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Monsanto's PR firm Ketchum was accused of illegal espionage in 2010 lawsuit by environmental group

Ketchum PR Firm

(NaturalNews) In retaliation for its work in exposing the machinations of the biotechnology industry, the environmental group Greenpeace has been subject to illegal probing by the public relations firm representing the world's largest purveyor of chemicals and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), a lawsuit claims.

According to Greenpeace, Ketchum, which represents Monsanto, in concert with Dezenhall Resources, Dow Chemical and Sasol North America, used "unlawful means" to obtain confidential information about the environmental group in an attempt to impede its work of educating the public about the dangers of chemical herbicides like Roundup, as well as GMOs.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Federal District Court in Washington on November 29, 2010, alleges that the biotech cohort hired private investigators to surveil the activities of Greenpeace, a type of payback for Greenpeace's efforts to "expose environmental hazards and improve environmental conditions," which included raising awareness about GMOs and crop chemicals.

Beginning in 1998, Beckett Brown International (BBI), a private security firm that has since gone defunct, met with Ketchum and the others to brief them about its services, the suit alleges. The companies then tasked BBI with digging into the internal communications, financial reports and campaign plans of Greenpeace in order to derail them.

Ketchum allegedly paid BBI a sum of $125,000 between October 1998 and January 2001, and Dezenhall paid the company more than $200,000 during this same time. Ketchum also created the Dow Global Trends Tracking Team, which kept a close eye on the activities of Greenpeace while also working on behalf of the business interests of Dow.

A PR firm by the name of Fenton Communications, which works on behalf of groups like Greenpeace to raise awareness about environmental issues, may have also been targeted, the lawsuit alleges. Fenton helped develop a campaign raising awareness about issues related to the use of genetically-engineered seeds.

The illegal activity by Ketchum and the others extended so far as to involve theft, the suit claims. Fenton claims that its Washington office was broken into on several occasions over a two-year period, during which several laptop computers were stolen. David Fenton, founder of Fenton Communications, also says that BBI employees were surveilling his home.

"It's a new low for the PR profession," he stated.

Greenpeace seeking justice against biotech mafia

The lawsuit seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages. Both Dow and Ketchum claimed at the time of its filing that they had not yet been officially served. Jackie Burton, director of corporate communications at Ketchum, told PRWeek in a 2010 email that the company had "not formally received the papers yet and, therefore, cannot speak to any of the specifics in the complaint."

"We will review it thoroughly and address it in the appropriate venue," she added.

Dow also declined to comment, stating that, "we are not in a position to immediately comment about the alleged activities of over a decade ago." Dezenhall and Sasol could not be reached for comment by those working on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Greenpeace has since set up a special page that it's dubbed "Spygate," which contains a timeline of events as the lawsuit has progressed. The initial complaint was dismissed back in September 2011, and Greenpeace reportedly refiled the suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia one month later.

Judge Michael Rankin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia agreed that Greenpeace's claims of trespass and misappropriation of trade secrets are valid, but dismissed four other claims. Greenpeace has since appealed the dismissal of those four counts.

"[D]efendants stole thousands of documents and conducted unlawful surveillance and theft of confidential information related to Greenpeace's campaigns to protect communities and the environment from extremely toxic chemicals like dioxin," says Greenpeace.

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