Dumpster-diving firm collected Social Security numbers of activists
A private security firm managed by former Secret Service officers spied on myriad environmental organizations throughout the 1990s and the year 2000, thieving documents, trying to plant undercover operations and collecting phone records of members, according to a new report.
Documents obtained by James Ridgeway, a Mother Jones correspondent formerly with the Village Voice, reveals the contractor collected confidential internal records -- donor lists, financial statements -- even Social Security numbers, for public relations outfits and "corporations involved in environmental controversies."
Beckett Brown International also offered "intelligence" services to the Carlyle Group, the controversial DC-based investment company; "protective services" for the National Rifle Association; "crisis management" for the Gallo wine company and for Pirelli; "information collection" for Wal-Mart.
"Also listed as clients in BBI records," Ridgeway reveals: "Halliburton and Monsanto."
Like other firms specializing in snooping, Beckett Brown turned to garbage swiping as a key tactic. BBI officials and contractors routinely conducted what the firm referred to as "D-line" operations, in which its operatives would seek access to the trash of a target, with the hope of finding useful documents. One midnight raid targeted Greenpeace. One BBI document lists the addresses of several other environmental groups as "possible sites" for operations: the National Environmental Trust, the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Media Services, the Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an organization run by Lois Gibbs, famous for exposing the toxic dangers of New York's Love Canal. For its rubbish-rifling operations, BBI employed a police officer in the District of Columbia and a former member of the Maryland state police.
Taco Bell genetic corn fiasco
The documents reveal spy thriller-like absurdities: a spy job on groups that had discovered Kraft's Taco Bell was using genetically-engineered corn not approved for human consumption and planned to make a fuss. A former Secret Service agent working for the company emailed another man on the payroll -- an erstwhile Maryland police officer.
Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1. Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2. Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3. GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.
Taco Bell has also raised the heckles of activists for the price it paid those who produced its tomatoes. After a protracted campaign by a Florida group, the firm agreed to pay an extra penny for each pound of tomatoes it buys from farm workers.
The company took three years to increase their payment per pound by a cent, which they did in 2005.
Taking out Greenpeace's trash
An eyewitness described a 'black op' on Greenpeace, one of the world's largest environmental activist groups.
"It was Mission Impossible-like," the witness remarked. The firm collected internal reports from Greenpeace's garbage. They attempted to crack the codes on the organization's front doors.
Technically, the firm has dissolved. But they're not down and out.
"As for BBI's principals," Ridgeway writes, "they are still operating. Tim Ward now runs a security firm called Chesapeake Strategies, which bills itself as 'a multinational security and investigative firm comprised of professionals with extensive security experience.' Jay Bly works there. Its website boasts that it maintains affiliated offices in Paris, Beijng, Tokyo, Qatar, and Kuwait and that 'many team members continue to hold Secret and Top Secret government security clearances.'