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Special Branch is a label customarily used to identify units responsible for matters of national security in British and Commonwealth police forces, as well as in the Royal Thai Police. A Special Branch unit acquires and develops intelligence, usually of a political nature, and conducts investigations to protect the State from perceived threats of subversion—particularly terrorism and other extremist activity.
The first Special Branch, or Special Irish Branch, as it was known, was a unit of London's Metropolitan Police formed in March 1883 to combat the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The name became Special Branch as the unit's remit widened.
Most state police forces and the federal police had a Special Branch. They were tasked mainly with monitoring the Communist Party of Australia and related political groups regarded as extremist or subversive. They also focussing on German and Japanese activity during World War II.
- The Commonwealth Police Force was formed in 1917 as "a form of federal special branch" under the War Precautions Act 1914. It was disbanded in 1919.
- The Commonwealth Police Special Branch was established in 1957. It was absorbed into the Australian Federal Police in 1979.
- The Australian Federal Police Special Branch was renamed the Special Intelligence Branch in 1985 and merged into the Security Intelligence & Diplomatic Liaison Branch in 1995.
- The New South Wales Police Force Subversive Organisations Branch was formed in 1933. It was combined with the Commonwealth Police, Royal Australian Navy Police and Australian Army Police at the outbreack of World War II to form the Military/Police Intelligence Branch. The civilian component was formed back into the Police Subversive Organisations Branch in 1946, which was renamed Special Branch in 1948. The Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service found Special Branch was gathering information on people who posed no threat of politically motivated violence, and as a result it was disbanded in 1997.
- The Queensland Police Special Bureau was formed on 30 July 1940 and renamed Special Branch on 7 April 1948. It was criticised for being used for political purposes by the Bjelke-Petersen government in the 1970s and 1980s, such as enforcing laws against protests (sometimes outnumbering the protesters or using provocateurs to incite violence so the protesters could be arrested) and investigating and harassing political opponents. It was disbanded in 1989 following a recommendation by the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption. Special Branch destroyed its records before Fitzgerald could subpoena them.
- South Australia Police formed an Intelligence Branch at the outbreak of World War II in 1939, which was disbanded in 1945. A Subversive Section was established in 1947 and renamed Special Branch in 1949. It amassed files on Australian Labor Party politicians, church leaders, trade unionists and so-called "pink files" on gay community activists at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. The South Australia Police was deliberately vague about the existence of Special Branch. In 1970, Commissioner Harold Salisbury told Premier Don Dunstan that Special Branch did not exist. A 1977 inquiry by Justice White of the Supreme Court of South Australia confirmed the existence and found the files were "scandalously inaccurate, irrelevant to security purposes and outrageously unfair to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of loyal and worthy citizens". Dunstan sacked Salisbury for misleading Parliament about the existence of the "pink files". Special Branch was disbanded in 1984.
- The Victoria Police Special Branch was formed in 1931 and disbanded in 1983. Similar work in monitoring terrorism is conducted by the Security Intelligence Group, established in 2000.
The Security and Intelligence Branch, also known as Special Branch, is the main domestic intelligence and security service in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. It is mandated to perform intelligence operations inside the Bahamas to ensure the safety of Bahamian citizens and foreigners. The branch is also mandated to perform background checks on persons who have been recruited for jobs such as police officers and defence force officers and to check persons up for promotions. The Director of the Security Intelligence Branch holds the title "Assistant Commissioner".
The Bangladeshi Special Branch is the prime intelligence agency of Bangladesh. The Special Branch has twelve different sections through which it carries out the directives of the Government and around 64 district based offices, called District Special Branch and also has offices in many Upazilla/Thana areas. All the members are recruited from the Bangladesh Police. The chief of the Special Branch has the rank of Additional Inspector General (Addl IGP) and reports directly to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This is the only intelligence agency of Bangladesh which works in all strategic, operational and tactical levels. The organization also has the capability to work within and outside the country.
