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Corporations and Law Enforcement Are Spying on Environmentalists

It's likely that some of the $38 billion US intelligence spends on private contractors annually is used to spy on American citizens.

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The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, was also on the distribution list. In 2010 the coalition signed a $900,000 lobbying contract with Ridge Global, a private security firm founded by Tom Ridge, former head of the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. As part of its energy consulting services Ridge Global offers “advisory support for natural gas and other infrastructure security.” Ridge is just one of many former security officials who now have private consulting services. Others include John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, and Richard Clarke.

The blurring of public and private spying is what Dutch scholar Bob Hoogenboom calls “grey intelligence.” In a 2006 paper of the same name, Hoogenboom noted that in addition to well-known spy agencies like MI6 and the CIA, hundreds of private organizations involved in intelligence gathering have entered the market to meet corporate demand. “The idea was to do for industry what we had done for the government,” Christopher James, a former MI6 officer who founded Hakluyt, a private intelligence company whose clients have included Shell and BP, told the  Financial Times . Many corporations now have their own private intelligence networks, or “para-CIAs,” to gather information on consumers, critics, and even their own shareholders. Walmart, for example, has an office of global security headed by a one-time CIA and FBI official with a staff that includes former State Department security experts. As Eveline Lubbers writes in her recent book,  Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark: Corporate and Police Spying on Activists, “Because these business firms hire former spies and analysts from the ranks of government, the informal links with government intelligence increase.”

This is a global phenomenon. Corporations in Europe and Canada have also spied on environmental groups. In 2006 French energy giant EDF, the world’s largest operator of nuclear reactors, hired Kargus Consultants, a private intelligence gathering agency run by a former member of the French secret service, to spy on Greenpeace. Kargus hacked into a lead Greenpeace organizer’s computer and compiled a dossier on the organization’s European campaign strategy. In 2011 a French court fined EDF 1.5 million euros and sent two of its employees to jail on charges of illegal spying.

Although it was not raised at the Pennsylvania Senate hearing, the ITRR bulletins also were shared with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In January a Montreal paper reported that the RCMP itself has been tracking anti-shale gas activists in Quebec. The Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Team, a branch of the RCMP, produced two reports that described the possibility of Canadian activists collaborating with “extremist” groups in the US, such as  Earth First! and Occupy Well Street – an offshoot of  Occupy Wall Street opposed to fracking. According to Jeff Monaghan, a researcher with the Surveillance Studies Center at Queen’s University in Ontario, the Canadian government likely shares intelligence with the energy industry. Since at least 2005 the Canadian government has held biannual intelligence briefings to share sensitive information with the private sector. In 2007 Gary Lunn, former Minister of Natural Resources, admitted his agency had helped more than 200 industry representatives obtain high-level security clearances. “This enables us to share information with industry and their associations,” Lunn said at a pipeline security forum.

Similar arrangements have been uncovered in the UK. In 2009 it was revealed that the British police and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform had provided information about Climate Camp demonstrations to E.ON, the company that runs the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station. E.ON also hired private security firms like Vericola and Global Open to spy on protesters; both companies are staffed by former intelligence agents.