Category Archives: Privacy Rights

The Most Militarized Universities in America: A VICE News Investigation

By William M. Arkin and Alexa O’Brien

November 6, 2015 | 7:15 am

An information and intelligence shift has emerged in America’s national security state over the last two decades, and that change has been reflected in the country’s educational institutions as they have become increasingly tied to the military, intelligence, and law enforcement worlds. This is why VICE News has analyzed and ranked the 100 most militarized universities in America.

Initially, we hesitated to use the term militarized to describe these schools. The term was not meant to simply evoke robust campus police forces or ROTC drills held on a campus quad. It was also a measure of university labs funded by US intelligence agencies, administrators with strong ties to those same agencies, and, most importantly, the educational backgrounds of the approximately 1.4 million people who hold Top Secret clearance in the United States.

But ultimately, we came to believe that no term sums up all of those elements better than militarized. Today’s national security state includes a growing cadre of technicians and security professionals who sit at computers and manage vast amounts of data; they far outnumber conventional soldiers and spies. And as the skills demanded from these digital warriors have evolved, higher education has evolved with them.

The 100 schools named in the VICE News rankings produce the greatest number of students who are employed by the Intelligence Community (IC), have the closest relationships with the national security state, and profit the most from American war-waging.

National security-related degree programs cater not just to new technologies and education needs, but also to the careers of a regimented workforce, offering distance learning, flexible credits, and easy transfers to accommodate frequent deployments, assignment changes, and shift work.

Four categories of institutions of higher education dominate the VICE News list of the 100 most militarized universities in America: schools whose students attain their degrees predominantly online; schools that are heavily involved in research and development for defense, intelligence, and security clients; schools in the Washington, DC area; and schools that are newly focused on homeland security.

Twenty of the top 100 schools that instruct people working in intelligence agencies, the military, and the worlds of law enforcement and homeland security — including their private contractor counterparts — are effectively online diploma mills. Twelve are for-profit companies; several didn’t exist before 9/11. The schools have become so important that two of them, American Military University (No. 2) and the University of Phoenix (No. 3), rank near the top of the list based on the sheer number of their graduates working in the Top Secret world.

Seventeen of the 100 top schools are in the Washington, DC area, reflecting the concentration of all things national security around the nation’s capital. The University of Maryland handily outranks all other schools at number one, while Georgetown University (No. 10), George Washington University (No. 4), and American University (No. 20) — all considered among the country’s 10 best schools for the study of international relations — rank among the top 25 most militarized schools. But post-9/11 growth in homeland security and a high demand for cyber training boost schools as diverse as George Mason (No. 5), Northern Virginia Community College (No. 16), and Strayer University (No. 8), a predominantly online school headquartered in Herndon, Virginia.

Seventeen powerhouse research universities traditionally supporting the oft-cited military-industrial complex rank in the top 100, including Johns Hopkins (No. 7), Penn State (No. 15), Georgia Tech (No. 26), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 47). Ten of these schools account for $2.05 billion in national security research and development funding, which is two-thirds of the approximately $3 billion VICE News calculates the federal government gave to the top 100 schools last year. Yet rather than traditional weapons systems, what these schools mostly research — often in classified laboratories — is intelligence technologies, cyber security, and big data analytics, challenging the common view of what militarization means.

More than 250 schools now offer certificates and degrees in homeland security, a relatively new discipline combining emergency management, physical security, and information security. Meanwhile, intelligence courses are a growing prerequisite for criminology and law enforcement education, a transformation reaching beyond federal agencies into local police. With new programs and increasing government and private sector funding, the top homeland security schools include Texas A&M (No. 14), Louisiana State (No. 96), Duke (No. 66), the University of Minnesota (No. 76), and Rutgers (No. 73).

The rankings rely on a unique dataset of more than 90,000 individuals who have worked in and around the IC since 9/11. The sample represents approximately 6 percent of all the people in the US with a Top Secret clearance, and includes military and law enforcement personnel, government civilian employees, and contractors at the federal, state, and local levels.

The rankings were initially calculated based on how many people in the IC had degrees and certificates from each school, then adjusted using 51 additional factors, running the gamut from federal funding amounts to a designation as an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence to participation in federal domestic security task forces.