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Hong Kong 
The Special Branch of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force consisted only of the Intelligence and Security Wing. The division was disbanded in 1995, prior to the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. Units of SB were re-assigned under the Security Wing (Department B) - Crime and Security.
The Security Wing was revived after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty and is now responsible for the Very Important Person Protection Unit. As for the former, it was eliminated and all related information was deleted to prevent it from being transferred to Chinese hands. The RHKPF's Special Branch did not leave any record of their work, owing to their intelligence duties.
Recent declassified documents showed that the Royal Hong Kong Police's Special Branch had problems with infiltration by spies working for the KMT during the Cold War.
The Special Branch unit of the Fiji Police Force is classed as one of the best intelligence unit in the Asia Pacific region. Similar to their Commonwealth counterparts, the Fijian Special Branch deals with matters of national security. They facilitate Interpol, Counter Terrorism, surveillance, Anti-espionage and VIP Protection units. Entry into Special Branch is usually by recruitment. Even though it is a Police unit, Special Branch originally also recruits from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
The unit's name has changed to the Fiji Police Intelligence Bureau on 2009. According to the Fijian government, this was done due to the "impact of modern crimes with other unlawful and illegal activities in national development demands dramatic changes in the Force." This was also done while the police force was being modernized.
The Special Branch is a separate wing in the state police forces in India. Like their counterparts in the United Kingdom, they deal with matters of state security. However more serious espionage detection etc., are done by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), India's internal security agency.
There have been many allegations that the Special Branch is used by the ruling government (and the political party) for setting up surveillance on their political opponents. The Special Branch has its own Detective Constables, Head Constables, Inspector rankings and superior police officer rankings. Every police station is to have a Special Branch head constable or Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) (working plain clothes or Mufti), he would be observing the society in general, and also taking reports from the uniformed police constables on general patrol. The special branch staff play a very important role in collecting advance intelligence about law and order matters as well as illegal activities like ganja plantation/transportation, illicit arracks, etc. They forward the information to the respective Superintendents of police for necessary action.
Ireland is not part of the Commonwealth or the United Kingdom. However, there is a Special Branch of the Garda Síochána, now called the Special Detective Unit (SDU), or in Irish, Aonad Speisialta Bleachtaireachta.
The Malaysian Special Branch is an intelligence agency attached to the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP). The SB is empowered to acquire and develop intelligence on internal and external threats to the nation, subversive activities, extremist activities and activities of sabotage and spying. It is also empowered to analyse and advise on the necessary course of action to the various departments and agencies both within the Police Department and other related agencies.
New Zealand 
The New Zealand Police Special Branch was formed in 1919. Between 1940 and 1945 it operated as part of the military Security Intelligence Bureau. In 1956 the functions of Special Branch were transferred to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.
Papua New Guinea 
Special Branch sections of the New Guinea Police Force and Royal Papuan Constabulary, in Australia-controlled Territory of Papua and Territory of New Guinea, were established in 1947. These were merged into the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary in 1950.
The BSAP developed its Special Branch in the early 1950s amid growing unrest within black communities protesting slow progress towards racial equality. During the period of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, also known as the Central African Federation (CAF) 1953–63, that brought the self-governing and virtually independent British colony of Southern Rhodesia into a federation with the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland, (Malawi) the political nature of Special Branch became a source of tension between the BSAP and different police forces in the northern territories. Following the dissolution of the CAF and the refusal of the British government to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia without more progress towards multiracial democracy, the predominantly white electorate of Southern Rhodesia backed a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. London instructed all Southern Rhodesian civil servants, including the police, to stay at their posts while the white settler rebellion was resolved diplomatically. Under Emergency Powers, Special Branch became the principal internal security agency in the "phoney war" with Zimbabwean guerrillas 1966–72, serving as a model for and establishing strong links with South Africa's Special Branch. As the Chimurenga or Bush War gathered force after 1972, Special Branch developed the Selous Scouts, an undercover tracker battalion of 1,500 troops, 80 percent black, many having been recruited from captured guerrillas facing trial and possible execution, and liberation groups such as the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) to disrupt Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) camps across the border in Mozambique. However, as the war turned against the white settler regime, the lead role of Special Branch was taken over by the Central Intelligence Organisation and Rhodesian Army intelligence. Following the transition to independent Zimbabwe in 1980, some Special Branch members were incorporated within the South African security services, while others found ready employment in the Persian Gulf states.
South Africa 
During Apartheid, the South African Police Services Special Branch was a much feared police unit often used to attack movements resisting apartheid. It is now the Crime Intelligence Unit which investigates crime but which continues to investigate groups perceived to be enemies of the state such as social movements.
Sri Lanka 
A Special Branch division exists under the Royal Thai Police, placed under its Crime Prevention and Suppression Support Group. Aside from doing intelligence, they also provide close protection support to VIPs alongside the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) and Armed Forces Security Centre. They handle matters that have anything to do with citizenship such as the renunciation of Thai nationality. Foreign nationals living in Thailand go to the Special Branch office to secure a Thai police clearance certificate. Other cases such as lèse majesté, terrorism and anything that endangers Thai national security are also handled by the Thai SB.
They have worked together with the Malaysian Special Branch during the Cold War. During that time, SB officers were involved in the Red Drum Massacre, in which 3,008 accused of being pro-communist were burned to death from 200-litre (44 imp gal; 53 US gal) red drums alive or semi-conscious and incinerated during the administration of Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn.
The SB was accused of human rights violations toward Falun Gong practitioners. They are also being touted as a means of routing political opposition against the government. The division was also accused of interfering in political matters.
A special police unit called the Black Tiger is under the control of the Special Branch, which does VIP protection operations.
United Kingdom 
The first Special Branch in the world was formed in London, and it has spread throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Each British police force went on to form its own Special Branch, the largest being that of the Metropolitan Police until it was merged with the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13) to form Counter Terrorism Command or SO15 in 2006. Special Branch maintained contact with the Security Service. Although they were not part of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), they were entitled to use the prefix "Detective" in front of their ranks.
Special Branch had responsibility for, amongst other things, personal protection of (non-royal) VIPs and performing the role of examining officer at designated ports and airports, as prescribed by the Terrorism Act 2000.
The intelligence work of Special Branch was often overlooked in some circles. This is because its role sat somewhere between that of the Security Service and that of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13). Special Branch officers were usually the ones to perform arrests of suspected spies, since MI5 officers are not authorized to take such actions; an example being the Portland Spy Ring.
It was announced, in September 2005, that the Metropolitan Police Special Branch would be merging with the Anti-Terrorism Branch of the Metropolitan Police to form a new department called Counter Terrorism Command, with the new department coming into being on 2 October 2006, thus completing a process begun when the investigative wing of the Special Branch X squad became The Anti-Terrorist Branch in 1972.
Most, if not all UK police services still maintain a Special Branch. Strathclyde Police maintained a Special Branch until it was renamed the Counter Terrorist Intelligence Section.
"The current keepers of the Special Branch's archives, which could shed light on the history of police behaviour toward the radicals of the time [the late 19th century], keep access to the relevant records 'tenaciously guarded' even now."
See also 
- Forward Intelligence Team
- List of intelligence agencies
- Special Investigation Branch (military police, though they are equivalent of the CID)
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- Flower, K. (1987) Serving Secretly. An Intelligence Chief On Record: Rhodesia into Zimbabwe 1964 to 1981, (London: John Hammond); Parker, J. (2006) Assignment Selous Scouts: Inside Story of a Rhodesian Special Branch Officer, (Alberton: Galago).
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- Comber, page 257.
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- Doherty, Brian (2010-12-17) The First War on Terror, Reason
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- Scottish Executive - Guidelines on Special Branch Work in the United Kingdom
- Thai Special Branch Site (Thai)