Last month, an investigation by the New Yorker magazine alleged that disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein used private detectives from two different firms to spy on women he had allegedly sexually harassed or assaulted. The New Yorker claimed that a private spy posed as a women’s rights advocate to get actor Rose McGowan to talk and secretly recorded the meetings. McGowan has accused Weinstein of rape although Weinstein has “unequivocally denied” all claims of non-consensual sex.
In Britain, these sorts of methods have come to be associated with the Metropolitan Police and their undercover police officers. Officers in the Special Demonstration Squad and its successors pretended to be animal rights activists and anti-capitalist demonstrators to infiltrate activist organizations such as Greenpeace.
The revelations that some of them had long relationships and even children with protestors while living under assumed identities led to the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing, which is ongoing. However, some police say that there are far more questions to be asked about the activities of private sector undercover operatives.
The Bureau and Guardian were given inside information which shines a light on this hidden world, when hundreds of pages of documents were leaked to us from two corporate intelligence firms. The documents cover the period 2003-11 and offer insight into how some operators in a normally subterranean industry work.
The subsequent investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau then identified five large companies which have paid corporate intelligence firms, often known as “private spies”. These firms were paid to monitor campaigning groups that challenged their businesses, the leaked documents reveal.
The monitoring, which included the use of fake activists, who infiltrated campaign groups to spy on them, intelligence gathering and obtaining internal documents, was funded by household names including the Royal Bank of Scotland, British Airways, Porsche, the utility company RWE and the manufacturing company, Caterpillar.
The targets of the monitoring spanned the grieving family of a young protester crushed to death by a bulldozer to a range of environmental campaigns, including even phone mast protesters.