The affiliations revealed in the resumes of Top Secret workers offer unprecedented insight into the make-up of the national security state. Many of the schools that rank in the top 100 are virtually unknown outside government — schools like Cochise College (No. 6), Excelsior College (No. 13), and Central Texas College (No. 18). Each of these institutions tend to serve a specific constituency: military intelligence at Cochise, Army personnel at Central Texas College, and law enforcement at the predominantly online Excelsior, headquartered in Albany, New York.

Only three traditionally conservative schools (as determined by outside rankings), Texas A&M (No. 14), Liberty University (No. 42) and Brigham Young University (No. 84), are in the top 100, indicating that conservative social or political ideology plays little role in how schools are militarized.

Several elite schools on the list — such as Harvard (No. 32), Duke (No. 66), Stanford (No. 60), Northwestern (No. 80), and Cornell (53) — rank highly because of federal funding and specialized graduate programs. Harvard, for example, boasts a massive executive education program geared toward mid-career and senior federal employees; few Harvard-affiliated Top Secret workers obtained a bachelor’s degree at the school. That trend is repeated at other elite schools. In fact, of the top 100 ranked liberal arts colleges in America, none appear on our list of the nation’s 100 most militarized institutions.

The 20 predominately online schools on our list are akin to defense and intelligence contractors. The post-9/11 government expansion in national security and law enforcement increased the availability of tuition assistance and benefits for veterans and soldiers. For-profits have received the largest share of military education benefits, amounting to roughly 42 percent of post-GI Bill benefits between 2013 and 2014 and half of Department of Defense Tuition Assistance benefits.

In general, there are a wide range of reasons why schools end up ranking on our list. The business school at Villanova University (No. 22) educates a large number of managers and contract administrators for the classified black budget, a phenomenon only identifiable when looking at the resumes of hundreds of its graduates. West Virginia University (No. 72) is the lead academic partner of the FBI and the military for the study of biometrics, and is located near intelligence centers established after 9/11 that specialize in “identity intelligence.” The University of Central Florida (No. 50), a simulations research and curriculum specialist, is located near an Orlando-based federal training cluster and consortium that focuses on everything from war gaming to immersive training environments of the future.

A half-dozen schools in the top 100 had national security degree programs throughout the Cold War: George Washington University (No. 4), Johns Hopkins (No. 7), Georgetown (No. 10), Harvard (No. 32), MIT (No. 47), the University of Denver (No. 93), and Missouri State University (No. 95), formerly known as Southwest Missouri State. These schools continue to be well represented in the broader national security community, though national security credentials from those schools are less common in Top Secret workers minted after 9/11.

Strategic and intelligence studies programs that emerged after 9/11 at two universities are also prevalent in the educational backgrounds of the national security workforce: Duke (No. 66) and Mercyhurst University (No. 88). But fewer than 400 people out of 90,000 contained in our dataset have actual degrees in national security studies. Less than 5 percent of the total dataset have majors or advanced degrees in political science. International relations appears even less frequently, at 2 percent of the overall workforce.

Fewer than 100 people have graduate degrees in Middle Eastern studies. Less than 1 percent (fewer than 1,000 people) describe themselves as Arabic linguists. Of those, 60 percent are contractors, predominantly Arab-American citizens working for private companies under contract with national security–related agencies.

The Most Common Academic Concentrations in Top Secret Workers
1. Information Systems and Technology
2. Information Technology
3. Systems Engineering
4. Business Administration
5. Criminal Justice and Criminology
6. Computer Science
7. Political Science
8. Electrical Engineering
9. General Studies
10. Mechanical Engineering

Of the 10 most common academic concentrations present in the data, information systems, management, and systems engineering rank highest. Emergency management and disaster preparedness, which once fell under the rubric of public administration or urban and regional planning, is now largely subsumed under homeland security education alongside counter-terrorism. Degrees in intelligence-related criminal justice studies account for twice as many degrees as those in political science and international relations combined, even among military personnel.

Based on the most recent data for 2013, twenty-seven percent of those employed in the IC are civil service workers, that is, regular competitive civilian employees of the US government. Another 54 percent are military personnel, working directly for military intelligence agencies or seconded to other agencies. And 18 percent are private contractors — largely workers who were formerly members of the first two groups.

