By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 6:39 PM
A federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges that Dow Chemical, Sasol North America and their contractors waged a two-year campaign of illegal corporate espionage against the environmental group Greenpeace and its allies.
The 56-page suit, filed by Greenpeace in U.S. District Court in the District, said the chemical companies and public relations firms Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum hired former executives at a private security firm to spy on Greenpeace from 1998 to 2000 and to perform a range of "clandestine and unlawful" actions to undermine its anti-pollution efforts against the chemical industry.
Greenpeace said contract agents, including off-duty police officers and former National Security Agency computer security experts, stole thousands of confidential documents, including campaign plans, employee records and donor and media lists.
The suit also claims that agents unlawfully broke into Greenpeace offices, obtained confidential phone records, infiltrated a Louisiana community group and conducted other "surveillance and intrusion" against employees and supporters.
In a statement, Greenpeace said its "primary goal in filing this lawsuit is to expose the illegal activities of these companies and their operatives and enjoin similar actions from taking place in the future." .
The suit names Beckett Brown International as the security firm.
Spokespeople for Dow, Sasol and Ketchum, a part of the Omnicom Group, and Eric Dezenhall, chief executive of his District-based firm, declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint.
"As a company that views integrity as fundamental to our values, we take this matter seriously," said Ketchum spokeswoman Robyn Massey.
"We have not been served with this suit and, therefore, we are not in a position to immediately comment about the alleged activities of over a decade ago," Dow spokesman Bob Plishka said. "Once we have been served we will provide an appropriate response."
Defendant Timothy Ward, a former BBI president and director of investigations who now works with Chesapeake Strategies Group in Annapolis, declined to comment.
The suit purports to throw open a window on a murky and often unseemly world of corporate espionage and dirty tricks. Greenpeace said the suit sprang from an April 2008 article by James Ridgeway in the magazine Mother Jones, which reported the corporate spying effort at BBI, which was renamed S2i in 2000 and disbanded in 2001.
Drawing on evidence turned over by former BBI investor John Dodd, including 1,000 pages of its own allegedly pilfered documents, Greenpeace began an investigation of surveillance of its work for communities battling chemical pollution near Lake Charles, La., where Sasol bought a plant, and at its offices in Washington.
Citing BBI payment records, e-mails, client briefings and intelligence reports, the lawsuit alleges, among other things, that agents trolled through Greenpeace's privately secured garbage and recycling dumpsters at least 120 times, including 55 times using an off-duty District police officer.
The group also charged that defendants sent phony volunteers to serve as undercover "moles" at the offices of Greenpeace leaders and executives, illegally recorded calls and maintained files of "wire tap info," hacked computer and physical security codes.