1818 of South Yorkshire police - many thanks to those who have sent us his name! He is often seen in the company of PS Mark Sully, pictured here at the top of this post.

These two are regularly seen with their cameras at demonstrations, meetings and gatherings. They have been photographed at protests against Heckler and Koch in Nottingham, at No Borders demonstrations at Crawley, at Climate Camp in Kingsnorth, at Smash EDO in Brighton, and many more. They do not seem limited to one geographical area, but tirelessly travel up and down the country in search of protesters to photograph.

It is this aspect of their role that has led FITwatch to speculate that these two officers work for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). This is a sister organisation to NETCU, which many of the readers of this blog will be aware of. These organisations are run as private companies under the management of ACPO, who spend at least £2m a year on them. Their role is to provide intelligence (NPOIU), support the interests of business (NETCU) and manage prosecutions (NDET - National Domestic Extremism Team).

The recent report on the policing of Climate Camp by South Yorkshire police provides evidence that we were correct. A debrief report, containing comments from individual officers, makes frequent mention of the role of NPOIU at the Camp in managing FIT teams and surveillance in general - both overt and covert. It also contains one comment commending PS Sully in particular for his role as the FIT's NPOIU manager.

The NPOIU collects and collates huge amounts of data. Despite being a private company it has access to police databases. This information is presumably made available to NETCU. How much information they deem appropriate to pass on to the private sector businesses they support (EDO, Heckler and Koch etc) is anyone's guess.

Carswell and Sully are, then, in a strange position. They are serving police officers, apparently working for a private company. It is not clear whether they are contracted to the NPOIU, or are working on secondment. FITwatchers who find themselves standing in the way of their cameras may want to speculate as to whether there is a criminal offence of obstructing a police officer who isn't really a police officer....

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Watching Them Watching Us

An article by John Q Publican which first appeared on Police State UK

Surveillance, it seems to me, comes in two categories differentiated by purpose; that is, all surveillance efforts will fulfill one, or both in some mixture, of two purposes. The first is the easiest, and the most etymologically obvious: surveillance is investigative.

A typical example of such surveillance work would be a phone tap. You initiate a phone tap to find out things you didn’t know before; it is an investigative tool. A point-to-point communication which should thus limit information exposure is compromised by external surveillance, permitting the watchers to learn things they would otherwise be unable to learn. But it is worth noting that this investigative function for surveillance is effective precisely in so far as it is covert; a subject aware of observation behaves differently.

This, of course, is the rationale behind armed guards in front of public buildings, and bobbies walking a beat: “showing the uniform”. The pre-supposition is that highly visible surveillance will act as a deterrent. Such surveillance is therefore distinct from investigative surveillance in both function and form. CCTV cameras watch our streets dumbly and permanently; I’ve worked a CCTV monitoring job for Winchester City Council. We had a forensic role; if an incident occurred on camera we could work to gather effective evidence by focusing on faces and recording time-stamp data. But primarily CCTV cameras function as a deterrent; don’t rob here, you’ll get caught on camera. This is their function on the Tube, on the buses, in corner shops and pubs.

I establish these categories explicitly because I want to consider the evolving role of state surveillance over the last fifteen years in the light of these distinctions. We have seen a huge expansion of publicly, rather than privately, owned CCTV cameras. We have seen the return of the street bobby, the copper on a push bike, Community Policing. We have seen the development, evolution and eventual prime-time prominence of the organisation known as FIT. We’ve also seen the growth of organisations which attempt to track, monitor or control traffic flows on the internet. We have seen massively more frequent use of phone monitoring, we’ve seen undercover agent provocateur operations which offer thousands of pounds to recruit citizen surveillance officers, or what we would have called “secret police informants” during the Cold War, if we’d spotted godless Commies at it.