A frenzy of hiring following 9/11 after years of relative stagnation in the 1990s left the IC “dominated by senior and junior personnel, with shortfalls in the midcareer workforce,” according to a 2013 Rand Corporation study entitled Workforce Planning in the Intelligence Community. That frenzy brought in an enormous influx of junior personnel, overwhelming the formal training establishment at a time when the demand for non-traditional training shifted educational needs from military arts and sciences to information skills.

The world of drones, networks, geographic information systems, and big data were emerging and demanding new skill sets. Tens of thousands of analysts were needed to operate software-intensive intelligence systems. Much of their certification was simply outsourced to the schools on our list.

Outside of the military and intelligence communities, the situation was even more challenging. The new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created; in fact, more security personnel were hired by the DHS’s Transportation Security Administration in the first five years of its existence than the entire CIA, NSA, and State Department together employed. Online programs flourished, but skills training took over from any reliance on a liberal arts education.

On-the-job training has also influenced the educational styles of higher education institutions serving this constituency. They rely on more hands-on training and more college credits granted for experiential skills. Whether education quality has been sacrificed remains an open question, but there is no disputing that different types of workers and schooling has emerged, and that in the IC during the information era, education has often been overtaken by training.

As early as 2007, a crisis in national security education and training was already being observed. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported its concerns about the uncontrolled growth and significant shortcomings in the composition and skills of the Top Secret workforce as part of its unclassified report on the classified budget. Inadequate lead times in hiring practices, the excessive use of contractors, ineffective training, and the absence of language proficiency were just some of the deficiencies they identified.

The IC and its law enforcement counterpart is consumed with acquiring an ever-increasing flood of information — like targeting and biographical data — and then processing it, moving it, analyzing it, storing it, and networking it for later retrieval. The system to do so has grown so complex that the quest to develop significant regional or cultural expertise about the lands or peoples whom we are fighting has fallen by the wayside. The education backgrounds and the areas of academic concentration show that the national security community has transformed into an information age army more consequential than traditional warriors.

The gloomy result is that the academy (and by extension the philanthropic world) has failed to establish a post-9/11 academic program to cultivate the next generation of scholars who can offer a genuinely civilian counter-narrative to the national security state similar to the civilian arms control community created during the Cold War. Even at the most elite schools that rank in the top 100, the many centers and research institutes focusing on warfare and terrorism are predominantly adjuncts of the national security state.

The IC has also become more isolated and self-perpetuating. This phenomenon is evidenced by two categories of schools that dominate the rankings: Firstly, the set of 20 online universities that subsist as the quasi-outsourced training establishment for the military and homeland security, subsidized largely by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Second, the set of 17 Washington, DC-area schools that provide certification and post-undergraduate professional training for the inside-the-Beltway crowd.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, veterans brought more than $19.5 billion to colleges and universities through the GI Bill from August 2009 to September 2014. Nearly $8 billion of that went to for-profit colleges, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It has been 14 years since 9/11, but many of the national security alliances now in place with higher education institutions have emerged in the past three years. Classified research on campuses, once highly controversial, is making a comeback. College and university administrators and campus police are increasingly being enlisted in homeland security, counter-terrorism, and counter-intelligence.

Internally since 9/11, the government has initiated an abundance of programs to improve institutional understanding of the cultures and languages in the regions where we are fighting: The Pentagon has created a program of “Afghan-Pakistan (AFPAK) hands” specializing in mentoring and training. The military has developed female engagement teams to work in the Muslim world, specifically in Afghanistan. The Army lauded its human terrain system, enlisting social scientists in network analysis and (disastrously) in interrogations. In government, there have also been reorganizations galore to face the challenges of national and international security, from the creation of DHS to the establishment of the military’s US Africa Command.

Yet there is no indicator of any significant advance in foreign language expertise or regional specialty, or indeed of any greater capacity to understand or think critically about the state of domestic or international affairs. The international order is no more stable today than it was a decade and a half ago. The homeland is not safer. The threats, both internationally and domestically, are ever increasing despite all of these efforts.

An overwhelming avalanche of intelligence information, a looming threat to cyber security, the echo chamber of Washington, DC, the outsourcing of basic training to educational contractors — these are the realities of the national security state that are exerting a tremendous influence on higher education in America. As a result, what is too often being taught at these schools is not the art of war or peace, nor the capacity to understand the costs or benefits of either.

