Two months ago I blogged about the case of Setha Sann, an undercover officer from Victoria’s Security Intelligence Group in Australia who posed as a vegan named Andrew and joined Animal Liberation Victoria.
Well, the media in New Zealand are reporting a similar case today. The story involves Rob Gilchrist, who was well known for a decade as an animal-rights campaigner. Turns out he was also a spy, informing the police about the activities of such groups as Auckland Animal Action, Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) and Wellington Animal Rights Network. It was actually his girlfriend, animal activist Rochelle Rees, who discovered Gilchrist was working for the police.
A few weeks ago, Gilchrist asked Rochelle, who works as a computer programmer, to help him fix his computer. When she reinstalled his email program and then made a routine check that his old emails hadn’t been corrupted, Rochelle discovered hundreds of emails with the “sender” and “subject” lines blank. Checking them, she found they were all private political emails and all being forwarded to the same anonymous address. Eventually, Rochelle traced the emails to the highly secret Special Investigations Group. (These special police detectives are funded each year under a police budget category in New Zealand called “increase national security.”)
At protests, Gilchrist was often the one taunting police, says Mark Eden of Wellington Animal Rights Network, who regarded Gilchrist as a friend. “If it didn’t involve adrenalin and confrontation, he wasn’t interested,” he says. (I guess police informants aren’t too concerned about getting arrested.)
“He was always interested in who was keen on illegal actions and would often make it known that he was keen to be involved in anything illegal or undercover,” Mark says. “On a few occasions he would take people out for a drive and sit outside a factory farm or an animal laboratory and encourage them to talk about planning a break-in or other illegal activity. He would be really pushy and persistent about planning illegal activities and then would suddenly lose interest, claiming it was too difficult or that he was busy. He was always keen on planning dodgy stuff, but on the occasions when we did break the law, he would always have an excuse and pull out at the last minute.”
In hindsight, Mark believes Gilchrist was inciting people to talk about illegal activities and then “reporting it to police to make us sound dodgy.”
“We have gone in and filmed the farms and discovered the cruelty. But instead of doing the democratic thing and stopping it, which is what the public want, they have responded by sending in the secret police. That’s the most shocking thing about it.”
Gilchrist now says he was embarrassed and sorry for what he did, admitting the people he spied on were not security threats. “I know they are good people trying to make a better world,” he says.