Think about all the reasons that you are an activist. Probably you are active because you want to improve conditions for workers, animals and/or the environment – you want to fight injustice and oppression – you want to make the world a better place not controlled by government or corporate rule. Your reasons for becoming activist, however, probably don’t include a desire to get arrested, have your home searched, and your life turned upside down.
As activism heats up in North America and Europe, activist communities are starting to realize that unless they start taking proper precautions, many more people will end up in jail than already have. Law enforcement and multinational corporations have shown extreme interest in not only prosecuting activists – but prosecuting them to the fullest extents possible. This has meant longer-than-average jail sentences and more severe bail and probation conditions.
Even activists who are not technically engaged in breaking the law should be versant on what we are up against as communities and how we can best deal with every-day security issues and threats. Activists must learn and practice safe & effective security practices in all aspects of their life.
The first step in recognizing security risks in a community is working towards creating a security culture. Below we have compiled some relevant materials and links that should be used in conducting security workshops and educating activists that you work with.
As our direct action movement becomes more effective, government harassment will only increase. To minimize the destructiveness of this government harassment, it is imperative that we create a “security culture” within our movement. Violations of security culture include behavior is inappropriate because it intensifies government harassment, jeopardizes the freedom of other activists, and destroys the trust within the movement.
COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND STATE REPRESSION
It was not that long ago that discussions about security culture were seen as not relevant to the vast majority of community organizers. As long as one didn’t “break the law” it was assumed that social freedoms in North America and Europe would allow for the expression of dissent without a rise in repression. A number of events have conspired since the late nineties to change the landscape of organizing considerably.
New legislation – the PATRIOT Act in the US and Bill C-36 in Canada – which have been sold to the public as required to fight the spectre of terrorism in a post-911 world, serve double-duty in giving the state new laws with which to crack down on internal dissent. A rise in state-hyped racist hysteria, has made community organizers from middle eastern origins (or other “suspicious” backgrounds), increasingly targets of incarceration without cause, and other abuse at the hands of governments eager to deflect attention from the real issues of failing economies and unpopular wars. In many countries, governments have enacted laws to make it illegal to work with overseas organizations now declared “terrorist” – putting at risk communities who have worked to support liberation fighters around the world.
It follows that those who fight to change the world will be met with resistance by those who do not want it changed. One does not have to participate in extralegal activities to raise the interest of state security forces (whether those be local, regional or national agencies). Security culture must no longer be thought of as merely the domain of those who might break unjust laws – but as something that is part of the organizing toolbox as a mechanism for community self-defense.
The guidelines presented here are designed to enhance your personal safety as well as the overall effectiveness of our movements. By adopting a security culture, we can limit or neutralize counterintelligence operations meant to disrupt our political organizing, be it mainstream or underground.
TOWARDS AN EXPANDED DEFINITION OF SECURITY CULTURE
Creating secure communities is about more than being educated about the state and its security forces. Fundamentally, it means creating working dynamics of respect, education and inclusion in all our work. Building strong communities that act in solidarity with one another is the best protection against infiltration, disruption and other conditions of repression.
So what is a security culture? It’s a culture where the people know their rights and, more importantly, assert them in all situations. Those who belong to a security culture also know what behaviour compromises security and are quick to work with people who exhibit insecure or oppressive behaviour. Security consciousness becomes a culture when a community as a whole adopts this awareness and demonstrates that those behaviours which violate security are unacceptable.
SECURITY CULTURE MEANS CHALLENGING OPPRESSION
Security culture is about more than just targeting specific behaviours in individuals such as bragging, gossiping or lying. It is also about checking movement behaviours and practices as a whole to ensure that oppressive practices aren’t feeding into intelligence operations being carried out against our community.
Within the histories of groups targeted by COINTELPRO (such as AIM and the BPP), and certainly within the animal rights and environmental movements, there are many example of how oppressive behaviours created conditions ripe for FBI manipulation.
