Why did the police send Kennedy undercover?

The efforts of the police to undermine democratic protest expose the ugly political realities of Bri

Ed Ballard misses the point in his blog on the undercover cop Mark Kennedy's infiltration of a group of climate-change activists. The question is not "Was it worth it?" but "Why was it done?"

The answer to that question reveals something rotten in the state of Britain, something the vast majority of people are completely unaware of – the reality of the political nature of policing in this country.

All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.

Indeed, the revolving door between the corporate and political worlds means, as far as protest is concerned, that they are one and the same.

An exaggeration? Afraid not. Only those who have never protested regularly nestle in the kind of blissful ignorance that allows them to question that this is the true state of play. A scratched head about why on earth the police would waste such vast resources on a bunch of "tree-huggers" is indicative of the successful propaganda that has constabulary spokespeople stating regularly, and with a straight face: "We are here to facilitate peaceful protest."

As long as this lie receives the oxygen of mainstream media validation, the public has no chance whatever of seeing the country as it really is. Warning: when the Met is silent, and when the Director of Public Prosecutions refuses to speak, as in this case, there is a nasty smell in the air that a wise person will follow to its source.

If the cap FITs

Something that smells very bad indeed, and is typical of the kind of strategy used constantly against campaign groups, is the policing of the movement against the arms manufacturer EDM MSM in Brighton. Want proof of the offensive odour? Try the Sussex force's own video footage, acquired and brilliantly combined with activist and CCTV images in the jaw-dropping documentary On the Verge. And be sure to reach for a nosegay as police "intervene" at venues due to show the film.

Feeling woozy yet? Step forward, the FIT team! Or Forward Intelligence Team, the police photographers who routinely turn up at perfectly legal protests and film completely innocent people for having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights.

This unit and its dubious operations provide probably the most convincing evidence of the police's view of campaigners as elements that are dangerous to the state. Only if you have had its camera inches from your face while knowing you have done absolutely nothing wrong can you know how laughable are police pronouncements on "facilitation".

How sinister and Orwellian that word becomes when one knows the truth behind it. So, it is in no way surprising that the police attempted to shut down the activist response to FIT recently, the FITwatch website, with an email to the web host. Unfortunately for them, the content was mirrored almost immediately on over 100 other sites, rendering their efforts useless.

Netcu, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, is another police organisation with a malodorous miasma surrounding it. Netcu was the source, in 2008, of a "green smear" story in the Observer (which was subsequently withdrawn, so obvious was the attempt to create panic about environmentalists). The article "revealed" that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons".

But the problem was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up this hysterical statement apart from the campaign group Earth First's perfectly reasonable claim that the world suffers from overpopulation. And just to clarify who exactly qualifies as a "domestic extremist", George Monbiot wrote soon afterwards that the villagers of Radley who had campaigned to save the local lake from being filled with ash by npower were just the sort of terrorists the state says we need to be protected from.

In the United States, too, a response to state repression of the environmental movement has resulted in the website Green is the New Red, which today reports: "The justice department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI's obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the 'number one domestic terrorism threat', would leave more dangerous threats unchecked."

So, wonder not why a police officer was sent deep undercover into an environmental campaign group. These protesters threaten powerful interests and bring with them the added "danger" of a social conscience, as well as the seed of a new kind of society, one that puts people and planet above profit. That cannot be allowed to take hold, now, can it?

Alison Banville is a campaigner on human rights, animal rights and environmental and political issues.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue