M15 is systematically spying on Muslims: what are we going to do about it?

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Roshan Muhammad Salih

Muharram 17, 1434 2012-12-01

News & Analysis

by Roshan Muhammad Salih (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 10, Muharram, 1434)

The British internal intelligence agency is openly spying on Muslims and forcibly recruiting Muslims to spy on fellow Muslims my blackmailing them.

Personally I hate the victim mentality that many British Muslims have. But after several months of researching a documentary and a book on police/MI5 spying I have to admit it: British Muslims are definitely victims.

Since 9/11 the British state has conducted perhaps its biggest peacetime spying operation on its own citizens that are Muslim. Young Muslims are being targeted in schools, colleges and universities because the government believes they might turn into terrorists. Community leaders are being targeted because the state believes they control their followers. Women are being targeted because the authorities think they control the homes where potential terrorists grow up. And huge resources are being thrown at monitoring internet activity, especially of Muslims.

The evidence for this is overwhelming — it can be found in many news articles where MI5 tactics have been exposed; it has been documented by several human rights organizations which have been approached by young Muslims complaining of harassment; and it can be found on the Home Office website itself if you are willing to read between the lines.

After all, MI5 itself admits that the main area of its work is directed against al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. Its budget for 2012 was £2.1 billion, so what do you think this money is being spent on — cuddly toys?

MI5 tactics

Now let’s talk tactics. What methods are the police/MI5 using to target the community? They are planting bugs in masjids, offices and restaurants. They are using undercover officers who pretend to be converts to provoke conversations about jihad in the hope of entrapping their victims. They are blackmailing vulnerable people who may have committed a crime or a personal indiscretion into working for them.

One Muslim man who admits to working for MI5 told me, “What MI5 wants is access to the community so they will target people who occupy positions of responsibility. It’s basically impossible to say “no” to them — they blackmail for financial reasons, they blackmail with threats of imprisonment, they allude to your own personal health. What they want is information.”

Some may say that is fair and proper. Britain faces a terrorist threat and the police have a job to do. And that job will inevitably involve covert surveillance. That’s fine; I too acknowledge that the government has the right to go after the bad guys that exist in our community. But they don’t have the right to go after the whole community, and that is exactly what is happening.

For example, take the hundreds of security cameras that began appearing in the Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham in 2010. When the police were challenged over the cameras they were evasive and pretended that it was a big scheme to combat traffic and anti-social behavior. But then it emerged that the money for the cameras had come from a counter terrorism fund.

Were the cameras targeted at terrorists? No, they targeted the Muslim community as a whole. Steve Jolly, the civil liberties campaigner who uncovered the scandal told me, “Despite the cameras being taken down I still think the police are spying on Birmingham’s Muslims. But they’ll just do it in a different way now, they won’t get caught.”


In fact, Prevent, the government’s counter terror strategy, seems to be more about countering ideas and ideology rather than catching real terrorists. It has led to convictions such as that of Ahmad Faraz in Birmingham who was jailed for selling books or Samina Malik in Southall who was convicted for writing poetry. No plans, no plots, no explosives, just supposedly subversive ideas.

But the truth is that we don’t have a full picture yet of what the police/MI5 are doing. We can only look to history and previous counter-terrorism models to discern the likely pattern.

A good starting point would be the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) in the US which was a series of covert FBI projects aimed at monitoring, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting political organizations especially groups like the Black Panther Party.

Allegedly, tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. Targets included communists, the civil rights movement and other so-called subversives.

Similar methods seem to have been used against Northern Irish dissidents during the Troubles and even against non-violent groups such as the environmental and animal rights movements.

Many will be familiar with the police spies Mark Kennedy and Bob Lambert who infiltrated the environmental and animal rights movements. They had sex with women under false pretenses and even fathered children they later abandoned. Lambert later became an academic with suspiciously close ties with many Muslim leaders and organizations.

Andy Meinke, a left-wing activist who says he’s been subjected to police monitoring said, “They know everything about you, they have a database of literally about 15,000 protestors in the radical left. Now it’s the Muslims’ turn.”

Now these tactics seem to have been transferred to the Muslim community, the case of Munir Farooqi — who was convicted of terrorism in 2011 — being the most obvious example. He’s currently serving an 18-year prison sentence after being found guilty of trying to recruit people to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan.