FIT are a specifically interesting case to follow. They grow in the shadows cast by the Territorial Support Groups, and like most things that grow in the dark they’re knee-deep in shit. Both police groups are, in inception, explicitly class warriors: both were created to suppress increasingly organised expressions of working-class disillusion and rage. I remember the gossip mills talking about a shadowy group of guys with cameras documenting Troublesome Elements from behind black-glazed car windows. What they turned out to actually be was an attempt to curtail nationally organised football violence.

And initially they were an investigative force. They operated covertly. They identified and documented the activities of over a thousand violent criminals. Unfortunately, they also documented and spied on several thousand innocent football supporters. But, the men who’ve been banned from foreign travel and from football stadiums are, overwhelmingly, the right men; the men who organised things like this.

FIT used to hide behind net curtains and this places them distinctly into the camp of investigative surveillance. They wanted to know something; they used surveillance to find out. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. They soon morphed into something new; FIT surveillance became a highly visible, highly politicised and in-your-face feature of public order policing. This does not mean FIT’s activities came out of the shadows; they still do all kinds of things they hope people won’t notice, but it does mean that the nature of their surveillance changed.

I was taken aside at the point when I asked for the warrant by about five FIT officers. Had a camera pointed in my face and photo taken. Held onto and surrounded and shouted at.


So writes James Lloyd, a Climate Camp legal observer on 2nd April 2009. This is not investigative surveillance; for a start, this guy is in an orange tabard marked Legal Observer, his name and two phone numbers are registered with police command and he is, in fact, carrying a Police Liason identification.

What are they doing? If it’s not investigation, it must be deterrence. The aim is to send a very clear message; you are being watched. We are doing it. We don’t care if you know. You will be watched, your privacy will be invaded, and there is nothing you can do. This is the action of a group who are actively attempting to stop something.

And it’s not football violence any more. In fact, I don’t know if FIT still have that purview or not; once everyone heard about them their utility in stopping organised criminals was compromised. It’s the wavering criminal who may be deterred, not the skinhead with the swastika tattoo who “supports” a football team but turns up for the donnybrook. What they most certainly do, now, is spy on and intimidate political dissenters.

In fact, when you look beyond FIT at public surveillance of political dissent it is almost universally not investigative. It’s not about finding out who disagrees with the government: the government knows that, we’re all shouting about it on the internet, or going to protests with placards. The behaviour of FIT, the police threatening people with non-applicable laws to try and force identification data out of them, the CCTV cameras… There are neon-yellow, private (or rather, corporate) surveillance operatives driving around in caged vans labeled “GrapeVine” (whoever the hell they are) and spying on private citizens “in partnership with the police”.

They are not about finding out, or proving, anything. These multi-billion pound initiatives are about passing on a message to anyone who thinks dissent is permissible. The message is: We are watching you. You have been warned.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Victory for Fitwatchers Everywhere as FIT Hide in Car

Last weekend, at both the Anti Militarist Gathering and a demo at Heckler and Koch, FIT cops - CO996 Mark Sully and 1818 from South Yorkshire police (name anyone???) were spotted skulking in an unmarked car.


















It is lovely to see these cops, who used to be so brazen about their role, hiding away, scared of being confronted and challenged by protesters.

Fitwatch also wonder whether they had the necessary authorisation under RIPA to conduct such covert surveillance. Anyone present at either of these events might want to complain to the IPCC that this surveillance was being carried out, and it is believed the correct authorisation had not been obtained.

Whilst undoubtedly a victory, this is something we need to be aware of. We cannot allow them to lurk in unmarked cars - we must still challenge them and draw attention to their presence.

And, just because we can't see them, doesn't mean their not watching, making notes, and building databases. It is therefore crucial we continue masking up and taking whatever measures we can to protect our anonymity on protests.

Photos copyright - Tash - tash@indymedia.org

Thursday, 16 July 2009

FIT at Southend Airport

It seems that more and more people are objecting to being placed under FIT style surveillance. About time!

The latest case hitting the press concerns Essex police seen photographing a bunch of people attending a meeting about the future of Southend Airport. They snapped local residents and members of campiagn groups on 'crime and disorder' grounds.

