By Barry McCaffrey
IT cost £50m to protect the leaders of the G8 but confidential security updates of the PSNI policing operation reveals how police monitored Twitter accounts, including those belonging to journalists, checking for negative comments.
The PSNI’s guarding of the G8 leaders was the largest policing operation in Northern Ireland’s history.
However the Detail has now obtained a series of daily PSNI communiqués briefing police officers and senior civil servants on ongoing events.
The Operation Sponsor updates give a blow-by-blow account of the G8 events, and the PSNI’s reaction to them.
The Detail can reveal that the PSNI was monitoring the Twitter and Facebook accounts of journalists as well as general news coverage to check for negative comments on the policing operation.
Officers were also closely following and liaising on the movements of anti-G8 demonstrators, such as key personalities identified on particular buses.
Operation Sponsor began on Friday June 14 with a series of low-key protests.
The pickets involved a student protest at Metropolitan College in Belfast with just seven protestors.
Another picket, organised by the Workers Party, outside the US Consulate in Belfast attracted only eight people.
Police reports said that the largest protest that day was organised by Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), with 30 people taking part in a picket on the Falls Road.
The PSNI posting stated that the protest included “10/15 foreign nationals as well as local figures”.
In a sure sign that the Cold War had ended, the PSNI memo stated: “Russian delegates in Clogher village attempting to find locations to erect satellites.”
At 8pm police uploaded an online leaflet for people considering taking part in protests.
The Operation Sponsor memo reported: “lots of tweets complaining that PSNI did not enforce this during the flags protests.”
Police were also monitoring social media sites, noting: “YouTube footage of Bernadette McAliskey speaking about her opposition to the G8 in Fermanagh following a meeting in Armagh (14th June).”
Despite previous warnings, PSNI intelligence now reported that there was nothing to suggest that there would be violence at a trade union protest against the G8 in Belfast the following day, with no evidence of the predicted “mass movement of extreme anarchists from Britain or Europe at this stage.”
While the trade union protest march through Belfast city centre passed-off without incident, Operation Sponsor reported that police had to intervene between rival republican factions shortly after: “Following dispersal of the march and flag protest, rival republican groups crossed briefly at Castle Street. Police on the scene were able to keep distance between both groups and successfully manage their dispersal from the area without any disorder.”
It was reported that one person had been arrested in Enniskillen for criminal damage, namely pasting anti G8 posters on commercial premises.
The PSNI’s interest in social media and Twitter continued: “Very little activity but our traffic tweets are being picked up. Some positive comment about personable approach displayed by officers at VCPs (vehicle checkpoints). On negative side, one comment about perceived anti-Italian attitude of police.”
One Sunday newspaper report claimed that two US aircraft carriers would be positioned off the Donegal coast, another claimed that police have been given special training to deal with ‘clown’ protestors while a third reported that US Secret Service agents would be disguised as farmers and drive brand new tractors around Fermanagh.
Monday June 17 started-off early with the first Operation Sponsor circular warning that the G8 leaders may have to drive to Fermanagh due to poor weather conditions.
“Arrivals day. As at 05.00hrs due to weather conditions a `No Fly’ programme has been declared. This is to be reviewed at 06.00hrs.”
The monitoring of social media sites continued: “There have been multiple posts in relation to the breaking Guardian news report that GCHQ (British government listening centre) spied on G20 delegates at a previous summit.”
Another stated: “Many comments about numbers of police; the size and cost of the overall operation. ‘The G8 protest is six tents at the moment. The police presence is roughly 1500 officers per tent.’
Some protestors were reported to be making positive comments about the “friendly, well-armed policing operation.”
By 8.30am the first delegations had begun to arrive in Belfast, however poor weather conditions meant it was uncertain that the G8 leaders could fly to Fermanagh.
“Regarding fly programme to Fermanagh – No at the moment, however weather is clearing slowly and a decision will be made later.”
