Attacks On Greenpeace and Other Ecology Groups
Copyright 1992, Chip Berlet. See restrictions below.
Portions of this report have previously been published in Greenpeace
Magazine, The Humanist, Our Right to Know, Covert Action Quarterly, and
Investigative News Service.
by Chip Berlet, 8/22/91
Political Research Associates
Environmental activists over the past few years have reported a series
of incidents involving surveillance, police overreaction, and harassment
that leads then to believe they are being targettedby a campaign to discredit
them and hamstring their attempts to exercise their consstitutional rights.
Many of those targetted are members of the environmental group Greepeace,
and it's not just a problem in big cities, as one person fighting a rural
toxic waste dump found out the hard way.
Mike Buckner's family has deep roots in central Georgia--relatives
have lived there since 1832--so he was apprehensive when he learned of
plans to build a toxic waste incinerator there. Buckner, who works for
the post office, and other concerned citizens came to believe that state
and county officials and corporate interests had rigged the planning
and hearing process. County officials had voted in secret to nominate
the site, and the first suitability study neglected to mention health
and environmental concerns. Then, according to a local lawyer who sued
the state, several state officials admitted they had voted for the Taylor-county
site because "it was the governor's wish."
Now, the local people were being invited to a town meeting calledby
the consulting firm hired to do a second study. But this company had
close ties to Waste Management Incorporated, the corporation that wanted
to build the incinerator. The local people were angry. "They call
all these meetings," Taylor resident Ben Parham told a local paper, "and
they don't amount to a tinker's dam."
Mike Buckner sat next to Brian Spears, an experienced civil rights
attorney from Atlanta, who recalls "the courtroom was nearly packed
with some 250 people." As the meeting opened, Katrina McIntosh walked
forward to present the panel with a suitcase stuffed with fake money
as "welcome gift." Halfway up the aisle, she was intercepted
and hustled out by officers of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Others
began to throw more wads of fake money at the consultants.
After the consultant's presentation, it became clear that the hearing
would go as some of the others had before--no opportunity for opponents
of the incinerator to speak. So they turned to their last resort. Somebody
tripped the switch on a tape recorder in a locked briefcase in the balcony,
and the strains of the Beatles hit "Money" filled the courtroom.
Taylor County Sheriff Nick Giles ordered his deputies to silence the
case, which was attached by a chain to a chair bolted to the balcony
floor. They complied, smashing it with their boots.
"The protests were certainly colorful," says Spears, "but
they were harmless, and definitely not criminal." Yet Buckner was
placed on administrative leave for three weeks after Sheriff Giles falsely
told Buckner's supervisors that Buckner was involved in the "disruption." Buckner
also was interrogated by his superiors. "I was asked what I knew
about bombings of federal officials and bomb threats at the meeting and
other things I had never heard of," says Buckner. He was asked if
he was a member of Greenpeace.
Local environmental activists tell Spears they now are worried about
attempts to discredit them. A local newspaper reported that the authorities
were compiling information about potential troublemakers. Sheriff Giles
is quoted saying "We have photographed the crowds at every meeting.
We know who is at these meetings. We have videotapes of some meetings." Jan
M. Caves, whose family owns property next to the proposed site, told
reporters of "an air of harassment towards the opponents [of the
incinerator] adding that some had become too intimidated to speak out. "The
harassment has become unbelievable," says incinerator opponent Marie
What happened in Taylor County is not unique. The environmental movement
is entering a new era, one in which the traditional channels of reform--the
courts, the hearing room and the legislature--are proving increasingly
unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary citizens. At the same time,
the overwhelming influence of big business in setting priorities, such
as where incinerators should be sited or how much old growth should be
clearcut, is becoming obvious.
In response, average people are beginning to act in defense of their
country, their homes and their environment, often using tactics that
are traditionally drawn upon in this situation: sit-ins, demonstrations,
and other time-honored acts of civil disobedience. And for their trouble,
they are being treated as criminals and subjected to surveillance and
retaliation in the workplace.
