Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Special Branch spying on CND

Threat of peaceful protest - Hunting out low people in high places; 
Solomon Hughes argues that there are striking parallels between the state's attitude toward climate camp protesters at Kingsnorth and anti-Vietnam war protesters of the 1960s

 Solomon Hughes
First published - Morning Star
August 15, 2008 Friday

The news that ministers were paying millions so that thousands of police could harass the climate camp protesters at Kingsnorth power station sounded familiar.
Police accused protesters of stockpiling knives and they ran midnight searches, grabbing all kinds of non-threatening stuff from the campers and generally harassing the protesters.
As I have discovered through a series of official documents, ministers and police reacted to the 1968 anti-Vietnam war demos with similar, if stronger, hysteria.
They accused protesters of sneaking "acid-filled eggs" in their lunchboxes, mobilised the "bomb squad" in case demonstrators hurled infernal devices, discussed using troops against protesters and leaned on telly and newspaper bosses to make sure that demonstrators were portrayed unsympathetically even when they were getting a kicking from the cops.
This shows two things. First, that there was a time in history when even the wildest protesters brought lunchboxes along to help them fight the powers that be. Second, that ministers and security officials love to talk about threats such as terrorism and violence but use their powers most enthusiastically against legitimate protesters.
In a similar vein, papers that I received under the Freedom of Information Act show that the government wanted surveillance on CND from the 1960s onward.
Special Branch officers were sent to dozens of CND meetings. Veteran political activist Walter Wolfgang came to national attention in 2005 when he was thrown out of the Labour conference and briefly arrested under anti-terror legislation for shouting "nonsense" at Jack Straw. He appears in Special Branch files long before then.
In 1962, a member of the anti-terrorist police sat in the audience and wrote down Wolfgang's speech "on the latest developments in nuclear strategy and advice to CND speakers to assist them to 'put over' their arguments to the public."
Special Branch also opened a file on him. Officers filled in dozens of reports about the growing political campaign and the report notes that "CND and other pacifist literature was on sale, copies of which are already in Special Branch."
The descriptions of worthy but uneventful meetings show that this political surveillance was the worst kind of wasting police time. At a May 1962 meeting in Fitzroy Square, "the proceedings ... were orderly throughout." In High Wycombe, "the meeting was orderly and there were no incidents" and, elsewhere, "the proceedings terminated at 6pm and those taking part left the Town Hall quietly."
Each report ends with "names checked against Special Branch files." It seems that participating in "orderly" meetings and going home "quietly" were the spur for a major police operation and the keeping of files.
The police, with ministerial direction, thought that keeping tabs on protesters was one of their top priorities in 1962 and they think the same way 46 years later.
Even in the 1980s, when Special Branch was dealing with a very real threat from the IRA, they found time to send dozens of officers to CND meetings.
The thick wadge of files from the 1980s include dozens of reports, including surveillance of demonstrations with less than 20 participants.
At one very large 1983 CND demo, officers went as far as counting how many black people had attended, observing that "very few non-white faces were seen" and, "of those coloured persons seen, most were present as supporters of political (extremist) or trade union groups."
The point is that the amount of police attention given to protesters depends on the political impact of the demonstrators, not the imaginary threats of "violence"

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