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Reflections on the Corporate Security State
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I stopped having those “oh shit” moments about state and corporate surveillance of me a few years ago. In fact, while finding the whole thing somewhat amusing, I mostly think it’s a rabbit hole that organizers fall into that distracts us from focusing on the real problems of economic and ecological injustice perpetrated by these security firm’s clients.
But nonetheless, when those ugly heads pops out from under a rock, it’s always good to shine a light on it. Last year, Wikileaks began releasing millions of emails from anonymous hacks of “geopolitical intelligence firm” Stratfor. Stratfor is a global intelligence provider with clients that includes Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. Internal documents suggest that the American Petroleum Institute is Stratfor’s biggest client.
In the email release, we’ve discovered that Stratfor staff has much interest in organizations like my employer Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that specialize in market campaigns. They pay a lot of attention to how our social and professional networks work with attention to everything from hiring practices to greater strategies around confronting oil, gas and coal industries. They have some fascinating insights to Michael Brune’s transition as executive director of RAN to the Sierra Club and our campaign holding Wall Street banks accountable for funding the energy sector.
It also turns out that Stratfor goons are avid readers of the RAN blog. My own personal Stratfor anecdote is around two blogs I penned on RAN’s Understory blog back in 2010. “Shades of Al-Qaeda!” and “King Coal’s Top Lobbyist to Meet Obama.”
While reading one of their emails, I’ve discovered that Strafor Vice-President Bartholomew Mongoven has some fairly strong feelings about me. In the leaked Wikileaks emails he describes me as “nuts. Like out there.” Furthermore, he’s concerned that I’m inciting violence when calling for an escalation and nationalization of the anti-extraction movements. (Sorry Bart, as always, I call for a non-violent confrontation of the fossil fuel industry, unlike your bosses in those industries who actually do use violence against people and the planet.) In another communication, Mongoven calls me “Nuts? Paranoid? Dramatic after reading a blog I’d written commenting on corporate surveillance of my employer. The irony of a private security firm calling me “paranoid” while spying on me at the same time is not lost on me.
Maybe I am “nuts” and “out there” like Mongoven suggests, but over a decade ago I chose being part of organizations and movements that use bold and effective organizing as my path in life, in part, because of the injustices perpetrated by Startfor’s client roster on the rest of us. Corporations hire firms like Stratfor because our bold and effective organizing usurps their power and they need strategies and insight on how to mitigate our effectiveness. In a post-Occupy world, we’re seeing a resurgence of not just grassroots movements targeting corporations, but campaign strategies that combine brand attacks, the shaming of individuals executives, hard-hitting non-violent direct action and mass decentralized action. Protest and campaigning is no longer about holding a sign in front of a faceless office building or marching around the block chanting loudly in an apathetic financial district, it’s about strategic interventions with direct action. Companies like TransCanada Bank of America and Walmart are receiving the sharp tip of this strategy, whether it is tree blockades in the East Texas woods, at corporate recruitment events on college campuses or the biggest shopping day of the year.
We may be crazy, but our brand of crazy is spreading like wildfire. And we’ve got them scared silly.
Scott Parkin is an organizer with Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America and the Ruckus Society.