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Greenpeace Sues Chemical Firms

Corporate Spying: Environmental group accuses Dow, Sasol of stealing documents, tapping phones

by Melody Voith
December 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 49

Credit: Greenpeace
Greenpeace activists protested pollution from this plant in Lake Charles, La.
Credit: Greenpeace
Greenpeace activists protested pollution from this plant in Lake Charles, La.

Greenpeace filed suit in federal court last week accusing Dow Chemical and Sasol North America of engaging in illegal corporate espionage to gain information about the activist group’s plans. The alleged spying occurred from 1998 to 2000.

Dow “is aware of the alleged Greenpeace complaint from media reports,” company spokesman Greg Baldwin says. “We have not been served with this suit, and therefore, we are not in a position to immediately comment about the alleged activities of over a decade ago.” Sasol did not respond by press time.

At the time of the alleged spying, Greenpeace was working with local activists to protest pollution from a Condea Vista plant near Lake Charles, La., that made ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. South Africa’s Sasol purchased Condea in 2001, after Condea had already sold the vinyl business. Greenpeace also opposed Dow’s operations, including its sale of genetically modified seeds.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also names two public relations firms—Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum—and four employees of a private security firm that Greenpeace says worked for the chemical companies to obtain the confidential information. The security firm, Beckett Brown International, shut down in 2001. According to Greenpeace, BBI hired former employees of the U.S. Secret Service, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency.

Greenpeace says it only learned about the alleged spying in 2008, when it obtained many of its own confidential documents from a Mother Jones magazine reporter who had received them from a former principal of the security firm. The environmental group says the documents could only have been obtained illegally.

The group says it has evidence that BBI employees broke in to Greenpeace offices and secure trash areas to obtain documents. In addition, Greenpeace claims that the security firm’s employees hacked into its computers and e-mail systems, tapped its phones and the phones of volunteers, and illegally obtained cell phone call records.

The suit alleges that the stolen documents include confidential strategy information as well as donor information, privileged legal communications, and sensitive personal information about Greenpeace employees.



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