Underlying sexism in some groups has meant that women trying to raise security concerns are not taken seriously, or (on the other end), are not suspected as informers simply because they are women. A tokenistic approach to recruitment has lead socialist organizations to bring in new members who fit their ‘ideal’ of what the working class should be – only have them to later turn out working for the British Home Office.
Obviously, our movements still have a lot of work to do before we have satisfactorily addressed issues of oppression – but what is important here is a recognition that oppressive behaviours feed into poor community security.
The following section was originally written for an audience engaged, or on the periphery of extralegal activity, and so focuses on “underground” groups. We would like to add that the same rules apply to discussions about individuals involved in or providing support groups considered “terrorist” by western governments (but who are in actual fact, liberation fighters at odds with US foreign policy). It is generally good practice to limit discussion about movement individuals where you are unsure what information about them is “public” knowledge.
As community organizers, a lot of activists like to verbally engage with each other and have no trouble spending hours discussing theory, tactics, and strategy. This is an essential part of building our analysis and work, but in some cases this can put ourselves or others in jeopardy.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
To begin with, there are certain things that are inappropriate to discuss. These things include:
- your own or someone else’s involvement with an underground group
- someone else’s desire to get involved with such a group
- asking others if they are a member of an underground group
- your own or someone else’s participation in any action that was illegal
- someone else’s advocacy for such actions
- your plans or someone else’s plans for a future action
Essentially, it is a bad idea to speak about an individual’s involvement (past, present or future) with illegal activities, or with activities that may raise the interest of the state (such as advocacy of certain groups or tactics). These are unacceptable topics of discussion regardless of whether they are rumor, speculation or personal knowledge.
Please note: this is not to say that it is incorrect to speak about direct action in general terms – just be sure that you don’t link individual activists to specific actions or groups. It is perfectly legal, secure and desirable that people speak out in support of all forms of resistance (though if you’re involved with illegal activity, it is probably best that you don’t openly advocate for breaking the law as that alone can raise state interest in your life).
There are only three times that it is acceptable to speak about specific actions that may be against the law. These are the only situations when it is appropriate to speak about your own or someone else’s involvement or intent to commit an illegal act.
The first situation would be if you were planning an action with other members of your small group (your “cell” or “affinity group”). These discussions should never take place over the Internet (e-mail), phone line, through the mail, or in an activist’s home or car, as these places and forms of communication are frequently monitored. The only people who should hear this discussion would include those who are actively participating in the action. Anyone who is not involved does not need to know and, therefore, should not know.
The second exception occurs after an activist has been arrested and brought to trial. If s/he is found guilty, this activist can freely speak of the actions for which s/he was convicted. However, s/he must never give information that would help the authorities determine who else participated in illegal activities.
The third exception is for anonymous letters and interviews with the media. This must be done carefully and without compromising security. Advice on secure communication techniques can be found at elsewhere on this site.
BOTTOM LINE SECURITY
If you are engaged in activity that is considered illegal, it is best to take a lesson from veteran activists of the direct action movements and only allow a select few to know about your activity. Those few people should consist of only the individuals who you are doing work and actions with and AND NO ONE ELSE!
The reason for these security precautions is obvious: if people don’t know anything, they can’t talk about it. When activists who do not share the same serious consequences know who did an illegal direct action, they are far more likely to talk after being harassed and intimidated by the authorities, because they are not the ones who will go to jail. Even those people who are trustworthy can often be tricked by the authorities into revealing damaging and incriminating information. It is safest for all cell members to keep their involvement in the group amongst themselves. The fewer people who know, the less evidence there is in the long run.
SECURITY VIOLATING BEHAVIOURS
In an attempt to impress others, activists may behave in ways that compromise security. Some people do this frequently – they are habitually gossiping and bragging. Some activists say inappropriate things only when they consume alcohol. Many activists make occasional breaches of security because there was a momentary temptation to say something or hint at something that shouldn’t have been said or implied. In most every situation, the desire to be accepted is the root cause.
Those people who tend to be the greatest security risks are those activists who have low self-esteem and strongly desire the approval of their peers. Certainly it is natural to seek friendship and recognition for our efforts, but it is imperative that we keep these desires in check so we do not jeopardize the safety of other activists or ourselves. People who place their desire for friendship over the importance of the cause can do serious damage to our security.
