'Ólafur Páll Sigurdsson' Tag Archive

Sep 12 2013
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The Mark Kennedy Saga – Chapter Iceland


Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson Grapevine

Each time a free-floating rumour gets confirmed, and past political behaviour becomes a scandalous spectacle, one cannot resist wondering if such conduct might be going on today. This was the case in 2006, after a grand exposure of espionage the Icelandic state aimed at socialists during the Cold War. During parliamentary discussions following the revelation, Mörður Árnason, MP for the Social-Democratic Alliance (“Samfylkingin”), highlighted the importance of revealing if similar espionage was indeed occurring in present times. If so, he asked, “how is it being conducted? […] Which foreign states have been able to access this information?” Quite typically, those questions were never answered.

Half a decade later, in late 2010, it was revealed that a British police officer, one Mark Kennedy, had travelled around Europe for seven years disguised as environmental and anti-capitalist activist ‘Mark Stone’ and was collecting information about various activist movements and, in some cases, acting as an agent provocateur. Along with the UK, Denmark, Germany, Italy and France — to name but a few of the places where he worked — he did a stint in Iceland’s Eastern highlands in the summer of 2005. In Iceland, he attended a protest camp organised by the environmentalist movement Saving Iceland which targeted the construction of the gargantuan Kárahnjúkar dam and American aluminium giant Alcoa’s smelter in Reyðarfjörður.

The revelation mostly stayed within activist circles and publications, until early 2011, when a public expose of the spy’s true identity lead to the collapse of a UK trial against six climate-change activists, in which Mark’s secretly obtained evidence played a key role. British newspaper The Guardian then took up the case, and the Mark Kennedy saga started to snowball contemporaneously with the broader attention it received, bringing to light a number of other undercover spies.

Sex, Secrecy And Dead Children’s Identities

Shortly after Mark was exposed, Irish and German authorities admitted that he had worked within their jurisdictions and with their knowledge. Due to the ongoing efforts of Andrej Hunko — MP for German left party Die Linke — a truckload of information regarding European cross-border undercover police operations has since seen the light of day.

A recent book on the matter, written by Guardian journalists Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, brings further context to the affair — the mapping of at least 30 years of police espionage and infiltration of environmentalist, anti-racist and anarchist movements in the UK and elsewhere. Among the information revealed, the authors explain how the undercover officers at the Special Demonstration Squad — the undercover unit responsible for the infiltration — had the modus operandi of taking up identities of dead children in order to build up credible alter-egos based on the short lives of real persons.

It has also been revealed that Kennedy — along with others in his position — enjoyed several intimate relationships with some of his prospects, using sex to build up trust and gather information. One infiltrator, Bob Lambert, even fathered a child with one of these women, only to disappear as soon as his undercover employment became too risky. Eight British women who were victims of this tactic have pressed charges against the spies’ employer, the Metropolitan Police, due to the psychological damage they suffered. In a recent episode of investigative TV programme ‘Dispatches’ on Channel 4, some of them described their experience as having been mass-raped by the state, as they would never have consented to sleeping with the police officers had they been aware of their real identities. Adding insult to injury, their claims will not be heard openly — the British High Court recently ruled that it would take place in the secret Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

Saving Hell’s Angels

Enter Iceland, where the big question concerned whether Mark Kennedy had operated with or without the Icelandic authorities’ knowledge and approval. According to the country’s penal code, a foreign party or state’s espionage that takes place within the jurisdiction of the Icelandic state — or is directed at something or someone therein — is illegal and punishable with five-years imprisonment. Had Mark operated without the authorities’ knowledge, it should have caused an international conflict. If he, on the other hand, collaborated with the Icelandic police, it would have equaled the invoking of proactive investigative powers, which the Icelandic police apparently didn’t have at that time.*

Thus the affair entered Iceland’s parliament in late January 2011. Assuming the former version being more likely than the latter, the above-mentioned MP Mörður Árnason asked his fellow party-member and then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, about the government’s possible actions regarding the matter. After a few lousy personal jokes thrown between the two, Össur claimed he would wait for a report on the matter — conducted by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police — which Ögmundur Jónasson, MP for the Left Greens and then Minister of the Interior, had already requested.

