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Opinion

Spies like us: could someone you know be an MI5 agent?

28 Mar 2023 5 minute read
MI5 HQ Thames House. Photo by Fred Dawson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Hayden Williams

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.

Safeguards

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.

History

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.

Infiltration

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?”

Control

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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Stephen Morris
10 months ago

Certainly the most plausible explanation for what’s happened to Plaid Cymru over the last 20 years, and for what happened to YesCymru in 2021.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
10 months ago

That is the SIS or MI6 building, MI5 is at Thames House just one bridge downriver.

No wonder their mail goes astray.

Rhian Davies
Rhian Davies
10 months ago

Well perhaps this explains why Wales seems to be awash with drugs, because M15 are spying on the wrong people. The true destructive threat to this country is drugs surely? If MFI put more energy into finding out who is behind supplying drugs we’d all be alot safer, and tax-payers money would be better-spent surely?

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
10 months ago
Reply to  Rhian Davies

Don;t be so sure. The British State and its operatives have often used drugs to its own ends, whether disrupting communities, colonising entire countries, undermining regimes. Hell, they even tacitly permit drugs into those institutions under their closest watch: the prison system. British prisons are awash with drugs as a means of control within their walls.

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
10 months ago

First, the spies infiltrate the targeted group, then they gather intel and then when that intel file reaches a certain level of clarity they use divide-and-rule tactics to splinter, hinder and possibly even disable the group’s activities…. Their favourite tactic at the moment is the same one they are using in the media: use a minority group (current favourite: transwomen) to breed enmity amongst members. In YexCymru it was those who suddenly decided there was no place for trans rights in an Independent Cymru. Read the last chapter of the Art of War, most spying, even today is based on… Read more »

defaid
defaid
10 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

re. YesCymru, I never doubted it. The source of dissent seemed obvious, right from when the first bickering started.

It’s easier to believe than to think and easier to hate than to cooperate, and most people are happiest being led by whomever shouts loudest.

This works in the most insidiously trivial ways. Herd mentality trumps team play every time. Dump a load of likes on a comment and everyone will support the poster.

The converse is also true.

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
10 months ago
Reply to  defaid

Were these dissenters on the left or the right? Bolsheviks I am guessing.

defaid
defaid
10 months ago
Reply to  Ivor Schilling

Bolsheviks. lol.

Both, and neither.

Wales is broadly left wing and the independence movement has greater traction on that side of the spectrum. Starting a left-right fight might not have had much of an effect.

Worm’s Playbook, chapter 1: “If you’re trying to break up an organisation through its leadership, you need to get two sides fighting…”

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
10 months ago
Reply to  defaid

Its weird, but you are the first person I have heard who has not ascribed the kerfuffle, within YC, to far left elements, nor seen it as a left vs right ‘battle of minds’.

Ok, so if the fault lines did not lie along that axis, where?

defaid
defaid
10 months ago
Reply to  Ivor Schilling

Us and them, huh? Good & bad, black & white, left & right? You are the first person to have suggested it to me. Before that nasty saga got underway, what fault line existed? Every YC supporter I spoke with prior to it understood party politics and the ideology of governance to come after independence. The idea I’d wanted to put across is that any perceived ‘fault line’ was an artificial one deliberately inserted into people’s minds. I suspect the ‘far left elements’ you mentioned were just another attempt — through association — at painting Welsh politics, and particularly any… Read more »

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
10 months ago

…and check this, another reason to be independent of Westminster, from this morning’s Open Democracy email: “Dear Catherine Would you like an American spy-tech company owned by a billionaire Trump donor to have access to the most personal data about you? No? Well, if you live in England then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. We’ve just revealed that all NHS hospitals in the country have been ordered to share people’s confidential medical records with Palantir Technologies – a secretive Silicon Valley firm first funded by the CIA and co-founded by Peter Thiel, who has also funded Donald Trump. We’ve been at the forefront of reporting on health… Read more »

Another Richard
Another Richard
10 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

The Good Law Project loses about 80% of its cases, wasting a lot of judicial time along the way. It is however a very nice little earner for its founder, Jolyon Maugham KC, a tax specialist. https://labourpainsblog.com/2022/06/12/good-law-project-i-won/

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Giving money you can “ill afford” to try and reform a system you purportedly want to leave? More proof that you aren’t in favour of Welsh freedom, just a British reformer wanting to ride the wave of the indy movement.

hdavies15
hdavies15
10 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Perhaps one of 5’s agents provocateur or saboteurs.

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Nah. Just philosophically confused enough to appear like one. A simulacrum, to get a bit Frankfurtish for a moment 😉😂

defaid
defaid
10 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Genuine question:

Can one not support both a fairer Britain and an independent Wales?

I’ve been away for some time and am not up to speed with character development among the regulars.

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago
Reply to  defaid

Croeso nol, bugail y comment section – sorry for a long reply, but I think this point is important to address fully. It’s a complex issue, depending on ones interpretation of ‘support’, and the degree it is applied. Broadly, if a person seems to regularly rail against the very movements pushing for independence, only ever seem to talk about Westminster-based issues, and only ever regards a specific ‘type’ of independent Wales as being preferable (with either tacit or explicit refusal of any other positions – “my indy or no indy”) to what extent are they not using indy as a… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by CJPh
defaid
defaid
10 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Diolch am y croeso. Neges hir yn wir — mae hi di cymryd dipyn o amser i mi ddeall (fel y Borg… cymathu?) pob pwynt. Dyma ateb rhwy tamaid hirach. Maddeuwch i mi. In total ignorance of 12 months’ correspondence through comments, I thought this after reading your reply. Those ifs go a long way. What if the UK government were to offer a referendum on Wales’ future (I’m keeping this necessarily vague) but Cardiff refused? What if, after such disillusionment, England voted Lib Dem and Starmer refused to countenance any freedom for Llafur? The superficial aspect of those who… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago
Reply to  defaid

yeah, what he said…

Gwnai ateb yn fy fasiwn arferol – hir – pan wy ddim ar fin cwmpo allan o nghadair yn trio aros ar ddihun. Ma’ safon y chat wedi codi a gostwng, ond ma’ ‘na lot o fots (a lot o bob bot-aidd, sh’fod) wedi bod o gwmpas ma’n ddiweddar. Sa’ i’n siwr pam yn union – falle ChatGPT wedi mynd yn rogue?

Another Richard
Another Richard
10 months ago

The use of the wrong picture for the MI5 HQ doesn’t give one much confidence in the article. Neither does the inaccurate reference to the European Convention on Human Rights, which remains in force in the UK as it is a Council of Europe rather than an EU instrument.

Hayden
Hayden
10 months ago

You’ve made a factual error too: the writer didn’t supply the photograph.

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
10 months ago

It’s about time to turn the tables and infiltrate these institutions.

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago

Now THIS may be a bot. How do you feel about el Che’s tenure as chief executor of homosexuals in Cuba? ‘Work will make you a man’ read the sign above the camp, but senor Guevara preferred ‘a bullet to the back of the head will set you free’. Looks good on a £19.99 tshirt made by Chinese slave-labourers though, right? Afiach.

Che Guevara's Fist
Che Guevara's Fist
10 months ago
Reply to  CJPh

Oh, that old chestnut spouted by right wing idiots. Never gets old, does it.

Try parroting some other nonsense rhetoric, you sound boring with that one.

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