Follow William M. Arkin (william.arkin@vice.com) on Twitter: @warkin

Follow Alexa O’Brien (email@alexaobrien.com) on Twitter: @carwinb

EFF Joins ACLU in Amicus Brief Supporting Warrant Requirement for Cell-Site Simulators

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DECEMBER 29, 2015 | BY JENNIFER LYNCH

EFF, ACLU, and ACLU of Maryland filed an amicus brief today in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in the first case in the country (that we know of) where a judge has thrown out evidence obtained as a result of using a cell-site simulator without a warrant.

In the case, Baltimore Police used a Hailstorm—a cell-site simulator from the same company that makes Stingrays—to locate Kerron Andrews, the defendant. The police not only failed to get a warrant to use the device, they also failed to disclose it to the judge in their application for a pen register order. And it appears they even failed to tell the State’s attorney prosecuting Mr. Andrews’ case.

Luckily Mr. Andrews’ intrepid defense attorney suspected the police might have used a stingray and sent a discovery request asking specifically if they had. The prosecution stalled for months on answering that request, but, on the eve of trial, one of the investigators responsible for Baltimore PD’s stingrays finally testified in court not only that he’d used the device to find Mr. Andrews, but that he’d specifically not disclosed it in any report filed about Andrews’ arrest. The judge concluded the police had intentionally withheld information from Mr. Andrews—a clear violation of his constitutional rights.

This August, another Baltimore judge granted the defense’s request to suppress all evidence the police were able to get as a direct result of using the stingray. The judge held the use of the device without a warrant violated Andrews’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. Unsurprisingly, the government appealed.

Cell-site simulators, also commonly known as IMSI catchers or stingrays, masquerade as legitimate cell phone towers, tricking phones nearby into connecting to the device instead of the tower operated by the phone company. This allows police to log the identifying numbers of mobile phones in the area and to pinpoint their locations. Police often use cell-site simulators when they are trying to find a suspect and know his phone’s identifying information.

As we learned from USA Today, the Baltimore PD has been using cell-site simulators extensively (and secretly) for at least the last eight years. A detective testified that Baltimore officers had used cell-site simulators more than 4,300 times since 2007. Like other law enforcement agencies around the country, Baltimore has used its devices for major and minor crimes—everything from trying to locate a man who had kidnapped two small children to trying to find another man who took his wife’s cellphone during an argument (and later returned it). And, like other law enforcement agencies, the Baltimore PD has regularly withheld information about Stingrays from defense attorneys, judges, and the public.

Stingrays are especially pernicious surveillance tools because they collect information on every single phone in a given area—not just the suspect’s phone—this means they allow the police to conduct indiscriminate, dragnet searches. They are also able to locate people inside traditionally-protected private spaces like homes, doctors’ offices, or places of worship—in Mr. Andrews’ case the investigators used the Stingray to pinpoint his location to within a specific apartment. Stingrays can also be configured to capture the content of communications.

This is why it’s imperative that police not only obtain a warrant based on probable cause before using a cell-site simulator but also commit to minimization procedures, including immediately deleting information about all phones not covered by the warrant and limiting the time period during which the device is used. These are not novel or onerous requirements—the Wiretap Actrequires similar procedures. And in fact, both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security recently committed to following similar procedures whenever their agents use stingrays.

We hope the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will agree that the warrantless use of a stingray is unconstitutional and uphold the lower court ruling suppressing the evidence.

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

By ANDREW POLLACK

AUG. 17, 2009

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.

The planting of fabricated DNA evidence at a crime scene is only one implication of the findings. A potential invasion of personal privacy is another.

Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the findings were worrisome.

“DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” she said. “We’re creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.”

John M. Butler, leader of the human identity testing project at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said he was “impressed at how well they were able to fabricate the fake DNA profiles.” However, he added, “I think your average criminal wouldn’t be able to do something like that.”

The scientists fabricated DNA samples two ways. One required a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification.

Of course, a drinking cup or piece of hair might itself be left at a crime scene to frame someone, but blood or saliva may be more believable.

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair.

Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.