But when finally published by the Commissioner’s National Security Unit in May 2011, it was pretty much impossible to estimate the relevance of the report, as the details of Ögmundur’s request were never made public. It was, however, clear that the National Commissioner — whose report literally equated environmentalist activists with Hells Angels — wasn’t about to bring any concrete information out into the public domain.

Lost In Information

Although admitting that the police received information about the activists and their plans via domestic and foreign sources, and that the Icelandic police collaborated with foreign police authorities regarding the protests, the report’s authors nevertheless fully dodged the question regarding the Icelandic police’s alleged collaboration with Mark Kennedy. The main conclusion of the report merely found that “during an overhaul of data at the National Commissioner’s office, no information has come forth enabling an answer regarding whether this agent provocateur […] was here in collaboration with or without the knowledge of the Icelandic police in 2005.”

Despite criticism from Saving Iceland and Árni Finnsson, head of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, which both accused the minister of condoning cover-ups and evasions by accepting these results, Ögmundur never really touched officially on the issue again. Neither did Össur nor Mörður or — as a matter of fact — anyone else from the establishment.

The truth regarding Kennedy’s operations in Iceland is still not publicly acknowledged, and the absurdity of the issue as it now stands is probably best described by Ögmundur’s own words, taken from an article published on Smugan — a now defunct leftist news-site —  and his last public remark on the report: “The National Commissioner’s report states that the Icelandic police obtained information from abroad concerning the protests at Kárahnjúkar, but that the police do not have information about how this information was obtained.”

* It is, in fact, questionable if the Iceland police had proactive investigative powers or not. As a result of weak laws and a lack of regulations, it actually seems that until 2011 the police had just about carte blanche regarding whom to spy on and for what reason. See more about it here.

Click here to go to the support site for the women’s legal action against the Metropolitan Police.

Watch the above-mentioned Dispatches show here below:

The Police’s Dirty Secret (47mins – Dispatches/Channel4 – 24JUN2013) from Casey Oliver on Vimeo.

Dec 05 2012
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Angeli Novi’s Time Bomb Ticking in the Continuum of History


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in the Reykjavík Grapevine.

There is a photograph by Richard Peter of a statue of an angel overlooking the card-house-like ruins of Dresden. During three days in February 1945, the German city was annihilated by the allied forces using a new firestorm technique of simultaneously dropping bombs and incendiary devices onto the city.

The photo resonates with philosopher Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘On the Concept of History,’ in which he adds layers of meaning to a painting by Paul Klee titled ‘Angelus Novus’. Benjamin describes Klee’s angel as ‘The Angel of History’ whose face is turned towards the past. “Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”

Wanting to “awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed,” the Angel’s wings are stretched out by a storm from Paradise, which “drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high.”

“That which we call progress,” Benjamin concludes, “is this storm.”

Can You Stand in the Way of Progress?

If the storm disenables us to fix the ruins of the past, what about preventing the storm from blowing? That would not be so simple according to art collective Angeli Novi, comprised of Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir and Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson, whose exhibition is currently showing at The Living Art Museum (Nýló).

Under a confrontational title — ‘You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress,’ shaped as the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign of Auschwitz — Angeli Novi have greatly altered the museum’s space with an installation of sculptures, soundscapes, smells and videos, including a 20-minute film of the same title as the exhibition. The film is a kind of kaleidoscopic time machine, examining the plight of generations which, one after the other, become tools and puppets of economic and historical structures.

In a well-cooked and stark manner — adjectives borrowed from Nýló’s director Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir — often shot through with streaks of black humour, the exhibition displays a dark image of Western civilization via versatile manifestations of the horrors embedded in capitalism, industrialism, nationalism, religion, the dualistic and linear thought of occidental culture, and the individual’s buried-alive position in society.

