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Stolen identities of dead children reused by Britain police force

 

 and  published in The Guardian on Feb. 3, 2013:

“Police spies stole identities of dead children”

Britain’s largest police force stole the identities of an estimated 80 dead children and issued fake passports in their names for use by undercover police officers.

The Metropolitan police secretly authorised the practice for covert officers infiltrating protest groups without consulting or informing the children’s parents.

The details are revealed in an investigation by the Guardian, which has established how over three decades generations of police officers trawled through national birth and death records in search of suitable matches.

Undercover officers created aliases based on the details of the dead children and were issued with accompanying identity records such as driving licences and national insurance numbers.

Some of the police officers spent up to 10 years pretending to be people who had died.

The Met said the practice was not “currently” authorised, but announced an investigation into “past arrangements for undercover identities used by SDS [Special Demonstration Squad] officers”.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of parliament’s home affairs select committee, said he was shocked at the “gruesome” practice. “It will only cause enormous distress to families who will discover what has happened concerning the identities of their dead children,” he said. “This is absolutely shocking.”

The technique of using dead children as aliases has remained classified intelligence for several decades, although it was fictionalised in Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal.

As a result, police have internally nicknamed the process of searching for suitable identities as the “jackal run”. One former undercover agent compared an operation on which he was deployed to the methods used by the Stasi.

Two undercover officers have provided a detailed account of how they and others used the identities of dead children. One, who adopted the fake persona of Pete Black while undercover in anti-racist groups, said he felt he was “stomping on the grave” of the four-year-old boy whose identity he used.

“A part of me was thinking about how I would feel if someone was taking the names and details of my dead son for something like this,” he said. The Guardian has chosen not to identify Black by his real name.

The other officer, who adopted the identity of a child who died in a car crash, said he was conscious the parents would “still be grief-stricken”. He spoke on the condition of anonymity and argued his actions could be justified because they were for the “greater good”.

Both officers worked for a secretive unit called the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which was disbanded in 2008.

A third undercover police officer in the SDS who adopted the identity of a dead child can be named as John Dines, a sergeant. He adopted the identity of an eight-year-old boy named John Barker, who died in 1968 from leukaemia.

The Met said in a statement: “We are not prepared to confirm nor deny the deployment of individuals on specific operations.”

The force added: “A formal complaint has been received which is being investigated by the DPS [Directorate for Professional Standards] and we appreciate the concerns that have been raised. The DPS inquiry is taking place in conjunction with Operation Herne’s investigation into the wider issue of past arrangements for undercover identities used by SDS officers. We can confirm that the practice referred to in the complaint is not something that would currently be authorised in the [Met police].”

There is a suggestion that the practice of using dead infant identities may have been stopped in the mid-1990s, when death records were digitised.

However, the case being investigated by the Met relates to a suspected undercover police officer who may have used a dead child’s identity in 2003.

The practice was introduced 40 years ago by police to lend credibility to the backstory of covert operatives spying on protesters, and to guard against the possibility that campaigners would discover their true identities.

Since then dozens of SDS officers, including those who posed as anti-capitalists, animal rights activists and violent far-right campaigners, have used the identities of dead children.

One document seen by the Guardian indicates that around 80 police officers used such identities between 1968 and 1994. The total number could be higher.

Black said he always felt guilty when celebrating the birthday of the four-year-old whose identity he took. He was particularly aware that somewhere the parents of the boy would be “thinking about their son and missing him”. “I used to get this really odd feeling,” he said.

To fully immerse himself in the adopted identity and appear convincing when speaking about his upbringing, Black visited the child’s home town to familiarise himself with the surroundings.

Black, who was undercover in the 1990s, said his operation was “almost Stasi-like”. He said SDS officers visited the house they were supposed to have been born in so they would have a memory of the building.

It’s those little details that really matter – the weird smell coming out of the drain that’s been broken for years, the location of the corner Post Office, the number of the bus you get to go from one place to another,” he said.

