“Meet the private security firm that spied on Greenpeace and other environmental outfits for corporate clients. A tale of intrigue, infiltration, and dumpster-diving.”
Just published on the Mother Jones website, a great article by James Ridgeway about private espionage by an American security company called Beckett Brown International (later called S2i) against the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Along with this excellent four-page article is a raft of support pdf documents for download. Amazing stuff.
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. According to company documents provided to Mother Jones by a former investor in the firm, this security outfit collected confidential internal recordsâ€”donor lists, detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members, strategy memosâ€”from these organizations and produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.
Greenpeace was the target of one of BBI’s more elaborateâ€”and cinematicâ€”intelligence-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 bagsâ€”and Ward never explained.
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 Greenpeaceâ€”based on “confidential sources”â€”for Ketchum. 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.
Over the years, Greenpeace has repeatedly been the target of public relations firms working for industry, and the group has experienced burglaries and caught would-be spies posing as students seeking employment. But Greenpeace officials say they did not know that their organization was under surveillance during that period of time.
BBI fell apart in 2001 amid arguments over the company’s finances. “It was not a happy company,” says Phil Giraldi, the ex-CIA man who had worked there, adding, “I have worked for a number of security companies. Some are ethical, some are not. Beckett Brown was not especially so.” When the company was collapsing, Dodd says, he heard that document shredding was underway in its offices, and one weekend he went to the offices and carted off scores of cartons stuffed with records.
Interestingly, one of BBI’s bosses, Richard Beckett is now CEO of Maryland-based Global Security Services, which, apparently provides bodyguard services to Senator Barack Obama.
Mother Jones: Cops and Former Secret Service Agents Ran Black Ops on Green Groups »