The metaphor here is literal as the only visible body-parts of the film’s thirty protagonists are their heads. The rest are buried under ground. Between themselves, their chewing mouths fight over ceremonial ribbons carrying a collection of Western society’s fundamental values, doctrines and clichés, in a dynamic collision with a collage of significant images behind them — “the history of Western thought,” as author Steinar Bragi points out. Towering over a coffin shaped as a baby’s cot, located in a mausoleum at the museum’s entrance, the same ribbons have been tied onto a funeral wreath. A single cliché, “From the Cradle to the Grave,” hangs between the mouths of two children’s heads that stick out of the black sand below the coffin. A smooth corporate female voice greets the visitors: “Welcome to our world!”

I Sense, Therefore I Think

“It’s very pessimistic,” Steinar Bragi says during our conversation in a bunker-like room of Nýló. “The film shows us disembodied beasts, fighting over the phrases that our entire society is built upon. I always see the head as the rational approach to life, stuck in these dualistic pairs that are so far from reality as I experience it. We have sensibilities, then emotions, and finally there are words and reason. Reason is useful for certain tasks, when one has to go from place A to place B, but it’s only a tool to be used on something far more extensive.”

Steinar and I agree that society is constantly simplified into Cartesian dualism — “I think, therefore I am” — the ground zero of Western thought. And while dualism doesn’t necessarily reject sensibilities and emotions, Steinar maintains that it locates reason on a higher level. “Reason is expected to control, which it certainly does in a small and unglamorous context, but it’s only an expression of what lies beneath.”

Enemies of Progress?

It’s clear that the core of this rationalism is simplification such as how political and social conflicts tend to be reduced to a fight between alleged good and evil forces. This not only brings us to the religious nature of the myth of progress, but also the power of language. Because “although they are hollow and empty and repeatedly chewed on, these phrases are also very powerful,” as literary scholar Benedikt Hjartarson points out. “They conduct the way society is shaped. They manifest the social and economic reality we live with.”

As former director of US aluminium corporation Alcoa Alain Belda told the newspaper Morgunblaðið in March 2003: “Some people are against progress.” He was referring to the opponents of the Kárahnjúkar dams, constructed in Iceland’s highlands to create energy for Alcoa’s smelter. “But fortunately,” he continued, “the world is growing and people are requesting better lives.”

Such an argument equals economic growth and people’s welfare, portraying the megaproject’s opponents as enemies of progress. At the same time it negates the destructive nature of progress, manifested for instance in the culturally genocidal impacts — in the form of displacement of populations — and irreversible environmental destruction often associated with large-scale energy production, and how the lives of whole generations are wasted by wars waged for power and profit.

“We see this contradiction within modernity,” Benedikt continues, “how the idea of progress thrives on destruction and always calls for annihilation.” But unlike the revolutionary destruction encouraged by 19th Century anarchist philosopher Michail Bakunin — who stated, “the passion for destruction is a creative passion too!” — the annihilation inherent to progress is rather used as a stimulus for an unaltered continuum of the status quo under the pretext of development. Thus, the contradictory nature is evident again, as well as the religious one: “The present is never here,” Benedikt says, “it’s always something we are aiming for.”

Violence Intrinsic to Social Contracts

The film displays a great amount of violence, which musician Teitur Magnússon sees with a strong reference to alienation. “One feels like it’s somehow supernatural, like it’s not the work of humanity but rather of a monster that’s eating everything up, and we don’t seem to have any control of it.”

Artist Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir furthermore connects this brutality with authority. “Humans aren’t able to handle more power than over themselves,” she says. “As soon as someone is granted higher power, violence enters the picture.” She maintains that some sort of violence is intrinsic to all simplifications — “all of society’s attempts to try and settle upon something” — meaning a wide range of social contracts, from organized religion to written and unwritten rules regarding people’s behaviour.

