Spies like us: could someone you know be an MI5 agent?
The UK government allows MI5 undercover operatives to illegally spy on lawful citizens.
These spies have more than likely already infiltrated the Welsh independence movement.
Clause 1 (5) of The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act of 2021 says that a “criminal conduct authorisation” is an “authorisation for criminal conduct in the course of, or otherwise in connection with, the conduct of a covert human intelligence source.”
In other words, these undercover spies — a.k.a. Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHISs) — are authorised to infiltrate social movements, using false identities, in order to keep law-abiding citizens under surveillance.
Though the Act was primarily designed to keep tabs on potential threats to national security (e.g. from Russia or China, or from potential terrorists), the UK government deliberately expanded the original Bill’s scope to include spying on any citizen or group they’re interested in.
Proposed amendments to the Bill, which were specifically intended to exclude trade unions from the reach of CHIS spying, were defeated, along with a number of other amendments which would have provided safeguards against the abuse of these powers.
The extraordinary Act, which is surely inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, has worrying implications for civil freedoms we largely take for granted.
Keir Starmer’s Labour Party abstained from voting at the second reading of the Bill, and so did not oppose the UK government’s authorisation of unlawful conduct by CHISs.
A second related Bill, Boris Johnson’s Online Safety Bill, is currently before the House of Lords.
This Bill seeks to weaken end-to-end encryption in the name of child safety and anti-terrorism; however, critics say the Bill will simply enable the government to carry out mass surveillance.
The passing of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act, along with the government’s recent attempts to get the Online Safety Bill passed, are signs that the British state is once again serious about spying on citizens.
The UK government has a long history of spying on its citizens, of course.
The recent TV series Sherwood is a dramatisation around the state’s known use of agents assuming new lives and identities to infiltrate coal mining communities during the miners’ strikes of the 1980s.
Though MI5’s interest in the labour movement waned after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of trade unions after Thatcher, spying on members of the public has clearly continued.
Disillusioned MI5 officer and whistleblower Cathy Massiter left no doubt MI5 had been abusing their powers, often carrying out wholly unnecessary political policing, unrelated to the ‘defence of the realm’.
MI5’s ‘Special Demonstration Squad,’ later known as the ‘Special Duties Squad’ (SDS), understandably investigated the Free Wales Army — but the Mitting enquiry revealed in 2020 that peaceful left-wing political groups, which posed no threat to public safety, were also infiltrated by SDS operatives.
SDS recruits would go deep undercover for years, equipped with false documents supporting fake identities.
They never visited police stations, but regularly reported information back to MI5 bosses whilst living in communities, passing themselves off as ardent political campaigners.
In 2006, the SDS was subsumed into SO15, Counter Terrorism Command.
Created in the same year, the ‘Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit’ (WECTU), which still operates in Wales today, is now presumably keeping a close eye on political activists involved with the Welsh independence movement.
Head of strategic development for Scottish independence think-tank Common Weal, Robin McAlpine, recently talked about government surveillance with Yes Cymru’s podcast host Sean Jobbins:
“The thing the British State does, it infiltrates bodies it has no place infiltrating, denies it, until twenty years later when it says, ‘oh that was terrible, we’re never going to do that again.’ So, it was anti-racist movements in the 1950s, it was the Labour movement in the 1960s, it was the trade unions in the 1970s and the 1980s, it was the environmental movement in the 1990s, it’s still the environmental movement now — there’s been infiltration of social movements since time immemorial.”
Mr McAlpine said he believed government agents were eavesdropping on his family’s landline phone calls back in the 1980s:
“My mum was [a] . . . Scottish political activist on the ground. Let me just put it like this, growing up in the 1980s, most phone calls you’d get a click 20 or 30 seconds after. So don’t kid on that we weren’t under observation from the British State, that’s what they do . . . do you think that’s ever not the case?”
The present UK government’s agenda to “take back control” is a poorly disguised resuscitation of Anglo-Imperialistic pride, and as such, it will surely clash with the Welsh independence movement.
The UK government can spy on the Welsh and Scottish independence movements, and it may well seek to confound them — but it nonetheless cannot stop them.
The legalising of state spying should concern all UK citizens, but especially activists working for an independent Wales.
However, gaining independence, and rejoining the European Union, would be one way to ensure the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights are restored for Wales.
Hayden Williams is a New Zealand based journalist, a member of Plaid Cymru, and a member of the New Zealand Labour Party.
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