Since June, when Edward Snowden exposed the wide web of secret surveillance on US citizens by the US National Security Agency (NSA), we’ve been told its goal is only to find potential terrorists.
Well, that’s not quite true. Unless, of course, you consider environmentalists … terrorists.
We’ve heard off and on over the years that environmental and animal-rights activists are being watched, but it seems federal agencies – and corporations – are increasingly tuning in.
photo credit: Nadia Khastagir / Design Action
"Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests," says Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development.
The NSA is worried that when people finally figure out just how real climate change is (and how much they’ve been deceived), there will be widespread public outrage toward government and corporations. Afraid that the anger could be so intense as to disrupt national political equilibrium, environmental activists have been "routinely categorized as domestic terrorists," he says, pointing to internal police documents obtained by the Guardian, even as they acknowledge there are no violent acts.
Big Business = Big Brother
In fact, some of the biggest corporations in the world keep tabs on environmentalists (Hi there!).
Walmart, Coca-Cola, Bank of America,
McDonalds, Shell, Nestle, Monsanto – all companies with lots to hide – "use covert methods to gather intelligence on activist groups, to counter criticism of their strategies and practices, and evade accountability," according to a study by UK’s University of Bath. "Corporate intelligence gathering has shifted from being reactive to proactive,
with important implications for democracy itself," it says.
They spy on nonprofits in the environmental,
consumer safety, pesticide control, gun control, anti-war, social justice and animal rights arenas, according to another report, "Spooky Business," which documents Walmart
planting people with electronic listening devices at a union organizing meeting. And the spying isn’t limited to US companies: a French power company has been caught
red-handed with a copy of a Greenpeace computer hard drive.
Typically companies hire outside firms to do their dirty work, says Spooky Business. They hire their own subcontractors to cover their scent. They dive into dumpsters, send fake journalists and use electronic surveillance to learn about groups that might, and often do, oppose them.
In addition to the corporations listed above, they include the US Chamber of Commerce, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Chevron, Burger King, BP and others. They employ former CIA, NSA and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work, which is often illegal in nature, but rarely, if ever, prosecuted, says Spooky Business.
And NSA was there spying at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in
"The world’s nations were supposed to reach
an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate
change. But not everyone was playing by the rules."
A leaked document reveals the US deployed NSA to intercept information
about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during
the summit. "The spying may have contributed to
Americans getting their way in the negotiations,"
according to Danish newspaper Information, reports Common Dreams.
Of Course, Canada
Canada’s right-wing prime minister Harper has done everything from nullify environmental laws to gagging activists that dare to speak out against his rapacious need to lead on tar sands extraction.
Stephen Harper has made the "genuinely frightening decision to enlist the country’s security apparatus in the direct and immediate service of the oil industry. Nothing like this has ever happened before in Canada," says Murray Dobbin on Common Dreams.
As we reported, environmental organizations that oppose tar sands expansion have become the subject of rigorous audits that could force some to shut their doors.
"Given the pace at which the Harperium is neutralizing democratic rights in this country, wary citizens must now be on guard that the next election is not stolen, one way or the other, by a prime minister apparently committed to dismantling democracy and permanently changing the country.
Standing in Harper’s way are the very organizations he is targeting with audits, illegal spying, public demonizing and open threats," says Dobbin.
Finally, in Sochi right now,
environmentalists are losing at the Olympic Winter Games.
A hallmark of recent Olympics is proudly making them green, from where they are sited to the construction of facilities to producing zero waste. But the Russians apparently took some shortcuts and if they could, environmentalists would be
complaining about the destruction of wildlife habitat and natural resources
wreaked by construction crews.
It’s hard to do that from jail.
When Russia bid to host the Olympics, it too promised green games, but instead: "5000 acres of pristine forests have been felled, while
wetlands that served as important stopovers for migrating birds have been
filled in. Landslides and waste dumping threaten the watershed, which feeds into
the Black Sea. Building within national parks in Russia used to be limited, but
that regulation was reversed to make way for some games facilities,
hotels, and roads,"
points out Amelia Urry at Grist.
This area was the most biodiverse in Russia, says Yevgeny Vitishko, a geologist
and member of Environmental Watch that is now serving three years in jail. He was outspoken about the environmental devastation caused by building the Sochi games.
And he’s not the only one.
"It seems that every other day, police in Sochi are detaining and stopping people who are political and environmental activists," says Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch. "It has been a steady stream of harassment."
Read We’re Being Watched and Spooky Business: