Report: Corporations use professional spies-for-hire to monitor and undermine nonprofits

A newly released report from the watchdog group Essential Information alleges that powerful corporations spy on and sabotage the very nonprofit groups dedicated to keeping them in check.

According to the report, titled "Spooky Business," a global network of former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) employees work at the beck and call of corporations like Walmart, Monsanto, Coca Cola, Burger King, McDonald's, Kraft, Shell, BP and others, undermining consumer protections and enforcing a pro-business agenda.

Walmart, for example, has an in-house "Threat Research and Analysis Group" that, according to a former employee, targets citizens' groups and critics of the corporation's policies. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2006, the company wired an employee with a hidden microphone and sent him to spy on a meeting of Arkansas activists planning a protest. Operatives reportedly "followed around the perimeter with a surveillance van," listening to every word of the meeting.

These espionage tactics are not limited to the United States. "Spooky Business" details surveillance and sabotage projects carried out in France, the U.K. and India by companies and organizations ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Dow Chemical to Bank of America. A press release on the website said that the companies have engaged in efforts to undermine groups of all kinds, including "environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups."

Many of the tactics involved, said the statement, "are either highly unethical or illegal."

Essential Information is a nonprofit founded in 1982 by consumer advocate turned politician Ralph Nader. The organization is dedicated to "projects to promote corporate accountability, a more just economy, public health and a sustainable planet."

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