Their tactics, pioneeered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and Mahatma Gandhi, are being recast by the media and others as "terrorism." In
parts of the country, legal authorities are levying fines and setting
bail for environmental activists that equal or in some cases exceed those
leveled at suspects held for muder and other violent crimes. Even worse,
some people are being singled out by the police and the FBI as well as
private interests solely on the basis of their activities in defense
of the environment.
In Arizona, revelations of possible cover-ups and illegal collusion
between the state and a company planning to build an incinerator led
to vocal and active opposition from a local group. A hearing last May
in the town of Mobile, southwest of Phoenix, dissolved into a shouting
match when the hearing officer tried to oust hundreds of concerned citizens
who crowded the back of the hearing room. With no provocation, officers
arrested 18 activists and dragged them outside, using high voltage "stun
guns" on five of them.
Fourteen activists were locked in a sheriff's van at the side of the
highway and denied phone calls or legal counsel until the hearing ended.
Seven of them have since been charged with disorderly conduct.
After the incident, it was discovered that the EPA had forwarded videotapes
showing some of the activists at a demonstration in California to police
authorities in Arizona. These same citizens were picked out of the crowd
In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an activist with Bucks People United
to Restore the Environment (B-PURE), was pulled by police from a township
meeting and held illegally in a holding cell without charges. His request
to use a phone was refused. His crime? He had approached the chairperson
and demanded that more chairs be added to accomodate the people who were
unable to fit into the meeting room. In Astoria, Oregon, ten Greenpeace
activists were held overnight without bail after being arrested on class-C
misdemeanor charges (one step above a parking ticket) during an antinuclear
demonstration. The only other person refused bail in recent history by
the judiciary in Clatsop county was a man charged with two murders. In
Texas a local magistrate demanded $100,000 bail for a Greenpeace activist
who blocked a railroad track, roughly ten times the bond set for some
drug dealers and murders in the same jurisdiction.
The loose group of activists known as Earth First! is being subjected
to particularly harsh treatment. No person associated with Earth First!
has ever assaulted anyone; the only felony conviction of a person associated
with the group was for the crime of pulling up survey stakes. But last
year in Arizona, four activists associated with Earth First! were arrested
on conspiracy charges including the organization's founder, Dave Foreman,
whose alleged crime was to have donated some money for the other activists
to use in an illegal operation. After the arrests, it was revealed that
the FBI spent some $2 million on a two-year campaign to infiltrate Earth
First!, largely through an undercover agent named Michael Fain. Fain
befriended several environmentalists, forming a romantic relationship
with one, and according to several witnesses, joined in illegal witnesses
and encouraged the activists to act illegally.
At one point, Fain accidentally left his hidden tape recorder on and
recorded a conversation reflecting his frustration with having failed
to get Foreman to incriminate himself. [Foreman] was there, but he doesn't
even mention it (illegal activities). . . Foreman isn't the guy we have
to pop--I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. [Foreman] is the guy
we have to pop to send a message." This and other evidence adds
ammunition to the charge that the prosecution of these activists is politically
Perhaps the most chilling example was the reaction of local police
and the FBI after the mysterious May bombing of the car carrying Earth
First! activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari. Although the pair had
received dozens of death threats and had not been associated with violence
of any kind, they were immediately arrested by local police and charged
with carrying the bomb.
Two months later, the District Attorney declined for the third time
to prosecute, and the case appears to have collapsed for lack of evidence.
But in the hours after the bombing, Oakland police ransacked the home
of a group of local activists without a search warrant. Lawyers also
were turned away from the local jail, where friends and acquaintances
of Bari and Cherney were questioned and held without charges or legal
counsel for seven hours. Bari's lawyer had to get a court order to see
her client in the hospital. The FBI implied that it had the evidence
to prosecute all along, creating a climate of suspicion and anger toward
Earth First! and environmentalists in general. Even now, according to
environmentalists in California, the FBI investigation has yet to follow
up on several obvious clues, including the death threats received by
the pair in the months before the bombing.
