Spying on the independence movement: how informants are recruited
Youngster speaks out about attempts to win him over and spy on ERC's youth wing
BarcelonaEnric Pérez waits at the foot of the 144-metre slab of concrete, aluminium and glass that is Glòries tower in Barcelona with his cell phone in his pocket and the recording application running. He is a little nervous. He has to meet a man who says he belongs to Spain's Department of Homeland Security, who in one call has shown that he knows too many things about him and wants to turn him into a confidant. Pérez is 24 years old, still studying, and from the start he contacts the ARA and the magazine Directa. It is Wednesday, March 30 and he is certain he wants to gather information and go public on these attempts to get him to spy on the independence movement.
Everything started with a call from a man, two days earlier. "He told me that they knew I had applied twice to become a member of the Catalan police (Mosso d'Esquadra) and that they were doing some checks," Pérez recalls. When he explained that he hadn't taken the physical tests because of a shoulder injury, the man cut him off. "He said, 'You know that sincerity is everything, right?' The man knew there was a case against Pérez, who would soon have to appear in court. This alarmed Pérez. "Hardly anyone knows that I applied to be a Mosso and that I have to appear in court." The stranger told him they would have to talk face to face.
The stranger says his name is Alfredo. He picks him up at Glòries tower. When they greet each other, Pérez sees that Alfredo is about forty years old, a little over six feet tall and has strong biceps under his T-shirt. The two walk down Badajoz street to go into a hotel bar. Another man, who says his name is Juan, is waiting for them there. He is about ten years older, also taller and thinner, dressed up, wearing a shirt and carrying a briefcase.
ARA has consulted two police officers from different corps who have worked with informants. One, who has been part of an information unit, explains that before a meeting with a source, a specialised unit usually chooses the place, the route to be followed and checks that there are no cameras. After the meeting, the informant is also followed to see if he meets with anyone. The other policeman consulted specifies that the protocols depend on the type of source, because there are informants who sometimes do not even know they are informants and others with whom a specific relationship is established.
On the way to the hotel bar, Alfredo tries to calm Pérez down, tells him that everything is voluntary and that "maybe" they can help him with his "aspirations". Once seated, Juan tells him that in the Department of National Security they are looking for collaborators on "all kinds of subjects", but that "in Catalonia there is obviously the independence movement". For them, capturing informants is nothing extraordinary. "We do this every day, we work exclusively on these things", Juan assures.
They talk about his studies, the sports he plays and discuss politics. They ask him about his political activity, he explains that he been part of ERC's youth wing –Jovent Republicà– for almost a year, in 2018, and that he participated in some of the protests called by the Tsunami Democràtic. When Pérez asks why and how they have chosen him, Alfredo answers, "Anyone who takes part in a selective process to work for any security corps enters our database. And we have people who are especially dedicated to looking for profiles that could be of interest
On April 19 they call him again and arrange to meet on the afternoon of April 26. This time Alfredo picks him up in front of the McDonald's in Glòries. He makes him enter the mall and, in a strange turn, they go out on Llacuna street and go back down to Diagonal. He takes him to a corner café with a large window, El Fornet. Juan waits for them there. This walk is also part of the routine with informants: another team tails them to check whether anyone else follows this same senseless route as a counter-surveillance technique.
The meeting lasted a little more than one hour and twenty minutes. Most of the time they talk about banalities to break the ice, their studies and soccer. Alfredo and Juan reassure him – "We are not looking for a James Bond", they say – but at the same time they insist on discretion: they ask Pérez to choose a code name, to protect his identity, and tell him that from now on they will contact him from another number. They also give him safety advice: "If we meet on the Rambla, we'll cross paths and we won't know each other". Pérez reproaches them for not having shown him any kind of proof of who they are and they evade his questions. They do not give any specific objectives, but Alfredo asks him if he thinks it would be possible to return to the environment he frequented when he was part of Jovent Republicà.
After the second meeting, communications were carried out on Telegram, always with the person who calls himself Alfredo. On May 5, the day after Batec's protest on commuter trains, he asks Pérez what he knows: "We are interested in knowing more about this collective". On May 31, Pérez gives him information that, in fact, was already public. He explains that he has spoken with former colleagues of his from Jovent Republicà and that young people from different collectives participate in Batec, but that they are not directly part of it. When he mentions Jovent Republicà Alfredo asks, "How do you feel about going back to them?". Pérez answers, "I think it could be possible". The alleged policeman celebrates and gives the order: "Perfect, well, start doing it progressively".
The spokeswoman for Jovent Republicà, Kènia Domènech, says this attempt to infiltrate them is "very serious". "We suspected, and now we can confirm, that the repression of the State has the will to control and persecute us," she assures ARA.
The way Alfredo and Juan act makes it clear that they follow standard police protocols. And they have information on Pérez that is confidential, from administration databases. They claim several times that they are from homeland Security, but this department, which depends directly on the cabinet of the Presidency of the Spanish Government, is mainly dedicated to analysing and advising. ARA has contacted sources at the Moncloa who have referred to the current referred to the regulations in force. The department's competences do not include the recruitment and management of informers. But all police forces have informants, including the CNI.
The captors start with the carrot, not with the stick: they propose several times to Pérez to help him become a policeman. "Once we get to know people who help us well, we give them a hand when we can," Alfredo tells him in the first meeting. One of the police sources with whom ARA has spoken explains that informants can be rewarded by helping them with the administration's own mechanisms – as in civil service examinations – or with money, but rarely is more than €200 paid for a tip-off.
They meet again on June 21 and on the same day, by message, Alfredo asks him the name of those who passed on the information on Batec. Pérez refuses to give it: "I wouldn't want to get them in trouble". Later, Alfredo cancels the appointment and they meet the next day. These last-minute changes are also part of normal police procedure: they make it more difficult for the informant to prepare anything. He arranges to meet him at McDonald's, but he doesn't show up and tells him by message to go to El Fornet and wait for him there. 25 minutes later he tells him that he finally won't be able to go and after a few hours Alfredo deletes all the messages from his Telegram chat. Too late: they have already been copied.
Enric Pérez admits that informing on those who tried to recruit him might not do his chances any favours in the trial he faces in October, but he accepts it. Alongside two friends, he stands accused of possession of explosives and conspiracy to attack authority. The prosecutor is seeking a six-year prison sentence. In the protest against the Spanish cabinet meeting in Barcelona in 2018, the Catalan police arrested a friend of his in possession of hydrochloric acid and aluminum foil in his backpack, which react violently if mixed in a closed container. The police officers found a conversation on the detainee's cell phone where Pérez discussed these products before the protest. He claims it was a joke and that his friend took it literally, without even warning them that he was doing it.
Nevertheless, Pérez still wants to become a police officer. "I hesitate more and more, but I want to do what the police should do: help, protect and serve. Do things right."