The following are examples of security-violating behaviours:
- Lying: To impress others, liars claim to have done illegal actions. Such lies not only compromise the person’s security — as cops will not take what is said as a lie– but also hinders solidarity and trust.
- Gossip & Rumors: Some people think they can win friends because they are privy to special information. These gossips will tell others about who did what action or, if they don’t know who did it, guess at who they think did what actions or just spread rumors about who did it. This sort of talk is very damaging. People need to remember that rumors are all that are needed to instigate an investigation, or even lay charges. New anti-terrorist law in both Canada and the United States allows state security forces to carry out raids on individuals based on nothing more than hearsay evidence.
- Bragging: Some people who partake in illegal direct action might be tempted to brag about it to their friends. This not only jeopardizes the bragger’s security, but also that of the other people involved with the action (as they may be suspected by association). As well the people who s/he told can be charged as accessories after the fact.
- Indirect-Bragging: Indirect braggers are people who make a big production on how they want to remain anonymous, avoid protests, and stay “underground.” They might not come out and say that they do illegal direct action, but they make sure everyone within earshot knows they are up to something. They are no better than braggers, but they try to be more sophisticated about it by pretending to maintain security. However, if they were serious about security, they would just make up a good excuse as to why they are not as active, or why they can’t make it to the protest . Concealing sensitive information from even trusted comrades is far better than jeopardizing underground work.
SELF-EDUCATION TOWARDS LIBERATION
With the above information about security, it should be easier to spot those activists who compromise our movement’s security. So what do we do with people who display these behaviours? Do we shun or expel them from our groups and projects? Actually, no – not for the first security violation, at least.
The unfortunate truth is there are some security-ignorant people in the movement and others who have possibly been raised in a “scene” that thrives on bragging and gossiping. It doesn’t mean these people are bad, but it does mean they need to inform themselves and learn about personal and group security. Even seasoned activists make mistakes when there is a general lack of security consciousness in our groups. And that’s where those of you reading this can help. We must ALWAYS act to inform persons whose behaviour breaches security. If someone you know is bragging about doing an action or spreading security-compromising gossip, it is your responsibility to explain to her or him why that sort of talk violates security and is inappropriate.
You should strive to share this knowledge in a manner that encourages the person’s understanding and changes her/his behaviour. It should be done without damaging the person’s pride. Show your sincere interest in helping him/her to become a more effective activist. Keep your humility and avoid presenting a superior, “holier than-thou” attitude. Such an attitude can raise an individual’s defenses and prevent them from listening to and using the advice offered. The goal of addressing these issues with others is to reduce insecure behaviour, rather than showing how much more security-conscious you are.
Share your concerns and knowledge in private, so that the person does not feel as if they are being publicly humiliated. Addressing the person as soon as possible after the security violation increases effectiveness.
If each of us remains responsible for discussing security information with people who slip up, we can dramatically improve security in our groups and activities. When people recognize that lying, gossiping, bragging, and inappropriate debriefing damages both themselves and others, these behaviours will soon end. By developing a culture where breaches of security are pointed out and discouraged, all sincere activists will quickly understand.
DEALING WITH CHRONIC SECURITY PROBLEMS
So what do we do with activists who repeatedly violate security precautions even after being informed several times? Unfortunately for them, the best thing to do is to cut them loose. Discuss the issue openly and ask them to leave your meetings, basecamps and organizations. With law enforcement budgets on the increase and with courts handing down long sentences for political “crimes”, the stakes are too high to allow chronic security offenders to work among us.
By creating a security culture, we have an effective defense against informers and agents who try to infiltrate groups. Imagine an informer who, every time they ask another activist about their activities, receives information about security. It would frustrate the informer’s work. When other activists discovered that she/he continued to violate security precautions after being repeatedly informed, there would be grounds for isolating the person from our groups. And that would be one less informer for us to deal with!
