'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Big SIS Is Watching You
Peter Quail wasn't expecting to be looking down the barrels of four machine guns after dropping his dad off at Victoria Bus Station. But, as he returned to his north London home on the evening of July 21, he suddenly found himself surrounded by 30 Metropolitan police officers armed to the teeth.
With a helicopter buzzing overhead, a police officer screamed for him to leave his vehicle as four automatic weapons trained their sights. Both he and the van were thoroughly searched. "When they went away they gave me a note which thanked me 'for my co-operation'," said Quail. "As if I had any choice in the matter. These were young lads, really hyped up. My legs were like jelly." Peter Quail's experience is telling. A van delivery driver by trade, he has no previous convictions and no political associations. Two days earlier, however, his father Brian had been deported back to Britain by the Italian authorities keen to prevent him reaching the anti-capitalist protests in Genoa. Arriving back in the UK, Brian had spent a couple days staying with his son before being dropped off at Victoria bus station. "It's too much of a co-incidence," says Brian of his son's ordeal. And whilst Peter Quail prepares to sue the police, Brian Quail is just one of many activists now finding themselves on an international database of political undesirables.
"There is the need for a new and stronger collaboration among European countries," opined the Italian Interior minister Claudio Scajola at the beginning of August. "A different formation of men to confront this problem and a European anti-riot force that could manage the phenomenon." His comments came after a meeting with his German counterpart in Rome at which the two men agreed to back a call for a new pan European police force.
However, there is increasing evidence that such "collaboration" is already very much in existence. The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a pan-European database of police intelligence shared by European countries signed up to the Schengen agreement. When the database first became active in 1995 it was described as a necessity to track serious criminals. Information on individuals was confined to whether they had have been found with weapons or convicted of violent crimes. Since then, however, the use and size of the database has increased considerably to take on all sorts of information including sexual orientation and political activity. The first well documented occurrence of its anti-protest usage came in 1998 when a Greenpeace activist from New Zealand was denied access to the whole Schengen area because the French government had entered her name in the SIS database.
Recent legislative changes in European countries, hurried through on the pretext of dealing with travelling football hooligans, accelerated the breadth of its information cache. Without any public debate on its expansion, the database is filling up with the personal details of political protesters.
Brian Quail is both joint secretary of Scottish CND and a member of the Trident Ploughshares 2000 (TP2000) peace movement. His only court convictions are for minor offences related to avowedly non-violent protest actions in Scotland.
"When I went through customs at Stanstead Airport on my way to Italy, they asked loads of intrusive questions," he told SQUALL. "I handed them my passport and there was a furious shuffling of paper. Then they asked, 'was I a member of a political group?' and 'did I attend demonstrations?'. Then they said, 'you're not a member of CND are you?' and, of course, they already knew that I was. Brian proceeded on his journey but made it only far as Turin airport. After being detained for two and half hours, the 63 year old peace campaigner was told he was "a threat to national security" and was sent back to the UK.
"When I asked them why I was being deported, the Italian customs officer just shrugged his shoulders and said 'orders from Rome'." Deployed by the Austrian government to prevent activists reaching the Davos group (World Economic Forum) meeting earlier this year, and by the Czech government to stop IMF protestors reaching Prague, the use of database information to prevent people from crossing borders is on the increase. Speaking to the Italian Chamber of Deputies, interior minister Claudio Scajola revealed that 2,093 people had been refused entry to the country in the run up to the G8 conference in Genoa in Julys. Brian Quail was one of five TP 2000 campaigners to be denied entry and deported back to the UK. Peaceful protestors argue they are being singled out in order to break the back of international protest. But whose calling the strategy?
The world now knows that the paramilitary-style Italian Carabaneiri went berserk during the demonstrations in Genoa. In an interview with the Italian national newspaper, La Republica, one Italian policeman was candid about what went on: "I still have in my nostrils the stench of those hours, that of the faeces of the arrested which weren't allowed to use the toilets........They [fellow police officers] lined them up against the wall. They urinated on one person. They beat people up if they didn't sing Facetta Nera [a fascist song]. They threatened to rape girls with their batons." Few people doubted that Silvio Berlosconi, Italy's right wing media mogul prime minister, would do anything other than order a heavy police reaction to the Genoan protests. The man who said he wanted Italy to be "America's biggest friend in Europe" after becoming prime-minister a few months ago, would be keen to show his credentials.
