A security assessment
My professional expertise is in security.
It is not often that this is useful in my private life. However the
infiltration of the SWP for a year by two BNP members (Joe Finnon and
Diane Stoker) should give us all cause for self examination. The most
important thing to say is that this is an attack on the whole left, and
we must stand in solidarity with the SWP comrades. Now is not the time
for point scoring. The last thing we need now is for the SWP to feel
that this is being used a stick to beat them by the rest of the left.
The SWP are our comrades and we must stand together.
I have carried out a limited
investigation, by trawling the web and also by e-mail and telephone
conversations with some people I know in Manchester. The observations
below are I some places critical of the SWP, but only because they were
the target of attack. Similar and perhaps worse criticisms could be made
of most of us on the left.
For anyone who wants to get to grips with
the subject of security I would recommend any book by Bruce Schneier of
Counterpane security. For those with a more detailed interest I strongly
recommend the book "Security Engineering" by the British academic Ross
To subscribe to Schneier's excellent free
newsletter, send a blank e-mail to:
The first rule of security is to carry
out a vulnerability analysis, thinking about who your adversaries are,
what their capabilities are and what threat it represents to you. In the
jargon you need both threat modelling and risk assessment. As Bruce
Schneier says, you need to decide whether your opponent is the NSA
(American National Security Agency) or your kid sister, and adopt
security measures proportionate to the risk. You need a security policy.
Of course once security is breached you
need to reappraise the whole situation.
Also in terms of security analysis we
need to be dispassionate, and not jumble in political judgements, or
questions of face saving or prestige. That is what our adversaries in
the state do; that is what we need to do. The most common flaw in
security is to look at your organisation and its behaviour from the
perspective of an insider, for example believing that the chain of
command is actually the way decisions are made and implemented, instead
of doing a more nuanced analysis of the real human relationships
involved. A skilled adversary will exploit the gap between how you think
you do things, and how you actually do things.
There are also different levels of risk.
Some threats may expose you to risk that degrades your performance, some
threats may expose you to the threat of physical danger, and some
threats may be mission critical.
For a revolutionary left organisation it
is legitimate that they concentrate most on threats that ultimately
compromise their ability to organise a challenge to state power (the
mission critical risk). In this regard it is a shame that when comrades
discuss security they seem locked in a time warp discussing the
capabilities of the Tsar's Okhranka. Trust me, the state has moved on
since then! The capabilities of the ECHELON project run out of
Cheltenham on behalf of the US and UK governments in terms of
communications surveillance is simply awesome. It is best to operate in
the assumption that the state knows, or could know if it wanted to do,
everything about your organisations, the chain of command (the real one
as well as the formal one) and the decisions you are making. The state
doesn't need the membership lists anymore: methods of analysis are much
more sophisticated now and can automatically trawl networks for patterns
of telephone and email exchan ges.
I was however very impressed by the
ingenuity of the Taliban on relying upon verbal messages carried by
horse riding couriers! I was also impressed by the idea attributed to Al
Qaeda of implanting messages in the bit maps of pornographic images on
the web, so that when the picture is viewed it looked normal, but when
downloaded you could view the bitwise information and decode the
message. This allegedly defies chain of command analysis because of the
huge dilution effect where innocent porn addicts would swamp the tiny
number of hits from Al Qaeda operatives
Some of the discussion
on the left has been about whether the SWP's policy of open recruitment
is to blame. We shouldn't confuse the political issues with the security
ones. Candidate membership just means that the infiltrators need to be
more patient and learn a little more background. The recent scam where
the Ukrainian section of the CWI conned various other left groups around
the world out of money and resources shows that this is entirely
plausible. Reading the chat room discussions about this attack, (where
SWP members who knew the individuals have contributed) it is clear that
both of the moles were liked and trusted. The number of letters and
articles by the moles in Socialist Worker and Socialist Review shows
that they were adept at parodying the politics of the SWP.
