Update: Green Spies, Black Ops

Highlights from the Beckett Brown dumpster dives

Illustration: Christopher Hitz

this spring, Mother Jones broke the news that Beckett Brown International, a DC-area private security firm managed by former Secret Service agents, spied on environmental groups and other targets on behalf of corporate clients using a range of dubious tactics, from dumpster diving and finagling phone records to infiltrating offices; among other things, it obtained internal Greenpeace documents including the Social Security numbers of employees. In our investigation, which did not involve any dumpsters, we obtained hundreds of documents showing bbi‘s modus operandi. A few highlights:

1. September 2000 email from ex-Secret Service agent Jay Bly to bbi official Tim Ward, discussing an operation on behalf of the PR firm Ketchum:

Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems that Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioenginered corn. The chemicles used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos…They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:

  1. Center for Food Safety
  2. Friends of the Earth
  3. GE Food Alert
    #1 is located on 3rd floor. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters in alley—take your pick.
    #2 is in the same bldg. as the Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley.
    #3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.
    …I want to send Sarah to site #1 for a job inquiry. She can get the lay of the land. If they have a job opening could she work there…to find out whats going on?

2. Another September 2000 email from Ward to Bly, about using an off-duty cop to access Center for Food Safety:
Goods news! I think that once Jim calls you back we will know where we stand. If he can’t get it with the shield, it will be difficult…When you talk with the client push the fact that…the anti’s now have found an exposed corporate target and they will be back for more blood.

3. A January 1998 “Client Briefing” for Mary Kay Cosmetics, which apparently retained bbi to gather intel on Gayle Gaston, mother of actress Robin Wright Penn and a Mary Kay executive. The briefing relates a psychological assessment bbi commissioned on Gaston. An excerpt of the “recommendations”:

  • Attempt to show that corporate wants to help her. Risk: It may enhance her feeling that MK is out to get her.
  • Prepare a behavioral response against Gayle…using back up video.
  • Have a mental health professional observe her discretely at functions.

4. An “After Action Report” in which bbi‘s manager of investigative support, George Ferris, offers tips for future projects:

  • Vehicles should be at least mid-size grade due to income of area and need to maintain surveillance with an erratic driver.
  • Have each investigator obtain a false ID…This can be used in any number of situations.
  • Suggested Equipment:
    -Credential card machine—machine that generates professional quality photo credentials w/software to generate personal data and unlimited logos.
    -Form Generating Software—professional quality computer generated work order/contractual forms
    -Uniforms—Maintenance coveralls or generic work uniforms to assist in “office visits.”

Find the full story and select documents at motherjones.com/green-groups-black-op.


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  • James Ridgeway is a former senior correspondent at Mother Jones and a 2012 Soros Justice Media Fellow. For more of his stories, click here.