ADOPT A SECURITY CULTURE NOW! Activists are restless and resistance is on the rise. Some people are adopting radical and confrontational tactics. The more we organize and are effective, the more police forces continue to escalate their activities against us. For direct action movements to continue, we need to consider our security more seriously. Good security should be made one of our strengths.
Informants, Infiltrators & Provocateurs
Infiltrators seek information on most radical groups. The return of mass mobilizations and radical actions in anti-globalization, anti-poverty, and anti-police brutality demonstrations, as well as declarations to continue struggling in the streets and underground has drawn attention from the state’s secret police. More infiltrators will be sent into our ranks to try to bribe, entice or manipulate individuals. The extent to which they are able to infiltrate our groups depends on our seriousness and responsibility in learning about, promoting, and working within a security culture.
Radical movements can learn to better identify covert enemies in our projects. Once identified, appropriate action is needed to undo, contain, or remove the danger.
This section is intended to arm you with information on how to spot and deal with informers, infiltrators, and provocateurs in our ranks.
WHO IS AN INFORMER?
There are actually two kinds of informers. The deliberate informer is an undercover agent on the payroll of government or industry. The second type is the activist-turned-informer. Both kinds try to infiltrate our ranks and are equally dangerous to our movements.
Let’s discuss the deliberate informers first. They are often difficult to identify. Informers can be of any age and any profile, but they do have a few discernible methods or operation, or ‘modus operandi’. These are:
The “hang around” type: they are persons who regularly show at meetings and actions but generally don’t get involved. They collect documents, listen to conversations and note who’s who. This observation role is relatively inactive.
The “sleeper” type: is similar to the “hang around” modus operandi, except that their absorption of information is used to activate their role at a later date.
The “novice” type: presents a somewhat more active role, but confines themselves to less prominent work. They don’t take initiative, but the work they do is valued. This helps them build trust and credibility.
The “super activist” type: they come out of nowhere and all of a sudden, they are everywhere. Whether it’s a meeting, protest, or an action, this person will be right in the thick of it. Keep in mind however that this can also be the mark of a new activist, whose enthusiasm and commitment is so strong that she/he wants to fight the power every minute of the day.
It should be said that with several of these modus operandi, the behaviour is hard to distinguish from a sincere new person’s involvement. How do we tell them apart? Well, a planted infiltrator will ask a lot of questions about the direct action groups, individuals and illegal activities. She/he may suggest targets and volunteer to do reconnaissance as well as take part in the action. Infiltrators also try to build profiles on individuals, their beliefs, habits, friends, and weaknesses. At the same time, infiltrators will shield their true selves from other activists.
Anyone who asks a lot of questions about direct actions isn’t necessarily an infiltrator, but they ARE someone you should be careful with. At the very least, they need to be informed about security issues. New activists should understand that direct action tactics can be risky (though some risks are worth taking!) and that asking a lot of questions endangers people. If the person persists in asking questions, there is a problem and appropriate measures must be taken. Activists who can’t understand the need for security should be kept away situations in which they might incriminate others.
Some types of infiltrators stay in the background and offer material support, other informants may have nothing to do with the group or action, but initially heard certain plans and tipped off the police. Among the more active types of infiltrators can be a gregarious person that quickly wins group trust. Some infiltrators will attempt to gain key forms of control, such as of communications/ secretarial, or finances. Other informants can use charm and sex to get intimate with activists, to better spy or potentially destabilize group dynamics.
Active infiltrators can also be provocateurs specializing in disruptive tactics such as sowing disorder and demoralizing meetings or demos, heightening conflicts whether they are interpersonal or about action or theory, or pushing things further with bravado and violent proposals. Infiltrators often need to build credibility; they may do this by claiming to have participated in past actions.
Also, infiltrators will try to exploit activist sensibilities regarding oppression and diversity. Intelligence organizations will send in someone who will pose as a person experiencing the common oppression of the particular activist group. For example, in the 1960’s, the Weather Underground (“Weathermen” – a white anti-imperialist armed struggle in the US) was infiltrated by an “ordinary Joe” informant with a working class image. Black war veterans were used to infiltrate the Black Panther Party.
