WASHINGTON (CN) – Dow Chemical and its public relations firms hired a firm of ex-CIA snoops to spy on Greenpeace, follow its employees, steal documents from Dumpsters, hack into computers and tap phones, “infiltrating its offices, meetings and electronic communications under false pretenses and/or by force,” Greenpeace claims in Superior Court.
The California-based nonprofit sued Dow Chemical, Sasol North America, Dezenhall Resources, Ketchum Inc., and Beckett Brown International’s alleged employee/spies Timothy Ward, Jay Arthur Bly, Michael Mika and George Ferris.
Beckett Brown International (BBI) is not a party to the case.
The complaint is similar to Greenpeace’s 2010 federal RICO complaint which called the scheme “an effort 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.”
A federal judge dismissed that complaint in September this year, finding that a “third party,” not Greenpeace, was the victim of the alleged wire fraud. The third party was the Calcasieu League for Environmental Action Now (see below). U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer also found that “the link between Greenpeace’s injuries and defendants’ alleged racketeering activity is too attenuated to be actionable under RICO.”
In both cases, Greenpeace says the chemical companies, Dow and Sasol, hired investigative security firm BBI indirectly, through Dezenhall and Ketchum, the companies’ PR firms.
From 1998 to 2000, the companies “conspired to and did surveil, infiltrate and steal confidential information from Greenpeace with the intention of preempting, blunting or thwarting its environmental campaigns,” Greenpeace says in its new complaint.
Sasol made vinyl chloride and other dangerous chemicals in Lake Charles, La., during the time period.
Ketchum is one of the biggest and oldest public relations firms in the country; Dezenhall is another PR firm.
Defendants Timothy Ward, Jay Arthur Bly, Michael Mika and George Ferris were all managerial level employees at BBI, which is now known as S2I Corp.
According to Greenpeace, “most of the key executives and employees at BBI were former officers of the Secret Service and the Central Intelligence Agency.” Greenpeace says that beginning in 1998, Dow paid BBI hundreds of thousands of dollars, through Dezenhall and Ketchum, in exchange for “numerous reports on Greenpeace’s financial support, internal operations, plans and activities.”
The complaint states: “BBI identified Greenpeace as a ‘target’ and, in a 1998 memorandum describing its activities to monitor ‘environmental activist groups,’ stated that the information being obtained by BBI ‘provides insight into the scheduling of environmental protests and actions of the group, corporate targets, the tracking of maritime cargo by the group, and internal political issues of the group.'”
Greenpeace claims BBI’s accounting records show “hundreds of hours” spent collecting and analyzing information from Greenpeace. The records allegedly “reveal the use of surreptitious and deceitful methods of data collection, including but not limited to: pilfering documents awaiting private trash and recycling collection, placing undercover operatives within groups, using false pretenses to case offices, procuring phone records, and infiltrating meetings and electronic mail networks.”
BBI used a network of subcontractors that included off-duty cops to carry out the scheme, according to the complaint.
BBI snoops called stealing documents from Greenpeace’s Dumpsters and recycling bins “D-Lines.”
Greenpeace claims the four BBI defendants – Ward, Bly, Mika and Ferris – “personally directed and/or conducted D-Lines at Greenpeace’s offices in Washington, D.C. They hired subcontractors, including a police officer for the District of Columbia, James Daron, to assist with the collection of the materials at Greenpeace’s offices in the District of Columbia. Daron was expected to use his official police badge to gain access to Dumpsters that were enclosed by a locked fence. Between July 13, 1998 and July 18, 2000, defendants Ward, Bly, Mika, and Ferris, or their agents, conducted more than 120 documented D-Lines at Greenpeace’s offices. They used Daron in connection with at least 55 of these D-Lines.”
On one hunt for D-Lines, Ward, dressed in black “Mission Impossible-like” clothes, brought his girlfriend, who later told an investigative reporter that Ward and other men in black broke into Greenpeace’s property while she was told to “keep lookout,” Greenpeace says.
The BBI defendants also sent Mary Lou Sapone, a research consultant hired by BBI, to Greenpeace’s U Street Office to masquerade as a prospective volunteer, the complaint states.
After her visit, Greenpeace claims, Sapone sent an email to Ward that described her visit in detail, including the floor space and the number of employees in each department. Sapone was later exposed “as a mole with a history of infiltrating public interest advocacy organizations on behalf of corporate clients,” Greenpeace says.
Greenpeace claims Sapone hired another mole, a retired teacher named Dick Rogers, to infiltrate an allied environmental group in Louisiana. Rogers began as a volunteer and worked his way up until he was on the board of the Calcasieu League for Environmental Action Now. Abusing his position in the group, Rogers sent confidential correspondence, memos and reports, and “regular reports of the groups’ activities to Sapone,” who sent it along to BBI, according to the complaint.
Ward also directed BBI to hire NetSafe, Greenpeace says. NetSafe specialized in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance and used those techniques to dig up information on Greenpeace, according to the complaint.
“Most of NetSafe’s top executives were former National Security Agency employees, including Joe Patanella. On August 5, 1999 a check for $4,000 was issued to and signed by Richard Beckett; the purpose of the check was noted as ‘Patanella – GP.’ Other BBI records indicate that the check was issued for ‘cash’ for ‘Joe Patanella,'” the complaint states.
Greenpeace says the BBI agents and chemical companies swiped “campaign planning documents; confidential donor letters and records of contributions; internal communications; confidential legal memoranda; privileged attorney-client communications; financial reports, balance sheets and budgets; passwords for private electronic mailing lists; Greenpeace credit card account numbers; and highly sensitive personal information about Greenpeace employees such as Social Security Numbers, personal bank account statements and employment agreements.”
Greenpeace says many of the stolen documents contain its confidential strategy information “regarding environmental campaigns against toxic chemicals, global warming, nuclear energy, genetic engineering and the pollution of fisheries and oceans. Such campaigns directly and indirectly concern the financial interests of Dow, Sasol, Ketchum and Dezenhall.”
Greenpeace says the espionage ring was uncovered by Mother Jones magazine in 2008. It claims that it was the primary target, but other nonprofit organizations were subjected to the same criminal treatment, including the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, GE Food Alert, Fenton Communications, the National Environmental Trust, and the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy.
Greenpeace seeks punitive damages for conspiracy, conversion, invasion of privacy, trespassing and misappropriation of trade secrets.
It is represented by Kit Pierson with Cohen Milstein.