The Vine

Black Ops And Green Groups

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James Ridgeway of Mother Jones has uncovered a wonderful spy story with a bonus environmental angle:

A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.

The company worked for Kraft, Wal-Mart, the NRA, and others (and had both Halliburton and our friend Monsanto on its client list). It's a riveting piece, and some of the bits are really astounding:

Greenpeace was the target of one of BBI's more elaborateand cinematicintelligence-gathering efforts, according to company documents and an interview with an eyewitness. Jennifer Trapnell, who was dating Ward in the late 1990s, recalls an evening when she accompanied Ward on a job in Washington D.C. "He said they were trying to get some stuff on Greenpeace," she says. Ward wore black clothes and had told her to dress all in black, too: "It was Mission Impossible-like." In Washington, Ward parked his truck in an alley, she remembers, and told her to stay in the truck and keep a lookout. In the alley, he met a couple of other men, whose faces Trapnell did not see clearly. Ward was talking on a walkie-talkie with others, and they all walked off. About an hour later, the men came back and placed two trash bags in Ward's car. Trapnell says she didn't know what they did with the bagsand Ward never explained. In addition to Ward's work, on several occasions in 2000, Jim Daron, the Washington cop who also worked for BBI, submitted reports to BBI for surveillance of Greenpeace's offices.

BBI gathered numerous internal Greenpeace documents, including financial reports. It also obtained the instructions for using the security system at Greenpeace's offices. And the Greenpeace files at BBI included a handwritten document that appears to record attempts to crack the security codes on entry doors with notations such as "codes do not match" and "open."

BBI prepared reports on Greenpeacebased on "confidential sources"for Ketchum [which did p.r. for Kraft Foods]. In at least one case, according to Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace (who reviewed these reports at Mother Jones' request), a BBI report written for Ketchum contained information tightly held within the group about planned upcoming events. And a December 2, 1999 BBI report (which does not mention Ketchum) noted that Greenpeace had chosen Kellogg's, Kraft, and Quaker as "their main targets in the GE campaign," that it was developing a campaign tactic called "Food-Aid Expose" (which would highlight the export of genetically-modified foods to other countries), and that it was helping a Wall Street Journal reporter track food companies involved in the debate over genetically-engineered foods.

The company fell apart in 2001 (one of its founders now handles security for Barack Obama, of all people), and I can't help but wonder if all this intrigue and lawbreaking even accomplished anything. Did Kraft benefit in any way from knowing what Greenpeace was up to, or was this just pure intimidation?

--Bradford Plumer

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