On the eve of what will probably be the biggest demonstration seen in the UK for many years, it is probably a good time to give a little blog space over to looking at the role of Forward Intelligence Teams and the various intelligence gathering strategies that will operate on such massive events.
Intelligence gathering will not start on the day. As well as monitoring websites and social networking (twitter, facebook etc), the police will have been using more intrusive surveillance mechanisms, such as monitoring phone calls, reading e-mails or getting intelligence through undercover cops.
Once thought to be just activist paranoia, we now know for certain that the police are operating undercover officers within political groups. We also know that as well as passing on information and identifying ‘ringleaders’, these cops can also be engaged in active ‘disruption’, creating divisions and arguments, and sabotaging plans and structures.
The extent of police surveillance is not known. Groups that can be categorised as ‘domestic extremist’ will clearly be targeted, and this will include radical student groups, left wing and anarchist groups, and initiatives like uk uncut. Muslim organisations are kept a close eye on through the snooping charter known as the ‘prevent strategy’. Whether similar strategies are deployed against trade unions, civil liberties organisations or mainstream political groups is very hard to assess.
Certainly, on the march itself, those walking in an orderly fashion behind their trade union banner may not notice much in the way of police surveillance, and may wonder what all the fuss is about. They will probably be reassured that only ‘troublemakers’ get hassle from FIT teams.
The FIT teams will probably, if things go to form, be focusing their attentions on ‘feeder marches’, student groups and any other ‘radical’ blocks that form on the day. They will be out looking for ‘key individuals’, organisers, peer group leaders or even just those who are outspoken and passionate. They will be gathering intelligence and photos to add to their databases, and conversely using intelligence from their databases to hassle, intimidate or harass ‘key individuals’.
Intelligence, good, bad or indifferent, will be used to decide on public order strategy. Whether to restrict movement, kettle, impose a s60 order, or go in with batons and horse hooves flying. The police no longer respond to events, they anticipate. More and more, policing depends on what they think people might be going to do.
Of course, ‘good protesters’ like the TUC tell the police exactly what their intentions are, what they are planning, and where they are going. That may be fine for the TUC, but not every political group wants to be an active part of the policing of its own demonstration. Many prefer to participate in protest that doesn’t have to be authorised by the head of public order policing.
This doesn’t make them ‘bad protesters’, and it should not mean the police have a free hand to move in with undercover cops, surveillance cameras and quasi-military manoeuvres, although this is frequently what happens. Modern policing, with its emphasis on being ‘intelligence led’, is becoming ever more controlling, and that is not good news for anyone.