Peace Researcher 38 – July 2009
- Rochelle Rees
Rochelle Rees was both an activist colleague and personal partner of Rob Gilchrist. It was her “counter-intelligence” work which outed him as a Police spy in December 2008. This slightly edited interview, detailing how she did it, was published in Liberate, an animal rights publication, in March 2009. It is reproduced with her permission. Ed.
What sort of stuff did he do as an activist, what was he like at demos, etc?
Everyone who has come across Rob over the past ten years has a different story to tell about him. His actions and spin seem to have differed depending on who was around and who he was trying to impress. For example, he was known to some as someone who would continuously hit on young women, and often make very sexist comments. To others, including myself, he never portrayed this side of himself. Quite some time before Rob was outed, one activist accused him of always standing across the road at protests, holding a cup of coffee and looking cool. It was claimed that this was all he ever did. I disagreed with this at the time, as Rob had been involved in organising some major events (though it turns out he played up his role in these).
Also, when Rob was standing across the road, he was generally listening to the Police scanner and keeping us up to date with what the Police were up to. I always found this a useful function, as with Rob around we would generally know in advance and be able to prepare when the Police were about to round us all up and arrest us. At the same time Rob was never involved in the action, and never did anything generally useful at protests. I don't think I ever saw him hold a banner or placard, or even chant at a protest – looking back, it's very strange we never thought much of that – as I can't think of anyone else who behaves that way.
How did you come to suspect Rob was working for the Police?
I had recently moved back up to
Two days later, on the 7th October 2008, I completed the data transfer, and went to do a quick check through all the e-mail folders to ensure that no e-mails had been corrupted. Everything looked fine until I got to the sent folder, where I saw a whole bunch of e-mails that at first glance looked as though they were corrupt. In the listing, it showed hundreds of e-mails with a blank sender address, and a blank subject. I assumed that the contents of these e-mails would also be blank, and so looked at one to check. I saw some random activist list e-mail that had been forwarded to a strange e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org. I then looked at the next e-mail, which turned out to be a completely different activist-related e-mail, also forwarded to the same address. It may say something about my paranoid nature that I immediately had this sinking feeling, and somehow knew that Rob was working for someone. I looked through a few more finding exactly the same sort of thing, and I started to freak out.
I phoned (a friend and colleague) at work, on her cellphone, and asked her to come over. She asked if everything was ok, and I said no. She said she'd come over after work, and we hung up. I looked through a few more e-mails, freaking out more and more, and I phoned her and asked her to leave work and come over immediately. She agreed, knowing I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't urgent. When she arrived I told her my thoughts and asked her to tell me I was going crazy. I handed her my laptop and showed her through some of the e-mails. She came to the same conclusion as me, and we (mostly her) kept looking until we found more proof – e-mails with personal notes on them, and intelligence reports which could not have been written by anyone other than Rob.
When you found out what did you do?
We talked through what to do, but really had no
idea what to do next. In the end we decided to phone
We talked through the options, like whether we
had enough to make it public straight away, or whether more information could
be obtained first. We talked about whether publicity would be a good idea, or
whether Rob should only be outed within the activist communities. In the end we
made a decision to contact
Nicky also knew Rob, and had written a story for the front page of the Sunday Star Times in April 2008 featuring Rob's outing of Gavin Clark from Thompson & Clark for approaching him to also spy for them (20/4/08; “Private Investigators Still Digging On West Coast”, online at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/377237.Ed.). We went back to Mark's house and Mark phoned Nicky. Mark asked Nicky to come over, but wouldn't say anything over the phone except that yes we had found “another one”. When Nicky arrived we told him about Rob, and he was as shocked as we had been. It was agreed that we would keep things quiet while we finished looking through the e-mails etc, and that I would continue things with Rob as per normal for the time being.
Did you manage to gather much info on his spying?
