The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill is in its third sitting, with a fourth day of  committee stage scheduled for December 10.

Should this bill become law, it would provide additional legal protection for agents of the state who commit crimes whilst undercover.


A ‘license to kill’?

Organisations such as Amnesty International and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign have expressed their concerns about the details of the bill, and what crimes it could allow — going as far as claiming that it could
give undercover agents the ‘license to kill.’

The government have stressed that this bill does not cover all and any crimes, stating that it would only apply to law-breaking which is done:

‘in the interests of national security, preventing or detecting crime or disorder, or the economic well-being of the UK.’

The debate around the bill has largely focused on these legal grey areas, with disagreement as to whether there is sufficient safeguarding against intelligence agents carrying out crimes as gruesome as murder or torture.

Any type of bill which seeks to extend police and state power should face the utmost scrutiny. After all, these are the bodies that decide how much influence the state gets to exercise over our individual lives. The result is either   increased or reduced accountability.

But with this particular bill, one which seeks to broaden undercover police powers, we must understand
not just what powers would be granted, but also how they would be used. For example; how would they be applied when it comes to surveillance and infiltration of certain political groups in the UK? More importantly, how might they be abused?

There are numerous known cases of abuses of power by undercover agents in the past — some involving officers forming sexual and romantic relationships with those involved in the political groups they infiltrated. In one famous case, an agent went as far as having a child with their victim.

So far 12 women have received financial compensation from the police for this very behaviour. We also now know that undercover agents have manipulated evidence relating to those they were spying on. Evidence which led to the wrongful conviction or prosecution of at least 50 political activists.

 A bias towards left-wing groups?

In an open and free democracy, we should be very concerned about how political organisations are being covertly policed and disrupted by agents of the state, as this poses a clear threat to the very principle and functioning of free political organisation.

Thanks to The Undercover Research Group, in conjunction with The Guardian we have a better idea of the sheer number of cases of police surveillance of political groups in the UK since the 1960s. Using multiple sources of data, including that from the Undercover Police Inquiry, they have started compiling a database of the different surveillance operations, categorised by the type of organisation in question — which can be found here.

What is immediately striking is that out of the 249 incidents so far recorded (from a known 1000+) of police surveillance of political groups, there are only 5 cases of infiltration of far-right groups, consisting of only 3 separate organisations.

It should be extremely concerning that based on the evidence, the police seem to be disproportionately targeting left-wing and progressive groups — despite seemingly little evidence to suggest that these groups pose any greater threat to the public or national security. After all, by their own admission, intelligence agencies are more concerned with far-right groups when it comes to violence and terrorism — with far-right terrorists making up one-fifth of all those currently in prison under terrorism charges. This begs the question as to what the motives for such heavy policing of left-wing groups and the like are?

The data suggests that the police are throwing more resources into tackling animal rights and socialist groups, than they are at fighting hate and fascism. This creates the impression that their priority is to survey those
who challenge state institutions and existing power structures, than it is to watch those who abuse and attack marginalised members of our society.

Another good question to ask is whether the police survey these organisations, at least partly, due to their own  political allegiances and / or the state’s political position?

After all, the police rely on the state for funding and power. For this reason, it is not unreasonable to think that they are at least partially subjected to the will of the government. It is also not mere conjecture that the police use undercover work to protect interests other than that of the public. From what is now known, at least 18 grieving families who were campaigning for justice from the police, were spied on by undercover officers. These operations were carried out so the police could watch their own backs, rather than to
promote the public good.

There is a real possibility that undercover police, either of their own volition or by state directive, are disrupting left-wing and progressive politics in the UK. The big question therefore is whether we should be seeking to pass bills which strengthen these undercover powers and give legal cover to otherwise illegal activities.

We should be anything but complacent when faced with the knowledge that the police are using public money to actively disrupt left-wing and progressive politics, no matter what your own political-leanings may be.