The other technique relied on DNA profiles, stored in law enforcement databases as a series of numbers and letters corresponding to variations at 13 spots in a person’s genome.

From a pooled sample of many people’s DNA, the scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. They said that a library of 425 different DNA snippets would be enough to cover every conceivable profile.

Nucleix’s test to tell if a sample has been fabricated relies on the fact that amplified DNA — which would be used in either deception — is not methylated, meaning it lacks certain molecules that are attached to the DNA at specific points, usually to inactivate genes.

A version of this article appears in print on , on page D3 of the National edition with the headline: Scientists Show That It’s Possible to Create Fake DNA Evidence.

FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects

Law-Enforcement Officials Expand Use of Tools Such as Spyware as People Under Investigation ‘Go Dark,’ Evading Wiretaps

Updated Aug. 3, 2013 3:17 p.m. ET

Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are expanding the use of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber age.

Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.

People familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programs say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can’t be wiretapped like a phone, is called “going dark” among law enforcement.

The FBI develops some hacking tools internally and purchases others from the private sector. With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate the microphones in phones running Google Inc.’s Android software to record conversations, one former U.S. official said. It can do the same to microphones in laptops without the user knowing, the person said. Google declined to comment.

The bureau typically uses hacking in cases involving organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism, a former U.S. official said. It is loath to use these tools when investigating hackers, out of fear the suspect will discover and publicize the technique, the person said.

The FBI has been developing hacking tools for more than a decade, but rarely discloses its techniques publicly in legal cases.

Earlier this year, a federal warrant application in a Texas identity-theft case sought to use software to extract files and covertly take photos using a computer’s camera, according to court documents. The judge denied the application, saying, among other things, that he wanted more information on how data collected from the computer would be minimized to remove information on innocent people.

Since at least 2005, the FBI has been using “web bugs” that can gather a computer’s Internet address, lists of programs running and other data, according to documents disclosed in 2011. The FBI used that type of tool in 2007 to trace a person who was eventually convicted of emailing bomb threats in Washington state, for example.

The FBI “hires people who have hacking skill, and they purchase tools that are capable of doing these things,” said a former official in the agency’s cyber division. The tools are used when other surveillance methods won’t work: “When you do, it’s because you don’t have any other choice,” the official said.

Surveillance technologies are coming under increased scrutiny after disclosures about data collection by the National Security Agency. The NSA gathers bulk data on millions of Americans, but former U.S. officials say law-enforcement hacking is targeted at very specific cases and used sparingly.

Still, civil-liberties advocates say there should be clear legal guidelines to ensure hacking tools aren’t misused. “People should understand that local cops are going to be hacking into surveillance targets,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We should have a debate about that.”

Mr. Soghoian, who is presenting on the topic Friday at the DefCon hacking conference in Las Vegas, said information about the practice is slipping out as a small industry has emerged to sell hacking tools to law enforcement. He has found posts and resumes on social networks in which people discuss their work at private companies helping the FBI with surveillance.

A search warrant would be required to get content such as files from a suspect’s computer, said Mark Eckenwiler, a senior counsel at Perkins Coie LLP who until December was the Justice Department’s primary authority on federal criminal surveillance law. Continuing surveillance would necessitate an even stricter standard, the kind used to grant wiretaps.

But if the software gathers only communications-routing “metadata”—like Internet protocol addresses or the “to” and “from” lines in emails—a court order under a lower standard might suffice if the program is delivered remotely, such as through an Internet link, he said. That is because nobody is physically touching the suspect’s property, he added.

An official at the Justice Department said it determines what legal authority to seek for such surveillance “on a case-by-case basis.” But the official added that the department’s approach is exemplified by the 2007 Washington bomb-threat case, in which the government sought a warrant even though no agents touched the computer and the spyware gathered only metadata.

In 2001, the FBI faced criticism from civil-liberties advocates for declining to disclose how it installed a program to record the keystrokes on the computer of mobster Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. to capture a password he was using to encrypt a document. He was eventually convicted.

A group at the FBI called the Remote Operations Unit takes a leading role in the bureau’s hacking efforts, according to former officials.

Officers often install surveillance tools on computers remotely, using a document or link that loads software when the person clicks or views it. In some cases, the government has secretly gained physical access to suspects’ machines and installed malicious software using a thumb drive, a former U.S. official said.