The moles did a good enough job,
especially as they seem to be individuals of little talent. They became
trusted enough for Joe Finnon to became NW regional treasurer for
Respect! This was poor judgement even if he hadn't been a mole. He was a
young and apparently dippy lad who presumably had the usual money
worries of a student. What were the comrades thinking of?
The foolishness of the BNP moles can be
seen by the fact that Diane Stoker posted to the chat room Urban75 (and
the Mancs SWSS web page) trying to explain herself, and ending "see
some of you soon xxxx". The tone
was genuine naivety and not taunting. These postings have both now been
taken down. The SWP seems to have pushed forward two very untalented
individuals, and invested a lot of time trying to develop them.
What this episode reveals is that the SWP
have little security awareness. They pay lip service to security, but
self delusion about the present political period is clouding their
judgement. As John Nicholson has pointed out, these two seemed to be the
only notable recruits of Manchester SWP over the last year, but for
those of us who have been reading Socialist Worker, and the internal
"Party Notes" during that period will know that the SWP are pumped up
about the prospects for growth. I can see that where experience is
starkly contradicting the theoretical expectation then a slight
desperation could lead them to viewing these infiltrators through rose
I have to say that objectively the SWP is
a very secure organisation. If we consider the network of relationships
that runs in parallel with the ostensible chain of command, then there
is a lot of horizontal networking between trusted comrades who have been
in the organisation for donkey's years and who trust each other based
upon long personal involvement, and in most cases actual achievement
organising in the working class. In most cases the SWP in the provinces
behaves relatively autonomously, and many experienced comrades try to
minimise their contact with the centre and full timers.
Whatever your political judgement, it is
my professional judgement as a security analyst that this is a robust
arrangement, and if these comrades communicate face to face then they
can maintain confidentiality. Perhaps the state may have an "asset" in
this trusted middle cadre of the SWP, but it would have needed to be a
very patient mole prepared to work for 20 years for very little reward.
If we are being
dispassionate in our analysis of the SWP we could observe that the
leading comrades of the central committee are politically insulated by
full-time organisers who have typically risen through student politics,
although some have been trade union activists. State infiltration of the
full time organisers would be less effort, but I still think it unlikely
they would bother at present, given that they can assess the risk from
the SWP from its public press. I have at home some Economic League
reports from the 1980s, which was a private espionage organisation that
sold details of industrial militants to employers' organisations. Most
of the content was simply lifted from Socialist Worker, the Militant and
the Morning Star.
Of course any organisation is only a
strong as the loyalty of its members. Years ago IS industrial organiser
Roger Rosewell left the group and drifted to the right, in the course of
which he betrayed information to employers' organisations about trade
union militants (not all of them in the IS/SWP) that led to
victimisations and sackings. (A more famous defection from the left to
the far right is Benito Mussolini, former editor of Socialist Newspaper
There is not much we can do about personal betrayals.
The Rosewell case is still an important
example because it reveals a serious risk. Infiltrators may gain
knowledge about trade union activists that could compromise their
employment. We all need to be aware of that. The article in the May/June
issue of BNP paper "Voice of Freedom" exposes the place of work of well
respected Manchester SWP activist, Clive Searle and effectively argues
that he should be sacked for bringing his school into disrepute. This
story presumably came from the moles.
Clearly, the two BNP infiltrators have
gained access to a lot of names and addresses, whatever the SWP say. It
is naive to assume that they haven't. There is very worrying complacency
from the SWP here. The Morning Star report includes an interview with
John Rees and Weyman Bennet that says: "campaigners
said that they are not worried about any vital or confidential
information being leaked by Mr Finnon and Ms Stoker "because our
activities are public knowledge.""
Although the Morning Star claims that "The
Manchester branches of the Respect coalition, Unite Against Fascism and
the Socialist Workers Party ...warned people who had campaigned
alongside these infiltrators to be vigilant about security".
