Activism, State Surveillance

Undercover police officer co-wrote leaflet in McLibel case.

The McLibel case was the famous case that took place in the 1990’s.

McDonald’s Corporation v Steel & Morris was an English lawsuit for libel filed by McDonald’s Corporation against environmental activists Helen Steel and David Morris (often referred to as “The McLibel Two”) over a factsheet critical of the company.

The case was adjudicated by Hon. Mr Justice Rodger Bell. He concluded that McDonald’s had contributed to cruelty to animals, used advertising to manipulate children, and paid employees so little as to depress wages in the catering industry in England.1

According to this article by the Guardian, the leaflet was co-written by an undercover police officer. The name of the officer is Bob Lambert. Lambert was deployed by the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) – a top-secret Metropolitan police unit that targeted political activists between 1968 until 2008, when it was disbanded.

Lambert was one of two SDS officers who infiltrated London Greenpeace; the second, John Dines, had a two-year relationship with Helen Steel, who later became the co-defendant in the McLibel case.

Lambert’s role in helping compose the McLibel leaflet is revealed in the book titled  ‘Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police’ written by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans.

The book reveals how Steel became the focus of police surveillance operations.


  1. Marlene Arnold Davidson. McLibel: A Case Study In English Defamation Law. Winsconsin International Law Journal. p. 4
Environment, State Surveillance

CSIS spied on Canadian environmental groups

According to a Vancouver Observer story that was published on November 2013, the National Energy Board (NEB) coordinated the gathering of intelligence on opponents to the oil sands. The groups of interest are independent advocacy organizations that oppose the Harper government’s policies and work for environmental protections and democratic rights, including Idle No More, ForestEthics, Sierra Club, EcoSociety, LeadNow, Dogwood Initiative, Council of Canadians and the People’s Summit.

This was all revealed by information gained through the Freedom to Information Act. The information includes 140 pages of emails from December 2012 to April 2013.

I remember reading something about CSIS spying on environmental groups. As I read more details about this story now, I am a little blown away.

First of all, the NEB is supposed to be an independent federal agency. They should not all be in involved in any type of intelligence gathering. The NEB actually coordinated efforts between CSIS, the RCMP and private oil companies. How can Canadians expect to take any rulings of the NEB seriously? How can Canadians trust that the NEB will rule in favor of the interests of the Canadian public when they are clearly conspiring with private oil companies to crack down on any discussion of Canada’s energy policy.

The groups listed above are peaceful public advocacy groups and they have a right to voice their opposition to government policies. Read my blog about Edward Snowden where I talk about the chilling effects of surveillance.

The NEB just recently approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Tim O’Neil, Senior Criminal Intelligence Research Specialist with the RCMP wrote a memo dated April 20, 2013 and send it to the NEB and associated stakeholders. In the memo, he states that there is “no intelligence indicating a criminal threat to the NEB or its members” and “I could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat.”

In a January 7, 2014 article published by the Vancouver Observer, we learn that Canada’s chief spy watchdog, Chuck Strahl, then head of SIRC, had registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge. Further investigations revealed that Strahl, a former Conservative cabinet minister, had been contracted by Enbridge since 2011. There is clearly a conflict of interest in this arrangement.

According to the article, Mary Dawson (Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner) refused to investigate the matter and refused to provide any further information on the matter.

This is very troubling for Canadians who believe transparency is the cornerstone of a functional democracy.


Freedom of Expression, State Surveillance

Repeal Bill C-51!

The Bill gives the government and law enforcement agencies far-reaching powers to collect information on Canadians without proper oversight and in contravention of privacy rights protected in the Charter.

It allows our national security force, CSIS, to carry out undefined “measures” against perceived threats, including anything that interferes with Canada’s “economic or financial stability”.

The problem is that a wide range of legitimate groups involved in advocacy on environmental, First Nations, labor and social justice issues might well be regarded by the government as a threat to the country’s “economic stability”.

Five former supreme court justices, two former privacy commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association are just a few of thousands of people opposed to this bill.

This is what University of Ottawa Law Professor Craig Forcese says about Bill C-51:

“CSIS may come to judges asking them to bless in advance constitutional breaches. The proceeding will be secret. Only the government will be represented. There is no appeal mechanism. The person affected will not know about it. They may never know who caused the problems that they then would encounter… We just have never seen anything like this in Canada before.”
Heroes, State Surveillance

Edward Snowden and the Surveillance State

I have just finished reading the book titled “No Place To Hide” written by Glenn Greenwald. The first two chapters of the book read like a spy thriller as Greenwald makes contact with Edward Snowden. Greenwald travels to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden. Before they meet, Snowden tells Greenwald to remove the battery in his cellphone.  I didn’t know that authorities could track your location through your cellphone even if it is turned off.

