Security Culture

The first step in recognizing security risks in a community is working towards creating a security culture. Below we have compiled some relevant materials and links that should be used in conducting security workshops and educating activists that you work with. As our direct action movement becomes more effective, government harassment will only increase. To minimize the destructiveness of this government harassment, it is imperative that we create a "security culture" within our movement. Violations of security culture include behavior is inappropriate because it intensifies government harassment, jeopardizes the freedom of other activists, and destroys the trust within the movement.

Security Culture: What is it, Why we need it and How to Implement it...

Luddites; liberationists; abolitionists; union organizers; revolutionaries... From large uprisings challenging the entire political structure, to isolated environmental and social struggles, people have constanly worked to create a better world. To government the response has always been to jail activists and revolutionaries using the courts and the police forces at hand.

As direct action movements become more effective, government surveillance and harassment will increase. To minimize the destructiveness of this political repression, it is imperative that we create a security culture within our movement.

This pamphlet is essential reading for anyone who is associated with groups that advocate and/or utilize sabotage, theft, arson and more militant tactics. The advice herein also applies to anyone who is associated with groups that practice civil disobedience, especially since membership often overlaps and gossip travels freely between groups.

Even if you have never picked up a monkeywrench or been arrested, even if you think you have nothing to hide, these guidelines will enhance your personal safety as well as the movement�s overall effectiveness. Surveillance has been set up on all sections of political movements in the past. Governments in the western industrialized world have targeted groups that have advocated sabotage and groups that have not, movements that have been militant and movements that have been markedly pacificst. The government�s security machinery serves political and economic objectives, and there are over 250 political prisoners in Canada and the US that can testify to this from firsthand experience. By adoption a security culture, we can defeat various counterintelligence operations that would otherwise disrupt both mainstream organizing and underground resistance.


It�s a culture where the people know their rights and, more importantly, assert them. Those who belong to a security culture also know what behaviour compromises security and they are quick to educate those people who, out of ignorance, forgetfulness, or personal weakness, partake in insecure behaviour. This security consciousness becomes a culture when the group as a whole makes security violations socially and morally unacceptable in the group.


To begin with, there are certain things that are inappropriate to discuss.

These things include:

-Your involvement or someone else�s involvement with an undergound group
-Someone else�s desire to get involved with such a group
-Asking others if they are a member of an underground group
-Your participation or someone else�s participating in any action that was illegal
-Someone else�s advocacy for such actions
-Your plans or someone else�s plans for a future action

Can you see a pattern? What all of these are stating is this: it is wrong to speak about a specific individual's involvement (past, present or future) with illegal activities. These are unacceptable topics of discussion regardless of whether it is rumor, speculation or personal knowledge. Please note: no one is claiming it is wrong to speak about direct action in general terms. It is perfectly legal, secure and desirable that people speak out in support of mokeywrenching and all forms of resistance. The danger lies in linking individual activists to specific actions or groups.


There are only three times that it is acceptable to speak about this information. The first situation would be if you were planning an action with other members of your small group (your �cell� or �affinity group�). However, you would never discuss these things over the Internet (email), phone line, through the mail, or in an activist's home or car, as these places and forms of communication are frequently monitored. The only people who should hear this discussion would include those who are actively partaking in the action. Anyone who is not involved does not need to know and, therefore, should not know.

The second exception occures after an activists has been arrested and brought to trial. If she is found guilty, this activist can freely speak of the actions for which she was convicted. However, she must never give information that would help the authorities determine who else participated in illegal activities.

The third exception is for anonymous letters and interviews with the media. This must be done very carefully and without compromising security. Advice on secure communication techniques can be found in other publications.

Those are the only situations when it is appropriate to speak about your own or someone else's involvement or intent to commit illegal direct action.


Veteran activists only allow a select few to know about their involvement with direct action groups. And those few consist of the cell members who they do the actions with AND NO ONE ELSE!