This is not true, activists in Manchester say the SWP has been
completely silent. Postings by SWP member s on the chat room Urban75 and
Indymedia reveal that they do not take the issue seriously at all. For
example, one SWP student, on the same course as Joe Finnon claims: "As
some one named in the [BNP webpage] article perhaps people will listen
to me on this one. I'm going to say
very little as its our internal issue and frankly none off your business."
Another SWP member has posted that they will not advise non-SWP members
who went to the Marxism school of the risk. I hope that these are low
level members speaking out of turn.
It is excellent that the NW Green
Party has taken the matter by the horns and has organised a meeting with
the SWP where it wants to discuss in depth what details of Green party
members may have been compromised. Labour movement bodies in the NW,
including trade unions, should do the same. If the SWP took this as
seriously as they should they would organise an independent Labour
Movement commission to study what the BNP know. For example they could
ask someone like Glyn Ford MEP to participate alongside an independent
socialist from Manchester like John Nicholson, and a member of the SWP's
own control commission.
Certainly the message does not seem to
have got through to the SWP rank and file that this is serious. An SWP
member who posts to Indymedia under the name "Sonic" says that the
infiltration is of little consequence as the Fascist could have got
names and addresses from the phone book, and the worst thing the SWP
could do would be change its pattern of activity.
They seem to have forgotten that the BNP
have violent fascists within their ranks. For example, BNP member and
Liverpool gangster Joey Owens was convicted in 1982 for sending razor
blades through the post to Jews in Liverpool. Are the SWP not even going
to advise people of this risk to everyone who signed their petitions?
The BNP now know the routine of the SWP
and much of the rest of the left. They know which pubs people drink in.
they know when and where there may be just one or two individuals on an
early morning paper sale. They perhaps know details of individuals'
private lives or their finances that could leave people open to
blackmail or duress. They may know details about people under threat of
deportation by the home office. At the very least the SWP needs to think
through all these risks and vary its routine activity.
It also needs to challenge its attitude
to other activists. In the Morning Star John Rees said: "that
he regretted the incident, but pointed out that, ironically, the
infiltrators did "more to help than stop us from fighting fascism." He
added: "We got more work out of them than anything else."
If you speak to activists in Manchester, not only the socialist left,
but also the Manchester Social Forum activists it is clear that the
least 12 months have seen a marked deterioration in relationships and
trust between the SWP and the rest of the left. This is the political
context in which two BNP moles did not strike anyone as out of place.
There are some other important security
lessons to learn. I take with a pinch of salt some of the details
appearing in the chat-rooms, but they certainly should be considered.
According to the Urban75 chat-room, it was detected in May or June that
fascist messages were being posted from the same computer (same IP
address) used by "Eugin Levine", the pseudonym used by another SWP
member on the same chemistry course as Joe Finnon. But once it was
revealed that this was a university IP address no further action was
taken. This was very complacent, as this pointed the finger at a fascist
very close to "Eugin Levine" and Joe Finnon.
We also learn from Urban75 that Diane
Stoker rang Workers Power comrades and told them that Tony Wentworth,
BNP student organiser, was in a Mancs pub and would they get down there.
When they arrived they ended up being questioned by waiting police.
Allegedly they smelled a rat at the time but didn't put two and two
together. The relationship between the two fascist moles and Workers
Power is intriguing, because we know that at the June National Committee
meeting of the SWP, Lindsay German accused Manchester SWP of having been
infiltrated by WP. I wonder if there is a connection. It is necessary
for Manchester SWP and Workers Power comrades to sit down together and
exchange information in a spirit of genuine cooperation.
This is a very sad affair for us all. It
will also have given Nick Griffin a boost and will have put a spring in
the step of BNP activists. There is a psychological aspect to this that
will be understood by the fascists but not by most of the left.
In the world of football hooligans there
is great deal of kudos in "taking liberties". That is, drinking and
having a fight in a rival "firms" local pub, or in some other way
crossing the line in an imagined turf war. As the BNP will see it the
SWP have shown themselves to be a soft touch.
Some but not all of the blame lies with
the SWP. Most of us on the left have been complacent, and we need to
review our behaviour accordingly.