Quoted in the Mail, Kiti Theobald, chairman of the Stop Airport Extension Now group, said: 'I was walking out of the main building and there was a policeman with a camera. I asked him if he was taking pictures of me and he said yes.

'I asked him why, but he just said his boss told him to do it. He wouldn’t tell me anything else about it.

Which seems to be about the standard of reply we expect to get from FIT coppers generally, Essex ones in particular.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Met's advice to photographers

Published Thursday: http://www.met.police.uk/about/photography.htm

Including: "Officers have the power to view digital images contained in mobile telephones or cameras carried by a person searched under S43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to discover whether they have in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are involved in terrorism."

And the wonderfully unambiguous: "It should ordinarily be considered inappropriate to use Section 58a to arrest people photographing police officers in the course of normal policing activities, including protests, as without more, there is no link to terrorism. There is however nothing preventing officers asking questions of an individual who appears to be taking photographs of someone who is or has been a member of Her Majesty’s Forces (HMF), Intelligence Services or a constable."

So, it's not technically against the law, but if the police decide it is, then it, er, is.

Plus: 'The Met's attack on photographers'
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/jul/09/photography-anti-terrorism-regulations

Monday, 6 July 2009

“Um...specifically...I don’t know” – Assistant Commissioner Chris Allan on FIT data collection.

“Um...speicifically...I don’t know”. This was Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison’s response to being asked what happens to the data collected by the Forward Intelligence Teams on Panorama’s, “Whatever Happened to People Power?” Chris Allison has worked for the MET for twenty five years, and according to the Met Police’s website, has been “heavily involved” in the “policing of public order events ranging from football matches, small marches all the way to resolution of serious disorder”. If he, with his years of expertise and high ranking, doesn’t know, then who does?

Obviously Chris Allison knows what happens to the data, but he’s not going to admit that the details of thousands of protesters are being entered into a searchable database, and listed as possible extremists on Panorama. It’ll be interesting to see whether Superintendent Hartshorn, inventor of the summer of rage, will be more forthcoming under cross examination at upcoming Fitwatch trials, and whether he will be forced to reveal further information about the extent of data retention on UK protesters.

Allison was also somewhat flexible with the truth when asked about the role of the FIT. His description of a unit dedicated to keeping “people safe” and “engag[ing]” with “the public” seems in contradiction to Jacqui Smith’s comments on this being “harassment style policing.” To anyone who has experienced or witnessed FIT policing, it was either deeply offensive or just plain ludicrous.

It was good to see Allison squirming, unable to truthfully answer the questions about policing and protest, and ultimately ending up looking like a lying idiot. The programme was also good at exposing some of the tactics the police use against protesters, and showing the lengths they are prepared to go in dealing with people doing nothing more than getting involved in a local campaign.

However, whilst good, there was one flaw with the programme- there was a whiff of good protester/bad protester from the beginning. Although not overtly stated, the implication was that it was alright to use these tactics against the real “extremists”. This not only didn’t cover the rather obvious question of what defines domestic extremism and whether this is an acceptable definition – NETCU themselves agree there is no legal definition and basically infer it to mean anyone who engages in direct action – but whether this treatment of protesters is right regardless of their beliefs.

Fitwatch was started from a belief all protesters should be protected and that we have a right to defend ourselves from this kind of policing. It is great programmes such as Panorama are finally bringing these issues to a wider audience, but it is important this good/bad distinction is not made and is always challenged. Harassing, intimidating, assaulting and arbitrarily arresting people because of their beliefs rather than their actions is not acceptable, and people across the political and activist spectrum need to stand together to ensure any changes to public order policing applies across the board and not just to a select few.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Pictures of climate camp cops


Shown below is PC's Fisher and Stabler, two of the police officers involved in the climate camp arrests of Fitwatchers. Fisher, who is distinctive in having a heavily tattooed arm, is in the front.