A fresh example of police infiltration and manipulation tactics is that of Germinal, a group targeted for arrest two days prior to the April 2001 anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec City. Five months prior, the police set up a false transport company and specifically postered opportunities for employment in the vicinity of a Germinal member seeking employment. The trap worked. Tipped off by an initial informant, two undercover cops worked for four months in the group. This operation resulted in the media-hyped “dismantlement” of the group on the eve of the summit. Seven Germinal members were arrested, 5 of whom spent 41 days in preventive custody, only to be released under draconian bail conditions.
The police’s covert action was in part about dismantling the group, but it was also about creating a media/propaganda campaign to justify the police-state security for the summit.
What are some ways of looking into the possibility that someone is an informer? Firstly, unless you have concrete reasons or evidence that someone is an infiltrator, spreading rumours will damage the movement. Rumours that you do hear of should be questioned and traced back. A person’s background can be looked into, especially activism they claimed to have participated in, in other places. Do your contacts in those places know of the person, their involvement? Did problems ever come up? One important advantage of having links with far away places is that it makes it more difficult for informers to fabricate claims about their activities.
What are a person’s means of living? Who are her or his friends? What sorts of contradictions exist between their professed ideals and how they live? One of our strengths as activists is our ideas and values, our counterculture, our attitudes towards the dominant society. Our sincerity in discussing these things is also a way of learning about each other.
When planning for new actions, care must be taken concerning who is approached. As little as possible should be said about the actual action plan until a person’s political philosophy, ideas about strategy, and levels of risk they are willing to engage in have been discussed on an abstract basis. If there is a strong basis for believing this person might be interested in the action, then the general idea of an action can be run by them. Only when they have agreed to participate, do they come to the group to discuss action details.
During the trials of activists, police often reveal the kinds of information that they have gathered concerning our groups and activities. Note what revelations come out of these trials. What are the possible and likely sources of the information? Speak to persons that have been arrested and interrogated to see what they may have said to the police, or discussed in their jail cell.
Placing infiltrators in social justice and revolutionary movements is an established practice. It was done to the Black Panthers, AIM, the Front du Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), and the peace/ anti-war/and anti-nuclear movements on a large scale. Small groups, such as affinity groups, or working groups of larger more open organizations, need to be especially careful with new members. Direct action organizing is ideally done with longstanding, trusted members of the activist community.
This doesn’t mean that no one else should ever be allowed into these groups. On the contrary, if our movement is to continue to grow, new people should be welcome and recruited; we just need to keep security in mind and exercise caution at all times.
But possibly an even greater threat to our movements is the activist-turned-informer, either unwittingly or through coercion. The unwitting informer is the activist who can’t keep his/her mouth shut. If someone brags to you about what they’ve done, make sure this person never has any knowledge that can incriminate you, because sooner or later, the wrong person will hear of it. These activists don’t mean to do harm, but their bragging can be very damaging. It is your responsibility to instruct these people on the importance of security culture.
The other type of activist-informer is the person who cracks under pressure and starts talking to save his or her own skin. Many activists get drawn into situations they are not able to handle, and some are so caught up in the “excitement” that they either don’t realize what the consequences can be, or they just don’t think they’ll ever have to face them.
Keep in mind that the categories of “planted informer” and “activist-turned-informer” can, and have been blurred. In 1970, during the height of the FLQ’s activities, Carole de Vault – a young Parti Quebecois (PQ) activist was drawn to the FLQ, but then became a paid police agent. Her “activism” was with the PQ; she disagreed with the heavier FLQ actions since it threatened the “legitimate” work of the PQ. Her involvement with the FLQ was as a planted police informer.
KNOW YOUR OWN LIMITS
We have to know the possible consequences of every action we take and be prepared to deal with them. There is no shame in not being able to do an action because of responsibilities or circumstances that make it impossible for you to do jail time at this point in your life. As long as capitalism and all of its evils exist, there will be resistance. In other words, there will be plenty of great actions for you to participate in when your life circumstances are more favourable.
