Spooky Business: U.S. Corporations Enlist Ex-Intelligence Agents to Spy on Nonprofit Groups

Democracy Now*

Spooky Business US CorporationsHAVANA TIMES – A new report details how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they regard as potential threats. The corporate watchdog organization Essential Information found a diverse groups of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.

The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, National Security Agency and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work, which is often illegal in nature but rarely — if ever — prosecuted.

We’re joined by Gary Ruskin, author of the report, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations,” and director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to a new report detailing how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups that they regard as potential threats.  The report’s called, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations.” It was released by the corporate watch group Essential Information. The report found a diverse group of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights, and arms control groups.  The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, and others.  According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, NSA and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work which is often illegal in nature but rarely, if ever, prosecuted.  For more we go to California where we’re joined by the report’s author, Gary Ruskin.  He is the director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information.  Gary, Welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what you found.

GARY RUSKIN: Thanks for having me on the show again, Amy. Yeah, we found a tremendous diversity of corporate espionage being conducted against a wide variety of civic groups across the country and the U.K., the case in Ecuador and in France as well. So what we found was a tremendous variety of use of different types of espionage tactics from dumpster diving to hiring investigators to pose as journalists or volunteers, to electronic espionage, information warfare, information operations hacking, electronic surveillance.  And so this appears to be a growing phenomenon both here in the United States and maybe in other parts of the world as well. But our report is an effort to document something that’s very hard to know very much about.  We aggregated 30 different cases of corporate espionage to try to talk about them, but really, each of the cases we have very fragmentary information.  And so it’s hard to say — we have a, we have a part of an iceberg whether it’s the tip of the iceberg or the tippy tip of the iceberg, we don’t really know.

AMY GOODMAN: Gary, let’s got to — I want to go to 2010; Greenpeace files a federal lawsuit against Dow Chemical and Sasol North America for engaging in corporate espionage. The lawsuit alleged corporate spies stole thousands of confidential documents from Greenpeace, including campaign plans, employee records; phone records, donor and media lists. Democracy Now! spoke to Charlie Cray, the senior researcher with Greenpeace USA at the time. He explained what happened.

CHARLIE CRAY: BBI, the defunct private investigation firm hired subcontractors including off-duty police officers who went through Greenpeace’s trash to find useful documents on a regular basis. Over two years they did this almost twice a week on average.  They also used subcontractors who had colleagues who attempted to infiltrate Greenpeace as volunteers. They cased the Greenpeace office looking for we don’t know what, but probably doing advanced scouting for people who would then intrude upon the property. We found a list of door codes, we found a folder that said “wiretap info,” which was empty. We know this company has sub-contracted with a company called Net Safe, which is a company that was made of former NSA officials skilled in computer hacking and things like that.  So we really don’t know the full extent of this, but what we’ve seen is incredibly shocking.  And our goal is to bring this out into the light of day and to stop it if it’s still going on.”

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