In classic spy tales, secret agents sometimes dig through graveyards and death certificates for the names of dead children that can be built into phony identities. (The late, great Loompanics catalog used to sell books offering detailed instructions on how to do this.) Spies, such as sleeper agents, were even said to create phony lives, including families, that they would drop at a moments notice if called upon to do so. It's all cold, cruel stuff, but what else would you expect of the cloak-and-dagger set? Oh, and of the United Kingdom's Metropolitan Police Department, which did all this just to conduct surveillance on British political activists.

Reports The Guardian:

Britain's largest police force stole the identities of an estimated 80 dead children and issued fake passports in their names for use by undercover police officers.

The Metropolitan police secretly authorised the practice for covert officers infiltrating protest groups without consulting or informing the children's parents.

The details are revealed in an investigation by the Guardian, which has established how over three decades generations of police officers trawled through national birth and death records in search of suitable matches.

Undercover officers created aliases based on the details of the dead children and were issued with accompanying identity records such as driving licences and national insurance numbers. Some of the police officers spent up to 10 years pretending to be people who had died.

That's rough stuff ... It's creepy as hell and inconsiderate of the feelings of family members who put babies to rest only to have their personal tragedies turned into tools of domestic espionage. But at least it's not The Americans, you know that Cold War-nostagia TV show about KGB agents whose own families don't know they've been spent to spy on the United States.

Oh, wait. The Guardian, again:

Two undercover police officers secretly fathered children with political campaigners they had been sent to spy on and later disappeared completely from the lives of their offspring, the Guardian can reveal.

In both cases, the children have grown up not knowing that their biological fathers – whom they have not seen in decades – were police officers who had adopted fake identities to infiltrate activist groups. Both men have concealed their true identities from the children's mothers for many years.

At least one of the officers was married while getting under the covers, undercover, so to speak.

There must have been good reason for all of this John le Carré stuff, right? Nuclear secrets? Terrorism? Lives on the line? Well ... The reports, so far, all refer to police infiltration of "animal rights and environmental groups" over a period from the 1980s into the 2000s.

Parliament is, of course, quite shocked, and lawmakers are calling for an investigation.

U.S. authorities have been enthusiastic in their own use of undercover agents in all sorts of application — including investigating anti-war groups and even pigeon-fanciers. It might be worth seeing if they've also gone the bogus-identity and unwitting family route, too. It's hard to believe they've shown less dedication to their jobs than their British counterparts.

By the way, Bruce Schneier says that building new identities takes a little more work, these days.