The increasingly grumpy argument regarding who is allowed to photograph and keep files on whom in this sceptred isle - and who is then allowed to see such files - took a new twist today. It emerged that a person featured on a police headshot gallery of "extremist" arms protesters is actually believed by many activists to have been a spy for the weapons industry.
On Monday the Guardian published a copy of a police "spotter card", said to have been dropped by a copper at an arms-fair protest in 2005, featuring headshots of people the fuzz like to keep tabs on. This was said to have angered many in the anti-armsbiz activist community, who might not care to have their day-job employers or other people made aware that the plods class them as possible "domestic extremists".
Now it has emerged, as one would really expect with any group of possible activists, that at least one of the individuals pictured may have been a spy for the weapons trade. The Grauniad - which now seems to have blanked out quite a lot of the faces on its rogues/heroes gallery, presumably at the request of those featured - says that Martin Hogbin was on the card.
Hogbin, at one time an official at Campaign Against Arms Trade, has been accused of supplying information to corporate security spooks in the pay of Britain's number one arms firm, BAE Systems plc. He has always denied this, but no longer works for CAAT.
An armsbiz spy, then, may quite possibly have featured on the spotter sheet. Your correspondent in former days was assured by persons familiar with the matter that the actual government spooks also run agents within the ranks of various protest groups; it would seem likely that some of them, too, might be among the Guardian's faces - though as yet nobody but MI5/CTC seems to know who they are.
Also pictured was Emily Apple of FITwatch. Apple and her group feel that they should be allowed to monitor and photograph police Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs, hence the name), but strongly disagree with the plods' habit of photographing and monitoring arms protesters. The cops, interestingly, feel that their own snapping and surveillance is fine - but tend to forcefully object to being photographed themselves.
Another person classed apparently by the cops as one to watch (at least, the cops of some years ago) is the sidesplittingly funny campaigner-comedian Mark Thomas, who said he had been best mates with the possibly traitorous Hogbin.
"We were friends, I knew his family," Thomas told the Graun. "He became an integral part of my life."
"I am not an extremist," Apple told the paper. "I care deeply about an illegal and immoral [arms] trade."
The Guardian also mentions police harassment of those pictured on the card, apparently including such brutal tactics as "sarky remarks" from officers. ®
The UK currently ranks about 7th in the world league of arms exporters by dollar value, well behind - for instance - Russia. Most British exports are high-value items such as combat jets, warships etc. The UK no longer has any small-arms industry to speak of. Russia, by contrast, exports vast amounts of infantry weapons, ammunition and land mines - the primary kinds of weapons (other than machetes and home-made explosives) used and causing deaths in modern conflicts, genocides, aftermaths etc.
As in Blighty, the Russian arms biz is closely connected with the government. However the government brutality and spying there is of quite a different order, perhaps giving a clue as to why even the most deeply caring anti-armsbiz protesters usually prefer to focus on the arms industry of the West.