Many observers suspect political motivation in the FBI's biased investigation
of the Earth First! bombing incident. Two alliances of individuals and
groups including Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, California Congressman
Ron Dellums, Earth Island Institute president Dave Brower, Greenpeace,
the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for
Women have drafted letters calling for an investigation of FBI and Oakland
police conduct in the case. But the public is not inclined to believe
that federal and local agencies are capable of bias of this sort. While
no evidence has yet surfaced to suggest that there has been any wrong-doing
this time, the history of FBI activities regarding protest groups is
not encouraging. "We don't like to face this aspect of our society," say
Spears, "but it is part of the historical record." As the environmental
movement grows in numbers and impact, there is little reason to believe
it will remain free of the harassment that has been visited upon every
other significant social-change movement in U.S. history.
Brian Glick is an attorney and author of a handbook on resisting FBI
activities called War at Home. Glick concludes that historically, "dissenting
groups came under attack as they began to seriously threaten the status
quo." Since the environmental movement "threatens to meddle
with people who control billions of dollars, it should be no surprise
when they fight back," says Glick, "especially as corporate
and government officials come to realize how dramatically they will have
to restructure their activities in response to the environmental crisis."
Another area where environmentalists face unfair harassment is in the
courts and through overreaction on the part of police departments. As
we have seen, judges and prosecutors can arrange for high bail, ignore
due process and otherwise harass activists when they are so inclined.
While activists can countersue in cases of outrageous conduct, this involves
considerable time and expense.
Police who are told to prepare for "radical environmentalists" during
marches and other forms of peaceful protest will not necessarily exercise
the restraint appropriate to the activity of the protesters. When marchers
approached the headquarters of American Cyanamid in Bound Brook, New
Jersey, to protest the company's practice of sending mercury-contaminated
waste abroad, county police in riot gear rushed the crowd, grabbed several
marchers and clubbed them to the ground. Fortunately the incident did
"We were peaceful, and we announced our intention to be non-confrontational
in advance," says Peter Bahouth, Executive Director of Greenpeace
in the United States, one of the marchers beaten and arrested. "The
media's treatment of incidents like this paints a picture of wild and
unreasonable environmentalists marching in the streets, and it portrays
the pursuit of healthy debate as dangerous. The first point is not true,
and if people are intimidated into not speaking out, we lost the most
vital part of our democracy."
From one perspective, this escalation of public activism and government
and corporate response is a measure of the movement's success. The 8,000
or so community groups that have formed around toxics issues in the United
States have proven a significant impediment to the toxic waste handling
industry as well as a thorn in the side of major polluters. Thanks to
the efforts of a handful of dedicated activists, the razing of the nation's
last stands of old growth forest has become a national issue that could
seriously affect the profits of several major corporations. Greenpeace's
Rainbow Warrior was blown up by the French government precisely because
it represented the first creditable threat to their nuclear testing program;
more threatening to France than U.N. censure, international condemnation
and a 19 International Court of Justice decision.
And now the movement confronts an inevitable backlash. What the environmental
community fears most is that the present trend will not abate, and that
innocent, concerned individuals will be injured or persecuted for their
beliefs. The confluence of interests on the "other side" of
this debate--the "growth-at-any-cost" wing of big business,
the legislatures and the government--is now openly linking environmentalism
with lack of patriotism, an end to the "American way of life" and
other vague rhetorical horrors. "As the Cold War thaws," says
David Chatfield, chairman of the board of Greenpeace in the United States, "we
may be entering an era in which government, industry and the media substitute
the Green Menace for the Red Menace."
When ordinary citizens begin to be treated as criminals, public discourse
is inhibited and democracy begins to break down. "This is a period
of time that requires a renewed focus on basic rights," says Bahouth. "We
want to create a climate in which people can speak out freely and participate,
without fear of violence, jail or harassment."
