Covert Human Intelligence Sources

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According to the MI5 website

Agents are one of the most important sources of secret intelligence. Agent operations are run by specially trained officers and can continue for long periods, sometimes for many years.[1]

The use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources has generated heated debate regarding "intelligence-led policing" and accusations of "corporate policing."


Contents

Definition of CHIS

MI5's website, defines an agent, or "covert human intelligence source"

as any human source able to provide secret reporting on a target of investigation. Agents are not members of the Service - we call our staff "officers", not "agents".[1]

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) provides a legal definition of an agent. It states that a person is a covert human intelligence source if: (a) he establishes or maintains a personal or other relationship with a person for the covert purpose of facilitating the doing of anything falling within paragraph (b) or (c); (b) he covertly uses such a relationship to obtain information or to provide access to any information to another person; or (c) he covertly discloses information obtained by the use of such a relationship, or as a consequence of the existence of such a relationship. Apart from the Security Service, several other public sector and Government organisations also make use of agents. They include the police , HM Revenue and Customs , the Armed Forces and the UK's other intelligence agencies.

Strathclyde Police's 'The Authorisation and Management of Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Standard Operating Procedures

A restricted document (partially blanked out) released by Strathclyde Police through a Freedom of Information request states that "the contents of this document outline the standard operating procedures in relation to the use of CHIS in what is a sensitive area of covert policing, ostensibly the domain of officers attached to Dedicated Source Handling Units"[2] According to The Authorisation and Management of Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Standard Operating Procedures, obtained through Freedom of Information request CHIS are defined as

a person who establishes or maintains a personal or other relationship with another person for the covert purpose of facilitating anything that

a) covertly uses such relationship to obtain information or to provide access to any information or to another person or b) covertly discloses information obtained by the use of such a relationship or as a consequence of the existence of such a relationship[2]

Strathclyde Police CHIS Management Structure

According to a restricted document (partially blanked out) released by Strathclyde Police through a Freedom of Information request.

The management of CHIS within Strathclyde Police Force is based on a five-tier structure[2]

1) Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) The Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) is currently George Hamilton. He will be responsible for ensuring that the requirements from the Acts, the Codes of Practice and the Manual of Standards are complied with. 2)Head of Intelligence The Head of Intelligence is the Principal Authorising Officer, is designated as having independent oversight of the CHIS system within the Force. 3)Authorising Officer The Authorising Officer is nominated by the Head of Intelligence and will be responsible for the granting of authorisations for the use and conduct of a CHIS. 4) Controller The Controller will be of inspector rank and will be dedicated to that role. They will be responsible for the maintenance and of the legal and ethical standards in CHIS operations, and the assessments of suitable rewards. 5) Handler The appointed handler will, on behalf of the force, have day-to=day responsibility for dealing with the CHIS. The Handler will report directly to the appointed Controller on CHIS issues and obtain the permission of the Controller for all contacts / meetings with the CHIS.[2]

Management of rewards within Strathclyde Police

The acknowledgement of suitable rewards for the CHIS is essential to maintain the commitment of the CHIS and to ensure the Handler/ CHIS relationship remains on a professional footing. The Controller, of inspector rank, will be responsible for the maintenance and of the legal and ethical standards in CHIS operations, and the assessments of suitable rewards.[2]

Out with Scotland and out with the UK

The CHIS deployments out with Scotland but within the UK require careful co-ordination to ensure that they do not extend beyond a 3 week continuous period. Deployments out without the UK require an additional level of authority and consequently early contact should be made with the Central Authorities Bureau in every instance.[2]

The Commissioners

Independent oversight of the CHIS Authorisation is provided by a Surveillance Commissioner under the direction of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, who reports directly to the Prime Minister. The Commissioners are responsible for ensuring that the legislation in relation to the CHIS is being complied with.[2]

Dedicated Source Handling Units

Should additional information be required, officers should contact their respective DSHU (Dedicated Source Handling Units), embedded within each of the Territorial Divisions. Advice can also be obtained from the Central Authorities Bureau of Crime Division Intelligence.[2]

Controversy around police infiltration of protest

Mark Kennedy and NPOIU

Mark Kennedy was an undercover police officer who used the name Mark Stone in his infiltrations of the climate protest movement and was known as 'Flash' to campaigners.[3] His cover was blown in October 2010[4] and in January 2011 after wide media coverage he went public with his story in a Mail on Sunday interview. [5] [6]

Infiltration attempts and Plane Stupid Scotland

In 2009 The Guardian made public the attempts by the police to recruit paid informers from the protest group Plane Stupid. [7] The audio recordings made of the police's conversations raise questions about the policing of protest, especially regarding the right to peaceful protest.