A Leap Into the Future

As Angeli Novi’s subject is not only complex but also polarized — layered with our cultural history of construction and destruction, repression and revolt — the exhibition doesn’t preach any simple solutions to the great problems it addresses. Such attempts are often just as contradictory as the myth of progress itself, or as philosopher Slavoj Žižek ironically sums up in his analysis of what he calls ‘a decaf reality,’ when the “very thing which causes damage should already be the medicine.”

Thus, one cannot resist wondering if there actually is a way out of the horrors analysed and manifested in the exhibition. Or is humanity bound to be stuck in a premature burial while the seemingly unstoppable catastrophe witnessed by Benjamin’s Angel of History keeps on enlarging into eternity?

With images referring to France’s July Revolution of 1830, Angeli Novi reject such a vision and suggest instead a peculiarly creative approach to revolt. Already during the revolution’s first day, clocks on church towers and palaces all over Paris were shot down and destroyed, signifying the urgent need to nullify predominant social structures and ideologies by putting an end to the time of the oppressors.

In continuum of this rebellious tradition of what philosopher Herbert Marcuse referred to as “arresting time” — directly related to what William Burroughs called “blowing a hole in time” — Angeli Novi transcend the well known demand for “all power to the people” with a leap into the future, granting wings to the mind and calling for all power to the imagination.

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See also:

Saving Iceland: Kárahnjúkar Dam Blown Up in New Film by Angeli Novi

Jón Proppé: Standing in the way of progress

Þóroddur Bjarnason: Jafnvægislist (Icelandic only)

Angeli Novi’s webiste

Oct 08 2012
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Kárahnjúkar Dam Blown Up in New Film by Angeli Novi


Saving Iceland would like to draw its readers attention to a currently ongoing exhibition by art collective Angeli Novi, comprised of artists Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir and Ólafur Páll Sigurðsson who both have strong ties to Saving Iceland. Sigurðsson was the founder of Saving Iceland and both of them continue to be active with the network today. You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress is the collective’s first extensive exhibition and is on show at The Living Art Museum (Nýlistasafnið) in Reykjavík.

At the heart of the exhibition, which consists of audio, video and sculptural pieces, is a 20 minute long film in Icelandic and English, bearing the same title as the exhibition. Around 30 people were willingly buried alive during the making of the film, which was shot this year in Greece and Iceland. Soundscapes were created by Örn Karlsson in collaboration with Angeli Novi.

Corporate green-wash and the Kárahnjukar dams play a key role in You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress. In one of the film’s scenes, the 700 m long and 200 m high central Kárahnjúkar Dam is digitally blown up by the very same explosion that blew up the Dimmugljúfur canyon in March 2003. The first destruction of the 200m deep canyon, which was carved out by the 150 km long river Jökulsá á Dal, played a strategical key role in the conflict about the power plant’s construction, and was meant to signify the government’s determined intention to steamroller Iceland’s eastern highlands in order to produce electricity for the US aluminium corporation ALCOA. As environmentalists warned from the beginning, the construction has turned out to have devastating environmental, social and economical impacts, and contributed also heavily to Iceland’s infamous 2008 economic collapse.

Asked about the cinematic blast, artists Gunnlaugsdóttir and Sigurðsson said: “It was particularly pleasurable to blow up the image of the dam that has now become the main symbol of corporate power abuse and ecocide in Iceland.” Sigurðsson  added that it was “Very appropriate to use for our purpose the same film footage that was used by the Icelandic government in 2003 to dash people’s hopes of saving the Kárahnjúkar area from deeply corrupt forces of corporate greed and governmental stupidity. These same forces have learnt nothing from their past crimes and mistakes and are now lining up for taking power next year in order to continue their destructive rampage through Icelandic nature.”

A press release  from The Living Art Museum states the following:

Angeli Novi create a kind of a kaleidoscopic time machine, examining the plight of generations which, one after the other, become tools and puppets of economic and historical structures. Through symbolism and imagery, Angeli Novi examine the ideological backdrops of these structures, the variously substance-drained core values of occidental culture, as well as as the reoccurring themes of doctrines and clichés in the societal rhetoric, necessary for society to maintain itself.

