Everything you ever wanted to know about informers and infiltrators
Infiltrators seek information on most radical groups. The return of mass mobilizations and radical actions in anti-globalization, anti-poverty, anti-racism 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 initiatives, 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 shunned and kept away from the movement.
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 was infiltrated by an “ordinary Joe” informant with a working class image. Black war veterans infiltrated 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 under-cover 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.
BACKGROUND CHECKS – AN ESSENTIAL TOOL
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. Rumors 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 de Libération du Québec (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.
The Unwitting Informer
Possibly an even greater threat to our movements than the covert operative 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 uses 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 communiqué in the name of the “Minerve” cell. The communiqué adopted a hardline position, denouncing the abandonment of terrorist action by a well-known activist, Pierre Vallières, and urging the continuation of armed struggle. 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.
MOVING AGAINST INFORMERS: CONSIDERATIONS AND ALTERNATIVES
(Taken from PROTECTING OURSELVES FROM STATE REPRESSION: A MANUAL FOR REVOLUTIONARY ACTIVISTS. Published in 1984 by the Anti-Repression Resource Team – Jackson, Mississippi)
Assuming that the security people within the group have suspicions about a group member being an informer/provocateur, it is useful for security/leadership to resolve certain questions both before and after the investigation:
(a) How badly do you want to know whether the person is in agent or not? Clearly, if the person under suspicion is relatively important to the group’s functioning, then leadership must know one way or the other. The more important the person under suspicion is to the group, the more intensive the investigation. We may suggest methods of investigation which are unorthodox and from a certain point of view morally indefensible. But the question is always how badly the group needs to know. No group need use all or any of the methods we describe. But under the condition that the correct information is a life-and-death matter for the group, certain drastic measures may be justified.
(b) What will be done if the information is inconclusive? Often there is not enough evidence to confirm that someone is a police agent, but there IS enough evidence to confirm certain suspicions. A great deal will depend upon what is at stake with the person under suspicion. In general, the choices come down to
1) labeling the person a security risk and acting accordingly;
2) doing nothing outwardly but continuing the investigation;
3) isolating the person from sensitive work but keeping him or her in the group;
4) moving to a higher stage of investigation.
(c) What will be done If the person does turn out to be an agent? While common sense dictates that the person be exposed and severed from the group, other actions might be initiated. If the presence of the agent is a real threat to the group, then the agent should be neutralized in an effective manner. Usually wide exposure of the agent will accomplish an effective neutralization. But if the agent is no great threat to the group’s functioning, the agent staying inside the group may be useful for other purposes. The group might decide that they prefer to keep the agent, rather than risk not knowing who would replace a known quantity. It the agent is not in a sensitive position, can be monitored and isolated from important work, the group may want to keep such an agent at a low organizational level. Or the agent might be given tasks that seem to be sensitive but are in reality not crucial to the group. Under the cover of doing “sensitive” work, false and semi-false information about the group can be relayed to the intelligence agencies that the agent belongs to. Or perhaps certain information that is in fact true about the group can be willfully discredited by creation of pseudo-events and/or false information. Remember that when the intelligence agencies have a great deal of contradictory information, it decreases their ability to act decisively against the group.
(d) What are the responsibilities to other groups of the group’s knowledge of an informer? If the group makes a decision to sever connection with the agent it is certainly the group’s responsibility to quietly contact leadership in other groups to warn them about the agent. Often public exposure is done through the group’s newspaper/newsletter/ journal; in this case, the news article should be sent to a wide variety of groups. The more pressing problem is the instance where there are only suspicions but not decisive evidence. Experience has shown that suspicions are taken seriously only when then is a political bond that exists between persons with long movement experience. People who have been in the movement a long time, and who are known to each other and trusted as dedicated movement people, can convey agent suspicions that will get a favorable hearing or be readily believed. This “old hands trust network” is relatively independent of political point of view; veteran leaders of rival radical organizations can freely and easily exchange information on matters of security.