The reason for these security precautions is quite obvious: if people don't know anything, they can't talk about it. It also means that only the people who know the secret can also face jail time if the secret gets out. But when activists who do not share the same serious consequences knows who did an illegal direct action, they are far more likely to talk after being harassed and intimidated by the authorities, because they are not the ones who will go to jail. Even those people who are trustworthy can often be tricked by the authorities into revealing damaging and incriminating information. So it is safest for all cell members to keep their involvement in the group amongst themselves. The fewer people who know, the less evidence there is to bust them.


In an attempts to impress others, activists may behave in ways that compromise security. Some people do this frequently - they are habitually gossiping and bragging. Some activists say inappropriate things only when they consume alcohol. Many activists make occasional breeches of security because there was a momentary temptation to say something or hint at something that shouldn�t have been said or implied. In most every situation, the desire to be accepted is the root cause.
Those people who tend to be the greatest security risks are those activists who have low self-esteem and strongly desire the approval of their peers. Certainly it is natural to seek friendship and recognition for our efforts, but it is imperative that we keep these selfish desires in-check so we do not jeopardize the safety of other activists or ourselves. People who place their desire for friendship over the importance of the cause can do serious damage to our security.

The following are examples of security-violating behaviours:

Lying: To impress others, liars claim to have done illegal actions. Such lies not only compromise the person's security--as cops will not take what is said as a lie--but also hinders movement solidarity and trust.

Gossiping: Some weak characters think they can winare privy to special information. These gossips will tell others about who did what action or, if they don't know who did it, guess at who they think did what actions or just spread rumors about who did it. This sort of talk is very damaging. People need to remember that rumors are all that are needed to instigate a grand jury.

Bragging: Some people who partake in illegal direct action might be tempted to brag about it to their friends. If someone did such a thing, it would not only jeopardize the bragger's security, but also that of the other people involved with the action (as they may be suspected by association), as well as the people who he told (they can become accessories after the fact). An activist who brags also sets a horrible example to other activists.

Indirect-Bragging: Indirect-braggers are people who make a big production on how they want to remain anonymous, avoid protests, and stay "underground." They might not come out and say that they do illegal direct action, but they make sure everyone within ear-shot knows they are up to something. They are no better than braggers, but they try to be more sophisticated about it by pretending to maintain "security." However, if they were serious about security, they would just make up a good excuse as to why they are not as active, or why they can't make it to the protest (that kind of lying is acceptable).


With what we now know about security, it is easy to spot those activists who compromise our movement�s security. So what do we do with people who exhibit these behaviours? Do we excommunicate them from our movement? Actually, no--at least, not for a first offense.

The unfortunate truth is there are numerous security-ignorant people in the movement and others who have possibly been raised in a "scene" that thrives on bragging and gossiping. It doesn't mean these people are bad, but it does mean they need to be educated. Even seasoned activists can make mistakes when there is a general lack of security consciousness inour gruops. And that�s where those of you who are reading this can help. We must NEVER let a breach in security occur without acting to correct it. If an acquaintance of yours is bragging about doing an action or spreading security-compromising gossip, it is your responsibility to explain to her or him why that sort of talk violates security and is inappropriate.

You should strive to educate this person in a manner that encourages him to listen and to change his behaviour. It should be done without damaging his pride. You should be humble and sincerely interested in helping him to become a better person and a more effective activists. Do not maintain a "holier than-thou" attitude. This attitude will inevitably raise his defenses and prevent him from absorbing or using any of the advice you offer. Remember, the goal of educating people is to change their behavior, not boost your ego by showing them how much more security-conscious you are.

If possible the educational session be done in private, so the person does not have to contend with the humiliation of a public reprimand. The educational reprimand should also be done as soon as possible after the mistake to increase its effectiveness.

If each of us takes on the responsibility of educating those who slip up, we can dramatically improve movement security. Once people recognize lying, gossiping, bragging, and indirect-bragging as the damaging character-flaws that they are, they will soon end. When we develop a culture where all breaches of security result in an immediate reprimand, all sincere activists will quickly get with the program.


So what do we do with activists who repeatedly violate security precautions even after multiple educational sessions? It's unfortunate, but the best thing to do with these people is cut them loose and kick them out of our meetings, basecamps and organizations. With law enforcement budgets on the increase and with courts handing down long sentences for political �crimes�, the stakes are too high to allow chronic security-offenders to work among us.