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A new report from corporate watchdog Essential Information titled “Spooky Business” details how American corporations such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, McDonalds, and Shell are allegedly spying on nonprofits in the environmental, consumer safety, pesticide control, gun control, and animal rights areas.
That could even include hacking into private networks and computers, wiretaps, and infiltrating the groups with spies.
“We know this company has subcontracted with a company called NetSafe, which is a company of former NSA officials skilled in hacking and things like that,” says Greenpeace researcher Charlie Cray, referring to a case in which Greenpeace has filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical for its alleged spying activities.
Typically companies hire outside firms to do their dirty work, report author Gary Ruskin says, who then themselves often hire subcontractors, making the evidence trail difficult to follow — and prove. Those investigation firms engage in dumpster diving, hiring investigators who pose as journalists, and electronic surveillance to learn about groups that might oppose them.
And those activities are often illegal.
“This appears to be a growing phenomenon,” Ruskin says in an interview with Democracy Now. “We aggregated 30 different cases of corporate espionage … we have a part of the iceberg … whether it’s the tip or not we don’t know.”
Cray says that in Greenpeace’s investigation of the espionage, the nonprofit found that off-duty police officers, employee by a subcontractor, were going through its trash, that the spying subcontractors has a list of internal door codes for Greenpeace’s offices, and that they had a folder labeled “wiretaps,” which was empty.
And Ruskin details in the report that Walmart allegedly planted people with electronic listening devices in a union organization meeting, so the company could listen in to what its workers were planning. The surveillance isn’t limited to the U.S.: a French power company was also caught with a copy of a Greenpeace hard drive, potentially full of information about the organization’s plans and people.
Perhaps the most sinister accusation of the report is that corporations are employing former NSA, CIA, and FBI agents to surveil nonprofits, work that Democracy Now says is “often illegal in nature but rarely — if ever — prosecuted.”
“Even active-duty CIA operatives are allowed to sell their expertise to the highest bidder,” the report states.
That leads to a situation in which corporations can apply a variety of tactics against nonprofits, including penetration testing of the organization’s digital infrastructure, computer hacking, obtaining phone records, wiretapping, voicemail hacking, and the sheer theft of computers for the valuable information on their hard drives.
And there’s big money to be made.
According to the report, three companies including the CIA-funded and soon-to-IPO startup Palantir Technologies proposed a $2 million per month budget to help the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in its struggles against U.S. Chamber Watch and other critics.
Here is the entire report: