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My Brush With Greenpeace: Strangers, Secrets & Spies

Posted Apr 20 2008 9:39am
A few weeks ago I was being considered for a field organizer position for Greenpeace 's Project Hot Seat campaign. During the first round of interviews, I spoke by phone with a field organizer from another state.

In sharing with me the mission and background of Greenpeace, my interviewer also alluded to some of their clandestine operations -- specifically the "Wiping away ancient forests" message found by consumers in some Kleenex boxes. Though she didn't admit that Greenpeace was directly involved, that was certainly the implication. And she outright told me that Greenpeace staff members had been able to access a computer of some corporation (it may have been Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex), and replace an existing PowerPoint presentation with one of their own.

I remember feeling excited about these clandestine operations, but also reluctant. I respect Greenpeace for their work, but questioned whether I would personally feel comfortable being involved in those kind of tactics.

Though I debated over whether or not to share this information here in my blog, it occurred to me. If Greenpeace didn't want this notoriety, they wouldn't have shared it with me -- a stranger whose true intentions they had no way of verifying -- a stranger who could have been a spy.

It's been reported in Mother Jones Magazine that in the late 90's through 2000, a group of former Secret Service Agents spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations
"This security outfit [Beckett Brown International (BBI)] collected confidential internal records," writes article author James Ridgeway, including "donor lists, detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members [and] strategy memos."

They also collected phone records of activists and tried planting spies inside the organizations.

BBI would then put all this information together into "intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies. "

I don't know which I'd feel weirder about -- performing clandestine activities or being the subject of them. I guess I'll never know. Though I made it through the first round of interviews, the questions were much tougher in the second round. As a writer, I have all the time in the world to formulate my thoughts. During my phone interview, I didn't have that luxury.

As a Greenpeace field organizer -- whether you're staging a public rally for the cause or a secret mission against the opposition -- you need to be able to think fast on your feet. Maybe I'm just better-suited to thinking leisurely here in my seat, with the luxury of questioning the tactics on both sides.
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