Leaked Documents Uncover Energy Companies Spying on Activists

Environmental activist groups are constantly trying to get their hands on documents revealing the evil deeds of large corporations; apparently, those large corporations have been doing some maneuvering of their own, James Bond-style. The U.K. Guardian got hold of leaked documents showing that three of the U.K.'s largest energy companies--Scottish Power, Scottish Resources Group, and E.ON--have been paying private security firm Vericola to spy on activists.

For the past three years, Vericola owner Rebecca Todd has been signing up for environmental group mailing lists in order to gain advanced notice about demonstrations and protests, showing up at protest-planning meetings, and teaching colleagues how to fit in with other activists at meetings (she reportedly told one colleague to avoid mentioning that he planned on flying to Germany since activists hate short, CO2-spewing flights).

The Guardian explains:

The environmental activists are angry that, by posing as a supporter, she has gained access to emails and meetings where tactics and strategies are discussed. Eli Wilton, a Climate Camp organiser, said: "It's frightening that in a meeting about how to stop the fossil fuel industry, the person sitting next to you might be a spy paid for by the energy giants themselves." He said Todd and her colleagues "couldn't have gotten subscribed without attending our meetings. These were internal lists where, for example, we strategised about how to stop new coal-fired power stations being built by E.ON."

This isn't the first time corporations have been called out for spying. In 2001, BP and Shell were called out for hiring Hakluyt, a British private intelligence agency, to spy on Greenpeace activists.

It isn't terribly surprising that BP, Shell, or coal producer Scottish Resources Group would try to gain intel on activists. But E.ON? For a company that's been heavily touting its wind energy projects, this kind of behavior comes across as more disingenuous.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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