However, faced with global condemnation and candid film footage of the Carabaneiri at work, Berlosconi denied personal involvement. The anonymous Genoan police officer, however, was in no doubt that the policing tactics used in Genoa were orchestrated from the top down: "The raid has been done from the colleagues from the Rome department, the 'celerini' from the capitol. And to direct them were the top level of SCO NOCS (special police/armed forces)."
The Global Forum for Law Enforcement and National Security (LENS), which had its first meeting in Edinburgh at the end of June, was revealing of the overall agenda. Present at the meeting were high level representatives from both corporate security and state security services. The FBI, Interpol, Europol, NATO and the UK National Crime Squad rubbed shoulders with security personnel from the likes of British American Tobacco, Lockheed Martin, Shell, BP and American Express. Under discussion were issues such as "Public/Private partnerships: The role of business and governments in fighting the new threats".
Among a list of statements, designed as fundamental starting points for the conference, was the following: "Changes in societal groups and social interactions based on popularisms rather than established politics will be considered in terms of threats to order and stability." (For more details of the LENS conference read Globo-Cops on the SQUALL features pages).
Two weeks after this conference, Louis J Freeh, director the FBI delivered a 'statement for the record' to the Senate Committees on Approbriations, Armed Services, and the US Select Committee on Intelligence. His subject, the 'Threat of terrorism to the United States'.
"From the 1960's to the 1980's, leftist-orientated extremist groups posed the most serious domestic terrorist threat to the United States," he said. "In the 1980's, however, the fortunes of the leftist movement changed dramatically as law enforcement dismantled the infrastructure of many of these groups and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe deprived the movement of its ideological foundation and patronage."
In a list of extant terrorist threats, Freeh cited: "Anarchist and extremist socialist groups, - many of which, such as the Workers' World Party, Reclaim the Streets and Carnival Against Capitalism - have an international presence and, at times, also represent a potential threat in the United States. For example, anarchists, operating individually and in groups, caused much of the damage during the 1999 World Trade Organisations ministerial meeting in Seattle."
Here in the UK the new Terrorism Act which came into force earlier this year includes wide definitions of terrorism which casually embrace many forms of non-violent direct action. In Europe, a Police Chiefs' Operation Task Force, created after recommendations arising from an EU conference, has been formed as a forum for "defining strategies and joint operational actions in the field of maintaining public order whenever events occur that are likely to threaten it."
Increasingly the Metropolitan Police have been using a new 'coraling' tactic at demonstrations in London. This involves groups of protesters being surrounded by rings of riot police and held captive under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Although this law only gives police the right to search for weapons and the right to remove clothing which masks a protester's identity, the Met have been going much further. Having been held prisoner for hours (seven hours in the case of the recent Mayday demonstrations), most protesters - perhaps unfamiliar with the law, perhaps keen to leave - give their name, date of birth and allow their photograph to be taken. This information is held on databases overseen by the National Criminal Intelligence Squad, another agency with representatives at the LENS conference in Edinburgh.
SQUALL readers may recall the police's culpability in passing on intelligence information on activists to McDonald's during the burger corporation's preparation for the McLibel trial (see Corporate Cops on the SQUALL features pages). In an out of court settlement the Met police issued an apology for their misfeasance. However, it was only the tenacity of the two McLibel defendants which forced the revelation in the first place. No accountable independent scrutiny over such cosy information exchanges was set up as a result of the incident.
Italian police are evidently going one step further. Norman Blair, one of the protesters badly assaulted and arrested in the now infamous raid on the Genoa Social Forum building, issued a statement after he was finally released. In it he says: " I was photographed directly onto a laptop, and they also used an eye camera, presumably to take a retina scan." Read Norman Blair's statement on the SQUALL's resources page. Norman was released without charge but his personal details remain on file.
In October this year Dutch police are planning an international conference in the Hague entitled: "Maintaining public order; a democratic approach". They have invited police forces from Europe, Canada, the US and Australia. The conference, which will further cement moves for more international law enforcement co-operation targeted at political protesters, will be held behind closed doors. The concept of 'civil liberty', meanwhile, will be lying outside the conference hall, haemorrhaging at an alarming rate.