BAE Systems spies on activists

THE cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Gravesend, a Thames-side town in north Kent, is lined with spacious bungalows. The elderly owner of number 27, Evelyn Le Chene, was not at home on Friday. The man who answered her door described her as "a woman of secrets." Secrets, indeed: despite her age, Le Chene has been named as the mastermind of a vast private intelligence-gathering network that collated the identities and confidential details of nearly 150,000 left-wing activists and offered them at a price to British industrial companies.

Among her clients was the defence giant British Aerospace, now known as BAE Systems, according to a source intimate with the company's security operations. BAE, which has close links to Whitehall, paid Le Chene for at least four years to spy on opponents of the arms trade, according to the source. "Insight" has seen computer files and thousands of pages of reports from the widespread spying operation carried out for BAE. Bank accounts were accessed, computer files downloaded and private correspondence with members of parliament and ministers secretly copied and passed on. When samples were shown last week to members of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), a key target, one of them collapsed with shock at the extent of the personal detail they contained.

BAE said yesterday it was unable to comment on the specific allegations but would never encourage anyone to do anything illegal. Le Chene did not respond to requests for an interview about her activities.

[...] She was first approached by the security office at BAE to carry out surveillance work in the mid-1990s, according to a source. At the time, she had been running a company innocuously named R&CA Publications from an office in an industrial estate in Rochester, Kent. Both the company and the office have since closed. Le Chene was chosen by BAE because she specialised in "human" intelligence. "She wasn't very good at tapping phones or doing dustbins, but she was very good at running agentsā" one source close to BAE said last week.

At the time CAAT, a respected Quaker and Christian-based pacifist group which believes in non-violent protest, was stepping up a campaign against the 500 million Pound sale of BAE jets to Indonesia. The campaigners protested that the aircraft would be used to crush resistance in East Timor, which was seeking independence. Le Chene recruited at least half a dozen agents to infiltrate CAAT's headquarters at Finsbury Park, north London, and a number of regional offices.

She was to become an expert on the burgeoning pressure group sector. Documents seen by

The Sunday Times indicate that she ran an agent in the World Development Movement, an anti-poverty charity which campaigns against the arms trade to third world countries, and targeted more hardline groups such as Earth First and Reclaim the Streets. The close connections and mixed membership of such groups meant she acquired information on Friends of the Earth, the Greens, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and animal rights charities.

By late 1996, when John Major's Conservative government was deciding whether to grant licences for the Hawk contract, the intelligence reports on CAAT's activities started flowing into BAE's offices at Farnborough, Hampshire, almost every day. Calling herself "Source P," Le Chene initially sent over her briefings on an encrypted fax to the BAE security offices on the ground floor of Lancaster House at the airfield. Later BAE set up software on her office computer so that the company could access the reports directly from her database, according to a source, who said the firm paid her 120,000 Pounds a year. Thousands of pages of reports were made by Le Chene to BAE. They poked fun at the protesters: one had "revolting habits," another was "seriously into saving the tortoise." But they enabled BAE to build a large file of activists' names, addresses and telephone numbers as well as always keeping fully briefed on their meetings, demonstrations and political contacts.

Le Chene herself boasted a database of 148,000 "known names," of CND, trades unions, activists and environmentalists which she would sell for 2.25 Pounds each. She offered full biographies including national insurance numbers and criminal records where possible. "Putting together profiles is not an overnight jobā" she notes in one report. "It takes time to get to know people, their nick-names, habits, etc."

[...] Often the reports detailed forthcoming plans for demonstrations by activists outside BAE's 60 UK sites. The information was used to ambush trespassers and then serve injunctions preventing them from returning. Some of the information was gleaned simply by attending CAAT meetings. However, one agent downloaded the entire contents of a CAAT headquarters computer including a membership list, personal folders and details of private donations. Bank account details were also passed on, according to a source, and Agent P's reports to BAE discuss sending computer discs and tapes obtained from CAAT. Names and addresses of activists were routinely run through the BAE computers to check if any were shareholders. The BAE switchboard was configured to flag up any calls from telephone numbers associated with the activists. Desks were rifled, diaries were read and address books photocopied so that the information could then be transferred to BAE. CAAT members were often followed.

One such target was Jenneth Parker, described in one report as a "good-looking" 25-year-old, who was a key activist and networker for CAAT and student groups. A tape recording of a phone conversation between Le Chene and a senior officer in BAE group security reveals that they discussed having Parker followed. Reports on Parker give details of her addresses, housemates, hairstyles, the contents of her diary and her alleged habit of smoking marijuana in the corridor.

During the intense surveillance the pressure groups began to suspect that they had been infiltrated. One report relays fears amongst CAAT activists that a meeting would be "full of BAE spies." They were not far off the mark.

According to a source, Le Chene infiltrated an agent known as "Brough," into a Humberside offshoot of CAAT called Hull Against Hawks. The group was important within CAAT as it is on the doorstep of BAE's Brough plant where the Hawk bodies are manufactured. BAE's security had a photograph of "Brough" and added to his credibility within CAAT by ensuring that he was manhandled during protests at BAE's annual meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1997. Le Chene invoiced BAE for the 280 Pounds-a-month rent for Brough's flat in Hull, and there is evidence that he was the secretary of the Hull group and used the name Alan Fossey. He had become secretary of the Hull group shortly after moving to the town. He proved very useful, driving his fellow campaigners, "a mixture of students and pacifists," to marches in his van and holding the group's meetings in his small flat in a new development by the marina. His sound counsel was valued by other members of the group. When, at one meeting, a campaigner had suggested leaping over a fence to "occupy" an arms fair, Fossey had cut the subject dead by claiming he had heard the event was being guarded by paratroopers. Quite how he knew, nobody asked. But then nobody knew the truth about who really paid the rent on his fully furnished flat, where they met, or who was really picking up the bill for the phone he used to arrange all the group's business.

[...] The operation went on for at last four years until the end of the 1990s.

A BAE spokesman said last night: "The company cannot comment on anything that may relate to the physical security of our plant sites in the UK. The security of our people and places is paramount." Asked about the alleged theft of computer files from CAAT, the spokesman added: "We would never encourage anyone to do anything illegal."

(Published 29 September 2003 by the London Times Online.)

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