- Category: Repression
- Created on Wednesday, 22 August 2012 15:22
- Written by Mike Ely
Part 1 is called "Straight talk about the New Cointelpro."
by Mike Ely
This week, in Part 1, I suggested some basic aspects of necessary security culture for any serious political movement.
I'd like to probe a little more into the problem.
I have heard a formula repeated (far too often) that essentially pooh-poohs the issue of infiltration.
"We can just get more work out of informants than they can do damage."
There are a number of wrong, largely-socialdemocratic ideas compressed into that phrase:
- First is the assumption that there is basically nothing that can be done about infiltration anyway. There is (it is said) no way to "keep them out," so why worry? Taking infiltrators seriously will just lead to paranoia, bad-jacketing, and distraction.
- Second, it implies that, since our political work is legal at this time, there is nothing that agents can really do or uncover. The government infiltration is seen as a kind of irrational hysteria that wastes their money and violates our privacy, but doesn't really threaten our political work.
- Third, it sets up a strange "accounting" system: where we try to measure the "contributions" of infiltrators against their "damage."
I'm not sure where this line of thinking got started, but i think we should reject it. This is a potentially dangerous illusion, and a wrong way to measure things.
We will never actually know what "the authorities got" from this or that operative. And what they "get" may not unfold for years. But history suggests that well-placed agents can have a truly deadly impact on movements: alienating them from potential allies, disrupting them from within, getting key leaders killed or jailed.
Further, the last years of experience show that these infiltrators hardly confine themselves to outrageous surveillance of legal political activities -- over and over again they manufacture bogus legal case to railroad their targets into prison. There are many cases now when police informants (seeking information) have gone over to being agent provocateurs (plotting legal entrapment). This has become a repeated police M.O. in the U.S. today.
Finally: We should not suggest that even a lifetime of faking radical commitment might (somehow, somewhere, by some standard) counterbalance whatever the authorities “get” from that informant. It is not true.
Not a place of nuance: Informants are informants
It sharpens up this up when Morning asks (skeptically) whether it is possible for someone to be an informant and also a sincere revolutionary at the same time.
Someone even wrote today:
"More than one snitch to play their handlers. To make revolution on the government's dime. For some people it doesn't get better than that."
That's really starting at a low and basic level of ABCs -- but it is worth stating anyway: No, it is not possible to be an informant and a sincere revolutionary at the same time. The rule of the radical movements is "Don't talk" to the authorities -- and certainly for a supposed activist to act as a regular informant is not some accidental breach of morality. It is a complete and utter betrayal.
At a moral level, in the evaluation of right and wrong, there is no balancing of any ledger here: If someone is an informant, they are an informant, period. There is no “other side of that” (in terms of alleged radical activities and so-called contributions). There are no justifications or excuses. I know of a situation where a teenage political newbie, active politically in their housing project, stammered “I had to tell them — they had a gun to my head.” Uh, no you didn’t.
The main point at this moment in regard to Richard Aoki personally (as several people have said, including SKS) is that we have no definitive evidence here against him. And we have great reason to be suspicious of claims arising (precisely!) from that ugly old sewer of Cointelpro (with its documented history of disinformation and snitch-jacketing).
If it were proven that Richard Aoki (or anyone else) worked as an informant — then there is no “on the other hand.” It is wrong for people to act as informants. Supposed participation or "contribution" in politics doesn’t ever make that right.
There is no penance or working off that crime. There are no mitigating circumstances. No statute of limitations. There is no 40 percent condemnation for being an informant, but 60 percent off for otherwise being a "good person.”
The notorious Tsarist agent Malinovsky (after repeatedly betraying secret Bolshevik networks in waves of roundups while serving as head of the communist Duma faction) tried to return to the Soviet Union after the revolution. He claimed he had made some genuine conversion to communism while in POW camp. In that historical case, Manilovsky was shot as a traitor. The revolutionary court did not say “Ah, but he made other contributions while working for the Okhrana” or “Well, he was once an agent, but now says he has seen the light.”
[I urge everyone to get and read the short eye-opening book: Ralph Carter Elwood, Roman Malinovsky, a life without a cause, Oriental Research Partners, 1977, Hard to find, but worth the effort.]
Pigtails peep out
There are different profiles of informants, but there is not one single profile.
Raw undercover cops entering a radical movement (after being trained in narc operations, for example) often seem like square pegs in a round hole. They have historically shown their “pig tails” in many little ways (that they often just can’t conceal):
- in their low level of curiosity and critical thinking,
- in how they treat women (since many are male),
- in how they blurt out revealing spontaneous views on peripheral matters,
- on how their commitment seems so much greater than their understanding, etc.
Sometimes they have become notorious for suggesting half-baked illegal schemes or demanding a culture filled with gossip and personal details.
And in those cases, a movement of serious people around them often goes "WTF?"
Sometimes, agents arrive as a "gift horse" magically providing some needed resource -- money, transportation, access to key media, skills, equipment, etc. Sometimes they just work hard, in a movement that values hard work.
And precisely because of their (apparent) usefulness, genuine radicals are sometimes sincerely taken in, overlook tell-tale signs, and generally unwilling to "look a gift horse in the mouth."
It is quite possible for someone to be just quiet, just keep their head down and "work hard" at movement tasks, building credibility and trust, while listening and taking notes. The recent example from Minneapolis involved some of these features.
I have had friends on the left simply dismiss their own suspicions (when discussing a bizarre person with nosy behavior on the fringes of our scene), "That person is just too fucked up to be a cop."
But, in fact, police regularly exploit people who are broken, or junkies, or socially borderline in many ways -- and they refine these techniques during their "street" activities. Somebody just busted for breaking-and-entry may agree to hang out around you to get a reduced sentence (and future probation for some chronic lumpen shit).
Often in the 1960s, police cadre were sent in pretending to be “radicalized vets” — and were able to gain some initial acceptance because radicals were so eager to encourage GI resistance, and to overlook the some things that came with a military experience. But these infiltrators often betrayed themselves by their sheer backwardness — by saying or doing things that a genuinely radical person would not.
The value of an inside job
For those reasons, the most successful and valuable informants have historically been actual activists of a movement who are “turned” in various ways.
There have (unfortunately) been informants who fit no particular profile -- who seemed part of radical communities because they are part of those communities: It is quite possible for someone who reads deep theory, or who had risked their life, or who seemed committed, or smoked weed and broke the law in other ways, or fell in love with a revolutionary, or was LGBT to be a secret informant.
Manilovsky was famous as the "worker intellectual" within a movement with many middle class activists -- the "talented organizer" with impeccable class credentials.
There are cases of informants who got hooked up with sincere revolutionaries romantically — adding the cover a profound personal betrayal to the larger political betrayal.
This is, of course, true — from the first betrayal such people are “hooked,” and subject to more blackmail, and “can’t back out.”
Of course, they can, in reality, “back out.” And should. They can just stop and if necessary go away.
It requires an ugly inexcusable blend of selfishness, cowardice and basic amorality to do it, and continue doing it.