Saturday, 22 June 2013


Amongst the newspaper revelations of the truly vast quantities of personal communications that are hoovered up electronically by the US National Security Agency and by our very own GCHQ at Cheltenham (neighbours of the Ladies' College and no slouch at these things) comes, almost predictably, first the official assurance that our GCHQ "scrupulously" observes the law and secondly the unofficial insider's assurance that the "analysts" are not actually sitting down with a cup of tea and a biscuit to listen in on your two-hour conversation with your granny. No, this monument of electronic data is sifted by computers for tell-tale signs of suspect terrorists or serious criminals who are about to blow up your granny, rob her of her life savings and radicalise her pussycat.

Nevertheless the stuff is there, cosily within the security service's reach and any individual in the future who for any reason became the object of the state's ssupicion or dislike could find themselves hideously exposed.

Elsewhere in the same newspaper is the revelation of the fact that yet another long-term police insider mole, who penetrated an environmental protest group, in this case Greenpeace London, in between fathering a few children in his relationships with female activists, had a major role in writing the pamphlet for which McDonald's spent years and millions in the famous McLibel case prosecuting the two other authors and therby trashing their own reputation.

One remembers other instances where police or perhaps security surveillance has been focussed on apparently harmless individuals (never mind that they were also innocent ones) in the most doggedly persistent and trivialising manner. It would seem that the characteristics of the Stasi are the natural tendency when the state begins to spy on its own citizens. Why should it be any different when it is done with computers rather than hidden microphones and binoculars?

Meanwhile, in this topsy-turvy world, we hear that the arch spy has filed espionage charges against Edward Snowden.

Postscript - information gathering:

Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer turned whistleblower, said his superiors wanted him to find "dirt" that could be used against members of the Lawrence family, in the period shortly after Lawrence's racist murder in April 1993.

He also said senior officers deliberately chose to withhold his role spying on the Lawrence campaign from Sir William Macpherson, who headed a public inquiry to examine the police investigation into the death.

Francis said he had come under "huge and constant pressure" from superiors to "hunt for disinformation" that might be used to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder. He posed as an anti-racist activist in the mid-1990s in his search for intelligence.

"I had to get any information on what was happening in the Stephen Lawrence campaign," Francis said. "They wanted the campaign to stop. It was felt it was going to turn into an elephant.

"Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns."

Postscript 2:

Beyond the detail of the operation of the programme, there is a larger, long-term anxiety, clearly expressed by the UK source: "If there was the wrong political change, it could be very dangerous. All you need is to have the wrong government in place. It is capable of abuse because there is no independent scrutiny."