Exposed: Private Security Firms Caught Dumpster Diving and Spying on Environmental Groups

dumpster diving

Image courtesy of Point-Shoot-Edit via flickr

From the crack team of investigative journalists at Mother Jones comes this disturbing, though not at all surprising, tale of corporate intrigue -- one that should raise concerns among all environmentally (and civil liberty) friendly observers. In a revealing piece that once again exemplifies the need for the type of hard-nosed reporting you aren't likely to find in much of the mainstream media, James Ridgeway exposes the activities of S2i (previously known as Beckett Brown International), a private security firm that was hired by several large corporations, including Kraft Foods and Dow Chemical, to spy on various environmental groups - most prominently, Greenpeace (but also the National Environmental Trust and the Environmental Working Group).As reported by Ridgeway and his colleagues, the firm, built and managed by former Secret Service Officers, kept close tabs on these organizations for several years, stretching from the late 1990s through at least 2000; their favored tactic was "dumpster diving," a tactic TH's John Laumer rightly called "unethical, illegal . . . and is often ineffective." S2i's operatives didn't just limit their snooping to dumpster diving, of course; their underhanded methods also included: "pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings."

The article reprints several memos and e-mails that were sent back and forth between S2i officials and their operatives. One extensively detailed account, called "Mission Impossible-like" by one of the worker's girlfriends, describes the company's successful effort to infiltrate Greenpeace's Washington D.C. headquarters and pilfer many internal documents, including several financial reports. The whole piece is well-worth the reading and a chilling reminder of the enmity and paranoia that many firms still have for environmental organizations.

This story dovetails nicely with a recent article written by The Guardian's John Vidal and Dan Milmo (Vidal penned another great piece concerning the burning of the eco-mansions which we covered here) which deals with similar efforts in the U.K. by private firm C2i (amazing that these companies share virtually the same name) to spy on Plane Stupid. In this case, however, it looks like the activists were quick to catch on to the scheme and confront said operatives.

It all just comes to show that being an "environmentalist" these days -- particularly one affiliated with a major organization -- can still be a hazardous proposition.

Via ::Mother Jones: Exclusive: Cops and Former Secret Service Agents Ran Black Ops on Green Groups (magazine), ::The Guardian: Mystery over who hired mole to dig dirt on Plane Stupid's environment activists (news website)

See also: ::FBI Alert for Treehugger Wackos, ::The Green Scare and Civil Liberties