RESISTING SPYING & ATTACKS ON ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS
The environmental movement is being subjected to obvious surveillance,
intimidation, anonymous letters, phony leaflets, telephone threats, police
over-reaction and brutality, dubious arrests, and other threatening actions
unfamiliar to most environmental activists. Experienced organizers warn
these techniques often create side effects such as false divisions, rivalry,
paranoia, false accusations, internal strife, and overall stressful circumstances
that divert energy and time from the real work at hand.
The type of subtle and not-so-subtle harassment being experienced by
the environmental movement may be new to eco-activists, but to civil
rights attorney Brian Spears and other advocates for civil and constitutional
rights, these types of incidents strike an all-too-familiar chord. Spears
observes that, "activists on Central American issues, Native American
organizers, Black power advocates, and others dissidents have been subject
to unconstitutional covert surveillance and disruption for many years." In
fact when Spears attended the annual National Lawyers Guild (NLG) convention
last summer in Austin, Texas, he found not only two workshops on the
grassroots toxics movement, but also two workshops on repression and
attacks on political activists.
Brian Glick, an attorney who spoke at the NLG's political repression
workshop in Austin, is the author of a security guidebook for activists
titled "War at Home." Glick concludes that historically, "dissenting
groups come under attack as they begin to seriously threaten the status
quo." Since the environmental movement "threatens to meddle
with people who control billions of dollars, it should be no surprise
when they fight back," says Glick, "especially as corporate
and government officials come to realize how dramatically environmentalists
expect them to restructure their activities."
Glick says the bombing attack on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior in
New Zealand presaged the current situation in the U.S. "Domestic
covert action is a powerful deterrent to democratic discussion of public
policy and effective organizing for social change," says Glick echoing
a number of civil liberties activists interviewed for this article. "We
need to take security seriously without being distracted from our main
goals", says Glick, "and one way is to educate ourselves about
what has happened in the past." Glick and other authors and academics
who have studied government intelligence abuse and political repression
frequently find people are skeptical that human rights violations can
happen in the United States. "We don't like to face this aspect
of our society," agrees Spears, "but its part of the historical
Assorted Sordid Pasts
Most documented information about government harassment of social change
activists came to light in the 1970's following a series of Congressional
hearings which took a critical look at the FBI, CIA, military intellignce,
federal agencies and the private security industry.
The most sensational revelations revolved around the FBI's Counterintelligence
Program or COINTELPRO in Bureau jargon. In its final report, the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, often called the Church
"COINTELPRO [was] a series of covert action programs directed
against domestic groups....Many of the techniques used would be intolerable
in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved
in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that...the Bureau
conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing
the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on
the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation
of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence."
The COINTELPRO operations targetted political groups calling for social
change, including civil rights and antiwar activists, civil liberties
advocates, radicals, feminists, even food co-ops and health clinics.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a major target in a campaign that
included anonymous threatening letters and attempts to scare away his
funders. In one ten year period starting in 1966, the FBI employed over
5,000 secret informers in Chicago alone.
According to Glick, a review of the 2,370 officially approved COINTELPRO
operations admitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee shows four main
techniques: infiltration, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment
through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence. In the latter
category falls the sinister collaboration between the FBI and right-wing
vigilante groups. For instance, in Chicago the
FBI and local police worked with the Legion of Justice, a rightist
group that burglarized offices of antiwar activists. In San Diego the
FBI hid the weapon used by a Secret Army Organization sniper in a shooting
incident directed at a local activist professor which resulted in a woman
being injured by a stray bullet.
The revelations of the Church Committee, the Watergate scandal and
other [exposes] led to the passage of some valuable but limited reforms
that briefly curtailed the abuses of the intelligence agencies. But along
with the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency came a concerted
and successful attempt by the intelligence agencies to abolish the reforms
which had restrained them during the late 1970's. The early 1980's also
saw tremendous growth in the private security industry coupled with an
Executive Order signed by President Reagan authorizing the contracting
of intelligence investigations to private firms outside the reach of
Congressional oversight and laws protecting privacy.
