Bad security culture can be tedious; often we only keep information from each other, not the cops. Actions and solidarity can be delayed from reasons of form rather than purpose; people can be excluded from meetings and social events because they lack social status while confident spycops are left to run things. Paranoia can stifle movements while not providing any security. The outcomes can range from people being excluded from boring meetings to being publicly outed on a forum where people with radical hashtags in their bio are tagging Priti Patel. Then in an interestingly circular way, someone who spent four years in federal prison in the US after revealing private contractor Palantir’s spying on activists is cop-jacketed by an assortment of faux lefty internet sleuths after having been identified by clown villain Andy Ngô, who is part of the nebulous cloud of far right funding, security technologies, and agitating that has Palantir’s Peter Thiel at its pinnacle.
Kill the Bill
I took charge of Barrett Brown in December and he has just about survived my continued attempts to expose him to culturally enriching experiences, one of which was going to the Kill the Bill demo with some punks who made an inadvisable modular banner which could be held to say COPS KILL or KILL COPS; it was all very poetic and harmless. Barrett had a corner of the banner thrust into his hand which he tolerated as it gave him proximity to the rum bottle. People, including the judge, have all been incredulous of Barrett’s claim that he didn’t know what was on it, but why should he care? His mind focuses intently on things that interest him to the exclusion of everything else. Neither of us are ‘banner people’ and he is in a foriegn country going along with what his new friends are doing (when he’d rather have stayed home to play video games). On finding out it was modular and had been swapped between COPS KILL and KILL COPS, what would someone from the country of the First Amendment, with a politics and praxis critical of the wielders of the state monopoly on violence think, when he is surrounded by the freaks with whom he has had the misfortune to end up being associated? Very fucking little, as I also thought little of it, and as everyone there thought and said nothing, it was barely noticed, and soon we hanged it up on the railing and carried on.
Perhaps 20 mins later it had already become a meme. We next went to Nelson’s Column where Barrett had a crisis of cognitive dissonance when we told him that cops were politely asking us to get down from the plinth because they are not allowed to climb. He spent the next few days laughing about it and ringing his dad and others to tell them. He’s from Texas.
Court of Twitter
After that we went to a mate’s squat and it wasn’t till the next evening we noticed that very clever people using very clever investigative skills had put together clues, like Barrett’s non wook appearance, a punk wearing a cut-off Police hat, cos punk, some stills from the footage of a crowd, the helpful agitation of Barrett’s arch-enemy Andy Ngô, and just generally wanting to feel superior and knowledgeable, that Barrett and the police hat punk girl were undercover cops planted there to discredit the demo. Part of this evidence relied on pictures taken where they claim Barrett was ‘behind police lines’:
(Spoiler alert: they got her wish, however it is still unclear whether the irony of their post, from their account, occurred to them.)
This was in a situation where there were cops everywhere and everyone was behind one police line or another; they had not started to kettle while we were there. This theory would rely on the cops deploying an agent as an undercover (who played their role by wearing clothes that didn’t fit with the rest of the demo) but also using that same agent in a public order policing role, at the same demo, minutes later.
One particularly glaring ‘gotcha’ was the punk girl’s cut up ‘police cap’. Some may not be aware of the cultural practice of appropriating the attire of those who oppress you; that this was used on twitter as ‘evidence’ that she was an undercover cop is just depressing.
It was jarring when, after Andy Ngô IDed him, they found that their ‘undercover’ was Barrett Brown. This information, rather than making them doubt their lofty towers of unjustified superiority, brought out the amateur US lawyer in them and determined that because he had taken a plea deal that he had ‘cooperated’ and therefore flipped, and one of his assignments was to go to the UK to badly go undercover to hold a corner of a homemade banner to discredit a demo.
