Mother Jones Reports on PR Firms That Paid Former Spies to Infiltrate Activist Groups

Black Ops on Green Groups: Private Security Firm Run by Fmr. Secret Service Officers Spied on Environmental Orgs for Corporate Clients
Democracy Now! | April 14, 2008
“A private security firm spied on Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and several other environmental organizations from the late 1990s until at least the year 2000, according a new investigation by Mother Jones magazine. The security firm was run by former Secret Service officers who infiltrated environmental groups, collected their phone records and confidential internal documents, and even went through their trash. The information was then passed on to public relations firms and corporations involved in environmental controversies. We speak with the reporter who broke the story, James Ridgeway.”

The public relations industry appears to have carved a unique niche out for itself as the go-betweens for corporations and entities that offer services that are either outright illegal, or at the very least deeply unethical. Their ability to act as an intermediary offers the corporations plausible deniability (they can just say that the PR firm was off the reservation), and it offers the service vendors yet another layer of insulation from public scrutiny. The most common form of this practice is astroturf groups, but counterinsurgency (well documented by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton in Toxic Sludge is Good for You) and laundering political donations are also common. The latter of which was actually the basis for one of the storylines in the short-lived HBO series “K Street.”

Despite all of the various recent ethical violations by Ketchum, they remain one of the chief patrons of the Public Relations Society of America which has criticized these practices, but done nothing to sanction its own membership for utilizing them. Lest one think that this sort of thing is an abstract national issue, I would remind you that this sort of thing is (allegedly) going on at all levels – even here in Michigan (as illustrated by this case study).

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