The second SDS officer said he believed the use of the harvested identities was for the “greater good”. But he was also aware that the parents had not been consulted. “There were dilemmas that went through my head,” he said.

The case of the third officer, John Dines, reveals the risks posed to families who were unaware that their children’s identities were being used by undercover police.

During his covert deployment, Dines had a two-year relationship with a female activist before disappearing from her life. In an attempt to track down her disappeared boyfriend, the woman discovered the birth certificate of John Barker and tried to track down his family, unaware that she was actually searching for a dead child.

She said she was relieved that she never managed to find the parents of the dead boy. “It would have been horrendous,” she said. “It would have completely freaked them out to have someone asking after a child who died 24 years earlier.”

The disclosure about the use of the identities of dead children is likely to reignite the controversy over undercover police infiltration of protest groups.

Fifteen separate inquiries have already been launched since 2011, when Mark Kennedy was unmasked as a police spy who had slept with several women, including one who was his girlfriend for six years.

On Tuesday the select committee will hear evidence from lawyers representing the 11 women who are suing the Met after forming “deeply personal” relationships with the spies. Kennedy, who worked for a sister unit to the SDS, is not believed to have used the identity of a dead child.

Vaz said MPs were now likely to demand answers from the Met police about the use of children’s identities. “My disbelief at some of the tactics used [by undercover police] has become shock as a result of these latest revelations. It is clear that inappropriate action has been taken by undercover police in the past. But this has now taken it to a new level,” he said.

“The committee will need to seek answers from the Metropolitan police, to find out why they allowed these gruesome practices to happen.”

How can we improve Truth, Transparency, Ethical and Moral incentives in News Media?

Are financial and economic interests of news companies the right incentives to generate truthful news?

Should transparent news media  engage in criticizing the elite political class?

Doesn´t society deserves Non-Profit-Foundations media system built on ethical and  moral incentives?

Do we need a new Media-Reformed system if a more sustainable and peaceful global world is to be built? Do we need a Media-Reform as we need a Banking-Reform?

How can Social Media improve Truth in the News?

Is Policy Action needed to stop the Media System of Murdoch or Berlusconi?

What are the risks in building transparency in news media?

My concern is: How could social news media successfully counter the traditional big news media support of government preemptive war schemes for the benefit of the elite richest class?

Paul Lewis vouched for the benefits of citizen reporters providing independent reality bytes to his newspaper. Lewis could create a new picture of reality which was closer to truth than the police stories using the technical opportunities of Social Media: His newspaper had an interest to publish the social-media-reality.

The international news media such Murdoch and Berlusconi Type of Media use the same technology to distort reality and to create “their” puzzle of reality which sells best.  For example, News Corp. have hacked in mobile phones and even mailboxes of a dead child.  Such Media systems have vested interests in Billions per year – it is in their best interest to have news for their best business. News Corp. just lost $738 Million of earnings after the successive scandals.

TED e-book of Laura Miller “Media Makeover: Improving The News One Click At a Time” has generated many responses.  People of expressed their interest in having more transparency in the news. People are concerned about who is influencing the news (powerful people and organizations). People are concerned that the news is just one big echo chamber and they are overall less trusting of  media.

What would you like to see in a more transparent media? What would you know more about that you don’t know now?

People would like to know more about the background of the reporters telling the stories. Others have mentioned the desire to see more about those quoted in the stories.

Transparency is about understanding where something starts, what are the connections to it, who is influencing it, and how it is evolving.

What are  your wishes in order to fulfill transparency in news media?

Since the new technologies enable customers to become producers of news, it is tantamount to develop community-based news media linked to various centers around the globe for instant transmission of community produced news.

Clay Shirky explained the process of this new revolution in social mass media:

First big media change:  Many-to-many pattern conversation. 

“The tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It’s when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.

