David Bird – Elbit’s Very Own SpyCop

Apr 12, 2021 | 5 comments

The various tactics employed by the UK government – and, by extension, the police – to clamp down on social justice movements are becoming increasingly common knowledge. The recent exposure of SpyCops operations, documenting of a heavy-handed approach to protests over the years, and legislative attempts to drastically increase police powers to curtail protest are all indicative of a state hellbent on undermining those who believe the current order is unjust.

Palestine Action is all too aware of the lengths the police will go to to protect arms companies. Activists have so far had their homes surveilled and raided, have had personal belongings (including laptops and passports) seized, and been held in police custody for over 24 hours. 

So imagine if one of the cops who had been heavily involved in secret surveillance of activities and the clampdown on protests went private and decided to sell his expertise to the local arms factory?

Well, David Bird – former Chief Inspector at Staffordshire Police – did just that. During 30 years spent with Staffordshire Police, Bird worked to monitor protests and imprison activists – working specifically on surveillance targeting animal rights and environmental protests. Bird fostered connections with ‘domestic extremist units’, and worked on police guidance which promoted a crack-down on anti-fracking protests, opening the door for the use of undercover operatives to monitor activist movements. Working extensively in this field, he eventually became the Head of the Public Order and Protest Unit.  

In 2015, shortly after he was in charge of dealing with an anti-war protest at Elbit System’s Shenstone factory, he left Staffordshire Police in order to take his experience to the private sector. He founded the company Blue Swan Risk Management to contract his skills out to firms looking to ‘protect their interests’. It seems his skills and past experience policing protests against Elbit are of particular interest to Israeli weapons manufacturers. Bird (being contracted by Elbit Systems either directly or via Blue Swan Risk Management) is now known to have leased out his services to multiple Elbit sites in the UK, where he has subsequently acted as a witness for the prosecution (AKA, his former colleagues). 

Worryingly, Bird is not alone in realising his skills and connections could be of use to private firms. According to a 2011 Corporate Watch article, a former head of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (a special unit created to infiltrate social justice movements and gather intelligence on activists) left his job in the police in 2001 to form Global Open Ltd, “a private security firm openly marketing itself as a resource for companies affected by protest”. 

So what services does David Bird sell to Elbit? Bird’s LinkedIn profile proudly explains some of the skills and “discreet” services on offer from Blue Swan. These include “training of protestor removal teams for the police service and private sector”, “evidence gathering” and “support in preparation and during legal proceedings”. Ironically, given his former role in infiltrating activist groups, the company also offers “recruitment vetting to prevent staff infiltration”.  

“Protest at, or near to, your business premises can have a damaging effect on your organisation’s reputation or profile… There may be significant financial implications of protest activity linked to your organisation through loss of customer base and the potential of increased security and insurance costs. Blue Swan Risk Management Ltd is a highly specialist consultancy built on reputation and focussed on dealing with all aspects of protest and its impact on your business.” [David Bird, LinkedIn]

Some of the offered services are of particular interest to Elbit’s ongoing relationship with Palestine Action. Bird may be working to provide ‘police liaison prior to and during protests’, and Bird’s involvement with Shenstone and his police ties may also go some way to explaining the severity of the police response to Palestine Action activists who have protested arms production at Elbit sites in Staffordshire. 

In three recent actions held by Palestine Action in Staffordshire (at Elbit sites in Tamworth and Shenstone) police have responded with maximum force. Staffordshire police have consistently turned up in higher numbers than those in other jurisdictions, activists have been held in custody for over 24 hours, been denied bail, and have all had their homes raided or attempted to be raided. The police response time in Staffordshire to Palestine Action protests is around 10 minutes. This is in sharp contrast to treatment by police when protesting Elbit factories in other regions, where police take around 3 hours to arrive, often do not charge activists, and have not raided homes. The contract between Elbit and the former Chief Inspector of Staffordshire police may well explain Staffordshire Police’s heavy-handedness.

Blue Swan is registered to provide ‘private security and investigation activities’, offering ‘intelligence assessment and development’. We can only guess at the extent of the monitoring of activists which Bird is involved in and how much his links to the police plays into Elbit’s hands. The collusion between the three parties – the police, Elbit, and Bird/Blue Swan – has not been publicised by any of the three. Information on their interactions is sparse, and it is, of course, in their interest that we are kept in the dark.

Palestine Action defendants submitted a disclosure request to the courts for correspondences between Bird and Elbit in preparation for an upcoming trial, and since this request Bird has worked to scrub all evidence of Blue Swan’s existence from the internet. He has removed any information about Blue Swan Risk Management from his LinkedIn profile, and submitted a request to have the company struck from the companies’ register.

Palestine Action activists are facing trial in May for the September 2020 occupation of an Elbit factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire. Bird is set to give evidence in this trial, and we hope that it may become clear during court proceedings the extent to which Bird’s skills and police connections are assisting Elbit. Palestine Action will continue to publicise information in the run-up to, and over the course of, the trial.

Whatever the outcome of this trial, collusion between arms manufacturers, the police, and private mediators ought to be of great concern to anyone interested in challenging the UK’s complicity in Israeli’s military occupation and the arms trade as a whole. Once again, it makes it clear whose side the police are already on.