The environmental group Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC on Monday accusing the Dow Chemical Company, a smaller chemical manufacturer, and several other defendants of engaging in a years-long campaign of corporate espionage against Greenpeace and other players in the environmental movement.
In the suit, Greenpeacesays several of the private spies were veterans of the US Secret Service and of the CIA.
According to a press release issued by the environmental group, Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford said, “The message of this lawsuit is: When companies engage in espionage, they will be discovered and exposed. These unacceptable and underhanded tactics interfered with valuable work we were undertaking to protect public health and expose environmental crimes.”
Greenpeace alleges that a private intelligence firm working on Dow's behalf rummaged through dumpsters at the group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Their alleged goal was to find documents and other evidence of upcoming Greenpeace protests against the chemical companies. The lawsuit says the spies made off with more than 1,000 pages of sensitive documents.
The suit alleges a wide range of corporate spying against Greenpeace, including:
- Breaking into Greenpeace offices by cracking the security codes used to lock the front doors
- Conducting physical surveillance of specific people associated with Greenpeace
- Gathering intelligence at the homes of a Greenpeace activist in Louisiana and a public relations executive who worked with environmental groups
- Wiretapping telephone calls originating from Greenpeace and obtaining cell phone records of calls made by Greenpeace employees or contractors
The other companies named as defendants in the suit are the chemical manufacturer Sasol North America, the public relations firms Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum, which is a division of the publicly traded Omnicom Group .
Also named are four individuals that Greenpeace alleges were involved in the spying, which the environmental group says occurred from 1998 to 2000. Greenpeace says it only became aware of the spying in 2008.
Timothy Ward is named in the lawsuit as an executive at Beckett Brown International, the private intelligence firm that allegedly conducted the corporate espionage. Today, he is affiliated with another private investigative and security firm, Chesapeake Strategies Group.
Reached by telephone Monday, Ward was asked whether the Greenpeace allegations were true. "Of course not," he replied. "Is it unusual for Greenpeace to accuse everybody of everything?" Ward said he would have no other comment.
A Dow spokesman told CNBC "We are aware of the alleged Greenpeace complaint from media reports. We have not been served with this suit, and therefore we are not in a position to comment on the alleged activities of over a decade ago."
Ketchem responded by saying "We understand that a complaint has been filed. We have not formally received the papers yet and, therefore, cannot speak to any of the specifics in the complaint. We will review it thoroughly and address it in the appropriate venue. As a company that views integrity as fundamental to our values, we take this matter seriously."
Dezenhall Resources did not respond to requests for comment.
The original version of this story was updated on November 30.