Leaked documents reveal five large companies that used private intelligence firms to monitor members of the public.
According to a report in The Guardian Tuesday, companies such as British Airways, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Caterpillar and Porsche used corporate spies to surveil “political groups that challenged their businesses.”
“The revelations are based on hundreds of pages of leaked documents from two corporate intelligence firms, seen by the Guardian and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, that reveal the inner workings of a normally subterranean industry over several years in the 2000s,” the report states.
Tactics used by the firms not only included the use of digital surveillance but of “infiltrators to spy on campaigners.”
One such firm, C2i International, used two employees to infiltrate activist groups in order to warn corporations of upcoming political demonstrations.
Caterpillar, a major manufacturer known for producing heavy machinery, used C2i to gather intelligence on a family taking legal action them and asked the work be kept confidential. The manufacturer also hired a second private intelligence firm in 2005 to monitor protests.
In a statement to The Guardian, Caterpillar said it expects the firms it hires to act in a “lawful manner.”
“Where Caterpillar uses outside firms, the company would expect those firms to act in a lawful manner and in accordance with our values in action,” a Caterpillar representative said.
C2i, according to the leaked documents, also claimed to have “real-time intelligence assets” embedded inside numerous environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Other C2i clients included Porsche and British Airways.
In 2008 C2i also attempted to earn the business of Donald Trump’s property development firm by claiming a proposed golf course and hotel in Scotland was “under threat from a consortium of environmental activists.”
A second firm, known as the Inkerman Group, similarly relied on undercover operatives when gathering intel for corporate clients.
Documents showed Inkerman obtained emails being spread by activists concerned over potential health issues from cell phone towers set to be built in their area.
“Inkerman noted in a 2003 internal assessment that the anti-mast campaigners appeared to be copying tactics used by environmentalists against firms that it said it had ‘attracted their perverse attention,'” The Guardian report says.
While legal, the use of private intelligence groups raises numerous questions as the industry remains mostly shrouded in secrecy.