Strathclyde Police Force's Response

When questioned about the use of "covert human intelligence sources", Detective Chief Superintendent Russell Dunn of Strathclyde police, told The Guardian

This is one method used in obtaining information, which allows the force to best deploy resources in line with our priorities. It is a cost-effective means to detect and disrupt criminality and keep people safe."[8]

Questioned in Scottish Parliament

In Scottish Parliament, a Green MSP asked

A number of police forces […] have been caught deploying some pretty dodgy tactics. That has been going on for years, but they are now being caught on camera or audio because of the proliferation of technology in the hands of citizens.
Is the cabinet secretary really saying that he is satisfied with the idea that non-violent, peaceful protesters should be the subject of attempts to bribe, intimidate and threaten? Are there not some tactics that, although they may be legitimate in the pursuance of combating serious crime, are quite inappropriate when it comes to political, non-violent protest?

Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice responded

"It is a matter of balancing the rights of individual citizens with the broader rights of our communities". [9]

A Scottish government spokesman said

"The justice secretary has discussed the matter with Strathclyde Police's assistant chief constable and is satisfied the force has acted proportionately and legitimately".[10]

Traceability

Before the recordings went public, lawyers working with Plane Stupid members had been trying to establish the identity of the two police officers involved, and which departments they worked for. As demonstrated by an article in The Guardian, these efforts were fruitless

The lawyers are seeking to establish the identity of the officers, who had access to Strathclyde police station. Initial attempts to identify the men, who also approached other protesters, failed after the force's human resources department said there were no records of officers with their names.[8]

The lawyer Patrick Campbell told The Guardian

"I have very considerable concerns about these events. There appears to be a covert operation that is running in some way with, or using, Strathclyde police's name. There appears to be a concerted effort to turn protesters to informants and possibly infiltrate peaceful protest movements.

"The methods employed are disturbing, and more worrying yet is the lack of any clearly identifiable body responsible for this".[11]

Costs of Intelligence Gathering

Through a Freedom of Information request, The Guardian revealed that Strathclyde Police had almost doubled the annual amount it paid to informants since 2004, when £145,198 was paid. A total of £762,459 was paid between 2004 and 2008. [8] Though not stating the exact figure they were expecting to pay in exchange for information on the workings of Plane Stupid, as heard in The Guardian recordings, they spoke of tens of thousands of pounds. They were also recorded saying that "UK plc can afford more than 20 quid".[8] in a separate incident in january 2011, Mark Kennedy (known as Mark 'Flash' Stone) was exposed as a police officer having infiltrated the UK environment protest movement. He told friends each undercover spy cost £250,000, according to The Guardian. Kennedy is believed to have been one of at least two undercover operatives working for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, an agency that monitors so-called domestic extremists.[12]

He was actively involved in the protest against E.ON's coal-fire power station in Nottingham which, according to The Guardian was subject to "months of surveillance, cost £300,000 and resulted in the largest number of pre-emptive arrests of political activists in the UK".[13]


Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 MI5 Website How we operate accessed 22/01/11
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Strathclyde Police, The Authorisation and Management of Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Standard Operating Procedures, version 3.0 Aug 08,C15/ SOP, 'Restricted' obtained through Freedom of Information request, partially blanked out
  3. Paul Lewis and Nidhi Prakash,Ratcliffe coal protesters spared jail sentences The Guardian 05/01/11, accessed 11/01/11
  4. Indymedia UK,Mark Kennedy/Stone exposed as undercover cop, 24 October 2010.
  5. Mail on Sunday, Video interview with Caroline Graham, 16 January 2010.
  6. Caroline Graham, 'I'm the victim of smears': Undercover policeman denies bedding a string of women during his eight years with eco-warriors, Mail on Sunday, 16 January 2011.
  7. Mark Vallee and Paul Lewis, 'UK plc can afford more than 20 quid,' the officer said The Guardian Saturday 25 April 2009, accessed 06/12/10
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Paul Lewis Police force paid informants £750,000 in four years The Guardian 8 May 2009, accessed 06/12/10
  9. Scottish Parliament debates, Scottish Executive Question Time 7 May 2009, accessed 07/12/10
  10. Rob Edwards Revealed: a web of police bids to infiltrate protest groups The Sunday Herald 25 April 2009, accessed 06/12/10
  11. Paul Lewis Police caught on tape trying to recruit Plane Stupid protester as spy The Guardian 24 April 2009, accessed 06/12/10
  12. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Undercover officer spied on green activistsThe Guardian 09/01/11, accessed 10/01/11
  13. Paul Lewis and Nidhi Prakash,Ratcliffe coal protesters spared jail sentences The Guardian 05/01/11, accessed 11/01/11
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