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Please begin with an informative title:

Ralph Nader, despite what your electoral opinion of him may be, is onto something again in a piece over at alternet. Apparently, with shock but not surprise, it turns out that corporations are spying on non-profits. Nader rightly calls it corporate espionage. I call it low down, four flushing plain old dirty double dealing. (enough metaphors for you?)

The DC Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit from Greenpeace against Dow Chemical and others. The court ruled that "Greenpeace’s legal arguments cannot prevail as a matter of law, and therefore we affirm the dismissal."

This case involves alleged corporate espionage, and the issue of whether a corporation has a claim for trespass or conversion against another for rummaging through the corporation’s trash in search of “trade secrets” and other confidential information.
How did Greenpeace learn that someone had been "rummaging through the corporation's trash?" you may ask. Someone at Greenpeace read an article in Mother Jones Magazine from 2008.

In that article, James Ridgeway documented a strong case against Dow and Beckett Brown International.

A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.
BBI's list of clients is impressive scary. The firm has worked for Allied Waste, The Carlyle Group and the National Rifle Association. BBI also listed several other organizations to investigate for it's clients. They include the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety in DC and four other organizations in San Francisco and Seattle.

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Timeline of the Greenpeace Suit

November 29, 2010

Greenpeace files suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia against Dow, Sasol North America (formerly Condea Vista), Ketchum, Dezenhall and several individuals connected to BBI.

September 2011

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer dismisses the case.

October 2011

Greenpeace refiles the complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

February 5, 2013

Judge Michael Rankin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia rules that claims of trespass to Greenpeace's Washington, DC office and misappropriation of Greenpeace's trade secrets could proceed.  

Rankin dismisses the four remaining claims.

October, 2013

Greenpeace appeals the four counts
                                                                    dismissed by Judge Rankin to the DC Circuit
                                                                    Court of Appeals.

August, 2014

Today's ruling dismissing Greenpeace's case.

Other Cases of Corporate Espionage

The Center for Corporate Policy released Spooky Business: A new report on Corporate Espionage Against Non Profits in 2013. This is from the CPC press release.

Giant corporations are employing highly unethical or illegal tools of espionage against nonprofit organizations with near impunity, according to a new report by Essential Information.

The report, titled Spooky Business, documents how corporations hire shady investigative firms staffed with former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), US military, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Secret Service and local police departments to target nonprofit organizations.

9 Cases Against BBI Alone

  1. The Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and GE Food Alert
  2. U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Friends of the Earth, National Environmental Trust/GE Food Alert,  Center for Food Safety, Environmental Media Services, Environmental Working Group, Institute for Global Communications, Pesticide Action Network.
  3. Fenton Communications
  4. Greenpeace, CLEAN and the Lake Charles Project
  5. North Valley Coalition
  6. Nursing home activists
  7. Mary Lou Sapone and the Brady Campaign

Walmart vs. Up Against the Wal

The Wall Street Journal reported on the shopping giant's activities against critics and activists.

The Wal-Mart Stores Inc. worker fired last month for intercepting a reporter's phone calls says he was part of a larger, sophisticated surveillance operation that included snooping not only on employees, but also on critics, stockholders and the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Burger King and Diplomatic Tactical Services vs. the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The New York Times reported on Burger King's efforts to silence a group supporting the rights of tomato pickers in Florida.

And now it turns out that the Burger King Corporation, home of the Whopper, hired a private security firm to spy on the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a group of idealistic college students trying to improve the lives of migrants in Florida.

Brown & Williamson/Investigative Group vs. Jeffrey Wigand

The Wall Strett Journal also reported on efforts to discredit Jeffrey Wigand, who testified against Big Tobacco. The paper lists an array of groups lined up against Wigand.

[L]awyers from the big New York firm Chadbourne & Parke and Atlanta's King & Spalding, and top New York public-relations adviser John Scanlon. They are working with the Investigative Group Inc., a leading Washington-based detective firm whose New York office is run by a former [and current] New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.

Monsanto, Blackwater and Total Intelligence Solutions vs. unnamed activists

Jeremy Scahill reported in The Nation that Blackwater offered to be Monsanto's "intel arm".

Through Total Intelligence and the Terrorism Research Center, Blackwater also did business with a range of multinational corporations. According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto—the world's largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—hired the firm in 2008–09.

The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto's security manager for global issues.

Justice, Then and Now

The landscape for non-profits and activists is not hospitable. If corporations are not punished for actions like those laid out by Nader and others, then there can be little hope that corporate watchdogs are playing on a level field. They are already working at a financial disadvantage and a lack of legal protections makes their work that much harder.

Again from Nader's piece on alternet:

Nearly 50 years ago, when General Motors hired private investigators to spy on me, it was held to account by the U.S. Senate.

GM President James Roche was publicly humiliated by having to apologize to me at a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT).

It was a memorable, but rare act of public shaming on Capitol Hill. GM also paid substantially to settle my suit for compensation in a court of law (Nader v. General Motors Corp)

The tide has turned dramatically in those 50 years. The country has seen Reaganomics, concerted efforts to dismantle any vestige of federal consumer protection, the rise of the professional lobbyist and Citizens United.
What we have now is a legal environment under which any company can expect to be able to spy on any other corporation, whether for profit or not. The dismissal of the Greenpeace appeal may not be the final nail in the coffin but it certainly didn't stem the tide.
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