The FBI and other agencies also redefined the terms "terrorism" and "foreign
intelligence" to reflect a broad and self-serving interpretation;
and then argued their investigations into social change groups met the
terms of specific legal language allowing the FBI greater investigative
latitude in probes involving political violence and foreign spying. The
result was that by 1983, FBI agents and private security specialists
had launched broad intrusions into the lives of ordinary citizens engaged
in otherwise legal activities.
Ross Gelbspan is the author of a forthcoming book on the FBI's campaign
from 1981 to 1985 against groups critical of U.S. policy in Central America.
Gelbspan says "While the FBI conducts legitimate criminal investigations,
its carrying out of unauthorized politically-motivated police activity
is more than just history." For proof, Gelbspan (a veteran Boston
Globe reporter who helped pen a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative
series) points to documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information
Act, lawsuits, and Congressional hearings which show that in an FBI probe
of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), "the
FBI took at face value allegations by right-wing security specialists
that members of (CISPES) were terrorists or foreign agents."
The FBI probe of CISPES moved beyond surveillance to attacks on CISPES,
its members and allies. Thousands of citiens were referenced in secret
dossiers. The FBI also used the services of right-wing sleuths including
a network of conservative campus activists who attended meetings and
then submitted reports to the FBI. "The CISPES probe by the FBI
was not an aberration by a handful of field agents," says Gelbspan
refuting widely published reports. "It was clearly approved at the
highest levels of the Bureau and was apprently sanctioned by the NSC
and the White House."
"Looking at the CISPES investigation in light of other political
investigations dating back to the 1950's, one gets the distinct impression
that the FBI sees its mandate as neutralizing or disabling every political
movement that has the potential for bringing about significant changes
in the American political system," argues Gelbspan.
Kit Gage, the Washington representative of the National Committee Against
Repressive Legislation (NCARL) agrees with Gelbspan. "We know first
hand the kind of havoc the FBI can wreak on a group exercising its First
Amendment rights," says Gage who has leafed through FBI files recording "38
years of surveillance on NCARL and its predecessors which produced 130,000
pages of files but not one criminal conviction." What is well documented "is
an incredible amount of harassment and disruption of our organization," Gage
charges. "Since the FBI seems unable to regulate itself," says
Gage, "NCARL is currently seeking legal remedies in the form of
legislation that would limit FBI investigations solely to criminal activity." Hundreds
of law school professors have endorsed NCARL's proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, surveillance and disruption continue to hamstring activists.
At the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the Movement Support
Network (MSN) maintains a list of suspicious incidents called in by groups
around the country. According to MSN coordinator Jinsoo Kim, "since
1984 there have been over 300 suspicious incidents including 150 unexplained
break-ins" where usually files are rifled but expensive office equipment
not stolen. Suspicions point to an ad-hoc alliance of FBI agents and
informants, other government investigators, far right vigilantes, and
private security sleuths who trade information and justify their actions
in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.
The zealousness of these snoops can lead them to break the law in pursuit
of their quarry. Earth First activist Dave Foreman says his unfortunately
intimate knowledge of FBI informant-provocateurs leads him to not rule
out the possibility that the California bombing incident was the result
of a covert operation....a charge that reflects an accurate historical
awareness of how far some agents are willing to go in an attempt to trap
An example of this involved Connecticut animal rights activist Fran
Trutt, charged with attempting to plant a bomb she says was meant to
scare an offical of the U.S. Surgical Corporation which uses animals
for medical tests and sales demonstrations. Her accomplices, not charged
with any crime, turned out to be private security agents hired by U.S.
Surgical. Trutt's attorney, John Williams, says there is "absolutely
no question that Trutt was enticed" into considering the bombing
by agents from Perceptions International." Furthermore, several
months prior to the attempted bombing, according to Williams "the
entire situation was reviewed at a meeting that included representatives
of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Connecticut
States Attorney's office, the security director of U.S. Surgical and
at least one representative of Perceptions International...and the topic
of the meeting was Fran Trutt."