You Can’t Stand in the Way of Progress opened on 29 September and will run until 2 December. The Living Art Museum is located on Skúlagata 28, 101 Reykjavík.

May 20 2011
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Cover-ups and Evasions Condoned by the Minister of the Interior


Statement from Saving Iceland regarding the recently published report by the National Commissioner’s ‘National Security Unit’. The report was requested by the Minister of the Interior and was supposed to answer the questions if the Icelandic police were aware of and collaborated in British police spy Mark Kennedy’s infiltration of the Saving Iceland network. (Translated from Icelandic.)

The Saving Iceland network has spent some time examining the report authored  by the National Commissioner’s ‘National Security Unit’ published on May 17. Already at this stage we would like to make a considerable number of remarks.

First of all we have to express our astonishment if Ögmundur Jónasson, the Minister of the Interior is going to accept as valid the poorly reasoned cover-ups that are resorted to by the report’s authors. It is also remarkable how superficial and simply untrue the Minister’s own interpretation of the report has been so far. Unfortunately the same is true of the coverage of the report made by some of the Icelandic corporate media.

The report’s most serious flaw is of course the fact that it completely evades the responsibility that it was officially intended to assume. The only de facto information about the report’s actual subject is on page 12,  where it is stated that the police received “confidential information” concerning the intended protests against the Kárahnjúkar dam from both domestic and foreign “informers”, and that this information was used to organize the police’s reaction. Read More

May 03 2011
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New Photographic Evidence Shows that Icelandic Police Lied About their Dealings with Mark Kennedy


In January 2011, when the illegal covert actions of UK police in Icelandic jurisdiction hit the pages of the international media, the local police forces of the two Icelandic towns Seydisfjörður and Eskifjörður in Eastern Iceland issued a statement in response to queries from the Icelandic National Broadcaster (RUV). The Broadcaster asked if the Icelandic police had been aware of the infiltration of the Saving Iceland network by British police spy Mark Kennedy. According to the Broadcaster the two police forces denied that they had had any “dealings with Kennedy during the protests against the Kárahnjúkar dams.”

Saving Iceland can now reveal evidence that shows clearly that the two police forces are not telling the truth about their dealings with Kennedy. The top photograph accompanying this statement shows two Icelandic police officers grappling with Mark Kennedy during a Saving Iceland action that took place on 26 July 2005 at the site of the Kárahnjúkar central dam. Clearly the incident pictured shows that the Icelandic police most certainly had “dealings” with the British spy. Read More

Feb 11 2011
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The Real Facts Regarding Mark Kennedy’s Infiltration of Iceland’s Environmental Movement


The recent spate of articles about the police spy Mark Kennedy that have appeared in the Guardian and elsewhere have greatly exaggerated the minor role of Kennedy in the Icelandic environmental movement to the point of claiming that he was a key figure pivotal in founding the movement. This may serve the immediate purpose of dramatizing the Kennedy saga but is in fact nonsense. Several weeks ago Saving Iceland sent detailed clarifications to the Guardian regarding the inaccuracies published in the paper. However, the Guardian has thus far not corrected their reporting, apart from a limited disclaimer in Amelia Hill’s article ‘Mark Kennedy played key role in forming green movement in Iceland’ where Hill states that “Saving Iceland […] disputes the level of Kennedy’s involvement.”

In other articles that are concerned with Mark Kennedy’s involvement with British groups the Guardian several times quotes British activists in saying that Kennedy did not act as a strategist or decision maker in their movement, but that he made him himself useful as a driver and an energetic facilitator in day to day logistics. One source is reported by the Guardian in even going so far to say that Kennedy was not considered the sharpest knife in the box. This would make the Guardians’ claims about his supposed vital role in Saving Iceland surprising to say the least. Read More

Jun 29 2010
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A Spade is a Spade, Repression is Repression


Ólafur Páll Sigurdsson

Environmental network Saving Iceland declares full solidarity with the Reykjavik Nine defendants (RVK9), who face between one and sixteen years in prison for exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest against a disgraced parliament, on 8 December 2008.