I remember when this story broke. I remember watching the news and hearing about revelations of NSA surveillance. As I read this book and delved into the details, I was blown away by the scope of the surveillance program. I had no idea it was this pervasive.

On April 25, 2013, a top secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court compelled Verizon to turn over to NSA all information about it’s customers’ telephone calls.

In 2010, the Washington Post reported that “every day, collection systems at NSA intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of information” from Americans.

For the one-month period beginning March 8, 2013, a leaked NSA Powerpoint slide showed that a single unit of the NSA, Global Access Operations had collected data on more than 3 billion emails and phone calls that has passed through the US telecommunications system.

PRISM (another NSA unit) allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of nine of the biggest internet companies. The companies include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Youtube, Skype. These companies are listed on a classified NSA Powerpoint slide. The companies ultimately did not deny that they worked with the NSA to set up a system through which the agency could directly access their customers’ data.

Canada is a very active partner with the NSA. At the 2012 SigDev conference, the Communications Services Establishment Canada (CSEC) boasted about targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. There is evidence of widespread CSEC/NSA cooperation, including Canada’s efforts to set up spying posts for communications surveillance at the behest of the NSA.

The group of hactivists known as Anonymous was targeted by  a unit of the British spy agency (GCHQ). One Powerpoint slide presented by GCHQ surveillance officials at the 2012 SigDev conference describes the tactics used to discredit a target.

These tactics include:

-setting up a honey-trap
-changing photos on social networking sites
-writing a blog purporting to be one of the target’s victims
-emailing the colleagues, neighbors and friends of the target.

“Setting up a honey-trap” involves luring a target to a compromising site or online encounters.

“Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent” says Gabriella Coleman, a specialist on Anonymous at McGill University.

In chapter 4 of the book, the author talks about the harm of surveillance. I agree with the author when he states that mass surveillance by the state is inherently repressive.

PEN America released a report in November 2013 entitled Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self Censor. The survey found that many writers now “assume that their communications are being monitored” and have changed their behavior in ways that “curtail their freedom of expression and restrict the free flow of information”.

In a 2013 documentary entitled 1971, several of the activists described how Hoover’s FBI was “all over” the civil rights movement with infiltrators and surveillance. The monitoring impeded the movement’s ability to organize and grow.

An experiment entitled “The Chilling Effects of Surveillance” was conducted in 1975 by Stanford University psychologists Gregory White and Philip Zimbardo. The participants were placed under varying levels of surveillance and asked to to give their view on the legalization of marijuana. The “threatened” subjects were told that their statements would be shared with the police “for training purposes”. Only 44 percent of subjects under surveillance advocated legislation compared to 77 percent of those not so “threatened”.

Surveillance cheerleaders defend mass surveillance by saying that it stops terrorism. This is not true.

In a Washington Post article published in December 2013, a federal judge said that the Justice Department failed to “cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.”

That same month, Obama’s hand-picked advisory panel convened to study the NSA through access to classified information concluded that the metadata program “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”

Democratic senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich – all members of the Intelligence Committee – baldly stated in the New York Times that the mass collection of telephone records has not enhanced Americans’ protection from the threat of terrorism.

A study by the New America Foundation concurred that the bulk metadata program “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism”.

The author discusses the state of journalism in chapter 5. He writes “those who thrive within the structure of large corporations tend to be adept at pleasing rather than subverting institutional power. It follows that those who succeed in corporate journalism are suited to accommodate power. They identify with institutional authority and are skilled at serving, not combating it”.

The New York Times suppressed, at the White House’s behest, James Risen’s discovery of the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program in 2004. In a similar incident at the Los Angeles Times, editor James Baquet killed a story in 2006 by his reporters about a secret collaboration between AT&T and the NSA, based on information given by whistle-blower Mark Klein. Klein had come forward with reams of documents to reveal AT&T’s construction of a secret room in its San Francisco office, where the NSA was able to install splitters to divert telephone and internet traffic from the telecom’s office into agency repositories.

During a 2011 appearance on the BBC, Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times explained that the Times takes direction from the US government about what it should and shouldn’t publish.

In September 2013, Seymour Hersh did an interview with the Guardian. Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who uncovered both the My Lai massacre and the Abu Gharib scandal. In the interview, Hersh railed against what he called “the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth”.

The author withstood a lot of attacks from the government and from his fellow journalists which he talks about in the last chapter of the book.

The author includes copies of the actual leaked documents and Powerpoint slides in the book. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you, Edward Snowden for your courageous act.

Thank you, Glenn Greenwall for writing this book.