I already had flights booked to visit Rob that weekend, and I decided to go ahead with that visit for two reasons. Firstly, I didn't want Rob to know anything was up, and secondly I wanted the opportunity to search his house and see what else I could find out. During that week I was too messed up to work, so I spent my time off continuing to read Rob's e-mails, and planning how to gain more information. We did a title search on Rob's house and found out that he didn't own it, despite him claiming that he did.
There was one encrypted Word document in the e-mails, and naturally I thought it must contain some pretty big information, given it was the only thing encrypted, and it was titled “AK Op”. I, with a close friend who is also a computer programmer, searched for ways to decrypt the document. First we tried running a password cracker on the document, however it turned out the password was a decent one – it wasn't made up of dictionary words, and it was greater than eight characters in length, so was going to take a super computer and a lot of time to crack it that way! I spent hours searching the Internet, as I knew being Microsoft the encryption would be pretty crap and there had to be some easy way of doing it. Eventually I found this nice Website where I could upload the encrypted Word document, and it would decrypt it for me. After uploading, the Website showed me the first paragraph of the document, and told me I could get the rest if I paid $A40.98. The first paragraph had me sold, and I paid the money - giving cash to a friend outside of activism to use their credit card, as I couldn't risk any unusual transactions from my own accounts. A few seconds later I was reading through the decrypted document, which turned out to be of a similar nature to the two non-encrypted ones we had found.
My next brilliant idea was to find some spyware
to put on Rob's phone so I could monitor his phone calls and text messages.
Since Rob had a Windows mobile phone, I knew this wouldn't be too difficult a
task – Microsoft is notorious for leaving gaping security holes in its
software. I found a Website where for $NZ86.01 I could open an account that
would allow me to use some nice spyware for three months. I downloaded the
spyware, read through the instructions and had it all ready to install on Rob's
phone when I got to
Next, again with the help of my computer programmer friend, I wrote a nice shell script ready to set a cron* task on Rob's computer that would upload any new e-mails and documents to me every hour that his computer was on. Fortunately, due to having installed Linux on Rob's computer, this was also going to be an easy task, as the Linux operating system is designed to be used as a server or a developer's computer, and is therefore easy to modify to get it to do what you want. The entire script ended up being less than 20 lines of code! * A cron task is a job set up to run on a computer using Linux. Ed.
So I arrived in
I asked Rob to borrow his phone, with the excuse that I was trialling some Websites to run on mobile phones, and since he had such a cool phone with nice Web browsers, it would be great to test my Websites on his phone. I then sat down and typed into my laptop all of Rob's contact phone numbers. Next, I hopped onto Rob's computer with the excuse that I was transferring all of his old e-mails back onto it. I took a backup copy of all of his files, and installed the script to automatically upload for me anything new.
Then I got Rob out of the house for a couple of hours so I could search it. Unfortunately he kept his house pretty clean, no doubt because I had been living there until recently. I took copies of all storage media – CD's, floppy discs etc, but unfortunately none of them had anything of use on them. When I got back to Auckland, I signed up for “Your Telecom” on Rob's account, which I could do easily as I already had a login to view his broadband usage, as I had needed it when I lived there. Logging into that gave me his account number which was all I needed to gain access to his phone bills from the past 12 months. I downloaded and stored these and later used them to match up dates and phone calls for other purposes.
It also turned out that Rob had his Diners Club credit card, and Kiwibank account statements e-mailed to him – so I had the past three years of each of these. Unfortunately none of these statements contained any details of money from the Police. We did get proof of payments however, as Rob was receiving text message alerts regarding any deposits on a completely different account – called “Urban Camouflage Limited” - a company Rob owned, which we never knew anything about. The texts showed weekly cash deposits of $600, one of which happened to coincide with text messages between Rob and his handler, talking about a trip to the bank the following day.
What kinds of information was he sending to the Police?
Rob was forwarding any and all activist-related e-mails he received to the Police. Of course it helped that he was on almost every public and organising e-mail list for almost every activist group in the country. He was also forwarding personal e-mails from activists. In most scenarios Rob was removing the headers from the e-mails he forwarded – and the only conclusion I can possibly draw from that is that he was trying to make himself look more important by not telling the Police that they were easily obtained e-mails from e-mail lists. Rob would also comment on particular e-mails, and organise with them to get funds to fly around the country and attend protests – this included giving them quotes for flights, accommodation, rental cars, and “general expenses”.
We also found three “intelligence reports” -
one being the encrypted one mentioned above. Two of these had lists of
questions posed by the police, with Rob's answers to them. The other one was
simply a report by Rob after a trip he made up to
The reports also contained information about who was in a sexual relationship with who, who was fighting or bitching about who, and other general gossip. He also answered questions about what printers, etc, we had access to; who were the current main organisers and decision makers; and what future protest actions we were likely to take. The reference to what printers we had access to, was because the Police had wanted to know who was responsible for printing the Tegel stickers we made to stick on poultry products in supermarkets.
The reports also had questions answered about other groups in Auckland, including anti-war and climate change groups, and possible actions planned for visits by foreign diplomats. Rob's phone bills showed that he was in constant contact with his handlers during any major events. There were also many references in the e-mails to other forms of communication. For example, some e-mails were subject-lined things such as “discuss with me”. There was also another e-mail that simply said: “She's working from home today, I'll let you know when I can escape”. This was referring to a day when I had been working from home, and Rob was clearly trying to “escape” from me so he could talk to them. In the intelligence reports, Rob also makes reference to photographs on an “attached CD” - so presumably he was generally posting or handing over directly his intelligence reports or other information.
Was the information focused on specific individuals or groups and campaigns?
The information focused both on specific individuals, and on groups and campaigns. Some examples of the questions the Police asked Rob, spanning the period 2005-07, are:
Climate Change Groups
What is happening
with climate change groups in
Who is involved?
What actions might they be considering for the future?
What specific plans are in place for Climate Day of Action 07/07?
Q - What is the
structure of AAA (
Q – How does AAA communicate and promote demonstrations?
Q – Do they use/have access to chat rooms etc?
Q – Update Addresses/Ph (cell and landline) Numbers/Vehicle details of AAA members.
Q – What is the proposed activist activity for the rest of the year?
Q – Who is responsible for the stickers on Tegel products?
Q – Where is the printer/scanner/etc for the above stickers?
Q – What other activity is proposed against Tegel or any other chicken suppliers?
Q – Are there any anti war/anti-US demonstrations planned to coincide with the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit? (December 05).
Q – Information regarding the 26th November Grey Lynn festival.
Q – Are there any other plans for that weekend?
What is happening within these organisations?
What sort of numbers are now involved?
What activities or targeting do they have planned for the future?
ANZCCART (Australian and
Where will they be
staying and mode of travel in
Who is their contact
US Independence Day 04 July
activity is being organised around this event in
Who will be involved?
Who will be looking at going to this event?
Realistically, who is likely to end up actually travelling?
Where will they be staying?
Who will their
contact person be in
What will their mode of travel be?
Pre/Post APEC in NZ
Is there any intell that suggests people are aware of the possibility of visits to NZ by VIP's either side of APEC?
Are there any plans afoot for protest activity for any such VIP's they think may be visiting?
How detailed was the information he was sending through?
The information Rob sent to the Police was extremely detailed. He included very personal information about activists and the activities they were involved in.
Do you think it was particularly accurate or useful to the cops?
Large amounts for the data Rob gave the Police would have been useful to them in forming a picture of who the core organisers were, and therefore who to target or surveil further. Most of the information he sent them was fairly accurate, however there were many bits that were either mistakes or complete lies. For instance, Rob claims in one of the documents that for security measures in Auckland Animal Action's fur campaign, we were apparently “picking targets out of a hat” so no one would know the protest location in advance. Not a bad idea given how much we now know about the Police interest in what we do – but seriously, we have never done anything so ridiculous!
Do you think Rob’s work as an informer was aimed at intelligence gathering or at disrupting groups and campaigns?
I think most of Rob's work as an informer was aimed at intelligence gathering – in particular where it would help the Police use further surveillance on us, and know who to target. However a fair bit of Rob's work was disrupting groups and campaigns. In the first instance, Rob was notorious for stirring up trouble between various activists. He was very good at manipulating situations so he could discredit anyone he deemed to be a threat, and at the same time ensure it never came back to bite him. For example, he spread a rumour that one young activist was a Police informer, no doubt because that particular person didn't like him, and he wanted to discredit that person to ensure that they couldn't cause him any damage. Since the truth has come out, everyone seems to have a different story about the ways that Rob disrupted activities, and caused arguments between various people.
Secondly, the intelligence Rob gave to the Police helped them to disrupt our activities. In October 2003, Auckland Animal Action staged a symbolic protest at the Tegel Chicken head office, where we spread some hay through the office to highlight the fact that Tegel don't even give chickens the basic necessities like hay. Jesse Duffield, who is a schoolteacher, and therefore was very careful about not getting himself into trouble, decided that while he didn't want to participate in the hay throwing, he would hand over a letter to the Tegel receptionist explaining why the rest of us were.
While the rested of us expected we might be arrested for disorderly behaviour or some other minor charge, we never expected the extreme reaction from the Police that we got. Before the protest, only nine of us knew about the protest, and seven of us participated. We never spoke about the protest on the phone, in a car or house, with our cellphones on etc, as we didn't want the Police to know about the protest before it happened in case they would stop it happening. As it happens, the Police knew well in advance what we were planning, as Rob had told them. Below is something I wrote in 2004 proving that we had an informant in our midst, though of course at the time I had no idea who it was.
The Police TAU monitoring and following protesters
Firstly, until the
house raids and charges in relation to the Belucci case in May 2004 (where a
number of activists, including Rochelle Rees, were arrested at an
It wasn't until the second round of house raids and charges by the TAU in the Belucci case that they revealed their identity to us. I believe they only did so as it was necessary to prosecute the case. It was only after the Belucci case when I re-read Jesse's Police disclosure from the Tegel case, that with all the further information about the TAU and the officers involved, I realised that they must have been heavily monitoring us and have followed us to the Tegel demonstration. The following is information to prove this (all facts and time estimates other than when stated are from the Police disclosure):
The Tegel protest
occurred on the 2nd October 2003 some time between 2 p.m. and 2.30
p.m. The demonstration lasted less than one minute – the entire thing was
videoed. According to a statement from Detective Sergeant Mike Paki, he arrived
at the Tegel office at 2.40 p.m. According to a statement from Detective
Malcolm Jones, he arrived at the Tegel office at 2.15 p.m. In the search
warrant application for Jesse's house and car, written by Detective Sergeant
David Nimmo, he states he was in the
Sergeant Mike Paki and Detective Sergeant David Nimmo were involved in the
later house raids in the Belucci case, and then identified themselves as being
from the TAU. In both cases, Detective Sergeant Mike Paki was the officer in
charge. I believe this on its own is enough to prove that the TAU knew in
advance that we were going to do the Tegel protest, and followed us there on
the day. The TAU is located at Harlech House Police Station in Otahuhu, which
is at least a 25 minute drive from
conducting enquiries with Detective JONES to possible targets for Animal Action
Week, in the Auckland Region we went to the business premises of Tegel Foods
This seems to me to be a fairly far-fetched coincidence that these detectives just happened to be making enquiries about possible animal rights protests at almost exactly the same time as the protest finished. In the search warrant application written by Detective Sergeant David Nimmo he states:
02.10.03, at approximately 2.15 p.m., I was in the
This seems to me like another far-fetched coincidence – that a detective from the Police TAU just happened to be in the area, in a plain Police vehicle, apparently on an unrelated matter, and see us leave the Tegel building. Further evidence from Detective Malcolm Jones says that a while after arriving at the Tegel office, he was directed by Detective Sergeant Paki to make contact with the Northern Communications Centre to request the assistance of a uniform incident car. The Police statements in the disclosure also show that apart from Detectives Paki, Jones and Nimmo, no other officers were on the scene until 2.55 p.m.
It would be strange for three plain clothed detectives with plain cars to be at the scene before any standard uniformed Police and cars if Tegel had phoned 111 when the incident occurred, but makes sense if the TAU had arranged prior to the protest to be there. Further evidence of the TAU's surveillance is that before the protest we only talked about it with the people involved. No e-mails were sent about the protest, and no communication was made with the wider group. We were also careful not to talk about the protest on a telephone. Therefore for the TAU to have known about our protest in advance, they must have had us under surveillance either by having an infiltrator in the group, or by following us.
What unit in the Police was Rob working for?
We found out what Police unit Rob was working
for by working out who his handlers were. We looked at the contact numbers in
his phone, and then how often he was in contact with them from his phone bills,
and then who we thought was dodgy from our knowledge of him. Rob had this
mysterious “Uncle Pete” who he often talked about. Rob had claimed his “Uncle
Pete” was an old friend of his father’s, and like Rob, was ex-SAS (Special Air
Service). Since we now knew from another e-mail that Rob had never been in the
SAS, and in fact not even in the regular Army – he had only been (in his own
words) a “low-level grunt” in the Territorials – we thought it was unlikely his
“Uncle Pete” had been either. Also strange was that in the whole year I had
We also had a Police identification number from
the questionnaires sent to Rob, which were Microsoft Word Documents. They
showed the organisation as being “The New Zealand Police”, and the author as
being “PG4369”. Police identification numbers start with the officer’s
initials, so “Pete” fitted with this. Further investigations done by
We then looked at the other “Uncles” on Rob's
phone, and found that they were all also Police officers, one - “Uncle John” -
turned out to be John Sjoberg, the head of the SIG in
What does this unit do?
Both the SIG and the TAU were set up to monitor
and counter domestic terrorism threats. Other than activist surveillance, it is
quite difficult to ascertain what these units do, as there really aren't any
domestic terrorists in
Apart from using Rob do you have any other idea about how this unit monitors activists?
We know from the Police disclosure in some of our protest cases that the Threat Assessment Unit have plain clothed detectives who come to our protests. A statement written by Detective Darryl Petherick in the search warrant application for the Belucci case says: “I am currently attached to the Threat Assessment Unit. Included in this role I monitor and gather intelligence on animal rights groups and activists. This intelligence gathering includes attending protest action of various kinds without making my presence known to protesters. By doing this I can familiarise myself with protesters’ identities, involvement, and associations with each other and groups they are representing. One of these is animal rights group, Auckland Animal Action. My role in monitoring this group involves being familiar with its member's identities, and their actions, and monitoring and following ongoing campaigns”. We also know from the October 15 (2007) “terror” case, which has still to come to trial, that the Police have used interception warrants to bug phones and cars, and that they have also used other informants.
Was this the same unit that raided your and several other houses a few years back?
Yes – the Police Threat Assessment Unit were
responsible for all of the raids on the homes of
Why do you think the Police are so interested in activist groups and what do you think the broader picture is?
I believe the Police are interested in activist
groups because these specialist units were set up to counter “terrorism” and
“national security” threats. Since they have nothing better to do, there being
no terrorists in
How do you think the Police were using the information he provided?
After being confronted Rob claimed that he was just a “gatherer” and that his information went to the “profilers” who would assess the information and work out whether there was any risk. This may or may not be true – certainly Rob's role was as a “gatherer”, but whether or not there are some sort of high-level Police “profilers” working on activist stuff I have no idea. The Police also used the information Rob provided to target further surveillance at us, and disrupt our groups with pointless house raids and arrests.
Are you surprised at the things he did as an infiltrator, for example, inciting illegal acts?
Nothing surprises me anymore! But seriously, it
makes sense that Police informers would incite illegal acts. Firstly, any
informer will be trying to keep their job – that means of course proving that
they have a reason to exist. Being able to prove some sort of illegal activity
keeps them in work. Rob ran the “direct action training camps” for animal
rights a few years ago. He came up with the idea, invited people, organised,
and ran them. The people who were there attended for various reasons – some
would have been there just for fun, some to learn how to plan civil
disobedience actions – such as chaining yourself to a shop selling fur, and
some no doubt wanted to learn how to break into factory farms to gain video
footage to get on television, and to liberate animals. I attended really for
all three of those reasons.
Interestingly, the only illegal actions I have heard of since have been
those mentioned. The only other illegal action referred to in any of Rob's
“intelligence” was a meat billboard which was spraypainted in
Rob wasn't particularly involved in many campaigns in 2008 before he was outed, do you think that the Police are using other infiltrators instead?
I think it is fair to assume that the Police will already have other infiltrators within our groups. And if they don't, no doubt they will be attempting to get others in. Likewise, it has been over two years since the two spies for Thompson & Clark were outed, so it would be fair to assume there are other spies for private investigators involved. At the same time I don't think it's anything to get paranoid about or worry about. Rob was involved for ten years and aside from causing some shit between people, and a few arrests that led nowhere, nothing bad has happened. We should be alert for any signs of infiltrators, but we shouldn't let our focus be deterred from the things we are fighting for. We also shouldn't get so paranoid that we exclude new people or are suspicious of each other.
What lessons do you think the animal rights community as well as the broader activist networks can learn from this?
Most importantly what we can learn from this, and the ousting of the Thompson & Clark spies, is that we are so bloody effective in what we do that they actually consider us a real threat! The other lesson we can learn from Rob, is that when someone is causing shit, we need to talk to each other about it, and we need to get rid of people that cause trouble. Not because all troublemakers are spies, but because all troublemakers generally do damage to us.
How has this saga affected you? Will you continue to be involved in activist groups?
On a personal level, obviously this has affected me a great deal. I wouldn't say that I was “devastated” or anything about Rob, as to be honest I don't think I ever saw our relationship as that serious anyway. Towards the end the only reason I didn't leave him was because he continued to beg me to stay with him. But no doubt this whole thing has affected the level of trust I will place in people. I largely inherited my trust of Rob from the fact that everyone around me when I met him seemed to like and trust him. That makes me re-assess everyone I know and think about why I like and trust them. I will continue to be involved in activist groups. If anything, this makes me more determined to keep going and prove that they can't shut us down no matter how hard they try.
Will you be taking further action
such as a private prosecution or a complaint to the so-called "
I have some ideas in the pipeline for further action – however I won't publicise them yet, as I don't want to give the game away to the Police.
In the recent V Word podcast* the commentators discussed why it was that we, as a movement, and some of us, even more so, as close friends of Rob's, put up with Rob's sexist behaviour. I thought it was interesting because as V Word commented many of us would consider ourselves staunch feminists and so should be speaking out against such behaviour. As someone who has been good friends with Rob for some time what are your thoughts on this? *The V Word podcast is a monthly podcast done by Meat Free Media. You can listen to it on their Website at www.meatfreemedia.com. Ed
Rob was very good at modifying his behaviour depending on who he was around. The people I associated with would never have tolerated the sort of sexist or other disgusting behaviour we have heard about from others. For that reason I believe Rob never acted like that around us. Certainly I would never have gone near him if I had know the sort of person he really was (spying aside). Rob also seemed to have acted rather differently around males than females. With the males he seemed to try and incite illegal action more overtly. He would also put on the macho attitude and make more sexist comments. Perhaps the groups I was in being more female-dominated is another reason why I didn't see much of his disgusting behaviour.