At 08.25am a circular stated – “There is a ‘naked protester’ at Antrim Forum. Carrying placard, police are dealing.”
The fixation with how the media was reporting the G8 continued: “Stephen Nolan is down at the Waterfront in preparation for President Obama’s speech.”
At 10.15am as Barack Obama walked on to the stage of the Waterfront police were reporting that 12 to 15 dissident protesters had now gathered on the Falls Road.
“Protesters wearing masks/pulled up scarves and were stopped by police at front of City Hall. One arrest for disorderly behaviour/resisting arrest/failure to remove mask was made, charged and brought before a court and convicted after pleading guilty.”
A follow-up an hour later stated there was now substantial social media activity, some of which was praising the police operation.
“On the negative side, there are posts about photos of police sleeping in Land Rovers. (These are images sent by Mutual Aid officers to ‘cop humour’ pages.)
“Translink said their trains were running late due to police security checks. This has prompted some adverse comment.
“We have tweeted President Obama’s thanks to police in his Waterfront speech. Some early responses that thanks might be premature.”
As the world’s media prepared to switch its focus to the G8 arrivals in Fermanagh, the updates continued.
“Protester numbers slowly building up in Enniskillen. Anticipated that 500/1,000 protesters will turn up. At time of this report (17.30pm), approximate number already gathered = 400.
(Nothing at this stage to indicate the intention of protesters is anything other than peaceful)
The updates provide a telling insight into the level of police intelligence on those taking part in the Fermanagh protests.
• 50 protestors en route to Enniskillen from Londonderry. Led by Eamon McCann. Organisations: NIPSA, Derry anti-fascists, IRSP.
• 50/60 protestors on a bus led by Brendan McKenna parked up at Erne Hospital and are now at the jetty, Lakeland Forum. Anti-Israeli and other flags. 15:26hrs: Brendan and others arrived at the forum. Police report 30 persons standing on the jetty with Palestinian flags.
• 3pm report of white/grey single-decker bus with a balloon on one side of the vehicle 50/60 on board from the Socialist Workers Party left Dublin en route to Enniskillen.
• Also, bus has left Sligo with 15 persons on board. Two persons of interest on board. On route to Enniskillen.
• 15:36: approx ten boats, mixture of barges and cruisers carrying anti-fracking posters heading towards Enniskillen Castle from the jetty at Lakeland Forum…. 10 boats mentioned previously – they have now turned back, they were transporting members of the media.
• 16:16 Translink bus en route to Enniskillen from Augher – large number of passengers. Can’t confirm that they are protesters although small placard noted on the window. Call-sign unable to stop the bus.
• 16:41- small bus, middle aged passengers, no banners approx 50/60
• 3 x Viking Boats and one red rib boat have left Killyhevlin heading for West Bridge. They have effigies of G8 leaders.
A further update at 11.30pm again concentrated on social media sites:
“Substantial volume of social media activity. A lot of comment on the arrest of Willie Fraser. An example: ‘Will the PSNI do their jobs and get some criminals and leave Willie Frazer alone. This is nothing more than police harassment.”
Another tweet, which praised the policing of the G8, said: “Everyone’s been lovely to us the police have been lovely, but my they are armed to the teeth.”
Police traffic updates were also praised: “lots of people thanking us and there has been a big increase in the number of PSNI followers, particularly on our T+T (traffic and travel) twitter account – about two months of growth in the last 25 hours.”
The PSNI circulars confirms that police monitored Twitter accounts, including those belonging to journalists, with one update recording: “Some negative comment regarding police planning. An example: Michael Cairns BBC Editor 1410 followers tweeted the following: ‘Eamonn McCann says police intelligence services should hang their heads in shame for getting the protest threat in Fermanagh so wrong – Socialist McCann from Derry was speaking to the protesters. He also said the money spent on security is farcical.”
In a previous story by The Detail we revealed that from 2009 social media had been used by the PSNI in almost 5,000 (4,948) separate incident investigations.
© The Detail 2013