Mark Kennedy was not the only spy to infiltrate the eco-protest movement. It is endemic, argues Eddie Ford
Last week saw the collapse of a £1 million trial of six green campaigners charged with “conspiring” to shut down the E.ON UK-operated coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in 2009. The case against the activists was dropped when Mark Kennedy (aka ‘Mark Stone’), an undercover police spy who had infiltrated their extremely ad-hoc climate change campaign group, suddenly offered to give evidence in their favour.
Kennedy is clearly one of many such police agents. He has reportedly alleged that at least 15 cops have infiltrated the eco-protest movement. Three of them have now been named: Lynn Watson, Mark Jacobs and Jim Boyling (the latter who actually married and had two children with one of the people he was sent to spy on).
All the evidence indicates that Kennedy went ‘native’ - identifying with the aims and values of those individuals he was meant to be fitting up (fearing his old masters, he is in hiding in the United States). In 2009 he appears to have left the police force in disgust and shame. Now the police are left with egg on their face, with awkward questions being asked, in particular about the activities of the secretive National Public Order Intelligence Unit - a body set up in 1999 to target “domestic extremists” and run by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Kennedy was a Metropolitan officer seconded to the NPOIU some 10 years ago.
Needless to say, communists welcome the abandoning of this trial. We do so because it represented not only an assault on democratic rights generally, but almost a vendetta against an entirely innocuous campaign group - you could barely call it an organisation - which by no stretch of the imagination could be said to constitute a danger to life and limb or even the economy. Perhaps even more to the point, communists think that the recent revelations about Mark Kennedy - a state agent who managed to insinuate himself into a small group with consummate ease - provides a valuable lesson for those trying to build a revolutionary movement in this country. Namely, the advantage of an open and democratic organisation that aims - as far as objective circumstances permit - for mass actions and protests, as opposed to ‘exemplary spectaculars’ organised by small and often elitist groups, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned.
Of course, on one level, no-one should find Kennedy’s spying activities remarkable - such covert operations are only to be expected. Anyone involved in any sort of militant political protest or anti-establishment politics ought to expect to be watched in one way or another by state spies - it is naive to think otherwise. Leave aside Northern Ireland, there must be several hundred of them operating in Britain. Not only will the eco-movement be riddled, so will the far right and the far left, including left groups in the trade unions, etc.
Thanks to Mark Kennedy we certainly know that the police have been intimately involved in the green movement since at least 2000. He earned a reputation in the appropriate circles as a committed and dedicated eco-warrior. Paradoxically, or perversely, this reputation is not as ill-deserved as it might at first seem. In the words of Danny Chivers, one of the six defendants in the failed case, Kennedy was not “someone sitting at the back of the meeting taking notes” - rather “he was in the thick of it”. In fact, according to Chivers, he energetically “helped recruit as many people as possible” to the protest group - which hoped against hope to shut down the Ratcliffe power station for a few days as a protest against global warming. Furthermore, Chivers recounted, Kennedy was one of the “key people” involved in the 2005 protests against the G8 summit in Gleneagles 2005.
Not only that, as is now clear, Kennedy initiated many, if not most, of the actions against the power station - like driving a ‘reconnaissance’ party there in his van and then hiring a truck for the main protest. Not for nothing did he quickly acquire the nickname “Flash”, because he always seemed to have more money - and ideas - than the other activists, Which was hardly surprising, given the substantial financial and logistical support he was getting from NPOIU. Thus he was supplied with a passport and a wad of credit cards under his assumed name, and his handlers also made deposits of up to £200,000 a year into his ‘Mark Stone’ account - on top of his £50,000 per year police salary, plus bonuses, of course, which was being paid into his own account throughout this entire period. This cash, it goes without saying, was to be deployed for bribes, drinks, socialising, seduction - he slept with two female members of the climate group - accommodation, vehicles, regular travels abroad to meet other climate change campaigners and so on (since leaving the police he has confessed to finding it hard to sign cheques under his own name again).
Naturally, Kennedy was also kitted up with various technological devices to aid police surveillance and monitoring - most notably a BlackBerry mobile phone containing a tracking device, so that his handlers would always know his whereabouts day and night. Kennedy’s cover officer, as he explained, was the “first person I spoke to in the morning and the last person I spoke to at night” - in fact “he knew when I went to the loo”. Apparently, the information obtained by Kennedy went to the very top, sometimes landing on the prime minister’s desk - for example, during the G8 protests.
What is particularly instructive was the way in which he first inveigled himself into the green/anarchist milieu. Growing his hair long, wearing rings and having extensive tattoos done, he started hanging about at the various vegetarian/vegan cafes and bars where the prominent eco-activists from around Europe congregated. Kennedy’s crucial breakthrough came in 2003, when he went to a meeting of the direct action group, Earth First. Like many other groups of this nature, EF proudly proclaims itself as a “non-hierarchical” organisation that has “no leaders” - making an ideological virtue of being small and a loose network, not “a cohesive group or campaign”. In other words, a near ideal environment where a motivated state agent could not only move around, but also rise to the top - as, of course, ‘structureless’ organisations have leaders just as much as ‘hierarchical’ ones do, but with a far less transparent and accountable ‘chain of command’.
Which is why Kennedy was able to climb the anarchist tree so rapidly. At the EF meeting Kennedy was introduced to a vegan activist called Mark Barnsley, who claimed to have fought for the Palestine Liberation Army and was then a leading figure in the semi-underground, anarchistic protest milieu. Telling Barnsley that he had “led a bad life” and wanted to “make amends”, thus his interest in eco-activism, Kennedy’s friendship with him “blossomed” and before long “he treated me like a brother”.
From that point onwards Kennedy was quickly accepted into the anarchist/direct action fraternity, gaining access to all the inner circles and informal networks necessary for him to carry on and step up his spying operations. Soon he was involved in all manner of actions, including protests at the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as well as missions in Iceland and Germany - where he used his climbing skills to hang banners from pylons.
When asked about his bountiful finances, he made up a story about having been being a drugs courier - not a difficult thing for someone who had previous worked in the Met’s narcotics unit, buying and selling drugs so as to garner evidence against dealers. As for his regular disappearances for extended periods, when he was actually attending police briefings/debriefings and the like, he just said that he had to visit his brother in the United States.
The perfect secret agent? Maybe too perfect. Kennedy’s undoing came in April 2009, when the police carried out what is thought to be the biggest pre-emptive raid on environmental campaigners in UK history. This saw hundreds of officers invading the Iona independent school in Sneinton, Nottingham, and arresting 114 campaigners for “conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass” - they also seized “specialist equipment” alleged to be linked to the planned protest at nearby Ratcliffe-on-Sea. Kennedy, of course, had tipped off the police about the ‘secret’ Sneinton meeting.
However, his cover was obviously so convincing that the police mistook him for one of the climate change campaigners (well, he looked just like an anarchist, after all) and he ended up being punched and kicked by five officers - the result being head wounds, a broken finger and a prolapsed disc. Unsurprisingly, the episode left Kennedy bitter - not just because he had been beaten black and blue by his supposed colleagues, but because his superiors banned him from suing the police for compensation. Not illogically, they pointed out that if he were to do that it would blow his cover for good - which “pissed me off”, said Kennedy.
But the damage had been done, with some group members finally becoming suspicious of Kennedy - despite the world of good that his beating at the hands of the police must have done for his credibility. However, in October 2010 Kennedy was confronted by some of the activists after they found documents which revealed his true identity. He admitted to being a police officer, but said he had left the force after the April 2009 raid - which in fact seems to be true. Kennedy then disappeared, hated by his former comrades - who rightfully felt “violated”, “betrayed” and “sickened” - and distrusted by his bosses in the police force, who thought he had become a distinct liability, if not effectively a ‘double agent’ working against them. Kennedy himself has declared that his former employers had “left him hung out to dry”- which is doubtless true.