New revelations published in an excellent article in today’s Schnews show police and/or government employees actively disrupting activist websites, posting comments designed to “sow mistrust, demoralise movements and to incite violence and illegality”.
We understand well over one hundred posts have been made to Indymedia UK, the activists open publishing news website, made by anonymous posters hiding behind the ‘303 gateway’ – part of the Government Secure Intranet (GSI). The GSI was set up to provide secure communications between government bodies, but appears also to be used to hide the origin of defamatory, misleading and malicious comments made on a number of activist websites.
Fitwatch has also been the target of posts from IP: 188.8.131.52, gateway-303.energis.gsi.gov.uk, leading to serious questions regarding how many political sites and blogs have been targeted.
Some posts have been deliberately provocative and divisive. One bleated, “Still a bit worried about the FITWATCH policy – is ALL fit activity to be opposed? Or is it only that we disagree with – hence not opposing FIT activity against the EDL?”
Other comments have publicised legal action taken against Fitwatch activists, presumably in an attempt to undermine our support. During one case, three people convicted for obstructing police cameras found the news of the verdict posted before they had even left court. Similarly, a Fitwatch activist deported from Copenhagen after being caught up in the mass (unlawful) preventative arrests during the COP 15 protests, had the news – along with her name – posted on the then unmoderated site from the 303 gateway address. The post was removed by Fitwatch in order to protect her privacy.
The latest comment from gateway 303 on Fitwatch, on 20 December 2010, crows that some of the Ratcliffe defendants – subjects of surveillance by undercover cop, Mark Kennedy – had been found guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, and asks people to change/retract their comments.
The content and style of the posts, on both sites, strongly suggests they are part of a campaign of disruption by the police and home office, aimed at protest groups. The three ‘domestic extremism’ units, currently headed up by ACPO, are known to have several ‘disruption’ techniques in their armoury, including the use of undercover police officers. Given much protest organising and discussion now occurs over the internet, it is logical the same tactics of disruption and manipulation used by undercover operatives in activist meetings and communities is extended to internet debates.
Although the exact origin of these posts is unknown, we strongly suspect the ACPO domestic extremism units are behind them – and at least one was signed NETCU. However, given the cloaking nature of the gateway, there may be other police and government units involved in the monitoring and disruption of ‘extremist’ websites like Indymedia and Fitwatch
Clearly the state feels able to act without restraint when dealing with political activism and dissent. Increasingly protest activity is being treated in a similar way to terrorist activity – extremism that must be monitored, and disrupted. We must be vigilant to these attempts at subversion and develop strategies to deal with them. We are still investigating how many sites have been targeted by the gateway – please get in touch if you have further examples and we will collate the information.
We’d love to know the origin of these posts, who wrote them, and what the objectives of the operation were. Anyone from NCDE care to respond?