Monsanto ran a “fusion center” (a term borrowed from law-enforcement counter-terrorism operations) that spied on activists and journalists who were investigating the safety of its products, notably the link between its “Round Up” pesticides and cancers.
The Guardian reports on internal records that it obtained from the center’s operations from 2015-2017, which document the company’s “multi-pronged” plan to discredit Reuters journalist Carey Gillam ahead of the publication of Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, her book on the subject, in which the company drafted “third party talking points” to be fed to people who were not publicly associated with the company, who could then repeat the points in the press as though they had come from disinterested parties.
The company also bought Google ads targeted against Gillam’s name that redirected searchers to smear pages.
The memos reveal that the company spied on Canadian folk legend Neil Young and contemplated how they could neutralize his environmental activism, including an aborted plan to sue him. They also targeted the US nonprofit US Right to Know, with weekly reports for execs on the organization’s activities.
The documents reveal that company’s top execs fretted that any disclosure of the firm’s financial relationship with supposedly neutral scientists could be a source of scandal.
Monsanto was acquired by German chemical giant Bayer in 2018, after which the new owners retired the “Monsanto” name, believing it to be in worse public odor than “Bayer,” a company notorious for having manufactured the poison gas used to murder millions of Jews and others in Nazi death camps.
The fusion center also produced detailed graphs on the Twitter activity of Neil Young, who released an album in 2015 called the Monsanto Years. The center “evaluated the lyrics on his album to develop a list of 20+ potential topics he may target” and created a plan to “proactively produce content and response preparedness”, a Monsanto official wrote in 2015, adding it was “closely monitoring discussions” about a concert featuring Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.
“We have reached out to the legal team and are keeping them informed of Neil’s activities in case any legal action is appropriate,” the email said.
A LinkedIn page for someone who said he was a manager of “global intelligence and investigations” for Monsanto said he established an “internal Intelligence Fusion Center” and managed a “team responsible for the collection and analysis of criminal, activist / extremist, geo-political and terrorist activities affecting company operations across 160 countries”. He said he created Monsanto’s “insider threats program”, leading analysts who collaborated “in real time on physical, cyber and reputational risk”.
“They saw us as a threat,” Gary Ruskin, the USRTK co-founder, said in an interview. “They were conducting some kind of intelligence about us, and more than that, we don’t know.”
Revealed: how Monsanto’s ‘intelligence center’ targeted journalists and activists [Sam Levin/The Guardian]
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