Tuesday, May 29, 2007

NEW ZEALAND ACTIVISTS UNCOVERED MAJOR CORPORATE SPYING ON GROUPS

STUFF, NEW ZEALAND - Private investigators acting for a state-owned enterprise have hired spies to infiltrate and undermine protest groups in what's believed to be a New Zealand first. . . Last year a parliamentary committee formally criticized the state power company Mighty River Power for hiring Thompson & Clark for unspecified activities against Greenpeace. It turns out this was the tip of an iceberg. The private investigators are being used widely, a scale of corporate spying against political groups never before seen in New Zealand. Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson describes it as repellent. "These are young people trying to act in the public good on issues like climate change. They have a basic right in a democracy to do this without interference.

"In the same way as it is undesirable to plant corporate spies in a board room, it is equally undesirable to plant corporate spies in community groups," he said. "Arguably, it is even more repellent and unethical because the corporates have so much greater resources at their disposal to ward off people challenging them."

Thompson & Clark describes itself as New Zealand's leading corporate intelligence agency. It is part of a worldwide trend for companies to use the techniques of police and intelligence services against groups that oppose their activities. Thompson & Clark's public face is a website that offers clients "highly specialized skills" and "on-call tactical support, complemented by teams of covert surveillance operatives and a consultant security-guard force".

An unseen part of the website -containing key words to attract businesses searching the internet for private investigators - lists "covert physical and electronic surveillance", "real-time intelligence", "political activism" and "protesters" as specialties.

The agency has specialized in working for controversial companies since forming in 2003 as "security providers to the biotech industry". It is secretive, keeping even its office location secret. Gavin Clark, who oversees the students undercover, is a former police officer, armed offender's squad member and nationally competitive kayaker. . .

Solid Energy's first known use of Thompson & Clark was publicized in the Star-Times in April last year. Save Happy Valley supporters camping at the site of the planned Cypress open-cast coal mine north of Westport discovered two men monitoring their camp from a hiding place on a neighboring ridge. . .

Later that year, the surveillance was intensified. Visitors to the West Coast protest camp discovered a hidden digital video camera, 100 meters of cable and electronic recording equipment being used to monitor a public access road to the camp. . .