One reason that the US does not have a ‘justice system’; one that would indicate a functioning democracy, at least, is that most defendants never a get a trial, they get an offer they can’t refuse; accept a guilty plea and you’ll get 5 years or risk a trial, the odds stacked against you, and risk getting decades. People know the house always wins, this is not a game they should play, and data from the Pew Research Centre show that only 2% of federal defendants go to trial, of those 83% are convicted.
He is able to take a didactic tone with this, because of his unfounded self-confidence, and extrapolates imaginary accusations based on claims that he has not backed up.
Despite having no knowledge of the subject, he claimed that because Barrett had taken a plea deal, he had become an informant. Which is not what a plea deal is. What had actually happened, is after 2.5 years inside with 105 years hanging over his head, they came to an agreement on the charges and he was given 63 months. He also is not a hacker, and he did get given the $890,000 restitution to pay to Stratfor.
Obviously Andy Ngô wasn’t accusing him of being a cop, he knows Barrett isn’t, but he did want to initiate a twitter storm about it that got the attention of the British establishment. This is a reliable function of liberalism: anything seen as too radical for Guardian readers is denounced to protect the limited aims of incremental progessive politics.
Dr. Louise Raw shared a tweet claiming Barrett is an ‘anti-Left activist’, I would have expected better from an academic, one ostensibly on our side. It was such a disappointing week, even before I thought there would be legal repercussions.
This supposed journalist created ‘a law of headlines’ and falls for the same silly incongruity that the cops would use the same agent for both undercover work and then ‘crowd control’ in the same demo, in the same clothes. Apparently staff cuts have really taken a toll when they have to draft in US anarchists felons to do all their plod work for them. Again with the arrogant tone, I’m starting to spot a pattern.
Matt Zarb-Cousin was Jeremy Corbyn’s former spokesperson and he shared this very convincing and evidence heavy montage of suggesting pictures. His monocle emoji conjures up the detective skills he is not using. Unlike the others, he did later apologise and retract.
So many professed ‘radicals’ amplified this narrative, and tweeted Priti Patel and the Met, that it had an effect; mainstream journalists took an interest. It was written up in the Sunday Times, with the Home Office having been asked for comment (but not Barrett). They claimed that it had embarrassed Priti Patel. This is the sort of thing that makes a government department feel the need to be seen to do something. Something was done.
Barrett and Strafor
Barrett’s story has been told at length before, including, here, here, here with his prison columns here and in soon to be released memoirs and a film directed by Alex Winter. Essentially, he was locked up in federal prison in Texas for four years because of his journalism.
Reporters without Borders and a wide range of other NGOs criticised this obvious persecution of a journalist, while the National Lawyers Guild termed him a political prisoner and even mainstream media outlets came to agree that the charges were motivated by retaliation and fear. After he was released the harassment continued and considering the close co-operation between the FBI and Mi5, it isn’t beyond the realms of reasonable credulity to see the way his case here has been handled as a continuation of the same.
Connection between Andy Ngô and Peter Thiel
One reason to reach such conclusions would be an understanding of the structure which has the likes of Peter Thiel and his money at one end and agitators like Andy Ngô at the other end. Ngô was the one who identified Barrett from the picture on Twitter, and was listed as an ‘informant’ in the Met’s bundle. Unlike Barrett, Ngô was also referred to as a ‘journalist’ in CPS and Met documents as well as by the prosecutor, which shows that neither the truth, nor even common decency, dare show their face in such a decadent theater of villanary as an English court.
Andy Ngô, comic villain though he is, has attempted to become a foil to Barrett’s activist ‘journalism for good’. If he wasn’t such a shit person he might have been more worthy; as it is, Barrett is only just learning about him through his simping for the Evil Empire with feeble attempts upon Barrett’s liberty. Perhaps he has a motive for attacking Barrett, other than just being someone who is wrong about everything. Perhaps some of the legitimate targets of Barrett’s journalistic investigations have brought right wing agitators and are directing their operations.
