Our Project

Unredacted is a research unit that investigates and documents secretive UK state and corporate practices in the context of national security. We undertake in-depth investigations into national security programmes and practices, with a particular focus on covert, clandestine and secretive aspects of the US-UK ‘War on Terror’. Our Unredacted Archive provides full access to hundreds of thousands of pages of material, becoming a permanent home for thousands of national security-related documents which have not, until now, been gathered in one place.

Unredacted is based at the University of Westminster and run by a multidisciplinary team with extensive experience of investigative research in the field of national security and human rights. We produce original, high-impact research which maps secretive practices and associated human rights abuses, and which challenges the pervasive culture of secrecy in relation to UK national security. We utilise a range of research methods in our work, including field research, document analysis, ‘open-source intelligence’, archival research, and a strategic approach to Freedom of Information legislation and access to court records. We construct multisource datasets and use detailed mapping and triangulation techniques to uncover the contours of secretive practices, identify abuses of power and enable others to hold governments and corporations to account.

Our work has impact. Our findings have made headlines across national media, and have led to emergency parliamentary debates, Ministerial statements and changes in government policy. Our work has informed official inquiries into UK involvement in systematic human rights abuses, and has supported war crimes investigations at the United Nations and International Criminal Court, as well as cases brought before UK courts, the European Court of Human Rights, the US Supreme Court and military commissions at Guantánamo Bay.

Our investigations are underpinned in part by an analysis of thousands of primary documents, many of which will be made public for the first time as a direct result of our work. The Unredacted Archive will be a home for some of this material, which will sit alongside a range of other national security-related documents gathered by the team – such as those disclosed through public inquiries, courts, tribunals and use of Freedom of Information legislation. The Archive will grow significantly throughout 2024, and aims to become the UK’s largest permanent, public archive of material relating to national security and human rights.

Unredacted Investigations

Special Forces War Crimes in Afghanistan

Unredacted is undertaking a multiyear investigation into what appears to have been the systematic mistreatment and unlawful killing of detainees and other unarmed people by UK Special Forces (UKSF) units deployed to Afghanistan, and the subsequent coverup of this criminality by multiple agencies and institutions of the British state. Mounting evidence suggests that UKSF killings were systematic, stretching across operations and rotations, and forming part of a deliberate, if unofficial, policy amongst units to execute all ‘fighting age males’ found on operations. This included those not holding weapons and thus not posing a threat to UK forces, and it included what appears to be the unlawful killing of children as young as 12.

While allegations of UKSF war crimes in Afghanistan are now the subject of an ongoing independent Inquiry, much of this work is being carried out behind closed doors. We will therefore continue our investigation, tracking the commission of these war crimes by units on the ground between at least 2010-13, the contemporaneous knowledge of these practices at the most senior level within UKSF, up to and including the overall commander (Director Special Forces), as well as the ways in which the killings were covered up – both at the time, and in the years since.

British Involvement in Torture

Building on our earlier work with The Rendition Project, Unredacted continues to investigate UK involvement in rendition, unlawful detention and torture. Our previous work has mapped the evolution and operational architecture of CIA torture, the sheer brutality of the abuses which took place, and the central role played by the UK. Our 2019 report, CIA Torture Unredacted, stands as the most comprehensive public account of this programme. Our investigation continues, however, not least because most victims have yet to receive any form of justice. Indeed, some remain detained by the US military – illegally and indefinitely – at Guantánamo Bay, more than 20 years after their disappearance into the CIA secret prison network.

We are also working to uncover the UK’s contemporary involvement in torturous practices. We have forced the release of secret policy documents which purport to authorise British involvement in torture overseas, and we continue to investigate the nature of this involvement and to challenge the ongoing secrecy over current UK practices.

Integrated Operations in the ‘War on Terror’

Unredacted is investigating a number of clandestine and covert counterinsurgency and counterterrorism activities, both in the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ and more recently. It builds on the team’s research which has uncovered British clandestine operations in support of a broader CIA-led counterinsurgency campaign in both Kenya and Yemen. It is now clear that UK counterterrorism efforts are often embedded into trilateral relationships, with US intelligence and military forces on the one hand, and foreign liaison intelligence services and paramilitary forces on the other. In these contexts, British intelligence agencies have offered enhanced human intelligence and tracking capabilities, surveillance, and paramilitary action, thereby lending critical support to US-led counterterrorism operations. Likewise, the UK Ministry of Defence’s highly secretive ‘training and advisory’ teams provide frontline, operational support to paramilitary forces, including those that have frequently been implicated in human rights abuses.

Investigation of this phenomenon is of growing relevance, as both UK and US military establishments are increasingly vocal about the need to work in an ‘integrated operating’ fashion, and ‘by, with, [and] through’ partner forces, to counter ‘hybrid threats’. This is significant, given the ways in which working through partners enables the UK to evade transparency, oversight and accountability for its involvement in severe human rights abuses.

Spyware and Surveillance in the Telecoms Industry

Unredacted’s Working Group on Spyware and Surveillance in the Telecoms Industry investigates the clandestine relationship between Western telecoms companies, their subsidiaries, and their international partnerships with national police forces. In particular, our research concerns the secretive use of subscriber metadata in police operations where human rights abuses are routine, including through the identification of criminal suspects using predictive algorithms and the targeting of individuals for enforced disappearance and unlawful killing. We are also investigating how the nature of such arrangements is used to obstruct those seeking data on state violence, particularly enforced disappearances. Provisional research by the working group has found that police and intelligence agencies have utilised potentially illegal arrangements to identify and track protestors, political opponents and terror suspects in multiple countries that have witnessed routine state-enforced disappearances and killings in the context of ‘counterterrorism’. We will also investigate the role of technology companies in providing the spyware enabling the analysis and predictive identification of those deemed by the state to be suspects, and the associated failures of national export control systems.

The group is working to expose the inner workings of these abusive systems, and to empower lawyers and campaigners seeking justice (particularly those working in affected communities) with the tools and technical know-how to challenge the clandestine arrangements and relationships underpinning the abuses. The working group and its research activities are led by Unredacted’s Namir Shabibi and Claire Lauterbach.

The Unredacted Archive

The Unredacted Archive will be a home for much of the material gathered through our investigations, as well as a large number of other national security-related documents gathered by the team. The Archive will grow significantly throughout 2024, and aims to become the UK’s largest permanent, public archive of material relating to national security and human rights. In building and launching this archive, we have taken inspiration from the US-based National Security Archive, a landmark investigative and archival project holding the world’s largest nongovernmental collection of declassified US documents relating to intelligence, national security and international affairs.

Landing Book
Szymany Airport, Poland, 2 pages, Sep 2003

The Unredacted Archive is bringing together documents sourced through a range of investigative methods, supplemented by material proactively published by official bodies, including government departments, parliamentary committees and intelligence oversight bodies, national security courts and tribunals, Freedom of Information ‘disclosure logs’ and public inquiries.

We have archived thousands of documents to date, covering a range of practices, including rendition, secret detention and torture, targeted killings outside of war (assassinations), extrajudicial killings and prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, security assistance and training, arms exports, surveillance technologies and interception programmes, domestic counterterrorism, citizenship stripping and state collusion with non-state violent actors.

The Archive enables users to filter, browse and search the full text of hundreds of thousands of pages of material. The extensive document collections provide full access to specific document sets, while the growing number of analytical briefings bring together key documents from the Archive. The Archive will grow significantly in scale and scope throughout 2024, helping to shed light on the evolution, contours and impacts of UK national security practices.

Contact Us

You can email the team at: team@unredacted.uk