Caterpillar, Porsche among corporations that paid spy firms to snoop on activists – leaks
British Airways, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Porsche and Caterpillar are among the companies that have been identified as having enlisted the services of corporate intelligence firms to spy on – and sometimes infiltrate – activist groups.
Hundreds of pages of leaked documents from two corporate intelligence firms, C2i International and Inkerman Group, reveal widespread use of spies-for-hire among the large companies over several years in the 2000s.
The corporate intelligence firms obtained emails, meeting minutes and other internal documents from the groups they spied on, according to The Guardian, which obtained the leaked documents in partnership with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. Infiltration was also a common tactic used by the private spy firms. In one notable instance, a private spook “dressed up as a pirate with a cutlass and eyepatch as part of a protest.”
The intelligence firms were also paid to provide advance warning about demonstrations or other political activity being planned against the companies.
The document cache reveals that Caterpillar, one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, hired C2i to spy on the family of Rachael Corrie, an American activist killed by a bulldozer while demonstrating against Palestinian home demolitions in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
At the time, Corrie’s family was taking legal action against Caterpillar, alleging that the firm was complicit in war crimes by exporting bulldozers to Israel with full knowledge that they would be used to illegally demolish Palestinian homes. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2007 after US judges ruled they lacked the proper jurisdiction to decide the case.
Shortly after the case was dismissed, Corrie’s mother held a conference call with supporters. C2i was able to obtain notes of the call, the documents show. Her comments were summarized in a five-page “restricted – commercial” report known as a “corporate threat intelligence alert” – authored by a C2i operative and stamped with a Caterpillar logo.
When reached for comment, Cindy Corrie told The Guardian that she found the private snooping “really distasteful.” She said her family had approached Caterpillar in the hope of fostering an open dialogue about the lawsuit but was spied on instead.
In 2005, Caterpillar enlisted the services of a different intelligence firm, Inkerman Group, to monitor protests in the UK. The Kent-based firm has a history of infiltrating campaign groups. Documents reveal how the firm was hired by a client to infiltrate a small group of activists in the UK, who were protesting against the construction of new cell towers.
Inkerman declined to comment when asked by The Guardian about who had hired it to spy on the cell tower campaigners. Responding to a separate request for comment, Caterpillar declined to “discuss specifics of its relationship with suppliers.” However, the company said that when it hired outside help, it would “expect those firms to act in a lawful manner and in accordance with our values in action.”
The leaked documents also show that C2i boasted of “real-time intelligence assets” embedded in a range of environmental groups, including Greenpeace. The firm’s clients included Royal Bank of Scotland, British Airways and Porsche around 2008. C2i changed its name before going belly-up in 2011.