Both Ngô and Thiel are connected to the silly publication Quillette, run by “human biodiversity” advocate Claire Lehman, one of the few writers to have regularly composed articles defending Thiel – and also among the few known to have dinner at the home of Eric Weinstein, managing director of Thiel Capital, a firm whose current COO, Blake Masters, recently celebrated the not guilty verdict for Kyle Rittenhouse in his trial for the shooting of BLM advocates with an assault rifle he brought to their protest. Andy Ngô also wrote for this strange little outlet – before leaving after a video was released showing him being neither journalistic nor perturbed by Patriot Prayer fascists planning violence against political adversaries. Peter Thiel meanwhile supposedly funds Quillette.
Thiel also partly funds James O’Keefe of far right ‘activist’ group Project Veritas who make undercover films to discredit left-wing causes. He is also known to do active organising with the far right, including ‘key figures pushing racist ideology and white nationalism toward a place of greater acceptability within the hard-right world of Trumpism’. One of these meetings included Kevin DeAnna, founder of the Youth for Western Civilisation (YWC).
Palantir itself is part of a growing set of infrastructure that will enable effective fascism, as it’s CEO, Alex Karp said:
‘The engineering elite of Silicon Valley may know more than most about building software. But they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires’
The kind of world that Thiel is helping to facilitate does not have a concept of justice that aligns with ours, it may, however, meet the approval of Judge Turner.
Barrett was arrested on the first day that Covid restrictions that would have stopped him going to Europe were lifted and arrested with two undercover officers having done a stake out; we were later advised by NetPol that they were likely part of the Aggravated Activist arm of LASIT.
After two days I discovered he had been taken to Brook House IRC (immigration removal centre); the twitter agitators had got their way. However, one of the arresting officers had inadvertently tipped him off that the FBI were after him again. Immigration bail was granted three days later after ITN’s immigration department head agreed to take his case for asylum against the US. As for the Met and CPS, he’d been charged with Section 4a and Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act . At his ‘not guilty’ plea hearing the trial date was set for 5th November, presumably an approving hat-tip from the judge to honor his instrumental role in the once great (but now shit) rabble-rousing Anonymous.
The Trial: Some Notes from ACAB‘s Andy before I could watch cos I was a witness
CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] outlined how Barrett was identified and that the banner was really bad and mean to cops which is a crime, apparently. He identifies four issues in the case.
- Was the sign threatening or abusive;
- Was it in the sight of someone likely to be caused harrasement and distress;
- Did the defendant intend or was aware that it was; and
- Was the conduct reasonable in the exercise of BB’s rights to Free Expression under Article 10.
Acting Detective Inspector Rudd is called to the stand. NB “acting” means he’s actually a sergeant but doing an inspector’s job not actually detecting actors and stopping their criminal activities. He was “Bronze Crime ” on this demonstration and several others. The displaying of the banner was brought to his attention and he investigated. It was very difficult to identify anyone else holding the banner but luckily Barret was identified on social media by one Andy Ngô and Barret responded saying it was himself. He adduces evidence from the internet that Barrett says “I hate cops as much as cops hate women”.
Ken Marsh- Chair of the Met branch of the Police Federation is next. He is horrified for his members that any one should hold up such a banner and thinks they will be traumatised. So he tweets it all around town. In other gaffs he nearly says “Blakelock” when meaning Keith Palmer: the cop killed in a terrorist attack in 2017 nearby and ends with “thank you Your Honour” showing that after 25 years service he hasn’t learnt the correct form of address for a district judge.
Most importantly NO police officers present give any evidence whatsoever.
Barrett takes the stand. He gives some background on himself then describes how he went to the demo with his partner and some friends. He knew they have banners but not what is written on them. He was happy to hold the banner as a favour for them but doesn’t read what’s on it. He’s holding the banner from behind so doesn’t see the writing on it. He admits he’s a militant and anti-police, although he got on well with the ones who arrested him. He denied intending to alarm or distress the cops. He did say he was somewhat inebriated but that was not why he was unaware of the writing on the banner, he simply wasn’t paying attention to it.