If others are dependent on you for support, you aren’t willing to lose your job, or drop out of school or ruin your future career, DON’T DO THE ACTION. If you are addicted to an illicit drug and/or have a lengthy criminal record, the cops will use this to pressure you for information. If you don’t feel capable of detoxing under interrogation and brutality, or doing a hell of a lot more time than your comrades, DON’T DO THE ACTION.
Make certain that you talk with others in your affinity group about situations that make you uncertain whether you should be involved in particular actions, especially those that are at a high risk of being criminalized.
Remember – there is no excuse for turning in comrades to the police – and those activists that do effectively excommunicate themselves from our movements. We must offer no legal or jail support to those activists who turn in others for their impact on our movement is far-reaching and can have devastating effects.
COVERT ACTION OTHER THAN INFILTRATION
Covert (or “Special”) Action from police and secret service is also done outside of the group, with or without infiltration. These efforts include: intimidation and harassment, blackmail and manipulation, propaganda, informing employers and security checks, as well as physical sabotage like theft and arson.
Intimidation and harassment can include visits from secret service agents, calling you or your partner by their first name on the street, thefts where obvious clues are left. Police will try to blackmail people if they want to recruit or neutralize them.
Police use propaganda in an attempt to poison the atmosphere and manipulate media and public opinion. In December 1971, when the FLQ was near its end and heavily infiltrated, the RCMP issued a false FLQ communique in the name of the “Minerve” cell. The communique adopted a hard-line position, denouncing the abandonment of terrorist action by a well-known activist, Pierre Vallieres, and urging the continuation of armed struggle.
A recent example of police manipulation through the media involved the arrest of a young Montreal man in April 2000. He was accused of threatening to blow up a police station. The article was well placed in the newspaper, and opened by identifying the accused as an activist with COBP, the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality. This information, which was completely false, originated from the police. Meanwhile, the accused man was being held in jail and could not be reached. COBP, with the help of a lawyer, pressured the newspaper to write a retraction. But the police insisted that the accused claimed he was with COBP and so the media, instead, focussed on this ‘controversy’. The accused, when finally reached, denied having claimed such a thing. And according to his lawyer, the prosecutor didn’t raise the issue.
In Genoa, Italy, police played an active covert role in trying to discredit black bloc anarchists during the July 2001 meeting of the G8. Several reports reveal that Italian police masked as black bloc members attacked demonstrators and small shops. With a lack of public information, the police help manipulate public discourse along the lines of “how do legitimate demonstrators isolate activist thugs?”
Slanderous propaganda can take the form of anonymous letters, or rumours aimed at the activist milieu. There are also examples where police will make uncorroborated, casual accusations to journalists that, to use two examples, a person is a drug dealer, or that at a demonstration, a person aimed a handgun at an officer. It is often for slanderous reasons that police charge activists with “weapons possession” for having a penknife, or charges of violence like “assault.”
The growth of the anti-globalization movement has been accompanied by renewed anarchist-scare propaganda on the part of authorities. Politicians and police attempt to massage public opinion, preparing people for a crack down, in order to legitimate the use of heavier methods of social control, exclusion and repression.
Manipulative disinformation spread through the media needs to be denounced as lies. There are activist-friendly lawyers who can help us demand retractions and corrections. Speak to the journalists involved, call them on their sloppy, dishonest work, expose their hypocrisy, and complain to the journalists’ ethics body. We can not rely on capitalist, private-media for any kind of fairness.
It is valuable for us to learn more about the covert actions of the police. There exists a long and documented history. Factual information about police covert activities also comes out as evidence presented in court. An important, too often neglected part of our strength is our knowledge of, and our protection from, police action against us.
(This material was produced by enemies of the Globalists with no connection to our Movement. We’ve only edited it very slightly. Here our interest is effective security methods NOT the ideology of the author(s), which New Resistance and Open Revolt may or may not be in agreement with. Either way we wish the author(s) the best and thank them for such quality work. Our interest in security measures should also NOT be misread to imply we are engaged in illegality in any way shape or form.)
To Be Continued.