The revolution landscape in media history had overcome four periods in the last 500 years: Starting with the printing press, to two-ways conversational media (phone, telegraph…), recorded media (photos, recorded sound, movies…), electromagnetic spectrum to send sound and images through the air (radio and television…)

It turned out that the media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And the media that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations. Clay said: “If you want to have a conversation in this world, you have it with one other person. If you want to address a group, you get the same message and you give it to everybody in the group,whether you’re doing that with a broadcasting tower or a printing press. That was the media landscape as we had it in the twentieth century. The Internet gives us the many-to-many pattern; a media natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations. That’s one of the big changes.

The second big media change:  Every medium is right next door to every other medium 

As all media gets digitized, the Internet also becomes the mode of carriage for all other media:  Phone calls migrate to the Internet, magazines migrate to the Internet, movies migrate to the Internet.  Put another way, media is increasingly less just a source of information, and it is increasingly more a site of coordination.  Groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well.

The third big media change: Audience can be producers and not just  consumers.

Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape, a new producer joins as well, because the same equipment – phones, computers – let you consume and produce. It’s as if, when you bought a book, they threw in the printing press for free.  It’s like you had a phone that could turn into a radio if you pressed the right buttons.

And it’s not just Internet or no Internet. We’ve had the Internet in its public form for almost 20 years now, and it’s still changing as the media becomes more social. It’s still changing patterns even among groups who know how to deal with the Internet well.

For example, last May, China in the Sichuan province had a 7.9 magnitude earthquake with massive destruction in a wide area. People were texting from their phones. They were taking photos of buildings.They were taking videos of buildings shaking. They were uploading it to QQ, China’s largest Internet service. They were Twittering it.

As the quake was happening, the news was reported. And because of the social connections, Chinese students coming elsewhere, and going to school, or businesses in the rest of the world opening offices in China – there were people listening all over the world, hearing this news. The BBC got their first wind of the Chinese quake from Twitter.Twitter announced the existence of the quake several minutes before the US Geological Survey had anything up online for anybody to read. The last time China had a quake of that magnitude it took them three months to admit that it had happened.

People began to figure out, in the Sichuan Provence, that the reason so many school buildings had collapsed during this school day,  is that corrupt officials had taken bribes to allow those building to be built to less than code. And so they started, the citizen journalists started reporting that as well.  A local official literally prostrated himself in the street, in front of these protesters, in order to get them to go away. Essentially to say: “We will do anything to placate you, just please stop protesting in public.”

The Chinese government responded by installing the Great Firewall of China to manage Internet censorship in the world.  This Great Firewall of China was successful for a while. Why?  This censorship scheme assumes four parameters for its set of observation points: 1) that media is produced by professionals; 2) it mostly comes in from the outside world; 3)  it comes in relatively sparse chunks, and 4) it comes in relatively slowly.

This strategy crumbled within a dozen years as a the consumers of news produced their media locally.  It was produced by amateurs. It was produced quickly. And it was produced at such an incredible abundance that there was no way to filter it as it appeared. And the Chinese government had no other recourse but to shutting down access to Twitter.

The classic twentieth century media process was: Bundle up the message. Send the same message to everybody. National message. Targeted individuals. Relatively sparse number of producers. Very expensive process to allow vigorous many competitors.  All of that is on the verge to be over.

We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap. Now most organizations that are trying to send messages to the outside world, to the distributed collection of the audience, are now used to this change. The audience can talk back. And that’s a little freaky. But you can get used to it after a while, as people do.

There is this new set of facts: 1) People are no longer disconnected from each other, 2) former consumers are now producers, 3) the audience can talk directly to one another. Consequently, there is a lot more amateurs than professionals, and the size of the network is huge and since the complexity of the network is actually the square of the number of participants then, the people’s network is growing very large.

As consumers/producers of news media become more professionals, it is unlikely that a superpower will blackmail major traditional news media into cowering to government preemptive war schemes for the benefit of the elite richest class.

Note: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/has-social-media-already-changed-history-for-the-5th-time-what-clay-shirky-had-to-say/


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