The bureau has controls to ensure only “relevant data” are scooped up, the person said. A screening team goes through all of the data pulled from the hack to determine what is relevant, then hands off that material to the case team and stops working on the case.

The FBI employs a number of hackers who write custom surveillance software, and also buys software from the private sector, former U.S. officials said.

Italian company HackingTeam SRL opened a sales office in Annapolis, Md., more than a year ago to target North and South America. HackingTeam provides software that can extract information from phones and computers and send it back to a monitoring system. The company declined to disclose its clients or say whether any are in the U.S.

U.K.-based Gamma International offers computer exploits, which take advantage of holes in software to deliver spying tools, according to people familiar with the company. Gamma has marketed “0 day exploits”—meaning that the software maker doesn’t yet know about the security hole—for software including Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer, those people said. Gamma, which has marketed its products in the U.S., didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did Microsoft.

Write to Jennifer Valentino-DeVries at Jennifer.Valentino-DeVries@wsj.com and Danny Yadron at danny.yadron@wsj.com

Lisa Jones, Girlfriend of Undercover Policeman Mark Kennedy: ‘I thought I Knew Him Better than Anyone’

 

The most traumatising time of Lisa Jones’s life began when she agonised for months over the true identity of her boyfriend. They had been together for six years and she loved him “totally, completely, more than anyone”.

“He was the closest person in the world to me,” she says. “The person who knew me better than anybody else. I thought I knew him better than anyone else knew him.” But she had begun to suspect that he was lying about who he really was.

This is the first interview “Lisa”, who wants to retain her anonymity, has given to the media. Only now, five years later, does she feel ready to describe how she has been devastated by the deception. She speaks eloquently, though the pain is still evident. Her boyfriend, Mark, always had a slightly mysterious side to him. In their last few months together his behaviour was, at times, erratic; but at other times, their relationship was blissful.

In what she describes as a “constant see-saw from one state to another”, she oscillated between “desperately, desperately” wanting to believe the story he had told her about himself, and wondering whether he had completely deceived her about a fundamental part of his life.

Reduced to a “very fragile” state, she struggled with her dilemma: “Am I fighting to save this relationship or am I trying to figure out who he is? I am either putting my energies into this relationship or I am investigating him – I can’t do both.”

The truth was not disclosed to her by him. Instead she and her friends found out through their own detective work and a chance discovery.

Assistant commissioner Martin Hewitt apologises for undercover officers’ relationships

They established that he was Mark Kennedy, an undercover policeman who had been sent to spy on her circle of activist friends. For seven years, he had adopted a fake persona to infiltrate environmental groups. Their unmasking of him five years ago kickstarted a chain of events that has exposed one of the state’s most deeply concealed secrets.

Back then, the public knew little about a covert operation that had been running since 1968. Only a limited number of senior police officers knew about it. Kennedy was one of more than 100 undercover officers who, over the previous four decades, had transformed themselves into fake campaigners for years at a time, assimilating themselves into political groups and hoovering up information about protests that they had helped to organise.

More than 10 women have discovered that they had relationships with undercover policemen, some lasting years, without being told their true identity.

On Friday it was announced that police had agreed to give a full apology and pay compensation to Lisa and six other women for the trauma they suffered after being deceived into forming intimate relationships with police spies.

Lisa, for her part, welcomed the apology. But it comes more than a decade after Kennedy’s mission began. “No amount of money or ‘sorry’ will make up for the lack of answers about the extent to which I was spied upon in every aspect of my most personal and intimate moments,” she says.

Kennedy first infiltrated a group of environmental campaigners in Nottingham in 2003. The fake persona he chose was that of a long-haired, tattooed professional climber by the name of Mark Stone. Among campaigners, he earned the nickname “Flash” as he always seemed to have a lot of money.

In the autumn of 2003, Lisa met Kennedy when he visited Leeds, where she was living. Then in her early 30s, she had for some years been active in environmental, anti-capitalist, and anti-nuclear campaigns. Her first impressions were that he was “very charming, very friendly and familiar in a way that was quite disarming”.