According to Williams, it was the agents of Perceptions International,
working for U.S. Surgical but posing as Trutt's friends, who suggested
the bombing, paid for the purchase of the pipe bomb, and drove her to
the U.S. Surgical parking lot. When Trutt had second thoughts while on
her way to the parking lot, she called a trusted friend, and was encouraged
to proceed--that "friend", too, was a private undercover agent
from Perceptions International. Although Trutt was clearly set up, under
Connecticut law she needed to show substantial state involvement to use
entrapment as a defense, a problematic tactic given the available evidence.
Trutt reluntantly accepted a plea bargain and will serve a short prison
term rather than risk a lengthy sentence on more serious charges. One
person troubled by the Trutt case is Gary T. Marx, a sociology professor
at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and author of "Undercover: Police Surveillance in America." Marx
says serious ethical problems can arise "When police must depend
on persons whose professional lives routinely involve deceit and concealment
and who have a motive to lie." Informants "often have strong
incentives to see that others break the law," says Marx, who worries
that our democratic values are being threatened by the increased use
of technologically sophisticated forms of electronic surveillance and
What To Do!
Jinsoo Kim of the Movement Support Network urges that environmental
activists pick up some simple security consciousness and briefly study
the history of political repression against dissent in America. "There
has been a whole generation of activists since the revelations about
the FBI COINTELPRO program and Watergate," says Kim. "Something
that happened fifteen, or even five years ago, its as if it never happened.
We need to teach the lessons learned by previous movements about how
to empower ourselves and fight back without losing sight of our political
goals." Kim urges people to contact her at MSN if they want printed
information on repression and helpful security tips, have an incident
to report, or need advice.
Sheila O'Donnell, a progressive private eye for twenty years who specializes
in political cases, suggests environmentalists need to be very suspicious
of attempts to define individuals or groups in a way that isolates them. "Smear
campaigns often are a part of disruption operations, so charges of eco-terrorism
and allegations of violence should be carefully considered on the basis
of documented facts, not lurid headlines," says O'Donnell. "And
if people use different techniques, that's OK," adds Brian Glick, "there
is a place for lobbying, grassroots organizing, education, and militant
action...they reinforce each other." Susan B. Jordan, lawyer for
two Earth First! activists whose car was bombed, points out that her
clients "were easy people to whip up public opinion against," because
of their reputation for militancy. Attorney John Williams offers this
advice based on the Trutt Case and 20 years of defending political activists: "Assume
the other side is listening, consider everything you do as if it will
be played back in a courtroom or appear on the front page of the local
newspaper. If you don't act this way, you are very foolish, and could
not only go down the tubes, but take your friends and your movement with
you. Fran Trutt's problem was that this never occured her. She was literally
seduced. It has been a hard lesson for her to learn"
Sheila O'Donnell advises that talking to the FBI or other investigators
without the advice or presence of an attorney is not a good idea. "It's
hard for some people to understand this," conceeds O'Donnell, "But
it simply isn't an issue of social courtesy. Individual FBI agents or
other investigators might be friendly and assure you they don't think
you or your friends are criminals or terrorists, but they pass along
the information they glean from you to faceless bureaucracies with a
history of attacking activists and derailing their movements. You never
know what seemingly-harmless bit of information might get you or a friend
in trouble," insists O'Donnell, "an attorney will protect your
rights, not the FBI."
O'Donnell recommends all political activists use the "buddy system" where
group members share phone numbers and a pledge to call each other if
anything suspicious or threatening happens, no matter how seemingly silly
or trivial. "By talking with friends about strange events, the events
lose their sinister aspect, and you gain courage by sharing your fears," says
O'Donnell. "I know talking about security makes some people nervous," she
admits. "But other political movements have adopted simple common
sense attitudes about security and still reached their political goals." O'Donnell
says when groups are harassed it is important to "promote caring
working relationships within the membership and keep a healthy sense
of skepticism and humor." One thing her investigations have shown
clearly, says O'Donnell, "is that it is not only true that democracy
is worth fighting for...but you also have to fight for it just to keep
Creating the Conditions for Surveillance Abuse
In the summer of 1988 Greenpeace Magazine asked me to look into reports
of suspected surveillance and harassment experienced by Greenpeace activists.
