Greenpeace Inc. has filed a federal-court lawsuit against coatings chemical makers Dow Chemical Co. and Sasol North America Inc., accusing the companies and their public-relations firms of sanctioning illegal surveillance, document theft and other unlawful acts of to infiltrate and muzzle the environmental group.
The action, filed Monday (Nov. 29) in U.S. District Court in Washington DC, accuses the chemical companies, PR companies Ketchum Inc. (now a subsidiary of Omnicom Group Inc.) and Dezenhall Resources Ltd., as well as a now-defunct security firm and its former executives of engaging in “a pattern and practice of clandestine and unlawful activities that has included misappropriation and theft of confidential information and trade secrets, unlawful surveillance, misuse of law enforcement personnel and, in all likelihood, unlawful breaking and entering into Greenpeace offices and other locations.”
The actions, detailed at length in the 57-page suit, are alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2000, when Greenpeace’s activities included campaigns targeting the practices or products of the chemical companies.
The goal, the suit alleges, was “to secure confidential information about, and potentially disrupt, the efforts of Greenpeace and other nonprofit organizations and individuals to expose and inform the public and regulators about the chemical companies’ activities that were damaging to the environment.”
Greenpeace accused the chemical companies of paying “other members of the conspiracy, including a private security firm (Beckett Brown International) that employed the individual defendants, for confidential information unlawfully obtained from Greenpeace.”
BBI was established in 1995 and staffed by former Secret Service and Central Intelligence Agency employees, the suit says. BBI was renamed S2i in 2000 and dissolved in 2001.
Spokesmen for Dow, Ketchum and Dezenhall have declined in published reports to comment on the suit.
A spokeswoman for Sasol issued this statement Tuesday: “Sasol North America is in the process of analyzing the complaint filed by Greenpeace on 29 November 2010. The alleged behavior of espionage relates to a time period more than ten years ago. At that time, the company was named CONDEA Vista Inc. and not owned by Sasol. Sasol acquired CONDEA Vista as a part of the worldwide CONDEA business in March 2001.”
‘Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars’
The allegations stem from an April 2008 article in the magazine Mother Jones, alleging corporate spying by BBI and detailing documentation by a former BBI investor—documents that allegedly included some stolen from Greenpeace.
The Greenpeace suit alleges that beginning in 1998, the chemical companies paid BBI either directly or indirectly “hundreds of thousands of dollars for engaging in the conduct described herein” and, in turn, “received confidential information that had been misappropriated from Greenpeace through a variety of unlawful means….”
BBI records, the suit alleges, identify Greenpeace as a “target” and show that the firm “spent hundreds of hours collecting and analyzing information from Greenpeace,” including information gained through “surreptitious and deceitful methods of data collection….”
Documents and Records
The suit says that the BBI executives conducted more than 120 instances of various efforts to obtain internal documents at Greenpeace’s offices, including 55 occasions aided by an off-duty District of Columbia police officer.
Greenpeace says it has recovered more than 1,000 pages of its own internal documents from BBI’s files—the vast majority of them “in pristine condition,” suggesting, Greenpeace says, that they were taken not from trash dumpsters but from recycling receptacles and/or from inside Greenpeace’s office.
BBI was also found to have confidential security codes and “highly confidential Greenpeace records” that “could only have been secured from Greenpeace’s offices,” the suit says.
The suit says the defendants sent a consultant to Greenpeace’s offices “masquerading as a prospective campaign volunteer,” with the intention of casing the office.
It alleges illegal surveillance of a Greenpeace employee and a public relations firm tied to Greenpeace; it also alleges theft of internal documents from the PR firm. All of these activities were spelled out in regular briefings to the chemical companies and/or their PR firms, the suit says.
The suit alleges trespass, invasion of privacy by intrusion, racketeering and other unlawful activities.