Over the past year, we have hosted a Research Fellow, Connor Woodman, sponsored by the Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust. The Centre is today publishing two papers on undercover policing Connor has written as part of this Fellowship, under the title Spycops in context.
From 1968-2008 a dedicated police unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, sent officers into a range of political movements and organisations, from anti-racist to animal rights groups. In the 2000s a second squad, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, expanded the practice nation-wide.
While the practice was exposed in 2010, there has not been much discussion on the longer history of British political policing, and why the state carried out these operations. Why did the state seek to infiltrate a wide range of radical and activist organisations over a prolonged period?
In the Spycops in context papers, Connor Woodman argues that undercover infiltration was just one method used by the secret state to monitor, limit and undermine deep dissent against the status quo. Enforcing and constituting hierarchical social relations, the state’s political policing apparatus functions to preserve a social order based on inequalities of race, gender and class.
One of the papers, Spycops in context: a brief history of political policing in Britain, offers a historical overview of the secret state’s concern with political dissent, from the late eighteenth century to the early twenty-first.
The second, Spycops in context: counter-subversion, deep dissent and the logic of political policing, analyses the political-economic logic motivating the state’s surveillance and infiltration operations against radical and activist movements.