Are CIA Analysts Helping Chevron Spy on Activists?

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That’s the question we’ve asked the CIA, in several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed this month.

Marissa’s recent blog post about Chevron gaining access to activists’ email account usage information has received a lot of attention in the news and on social media. The outrage is much deserved. As Marissa explained, obtaining that information may allow Chevron to learn the location and movements of the users and permit Chevron to make inferences about some of the users’ professional and personal relationships.

But this isn’t the only way Chevron is keeping tabs on activists, journalists, lawyers and anyone else that has ever been involved in the campaign demanding Chevron take responsibility for the environmental damage it caused in Ecuador. Chevron is using a wide range of private investigative firms to this end, but a source has informed ERI that Chevron has also used CIA staff. As we try to get to the bottom of this through our FOIA requests, let me explain why I think this isn’t just a wacky conspiracy theory.

Here is what we know:

First, Chevron and Gibson Dunn have a demonstrated practice of hiring aggressive investigative firms to conduct surveillance and other undercover work in connection with the litigation over contamination in Ecuador. Examples include Kroll, Inc., Investigative Research Inc., the Mason Investigative Group, and Custom Investigative Service.

Firms like these are able to carry out the dirty work for corporations like Chevron and their corporate counsel. For example, a lawyer and a private investigator, both working for Chevron, brought a suitcase full of cash to a former judge who, unsurprisingly, has since become their key witness.  Bribery? Well, not according to Chevron. We’ll see.

Kroll, Inc., another one of Chevron’s “risk consulting” firm, made the news recently when then-employee Sam Anson, attempted to recruit a young journalist to secretly dig up dirt on the Ecuadorian plaintiffs for Chevron. She refused, and revealed the plan.

Second, it is well known that private intelligence and investigative firms often employ former CIA agents. In fact, Investigative Research Inc. is run by Douglas Beard, a former CIA agent.

Third, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have an acknowledged policy of allowing active-duty agency personnel to do work on the side for private firms.

I can’t help but find this last point particularly concerning. The ethically questionable – if not outright illegal – purposes for which Chevron has used its private investigate firms is alarming on its own. But if it’s possible our government’s intelligence staff are assisting Chevron in its effort to bend the law to avoid accountability, that is all the more troubling.

We may have answers soon; we’ve filed several FOIA requests seeking information about outside work by CIA personnel for Chevron, its lawyers, and its investigators. We’ll see what the CIA says.

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