I immediately made reservations to attend the annual conference of the
American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). The ASIS convention
attracts thousands of private security specialists from business, industry
and the military who attend workshops and wander through the world's
largest display of security equipment and services. If something is happening
that involves security, you'll hear about it here.
My credentials said I was an analyst specializing in security, which
I figured would get a more honest response than a press pass, and I set
off to ask what the security world thought of Greenpeace. The vast majority
of the persons I talked to had an accurate, even gruffly respectful image
of Greenpeace--"tough," "creative," "they can
really give your public relations office a headache." One security
firm representative said his biggest worry would be making sure no one
gets hurt during a Greenpeace demonstration. A vice president of Baker
and Associates, specialists in protective services and corporate investigations,
summed up the general view of the mainstream security providers when
he said "Those Greenpeace people are not violent, but they [do]
stage some colorful incidents."
But several conversations indicated a troubling trend among a few hard-line
outfits. Over breakfast a Navy security staffer said he had attended
a Naval intelligence briefing where Greenpeace was described as a "terrorist" group
with ties to "international communist groups." At three security
firm display booths I was told archly that their intelligence staff knew
what really was behind Greenpeace and that clients who hired them would
not have any problems with Greenpeace. Several people including the head
of one New York firm that uses aerial photography to help companies improve
plant site security said they had recently picked up accounts from corporations
that feared politically motivated attacks from the environmentalist or
animal rights movements.
The boldest statement came from an account executive from Vance Security
who leaned forward and said "We expect Greenpeace to move in the
direction of violence soon." Vance has been accused of using obtrusive
surveillance and physical intimidation in a number of strikebreaking
and union-busting episodes over the past few years, and is among a handful
of security firms frequently referred to derogatorily as "The Cowboys" by
others at the ASIS conference. The view of Greenpeace held by Vance and
other hard-liners in the security field is an important indicator of
future problems, because the "labelling" of a group as violent,
terrorist or pro-communist is often a first step toward the delegitimizating
the group. Labelling undermines public support and thus sanctions the
use of aggressive surveillance and harassment by government agencies
or private security firms. There is also a self-fulfilling prophecy with
labelling, as police are likely to respond with unjustified force when
you think you are peaceful protestors and they have been trained that
you are violent potential terrorists.
One of the first groups to label Greenpeace as a violent security risk
was that run by ultra-right crank and crook Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. whose
April 21, 1989 "Executive Intelligence Review" contained a
lengthy feature titled "Greenpeace: shock troops of the new Dark
Age." LaRouche's security staff is known to have had contacts with
numerous local police intelligence units and several foreign intelligence
services. They once convinced two gullible New Hampshire State Police
detectives that a peaceful protest against the Seabrook nuclear power
plant was a cover for a terrorist attack, leading the Governor to call
out the National Guard.
The problems extends to campus activism. Accuracy in Academia's "Campus
Report" attacked Greenpeace in an April 1990 article headlined "Environmentalism
Becomes Radical," and the "1989 Young Americans for Freedom
List of Un-American Organizations on Our College Campuses" includes
one group opposed to nuclear war, and the respected hunger group Oxfam
America. The YAF authors, who warn of "the terrible threat these
Hard-Left groups pose to our way of life," boast in their introduction
that they have been "able to secretly monitor Leftist groups for
the last several years."
A murky netherworld exists among ultra-right ideologues that see conspiracies
everywhere, the "Cowboys" of the private security sphere, and
certain segments of the law enforcement community. They spy on activists,
trade information, and inevitably end up harassing persons engaged in
the type of freedom of expression our laws are supposed to protect. The
one thing that stops them is public exposure.
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