The roots of PREVENT: the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch

Special Branch logoPeter Salmon / Undercover Research Group
8 April 2015

Special Branch and the undercover units are by their nature a murky world with a culture of secrecy and unaccountability. It is not just the undercover officers that are kept protected behind a shield of denial and obfuscation, but also those in charge. These units and their bosses are rarely given a public profile, and generally only obliquely referred to. We have been following these scant trails and fleshing out the detail behind these units.

Obscurity can mean unimportant. Or it can be a sign of something being protected. The National Co-ordinator for Special Branch (NCSB) is definitely the latter. Though never mentioned in relation to undercover policing, it now appears that they were in the direct chain of command for the National Public Order Intelligence Unit – and thus had oversight of the likes of Mark Kennedy, ‘Lynn Watson’ and ‘Marco Jacobs.’

Special Branch are the political police. Though every police force has their own Special Branch unit, accountable only to their Chief Constables, the NCSB brought these units together on a national level to increase intelligence sharing, set common standards, etc. This office oversaw policing of ports, of domestic extremism and counter-terrorism. It is Special Branch who spied on MPs, trade union activists, environmentalists. It is Special Branch units that shared information with corporations on their opponents leading to blacklists. It was Special Branch that provided the links with the Security Services such as MI5. And it is now clear that the NCSB was at the heart of this process.

The NCSB was active from 2004 to 2008, but it has not vanished. These days it has an outward focused ‘community tensions team’ tacked on, and been renamed the National Co-ordinator PREVENT. Prevent is better known as part of the government counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST.

For a long time it has been argued that Prevent is being used as cover for spying on the Muslim community. When you realise Prevent is just Special Branch re-branded, we think this conclusion is incontrovertible. The blacklisting of the Muslim community in the name of counter-radicalisation is merely the latest incarnation of what this police unit has always been doing.

To learn more, see the full profile on the the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch.