“Big business versus civil society.”
In March of this year, when activists discovered the true identity of a Vale do Rio Doce employee who had infiltrated a meeting called to plan the mobilization, spying and taking pictures, some thought it was a rare occurence, the work of a confused newbie.
On the contrary. A report had just been received from the U.S. which described these practices with a wealth of detail. In recent years, watching, threatening and misleading social movements has becomea common practice among the largest transnationals. These are adopting identical tactics to those used by the CIA and NSA – but probably cause the most damage here in this target-rich environment. They persecute activists in a whole range of causes, among them environmentalism, war protestors, the defense of public services, food security, agroecology, urban reform and animal rights. Among the companies openly identified in the report are Walmart, Bank of America, McDonalds, Monsanto, Shell, Chevron, Burger King, Kraft, Dow Chemicals and the American Chamber of Commerce..
The report, downloadable here, was prepared by the Centro de Estudos das Políticas Corporativas — the center for corporate policies — a group dedicated to blowing the whistle on corporate abuses and demanding corporate responsibility. Edited by Gary Ruskin, it runs to 53 pages and contains an enormous quantity of material never before published: after a brief instroduction, it examines dozens of real-world case studies. It ranges from the 19th century to the present day. It reminds us that since the beginning, the corporate world — and especially the U.S. made use of secret intelligence gathering in order to impede strikes and union movements, for example.
The report argues, however, that the phenomenon grew to complete different proportions after the Cold War. In a sense, the transnational corpororations privatized — and aggressively expanded — its surveillance of social society, using state agencies. “Where once you had a handful of private detectives with an agency, there are now hundreds of multinational security organizations, which have less constraint on their actions than civil servants do,” according to the report.
Big businesss is especially eager to foil any protests of its practices that might harm its public image. To prevent itself from being discredited, as the case studies show, the big companies infiltrate agents into the movements and install surveillance equipment (including phones and the Net) in places used to rally and mobilize.
And that is not all. They steal documents, attack computers and take down sites with DoS campaigns. They spread false accusations against themselves, in order to belittle those who publish them. They track the private lives of their critics and their family, searching for information and images to embarrass and compromise the source.
The security services of major corporations, says Gary Ruskin, are full of former CIA and NSA agents. Unlike these agencies, however, which have suffered intense criticism in recent years, corporate spying remains a shadowy one.
The information published in this book, the author says, was obtained almost by accident — in As informações agora publicadas, diz o autor, foram obtidas quase por acidente – em poucos casos bem-sucedidos de ações judiciais requerendo acesso à informação, vazamentos os descuidos. As dimensões do problema podem ser muito maiores que se pensa. “O tema é mantido sob sigilo. Nos últimos anos, houve poucos esforços jornalísticos – e nenhum esforço governamental sério – para desvendar a espionagem empresarial contra a sociedade civil”, diz Ruskin.]=
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