State Surveillance

Agents of Repression: The FBI’s control of domestic dissent from 1940’s to 1960’s

I am currently reading the book titled “Agents of Repression” written by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall. COINTELPRO covers the whole series of sustained and systematic campaigns directed by the FBI to control domestic political dissent from 1940s to 1960s. It was a clandestine program. The public only became aware of COINTELPRO as an official entity after a group calling itself the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the FBI’s Media, Pennsylvania office on the night of March 8, 1971 and removed thousands of pages from classified files. In chapter 2 of the book, the authors write about the methods used by COINTELPRO.


A massive program of surveillance was carried out using wiretaps, surreptitious entries and burglaries, electronic devices, live “tails” and mail tampering.  The purpose of such activities was never intelligence gathering per se, but rather the inducement of “paranoia” among those targeted. The word “paranoia” is used in a FBI brief entitled “New Left Notes, Philadelphia, 9/16/71, Edition No. 1.”.

Bogus Mail: 

Fabrication of correspondence between members of targeted groups, or between groups, was designed to foster “splits” within or between organizations.

“Black Propaganda” Operations:

“Black Propaganda” refers to the fabrication and distribution of publications “in behalf of”  targeted organizations/individuals designed to misrepresent their positions in such a way so as to publicly discredit them and foster intra/inter-group tensions.

Disinformation or “Grey Propaganda”:

The FBI systematically released disinformation to the press and electronic media concerning groups and individuals , designed to discredit them and foster tensions.

Harassment arrests:

The repeated arrests of targeted individuals and organization members on spurious charges were carried out, not with any hope of obtaining convictions, but simply to harass, increase paranoia, tie up activists in a series of pre-arraignment incarcerations and preliminary courtroom procedures, and deplete their resources through the postings of numerous bail bonds and retention of attorneys.

Infiltrators and Agents Provocateurs:

This tactic involved infiltration of targeted organizations with informers and agents provocateurs, the latter expressly for the purpose of fomenting and engaging in illegal activities which could then be attributed to key organizational members and/or the organization as a whole. Agents provocateurs were routinely assigned to disrupt the internal functioning of target groups and assist in spread of disinformation.


There is some indication that the Bureau had begun to spawn “pseudo-gangs”, phony organizations designed to “confuse, divide and undermine” as well as do outright battle with authentic dissident groups by the end of the COINTELPRO era.


“Bad-jacketing” refers to the practice of creating suspicion – though the spread of rumors, manufacture of evidence, etc. – that bona fide organization members, usually in key positions, are FBI/police informers, guilty of such offenses and skimming organizational funds and the like. The purpose of this tactic was to “isolate and eliminate” organizational leadership.

Fabrication of evidence:

A widely used FBI tactic has been the fabrication of evidence for criminal prosecution of key individuals, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence which might serve to block conviction of these individuals. This includes the intimidation of witnesses and use of coercion to obtain false testimony.


While Freedom to Information Act files and congressional investigations have not revealed any “smoking guns”, FBI intentions are clarified in a Bureau document transmitted by the Special Agent in Charge, San Diego to the Director:

Shootings, beatings and widespread unrest continues to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego. Although no specific counterintelligence action can be credited with contributing to this over-all situation, it is felt a substantial amount of this unrest is attributable to this program.

Read the book to get more details of the use of these tactics by the FBI and the targeted individuals and organizations. The book is published by South End Press.

State Surveillance

The FBI’s secret war on Martin Luther King

I am currently reading a book titled “Agents of Repression” written by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall. In the second chapter of the book, the authors provide details about the FBI’s ruthless campaign to destroy MLK.

The FBI began putting a “trash cover” on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) office; investigating King’s bank and charge accounts; instituting a bug in King’s office, looking for personal weaknesses among SCLC employees that could be used to win their cooperation with the Bureau; sending a forged letter in King’s name to SCLC contributors warning them that an IRS investigation was about to begin; and attempting to intensify a well-known mutual dislike of King and NAACP head Roy Wilkins.

A “trash cover” amounts to sifting through garbage discarded by the “suspect” in hopes of finding incriminating evidence.

SCLC accountant James A. Harrison was recruited to serve as a paid informant.

After all these attempts failed to derail the civil rights agenda, the FBI was forced to rely on tapes generated by an illegally placed bug in King’s room at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. during January of 1963, purportedly revealing him consorting with prostitutes.

Hoover (head of FBI) authorized COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan to fabricate an anonymous letter urging MLK to commit suicide. This letter was packaged along with the highlights from the bugging tapes and mailed to King’s home address.

When this failed to force King to kill himself, the FBI escalated its efforts and offered a copy of the King surveillance tape to Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and two other newspapers. The newspapers refused to publish the transcripts of the King bugging tapes.

The book mentions that at the same time, the FBI was waging destabilizing campaigns against numerous other organizations including the “Catholic left network”, Students for a Democratic Society and the pacifist Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.

The bulk of the book deals with the FBI’s secret war of repression against the American Indian movement.

The book is published by South End Press.