These nine people have been picked out of the thousands whose protests brought down the previous government, whose corruption and ineptitude was responsible for the historical crisis Icelandic society is still being torn up by. This same government has now been confirmed by the Special Investigation Committee report (SIC – an apt acronym) as instrumental in the abuse that lead to the complete crash of the Icelandic economy; and as a major force in the severe corruption, democracy deficit and ethical crisis which have since emerged as the underlying reasons for the total failure of Icelandic democracy.

Criminalizing political opponents, even those who use non-violent civil disobedience, is an old diversion tactic used by states worldwide. This act of political repression is in glaring contradiction to the sanctimonious declarations of ‘shouldering responsibility’ and ‘taking heed of lessons’ paid by the parties responsible for the crisis. Icelanders should take seriously the systematic abuse of power which has been uncovered in the Icelandic establishment. Read More

Apr 25 2009

‘Green’ Deception Flops – A Statement from Saving Iceland Regarding Skyr Splashings of Election Offices


Olafur Pall Sigurdsson

Saving Iceland applauds the symbolic hits that the three pro-heavy industry political parties were dealt in the form of liberal splashes of green skyr (traditional Icelandic dairy product) on Monday.

According to Saving Iceland’s sources, three different groups, not just one, like the corporate media have claimed, did these actions almost simultaneously. Saving Iceland has also been informed that the activists were all Icelandic. It appears that this is a powerful group of activists, fighting the heavy industrialization of Iceland. Saving Iceland declares full support with the group.

The forces that stand behind Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Conservatives), Framsóknarflokkurinn (Right-wing opportunists) and Samfylkingin (New Labour equivalents), are guilty of what is tantamount to high treason with their heavy industry policy. Judging from their election propaganda, there is no sign that the parties have been willing to learn anything from the economic collapse about the expansion effects on the economy by heavy industry.

At the same time as these parties’ policy of uncontrollable greed has been pursued with the consequences of immense irreversible destruction of the country’s unique nature, this policy has just as much harmed Icelandic society as a whole. Read More

Jul 15 2008

Radical Actions and Professional Protesters


By Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson, originally published in Morgunblaðið

Last Sunday, an anonymous journalist from Morgunblaðið wrote about Saving Iceland under the title “Action Groups and Cells”. He talked about Saving Iceland’s upcoming action camp in Hellisheiði and brougth forward a list of actions that people could anticipate from those attending the camp this summer, i.e. “try to get the police into a fight, chain themselves to whatever is near to them, do minimum sabotage, disturb companies’ legal operations or public traffic”. According to him, this kind of behaviour has characterized Saving Iceland’s activities for the last years.

We at Saving Iceland, use direct action and civil disobedience in our actions against capitalism in the form of Iceland’s heavy industrialization – and we do not deny that. Although we do not chain ourselves to whatever is around us, but to machinery, machinery which is being used to destroy the nature. Thus we stop the destruction for some limited time. One does not lock lock on to a huge machine “just because” – one does it because of ideals and with a spirit of resistance. Read More

May 29 2008
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Founder of Saving Iceland Acquitted


iceland-police-state.jpgÓlafur Páll Sigurðsson, the founder of Saving Iceland, has been acquitted. Sigurðsson had been accused of vandalizing a police car, using only his fists.
In the end of July 2006, during the 2nd protest camp of Saving Iceland against the dams at Kárahnjúkar, an unmarked 4×4 police car came driving towards the camp site and started photgraphing people having their lunch. A few of the protestors walked towards the car, including Sigurðsson. When he stepped in front of the stationary vehicle the driver of the car, Arinbjörn Snorrason, accelerated suddenly and drove into Sigurðsson, who saved his life by putting his hands on the bonnet of the car and jumping out of its way.
Armand: Brave Cops of Iceland Read More