The Spy Who Loved Me: Undercover Cop Marries, Then Divorces, His Target

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Photo by Melanie Einzig

A giant globe in a shopping cart is destroyed by police and demonstrators are arrested during a "Reclaim the Streets" festival on Friday, June 18, 1999 in New York City.

This true story of assumed identities, eco-terrorism and undercover romance makes Octopussy look realistic.

On January 19, the Guardian revealed the latest details of its ongoing investigation into police spies who enter sexual relationships with the targets of their covert surveillance. Police maintain that such instances are rare. Yet Jim Boyling, the fourth policeman identified as spying on eco-activist groups, is the third accused of having sex with the enemy.

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Interviews with Boyling’s ex-wife, whom he divorced two years ago, paint an ambiguous portrait of a policeman torn between his duty and his heart, and potentially willing to tug on a woman’s heartstrings in the name of national security. It all began in 1995 when Boyling assumed the false identity of “Jim Sutton” and infiltrated “Reclaim the Streets,” a group of anarchists and anti-capitalists that opposes the dominance of corporations in globalization and the use of cars as the primary mode of transportation. Their unruly protests, which have at times brought major London streets to a complete standstill, have led the FBI to describe its members as “terrorists.”

During his five years undercover, Boyling rose to become a key organizer, and helped stage “Carnival Against Capitalism,” one of the major anti-capitalist demonstrations of the past 20 years. In 1999, while attending a meeting at London’s Cock Tavern pub, he reportedly sat next to an idealistic activist whom the paper refers to as “Laura.” A romance quickly blossomed and the two went on to marry and have two children. According to Laura, he was a fitness fanatic who loved driving the group’s van. She claims that he encouraged her to change her name to conceal their relationship from the police and identified other activists whom he suspected were undercover police. Neither Boyling nor the police have denied the allegations.

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The details of Laura’s divorce remain murky, but she comes off as a woman still broken by the ordeal—and the possibility that the man she loved was merely using her to extract information. She told the Guardian that Boyling complained when his bosses decreed that all sexual relations with activists must stop. “He was scoffing at it saying that it was impossible not to expect people to have sexual relations. He said people going in had ‘needs’ and I felt really insulted.” She hopes that by coming clean with her story she will demonstrate how infiltration can “wreck” lives. “Everybody knows there are people in the movement who aren’t who they say they are,” she said. “Being too paranoid would hinder everything. But you don’t expect the one person you trust most in the world not to exist.” She added that until recently she had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and couldn’t recognize her face in the mirror, and felt “like a prostitute; just an unknowing and unpaid one.”

Undercover officers, she argues, fall for their prey far more often than the public realize—and more frequently than the police establishment want to admit. “The impression in the press was that this was an isolated incident, that it was a really ‘unusual thing’ – but this is not true. I know of multiple cases. We’re talking about a repeated pattern of long-term relationships and, for me at least, the deepest love I thought I’d ever known.”

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Jon Murphy, the lead officer for serious crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, says that it’s “never acceptable” for undercover cops to sleep with their targets. But, as he told the Guardian, infiltration plays a crucial role in maintaining national security. Reclaim the Streets has a minority of members “intent on causing harm, committing crime and on occasions disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure” and that “has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny.”

For police and security officials, surely that justifies the pain of a few broken hearts. (via the Guardian)