Even environmental organizations aren't immune to spy operations. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Maurice Chittenden of the Sunday Times in London, who broke the story that British Petroleum and Shell hired a spy organization to find out the plans of the environmental organization Greenpeace.
CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth; I'm Steve Curwood. The Sunday Times in London recently reported that two oil companies hired a private espionage service, to infiltrate Greenpeace, Germany. The spy firm, called "Hakluyt" is made up of former operatives for the British government's official spy agency, MI-6. British Petroleum and Shell pay the MI-6 veterans to gather information about Greenpeace activities. With me to talk about this, is Maurice Chittenden, one of the two Sunday Times reporters who broke the story. He says BP was hoping to head off protests that would draw attention to possible new oil drilling in the North Atlantic.
CHITTENDEN: BP wanted to explore a new oil field in the north-west Atlantic; Greenpeace were deadly opposed to it. So, BP, it would seem, employ this firm called "Hakluyt". Hakluyt, using their old intelligence agency contacts, contact this guy called Manfred Schlickenreider, who is known as "Agent Camus," after Albert Camus, the writer, and he approaches Greenpeace as a, says he's a film-maker, documentary film-maker. Gets a lot of information about them, about a campaign that Greenpeace are aiming to do in the North Sea, against BP. To Greenpeace's own admission, their campaign was not a success, because BP knew at every stage what they were going to do, and what they planned to do, and were not taken by surprise.
CURWOOD: Now, Schlickenreider helped BP, apparently, avoid the effective wrath of Greenpeace for its North Sea projects. What did this secret do to help Shell?
CHITTENDEN: Shell were in a lot of trouble over their oil exploration in Nigeria and West Africa. The suggestion was that the Ogoni tribe in West Africa were being oppressed, to help oil exploration. Their leader, or one of their leaders, a guy called Ken Saro-wiwa, was hanged. I think it was 1996. There was a lot of angry outburst about this across Europe, boycotts, this sort of thing. To be fair to Shell, we do know that so of their petrol stations were fire-bombed, and that one was riddled with bullets in a drive-by shooting, so they did have genuine concern for their staff as a result of this.
CURWOOD: So, how did you guys find out about this? How did this all become public?
CHITTENDEN: Firstly, in Britain, the first we knew about it as when their contact told us that this had been going on, but I have to say that a Swiss anarchist group had previously got alongside Manfred Schlickenreider, the fake documentary maker. A female colleague of his seems to have, as you say, sold him out, and there was a search of his flat in Munich, in which were found certain documents linking him with various nefarious activities. And, along the lines, it eventually became known in London, and somebody I know, close to this private intelligence agency, has told me about it.
CURWOOD: Now, Greenpeace, Germany, says that it's not a big deal, that Mr. Schlickenreider's activities took place, and that, in fact, his activities didn't influence the outcome of their campaign. What do you think about that comment?
CRITTENDEN: I think they have to say that. We know, after talking to them, that they were trying to run a campaign similar to Brent Spar's, called the Stena Dee in the North Sea, which they occupied for ten days, and basically gave up, because they were not getting any publicity on it. Normally, in European terms, this would have been a big story, but because BP were fully aware of what they intended to do, and knew what to do, in reaction to it. Greenpeace say, "Ok, it was a campaign that we hoped we're going to get more publicity. It didn't work out." And they tried to, obviously, downplay the issue that it completely scuppered the campaign. Our suggestion is that it really did scupper that campaign.
CURWOOD: What does Shell and BP say? About your story, that they had hired these spies to infiltrate Greenpeace?
CHITTENDEN: We've spoken to both oil companies, and both say that yes, they have have employed Hakluyt, which is the name of the company. Shell says, it did it to protect its employees, which it feared that, after the fire-bombing, and after the drive-by shooting, some of its employees woud be in danger. BP says yes, it did employ Hakluyt . It was unaware of the activities of Agent Camus, the film-maker in Germany, but it says it only employed Hakluyt to obtain materials in the public domain, which we have a slight question mark about, because we have documents where the filmmaker Schlickenreider is billing Hakluyt for the equivalent of about $10,000 for research on Greenpeace, which seems a lot of money for stuff that's in the public domain.
CURWOOD: What information do you have that this kind of spying has gone on against other environmental groups, and might be going on yet today?
CHITTENDEN: Certainly, we know that Hakluyt was aiming at other groups, The Society for the Protection of Endangered Species is one. We know that a big business does want to keep an eye on environmental groups that might, at some stage, endanger their business, and we know that the companies do employ them. They boast that 28 out of what's called the FTSE 100 which is the top 100 quoted companies on the stock exchange in London, did employ, at one stage, Hakluyt. That's 28 of the 100 top companies in Britain, employed this private intelligence agency.
CURWOOD: Thank you for taking this time with us today.
CHITTENDEN: Nice talking to you.
CURWOOD: Maurice Chittenden is a reporter with the Sunday Times in London.
[Music: Propellerheads: "Spy Break"]
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth