WASHINGTON (CN) – Dow Chemical and its public relations firm hired a firm of ex-CIA snoops to spy on Greenpeace, steal documents from Dumpsters, hack into computers and tap phones, “infiltrating its offices, meetings and electronic communications under false pretense and/or by force,” and follow its employees, Greenpeace claims in a federal RICO complaint. It claims the conspirators also spied on other environmental groups, “to anticipate Greenpeace’s public education and direct-action campaigns, fundraising campaigns and otherwise undermine Greenpeace’s business.”
Greenpeace sued Dow Chemical Co., Sasol North American, Dezenhall Resources Ltd., Ketchum Inc., and four members of Beckett Brown International, a private security firm. It accuses them of RICO violations, trespassing and conversion.
Greenpeace claims the defendants used the Watergate-style tactics from 1998 to 2000.
Sasol is a chemical company that 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 Beckett Brown. Beckett Brown itself is not named as a defendant.
Greenpeace claims the defendant chemical companies hired Beckett Brown International (BBI) to do the dirty work, and that “most of the key executives and employees at BBI were former officers of the Secret Service and the Central Intelligence Agency.” BBI changed its name to S2I Corp. in or around April 2000.
BBI agents spent “hundreds of hours” infiltrating Greenpeace to get information on its fund-raising plans and environmental campaigns, including campaigns against Sasol, “which emitted toxic chemicals into the Lake Charles region of Louisiana,” and Dow Chemical’s “manufacturing activities, which create dioxin, and the development and sale of products containing genetically modified organisms,” according to the complaint.
“BBI relied upon a network of subcontractors, including off-duty police officers in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, to carry out its work,” the complaint states. Greenpeace says that though it was the primary target of the illegal spying, “there is considerable evidence that these tactics were also directed at other nonprofit organization, 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, as well as individual activists and scientists. Although it is now evident that these unlawful activities continued for years, because of their clandestine nature, and actions by BBI to ‘sterilize’ its records and destroy documents, the full scope and duration of these activities is not known.”
The defendants called their theft of documents “D-Lines,” according to the complaint. The D-Lines included stealing documents from Dumpsters and recycling bins, and “acquisition of documents stolen from Greenpeace’s offices or obtained by BBI’s employees and/or subcontractors who obtained access to Greenpeace’s documents through false pretenses.”
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 material 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, 200, 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.”
BBI also hired a woman named Mary Lou Sapone to infiltrate it by “masquerading as a prospective campaign volunteer,” Greenpeace says. Citing a 2008 story from Mother Jones magazine, Greenpeace claims Sapone is “a mole with a history of infiltrating public interest advocacy organizations on behalf of corporate clients; Mother Jones reported in 2008 that Sapone worked her way into the top of Ceasefire Pennsylvania and ran for a position on the board of the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence all while actually working on behalf of the National Rifle Association.”
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.
Greenpeace says BBI also hired NetSafe, “a company that specialized in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance, for work on Greenpeace projects.” It adds: “Most of NetSafe’s top executives were former National Security Agency employees, including Joe Panatella,” who allegedly was paid thousands of dollars for his work.
Greenpeace claims BBI and the chemical companies it worked for stole and used for their own purposes “confidential, internal, Greenpeace documents, including: 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.”
The complaint adds: “Many of the documents that defendants unlawfully obtained from Greenpeace contain confidential strategy information regarding environmental campaigns against toxic chemicals, global warming, nuclear energy, genetic engineering and the pollution of fisheries and oceans.”
Greenpeace says the chemical companies paid BBI hundreds of thousands of dollars to spy on it and steal documents and other things from its offices, including a Taco Bell taco made with bioengineered corn, which a BBI agent referred to as a “glow in the dark taco.”
“Dow Chemical and its public relations company, Ketchum … conspired with BBI and the individual defendants to secure confidential records from Greenpeace by unlawful means, took significant steps in furtherance of these activities and the conspiracy,” the complaint states.
The language and allegations throughout the 57-page complaint are redolent of Watergate-era spooks and sneaks, cutouts, “targets,” “surveillance” and imposters, and, in the end, Greenpeace’s efforts to watch its watchers.
Greenpeace demands compensatory, treble and punitive damages for racketeering, trespass, intrusion, conversion, misappropriation of trade secrets and racketeering. It also seeks disgorgement of any money the defendants made by selling documents they stole from Greenpeace.
Its lead counsel is Victoria Nugent with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.