Mark Kennedy at Glastonbury festival in 2008, in a picture taken by Lisa Jones
Mark Kennedy at Glastonbury Festival in 2008, in a picture taken by Lisa Jones

Kennedy had a number of sexual relationships while undercover. The longest was with Lisa. “During his deployment, he spent more time with me than anybody else, and probably more time than everyone else together,” she says. He “slotted very easily” into her group of friends, who went climbing in their spare time. He got to know her family. When her father died, Kennedy was in the mourners’ car with her. “He was the one who held me as I cried through the night, and helped me pick myself up again after that,” Lisa says.

He would go away every few weeks – the longest time was three months – working, but kept in regular contact through phone calls, emails and texts. They went abroad together, sometimes just the two of them, cycling or climbing, and sometimes for protests. Over time, he gained a reputation as a committed environmental activist. But secretly, he was passing back to his police handlers information about the protesters and their political activities.

His covert mission was terminated in October 2009 when he was summoned by his handlers to a meeting at an anonymous truckstop. That month, he disappeared abruptly from his house in Nottingham. In the weeks before his disappearance, he had been agitated and distant with his friends. Lisa recalls: “He had quite an emotional crash, it seems. Some days he would not get out of bed – that was very, very out of character. He was usually quite bright and chirpy, an early riser type, an energetic person, but he was upset quite a lot of the time. I would comfort him. It really felt to me that I was seeing him through a difficult time, and a breakdown. He leant on me very heavily.”

 

He appeared to be very paranoid. The police had raided his house after he was arrested at a protest, and he said he was worried they were delving into his background and income. He said he needed a break and was going to go to the US to stay with his brother for a while. Lisa says that the day before he flew, he “was behaving very, very strangely”, claiming that he was being followed.

“When he went, I was really, really worried about his sanity. I thought he had properly lost it. I kept saying to him that this looks to me as if you are not coming back. He had sold his car, apparently left his job and half-cleared out his house. The other half I had to do.”

In January 2010, he mysteriously reappeared. What Lisa and the other campaigners did not know at that time was that Kennedy was quitting the police to avoid being assigned to a humdrum desk job. But he had not discarded his fictional persona of “Mark Stone”, and continued to be involved in political campaigns. He has admitted that he was employed by a clandestine private security firm that was paid by commercial firms to monitor protesters.

To Lisa, however, he was “different, volatile, up and down a lot of the time. Obviously he was being much less supervised, much less directed, and I just don’t think he knew what he was doing at that time. He was rudderless. I was still so bruised from him losing his marbles and disappearing that I was in some ways waiting for an explanation, somehow trying to figure out what was going on with him, and whether he was alright.

“I always knew that Mark had a slight air of mystery. I knew there was something that one day he might open up about – something that had happened.”

The key discovery that eventually led to Kennedy’s exposure was made by Lisa when the two of them were on holiday in a van in July 2010.

Mark Kennedy on holiday in Italy in 2010
Kennedy on Holiday in Italy in 2010

“We were having this really blissful holiday in Italy. We were up in the mountains, just the two of us. He had gone off for a cycle ride, and I was looking in the glove box for some sunglasses. I guess that there was maybe a bit of me that was a little unsure about what was going on with him. I was rooting around and I saw his passport.”

The old passport was in the unfamiliar name of Mark Kennedy. But there was something even more chilling in there: “The thing that made my stomach come into my mouth was seeing that he had a child. The character of Mark Stone wasn’t one that would have had a child. That’s such a big thing to have happened, and to have known somebody that long and have them not mention that they had a child, that’s enormous.”

She found a mobile phone that he did not seem to use much, and found emails from two children, calling him dad. “I did not know what to think. I remember feeling that the world was suddenly a really long way away. I just remember that the mountains were pulsating and swimming around me.”

It was the first time she considered that he might be an undercover cop, but quickly dismissed it as something she thought only existed in films. When Kennedy came back from his cycle ride, “I really did not know what to say to him. I was terrified about what the answer would be, and what it would mean. I just did not say anything for about two days. He knew there was something wrong. He was trying to be very nice to me and figure out what was upsetting me. I did not sleep. He slept and I paced. I remember watching the sunrise and being sick.”

She confronted him in a bar on what was his real birthday. She demanded to know about his son. “He visibly crumpled. He said, ‘I can tell you, but not here’, and we went off.”

