Update 21 February. Not just lobbying, also spying! That’s what I wrote yesterday – E.ON did not only lobby the government for harsh sentences, they both spied on the climate activists as well and exchanged intelligence between them. Mark Kennedy was just one of many players in this game. Within a few hours of publishing my blog, EDF sued @NoDashForCash £5m in damage claims for the cost of occupying a West Burton chimney. Again, there is evidence of spying, even more so, EDF France was effectively convicted for hacking the computer network of Greenpeace UK.
The connection between the gathering of intelligence and corporate counter-strategy is at the heart of my book Secret Manoeuvres. A corporation does not spy on its critics just to know what is going on: it does so to be prepared and to defend itself!
The joint efforts to undermine protest are worrying. Adam Ramsay came to the same conclusion in his Bright Green blog today, I could not have put it better:
What we are up against is not one company. The line between corporation and state is greyer and greyer as previously public companies turn round and eat their former owners. We are up against the entwined power of a growing energy/state complex: an ever stronger network which is squeezing the democracy out of our country and the life out of our planet – or, at least, which will if we let them.
Not just lobbying, also spying!
Energy giant E.ON repeatedly lobbied the government over the sentencing of activists disrupting the company’s power plants, pressing for ‘dissuasive sentencing to discourage similar such incidents in the future’, the Guardian revealed this week .
The lobbying involved the highest echolons: the chairman and CEO of E.ON UK at the time and the then-energy secretary Ed Miliband and his staff, details released to Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information act show. The two met after the lax sentencing of eco-activists engaged in direct action at Kingsnorth, on the day a group of environmentalists would be sentences for aggravated trespass at Ratcliffe-on Sour – yet another coal-powered station owned by E.ON.
However, this high level meeting was just the final stage of close cooperation between the energy company and the government. The signs of joint efforts to undermine environmental protest began to emerge a few years earlier.
Exchange of information started in the run-up to the demonstration at Kingsnorth, in April 2009. Civil servants and E.ON security officials shared intelligence about Climate Camp plans for the proposed site of a new coal-fired power station in north Kent.
Documents released to the Liberal Democrats through FOI show that intelligence passed to the energy firm by officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) included detailed information about the movements of protesters and their meetings.
The information came from ‘the Metropolitan police intelligence sources’ and from the Police National Information and Coordination Centre (PNICC), which gathers national and international intelligence for emergency planning. E.ON in return passed its planning strategy for the protest.
David Howarth MP, who obtained the emails, said they suggested BERR had attempted to politicise the police, using their intelligence to attempt to disrupt a peaceful protest. He told the Guardian back then:
It is as though BERR was treating the police as an extension of E.ON’s private security operation. The question is how did that [police] intelligence get to BERR? Did it come via the Home Office or straight from police? And once they’d got this intelligence, what did they do with it?
Part of that question was answered when Mark Kennedy was exposed early 2011. He infiltrated the environmental direct action movement for seven years. The (mild) convictions in the Ratcliffe case were eventually declared unsafe and overturned because the police had withheld Kennedy’s recordings of meetings preparing the occupation of the plant.
But Mark Kennedy was not the only one spying.
In her research for Spinwatch, Till Gifford exposed how E.On and other energy giants hired Vericola, a UK-based private security firm to gather intelligence on activist groups. According to its chief executive Rebecca Todd, it is a ‘business risk management company’ offering a ‘bespoke’ service to clients ‘regarding potential threats’ to their businesses.
As Tilly explaines in her blog:
In what can be called a career-defining blunder in February 2011, Todd accidentally emailed the names of her clients to the Climate Camp for Action. Subsequently, email traces of Vericola’s agents have been found in networks working on issues of airport expansion to new coal-fired power stations such as Climate Camp for Action, the Campaign Against Climate Change, London Rising Tide and Art not Oil. They have also been detected in the Campaign Against the Arm Trade and No New Nuclear group.
Responding to the Guardian, E.ON said it had hired Vericola on an ad hoc basis and only for publicly available information. The spokesman added that if Todd and her colleagues had obtained private information, they had done so ‘under their own steam’.
Another energy giant, Scottish Power, also hired Vericola. The leaked documents exposed Gordon Irving emailing the company, gathering intelligence on the Climate Camp campaigns. Irving was a senior officer who worked for Special Branch for 30 years before becoming director of security for Scottish Power in 2001.
E.ON also admitted to have hired Global Open a company that keeps a “discreet watch” on protest groups for clients. Global Open was set up in 2001 by Rod Leeming, yet another Special Branch officer. Until he left the police in 2001, he admits he regularly infiltrated undercover operatives into protest groups in his role as head of the Animal Rights National index (ARNI, a secret section of Special Branch). The animal rights movement subsequently became one of the main focuses of NETCU, the APCO unit policing “domestic extremism”. He told the Guardian that the company only advises firms on security and insists Global Open does not infiltrate activist groups.
And this brings us back to Mark Kennedy. He worked for the secret units of the APCO, the Association of Chief Police Officers. And he tried to set up shop as a corporate spy under the wings of Global Open. There is so much more to uncover.
The corporate security agencies and private spies involved in collecting and analysing activist intelligence – and in the subsequent (covert) actions – do not hesitate to use connections with former colleagues or friends. The result is an informal and mostly invisible circuit of information exchange through what used to be called the old boy network, (male and female today).
The force of former police and intelligence staff now working for big business is a pertinent example of why labels such as ‘conflict of interests’ no longer suffice. Operating on both sides of the public-private revolving door, they continue to work to further a shared agenda. Their goals, as well as the political networks involved, urgently need to be mapped out and made transparent.
What we are looking at here is a grey area of cooperation between corporate power and the government spying on activists, with the intention to undermine protest.
In retrospect it is intriguing to see that in the Ratcliffe case, despite the high level lobbying, the Nottingham Crown Court was quite mild, and that the judge was unusually outspoken in his praise for the commitment of the protesters to their cause. The Court accepted the defence that closing down the plant was justified by the harm its operation did the planet. Passing sentence, a mixture of community orders and conditional discharges, Judge Jonathan Teare said the defendants had acted with “the highest possible motives”.