That governments deploy undercover law enforcement officers to infiltrate, gather information on, and subvert protest movements has long been common knowledge. Less well-known, however, is the extent to which some of the world’s most profitable businesses have hired private spies to keep tabs on political movements they perceive as a threat to their power and profits.
“The leaked documents suggest the use of secretive corporate security firms to gather intelligence about political campaigners has been widespread.”
—Meiron Jones and Rob Evans, the Guardian
Hundreds of pages of newly leaked documents—reported on for the first time Tuesday by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ)—provide an unprecedented glimpse into this mysterious world of “corporate spies,” who have been hired by major companies like the German carmaker Porsche, the U.S.-based manufacturing giant Caterpillar, and the Royal Bank of Scotland to monitor anti-war demonstrations, protests against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and environmental campaigns against the destruction of the planet.
“The leaked documents suggest the use of secretive corporate security firms to gather intelligence about political campaigners has been widespread,” report the Guardian‘s Rob Evans and Meirion Jones.
Despite this fact—and despite claims by police that corporate spies embedded in protest movements frequently outnumber undercover law enforcement officers—these private firms face “little or no regulation.”
And while these “security” companies have attempted to fashion themselves as run-of-the-mill service providers, they are in reality quite different.
“One key distinguishing factor is that corporate investigation firms are often staffed and run by former spies and veterans of special forces, even if they work alongside graduates, accountants and lawyers,” TBIJ notes. “Some of the companies even have private military arms.”
Speaking anonymously to the Guardian, a man who claims he personally infiltrated political groups for a corporate spy firm said that his work involved more than merely collecting information on protesters.
“He described how the spies surreptitiously fostered conflicts within a campaign to set activists against each other, in order to wear them down and make them lose their political motivation,” the Guardian reports.
One of the companies featured heavily in the cache of documents is the private security firm C2i International, which has deployed spies on behalf of Porsche and other major companies to infiltrate groups of environmentalists and anti-Iraq war campaigners.