Back in their van, he recounted a story it seems he had tucked away for years, to be used if his fictional persona was ever challenged. He said he had been a drug runner, that his close associate had been shot in front of him, and that he had promised to look after the dead man’s children, who had come to think Kennedy was their real father.

“I was desperate for an explanation that sounded plausible. Fantastical as it now sounds in the retelling, one of the reasons it seemed plausible was the amount of emotion that poured out of him when he told me,” Lisa says. It seemed as if he had finally opened up, after all the hints of a dodgy past.

“I held him as he cried for about eight hours, through the night. We sat up and talked. He cried and I cried. It felt like we had really shared something, so I really did not analyse the facts at that point particularly strongly.”

But for the rest of the summer, she had nagging feelings that his story did not add up. She challenged him but he always had an answer. She swung between believing their relationship was “better than ever, and thinking something still is not right”.

In September, they had another happy holiday in Italy. “I was floating on air when we came back.” A week later, she was visiting a friend who was, by chance, doing ancestry research online. She did not know what came over her, but she asked the friend to look up Mark Stone’s birth certificate. Nothing came back.

With her friends’ help, she started to dig into his life. She still could not believe he was a policeman, thinking: “He has been with me for so long – there’s absolutely no way they would put a cop in for that long.”

She yearned to find some new piece of information that would provide an explanation and clear her suspicions about him. For a few weeks, she went about her life, talking regularly on the phone to Kennedy but feeling she was “in this little bubble where nothing was real”. Eventually they found a birth certificate for Kennedy’s son, which recorded Kennedy’s occupation as being a police officer.

Now she wanted him to explain. He was pretending to be in the US, but she had found out that he was actually in Ireland with his children and estranged wife. At her insistence, he returned late one night to a house in Nottingham, where she and a group of friends began to question him.

For what felt like hours, he refused to admit anything. Then one of the group asked him directly when he had joined the police. He confessed, and later cried. The others left Lisa alone with him. She was shocked. “I wanted him to stay. I knew that the moment he left, the whole world was going to change. I was just trying to delay the moment.”

Mark Kennedy in 2011, after he had left the police force
Mark Kennedy in 2011, after he had left the police force. Photograph: Phillip Ebeling for the Guardian

Kennedy went on to sell his story to the media and to work for a US security firm after he was unmasked in October 2010. Lisa set about trying to put her life back together. Her experience with Kennedy “made her feel very small”, but the other women in the legal action have been a valuable source of support.

Lisa, who comes across as warm-hearted and thoughtful, rejects suggestions that she could have unmasked Kennedy earlier or that his deception was no different from those of many other cheating husbands.

The difference, she says, is that his deception was supported by the resources of the state. Undercover officers who infiltrated political groups were issued with fake documents, such as passports, driving licences and bank records that would help to fortify their fabricated alter egos. “I had no chance of seeing through that kind of training and infrastructure.”

But he was rumbled, she points out, after he quit the police and no longer had their support. He had had to hand back the paperwork – including the passport bearing his fake identity of Mark Stone.

Lisa has found it difficult to come to terms with the feeling that she had no free will during her relationship with Kennedy. A “faceless backroom of cops” controlled his movements, deciding when he could go away with her, or which demonstrations they could go on. “I just have this feeling that someone else made all the decisions, and it was not me, and it was not even him.”

A series of revelations has persuaded the home secretary Theresa May to order a public inquiry into the conduct of the police spies. This inquiry could reveal far more of the police’s secrets when it starts to hear evidence in public next year. It is expected to examine how, for example, the undercover officers spied on the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and stole the identities of dead children.

Lisa does not want to pin too much hope on the inquiry uncovering the truth of Kennedy’s espionage and his relationship with her. “There are so many more questions than answers in this whole thing that I don’t think I am ever going to be in a position where I feel like I know what went on and what it all meant, and that there’s nothing more to wonder about.”

She asks herself how much he genuinely loved her. “It is an endless, endless question that I will always be wondering about. That will always keep me awake at night.”

She has been left with a “crushing disappointment and sadness”, feeling that her ability to trust others and form relationships has been shattered. “I have lost a lot of optimism about all kinds of things,” she says. “Just the idea that the world is a good place, that love exists, that love is possible for me.”

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