Trial that I witnessed
It will be instructive, for those who are wont to cause both, that you need evidence to show that alarm was caused but not for distress. We knew we had lost when the judge made a proviso about grounds for appeal. However, he had the problem, which was obvious to everyone, including the unenthused prosecutor, that the defendant had not actually committed the offence that he was charged with, if one were to closely follow the letter of the law, but like all of the most competent of the Queen’s Judiciary, and the judge in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial, Judge Turner was not going to let a small thing like the law get in the way of justice. Simon Natas, had had the impertinence of not only citing relevant case law but also, spelling out in his closing statement that Barrett had no part in making or assembling the offending banner, and clearly didn’t know what was going on, and there was no evidence anyone who was present on the day was caused alarm or distress; Natas made the point that the only reason the trial actually came to court was because there was such a Twitter outrage about it. The judge even accepted this was the case and mentioned the ‘unfortunate conspiracy [that Barrett was a cop] which is indicative of our time, and why social media is a much more inferior mode of communication’ (paraphrased). So the faux-lefty liberals and Andy Ngô’s lot achieved their aims.
Judge Turner sentenced Barrett to the highest penalty he could, which was only a fine. So all that for £1020 of which £225 was a fine, £775 costs & £20 victim surcharge. Our actual victory had come a week before when they dropped the Section 4a, not wanting to lose as badly as they knew they ought.
The question who decides who gets which judge might be a good way to influence a case without seeming to. It turns out there is a codified system that one may assume to be especially open to influence by Mi5. Fittingly, a suggested amendment, 291(2), to the PCSC bill would allow the justice secretary to appoint judges to cases.
Would Mi5 influence a case so that the most reactionary judge would be given to a journalist who investigated them, and who in turn they targeted? Considering the agency denied its existence until 1989 and recently set up a branch targeting Left Wing, Anarchist, and Single Issue Terrorism (LASIT), I don’t imagine they wouldn’t stoop to those depths. It’s not like they hadn’t legalised murder, torture and rape for agents at the time they revealed the branch targeted at us.
Either way it isn’t a falsifiable claim considering the lack of access citizens have to the documentation of how their ‘democracy’ is run, but this is Freedom not the Lancet so I’m gonna raise it.
Good Security Practices
We need good security, conscious security, not guilt by association, guilt by not looking the part. We need conscious security™ , otherwise if you aren’t thinking about the logic behind certain practices, if you aren’t approaching it critically, you aren’t going to realise when an important security breach happens that is outside of the usual protocols. This is the age-old diatribe against atrophy caused by institutionalisation, but we need to be applying it.
Luckily for us, there have been spycops since at least 1968, with the creation of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), and for the last few decades there have been people uncovering them. The most consistent advice of people like the Undercover Research Group is:
Read Undercover, follow what is happening with the Undercover Policing Inquiry and Police Spies Out of Lives (PSOOL) and the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC). Alternatively, if you suspect anyone at all don’t hesitate to take them to a South London lock up to find out who they’re working for.
Counter-espionage can feel as much like pissing in the wind as fighting climate change, and they are connected; the effectiveness of our movements are only as strong as they are secure, our connections to each other need trust to survive and to grow and to enact change, and yet I’m writing this in a paper that had a spycop working for it. Should we allow this to paralyze us, as the enormity of the weight of climate change also threatens to? Or do we fight, even in the face of defeat because we have no choice, and for the ones who have no immediate option to not fight?
Look after your mates, learn about the history of the movement, the tactics of the enemy, view situations critically, use small affinity groups, and if someone goes to federal prison for four years for revealing the tactics that government contracted security firms use against activists, don’t cop-jacket them and call on Priti Patel to deport them because Andy Ngô told you to.
Sylvia Mann (@GayFrogs15)
Image: Barrett Brown, by Guy Smallman.