A hysterical response by the PSNI to the leak of its own personnel data has increased pressure for the disbandment of the staunchly unionist police force.
Ironically published in response to a Freedom of Information request, the PSNI revealed a huge tranche of data about its entire workforce, more than 10,000 people in all. Public service information websites then instantaneously pushed the document onto a large number of internet channels and feeds.
It is understood the data contains the surnames and initials of current employees alongside the location and department within which they work.
Formerly known as the RUC, the PSNI has a history of political and sectarian killings and cover-ups. Despite a major rebranding exercise and a decades-long normalisation effort, it has failed to win significant support from the nationalist population. In some republican areas, it still operates in the manner of the RUC, as a mercenary force of occupation under the direction of British military intelligence.
That long-denied link between the PSNI and MI5 was overwhelmingly proven by the data leak, which listed 39 current PSNI members based in MI5’s headquarters. All are named, along with others working in intelligence, surveillance and the handling of informers.
There have been immediate and huge claims for compensation by the PSNI membership, as well as demands for extra ‘security’ expenses and additional ‘danger money’ for the entire force, with a potential final bill to the British exchequer in excess of £100m.
A former senior RUC/PSNI figure admitted anyone with internet access could obtained the leaked file with little effort. “This material is publicly available,” said former Detective Chief Superintendent Roy McComb. “I know from speaking to a colleague recently that he was able to access this information in its entirety within three minutes of making an inquiry.”
There were reports of “panic” in the PSNI’s Brooklyn House headquarters and “disbelief” as staff learned of the development. One PSNI insider was quoted describing “mass hysteria” and “a state of paranoia” as members of the force sought to retain their anonymity.
Admitting the force’s own goal, the PSNI declared the breach a “critical incident” and brought its chief Simon Byrne back from holiday. Headlines described the incident as “catastrophic” and “industrial scale”.
Despite claims by Simon Byrne and others that the data is in the hands of republican armed groups, that has not yet been confirmed the claim. But an extract of the data appeared on a wall outside the Sinn Fein office on the Falls Road in Belfast, along with an insult directed at Sinn Fein’s policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly.
A picture of Mr. Kelly with a sign saying ‘Gerry, we know who your mates are’ was posted alongside the data. The former Sinn Fein negotiator, now a serving member of the Policing Board, described the development as “sinister” and an act of intimidation.
Most PSNI members conceal their occupation from all but the closest family members. Those involved in heavy-handed raids in nationalist areas, as well as stop-and-search detentions of republican activists, are now particularly concerned that they have been exposed.
However, republican armed groups have carried out relatively few targeted attacks on members of the Crown Forces, with only one in recent years - a gun attack in February in which a senior PSNI figure was injured.
If confirmed that the leaked data is in the possession of militants, it could instead alter the political dynamic, as rumoured efforts to find a negotiated end to their campaign would command greater urgency.
Despite original claims of ‘human error’, the difficulty of clandestinely operating a ‘community’ police force is now being blamed for the meltdown. Linked to the inherent instability of the British occupation, there have been fresh calls for the unreformed force to be scrapped.
Even the unionist news media has begun cataloguing the force’s recent failings, from when PSNI Chief Simon Byrne tweeted photos of himself with an assault rifle in the heart of nationalist South Armagh, to his suggestion that republicans’ children be taken into care; from the handling of the Bobby Storey funeral during Covid to the arrest of a victim of the Sean Graham massacre on the anniversary; and from the withholding of key information in the disappearance and death of Noah Donohoe, to how vehicles seized by PSNI during loyalist feuding for evidence were quietly destroyed outside their base.
Meanwhile, republicans have been pointing out the very deliberate leaking in the past of their identity to loyalists by the PSNI. The most deadly incident was in 1989 when the then RUC deliberately handed over files with the names, addresses, and photos of nationalists, many of whom were later murdered. Those murders are still being actively covered up by the state. Some families bereaved as a result of such deliberate leaks continue to face obstruction and cover-up by the force.
It has also now emerged that the PSNI knew other documents, a laptop, and a police phone had also been taken over a month ago in loyalist Newtownabbey, reportedly while a PSNI member was at an Orange Order meeting. But for reasons not disclosed, it was only announced this week. None of the items have been recovered, and there have been no arrests.
But a day after details of the personnel data leak became public, Saoradh chairman Stephen Murney was arrested and held for 16 hours in Dungannon, County Tyrone, and was again detained on Wednesday night. Another Saoradh activist was arrested with a gun to his head and had his home raided by a large number of PSNI backed up by a helicopter in Dungiven, County Derry on Sunday, and there was a further arrest in Lurgan, County Armagh, on Wednesday night.
Saoradh has hit out at what it says are “vindictive actions” and “political policing”.
Saoradh representative in north Derry, Christy O’Kane asked, “What do the British forces of occupation hope to achieve by constant vindictive harassment? Do they not realise no matter what powers are given to them they will never deter Saoradh, or their activists, from carrying out our daily activities or political activism. We are here and we are going nowhere.”