Undercover policemen pretending to be Muslims spent a year frequenting his home, accepting the family’s hospitality and asking them questions about Islam. But all the time they were wearing secret recording devices and were filming what was being said. After thousands of hours of secret recordings they managed to get Farooqi to say this, “Jihad is not just go and give your life away, no. If we’re going to go there we’ll make sure we take at least forty, fifty people with us.”

Again, no plot, no plan, no explosives, no fighters, no jihad, just some words which his family alleges were taken out of context.

Muslim collaboration

But it is important to recognize that this spying is not simply a one-way street — there is a lot of Muslim collaboration going on, either willingly or under duress. Many young men have told me their stories of being approached by MI5 to spy, often accompanied by threats of travel bans, unemployability or “making your life hell.” But for all of these cases we know about how many more examples of those who have acquiesced are we unaware of?

Then there are Muslim organizations which accept government funding; those with close ties to government and police; the radicals who have been on jihad who are allowed to operate freely while others are arrested and persecuted; those who may have radical credentials and an outwardly religious or radical persona, but whose words and actions usually result in the division, demonization and disruption that the government wants.

Some Muslims who may not be outright spies also have dangerously close ties to the security services. They work together sometimes when their interests coincide; they hate each other the rest of the time.

Rizwaan Sabir, a former PhD student who was arrested after Nottingham University tipped off police that he was reading an al-Qaeda manual, finds this deeply hypocritical. “If you are fighting on point of principle and reason then I think it’s very important to keep a clear boundary over who you partner with. Negotiation, discussion and communication are very important — especially between two warring sides or two sides that are at the opposite ends of the spectrum — but fighting one day and then becoming best friends the next day, it just shows hypocrisy.”

Now I’m probably starting to sound paranoid but after months of researching this subject I may be guilty of that to a certain extent. I am also not saying that all of the above are spies, but I am saying that given the assault that we are being subjected to, at least we have the right to doubt and to ask questions.

MI5 exagerrates Islamic “threat”

As for MI5 and the police, not surprisingly they would not cooperate with my research. For the record, MI5 denies harassing Muslims. On its website it says it doesn’t investigate any group or individual on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs. And it says it only carries out investigations if there is a clear national security reason for doing so. A barrister contact of mine — who has represented several terror suspects — has a different view. He describes MI5 as criminals with a license to commit crime. They are completely unaccountable, have no oversight and can do whatever the hell they want — legal or illegal. He also believes that it suits them to exaggerate the threat of Islamic terrorism because this has become a huge money-making industry. They are quite happy with this high tension situation.

Former London police commander Ali Dizaei (who was also subject to MI5 surveillance) doesn’t go that far. But he believes the power to decide who gets investigated by undercover officers and who doesn’t should be decided by a judge and not by the police. “If there is any threat to the national security of this country there will be a need to carry out some level of surveillance. However, the key word in all of this is proportionality. Just because you have a fine grain of intelligence which says someone may be a threat to national security that does not give you a license to carry out phone taps, intrusive surveillance, tracker surveillance and everything else. Profiling of any community has to be based on real, substantive intelligence and not on the basis of innuendos.”

Countering the spies

Finally, what can we do about all this? I must confess I do not have all the answers. We need to come together as a community to talk about this openly and to formulate responses in coordination with sympathetic non-Muslims.

But here are a few ideas. First, we should blow the lid on this scandal. The mainstream media aren’t going to cover it because they are ultimately part of the establishment, so it is up to us to keep this in the spotlight. Second, we should document any kind of MI5 harassment and put it into the public sphere; we should scrutinize MI5 itself and its complete lack of accountability; we should beware of new converts who are more interested in politics than religion; we should put pressure on our own organizations to boycott government funds; and most of all we need to quit the in-fighting and come together as a community to counter the counter-terrorism.

Above all, keep your own nose clean. Do not get involved in schemes that smell of entrapment, be careful before you shoot your mouth off, do not have an affair, consort with prostitutes, accumulate huge debt or do anything illegal or potentially embarrassing. It may be used against you.

Roshan Muhammed Salih is a UK-based journalist and researcher.

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