Last month brought the revelation that at least four undercover police officers had been operating within the environmental and anti-capitalist movements in Britain for several years.
It began when it was revealed that Mark "Flash" Stone (played by PC Mark Kennedy) had not only infiltrated the movement to disrupt operations at E.ON UK's Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham, but had been a key organiser of the protest. This was followed by "peace activist" Lynn Watson ("Officer A"), who lasted five years in the role, and then Mark Jacobs ("Officer B"), who played a heavy-drinking Brighton anarchist. The final character to lose his role was Jim "The Van" Sutton, who drove for Reclaim the Streets and was played by Jim "The Cop" Boyling. And these actors don't come cheap - Kennedy alone cost taxpayers £1.75 million.
This is another stark example of the contemptible role the state plays in holding down resistance to the whims of capital. The main beneficiaries of the espionage seem to be energy companies responsible for polluting our planet. It would also seem that several of these spies attempted to encourage more extreme courses of action - pushing activists towards just the sorts of activities the officers were supposedly deployed to prevent.
One key scandal has been the use of sexual relationships with activists as a means of extracting information. Boyling went as far as marrying his "target". Jon Murphy, spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers, the private group which until this scandal broke organised these operations, claimed, "It is never acceptable under any circumstances...for them to engage in sex with any subject they come into contact with." So there's nothing morally dubious about forming fake long-term non-sexual relationships, then. But another "Officer A" (no relation), who was involved in anti-fascist activities in the mid-1990s and who admitted to sleeping with several female activists, claimed this tactic was tacitly supported: "When your target is a man, it is just a matter of becoming his best friend. If your target is a woman, that becomes impossible... If someone started talking about getting good information from a female target, we all knew there was only one way that could have happened. They had been sleeping with them."
Spies in the movement are not a new phenomenon. In 1912 Roman Malinovsky began working undercover for the Russian secret police inside the Bolsheviks. He became leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies in the Duma (the parliament set up by the tsar) and was close to Lenin. His operation was limited largely to feeding copies of Lenin's correspondence to the state, which led to numerous arrests. But his initial goal of splitting the Bolsheviks failed. This was as a result of the centralised democracy of the party which gave little opportunity for individuals to escape accountability.
Tsarist Russia made no claims to be the sort of liberal democracy we supposedly live in today. In these recent examples the state can't even rely on its favoured excuse of protecting the public from terrorism - the best argument its defenders have managed to cobble together is that any disruption to power stations would cause inconvenient power outages. But from Northern Ireland to anti-fascism, the British state has used these techniques, illustrating the lengths to which it will go to prevent disruption to the smooth running of the system.
The important thing here is not to become paranoid. When confronted with this sort of infiltration it can be tempting to look to using small, secretive groups to keep away from the state's prying eyes. But as discussed elsewhere in this magazine, the key to success for any movement is open discussion and mass involvement. The worst that could happen would be for distrust to infect our movement, leading to divisions on our side and, at worst, us looking inwards at ourselves rather than outwards to the world we seek to change. Besides, those infiltrators who attempt to subvert mass campaigns will have far less opportunity to do so as they are but a few voices among many thousands of equals.