How to Spot an Undercover Cop

Cutting Edge: Confessions of an Undercover Cop

Channel 4 (2011)

Film Review

This documentary is about a member of Britain’s National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) who served as an undercover operative inside the British environmental and antifascist movement between 2002-2009. Mark Kennedy was recruited for the elite NPOIU while working as an undercover narcotics officer. Following three weeks of specialized training, he assumed the role of a vegan anarchist named Mark Stone. For seven years, he reported daily to an NPOIU cover officer with information he had gleaned about fellow activists and their protest campaigns.

The NPOIU justification for infiltrating the environmental movement was to ensure the police response was “proportional” to the size of environmental protests. However over time Kennedy realized their true goal was to minimize the effectiveness of the environmental movement. As a result, he became increasingly conflicted about the role he played in undermining activists who seemed to have a genuine social function.

London’s massive March 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War was one of the first protests he infiltrated. Over time Kennedy, who was living under the cover name of Mark Stone, was admitted to the inner circle of the environmental movement. By 2005, he was assuming major responsibility for managing logistics for the 2005 G8 protest at Glen Eagles and the attempted shutdown (in 2006) of the Drax Power Station.

He also began a four year relationship with a female activist, in clear violation of NPOIU policy. According to police officials interviewed in the film, his cover officer had to know about the affair and should have terminated the assignment. It appears Kennedy’s superiors allowed the affair to continue for four years owing to the high quality of the information he was providing.

In 2005, he was suspended after riot cops beat him up during a protest, leading to an investigation on a possible charge of assaulting a police officer. After three months, he was suddenly recalled to duty to infiltrate the Spanish antifascist movement. Spain had contacted NPOIU requesting their assistance.

The NPOIU was forced to remove Kennedy from his undercover role in 2009, when information he provided led to police preventively arresting 30 protestors planning a civil disobedience at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. It became patently obvious Kennedy had narked on them when he was the only participant to have his charges dropped.

The NPOIU extracted him by floating the cover story he was moving to the US. After two weeks, he returned to Britain to be reassigned and was told the Metropolitan Police no longer had any use for his particular skills. He resigned, effectively ending a twenty year career.

When he tried to resume his relationship with his activist girlfriend, she happened to find a passport issued under his real name and outed him to the rest of the group – who outed him to the media.

The film concludes by raising important ethical questions about Kennedy’s undercover activity. Such as why the British police feel justified in preventing environmental protestors from executing their democratic rights. And how they justify spending millions of dollars spying on activists when Kennedy’s seven year mission failed to result in a single conviction.