A lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court by Greenpeace accuses chemical big-wigs Dow and Sasol North America of engaging in a “pattern and practice of clandestine and unlawful activities” including “misappropriation and theft of confidential information and trade secrets, unlawful surveillance, misuse of law enforcement personnel, and, in all likelihood, unlawful breaking and entering into Greenpeace offices and other locations.”
Between 1998 and 2000, Greenpeace was involved in campaigns to expose environmental hazards, some of which targeted the practices or products of Sasol and Dow. This included Sasol’s vinyl chloride production, which emitted toxic chemicals into the Lake Charles region of Louisiana, and Dow’s manufacturing activities, which create dioxin, a chemical that can cause skin diseases, liver damage, and changes in hormonal levels. (This wouldn’t be Dow’s last trouble with Dioxin – they have been working to clean up the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River & Bay site in Michigan of high dioxin concentrations for several years now).
Greenpeace was working with Lake Charles community members when a local citizen’s group was reportedly infiltrated by the private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) – many of the employees of which were former Secret Service and CIA officers! BBI then supposedly expanded their surveillance activity to Greenpeace’s DC office, where they stole thousands of documents. Dow and Sasol paid BBI for this confidential Greenpeace information, which was then used to “anticipate and frustrate” Greenpeace’s campaigns and fundraising plans, according to the suit.
The story originally broke in 2008 when Mother Jones, an investigative nonprofit news organization, released supporting documents obtained from a former investor in BBI. The juicy documents pulled as evidence (published here) are equal parts ridiculous and creepy. In one report to BBI, a research consultant describes a tour she received of the Greenpeace office, where everyone was “dressed granola” and the space “was in disarray with […] pillows strewn on the floor.” But another report details the following stalker-esque surveillance: “At 8:21 AM, the green van departed the residence with four women. I followed the van to Interstate 10 West. I stayed with the van for approximately five miles.”
Equally juicy is Greenpeace’s complaint, which – dotted with phrases such as “under the cover of darkness” and “dress[ed] all in black” – reads more like a spy novel. If the drama surrounding the story to date is any indication, one can expect that all further action on this case will be no less exciting. Greenpeace’s message to corporate Goliaths?
“We’ll see them in court.”