'Dow used Stratfor to spy on Bhopal activists'

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 27, 2012 19:44 hrs

Julian Assange-led whistle-blower outfit Wikileaks has alleged US chemical major Dow used the services of Stratfor, a Texas-headquartered self-described “subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis”, for procuring intelligence on activists seeking compensation for the 1984 Bhopal gas leak.

While Dow has repeatedly claimed it holds no responsibility for the accident — India’s worst industrial disaster that killed at least 3,500 people — a company spokesperson confirmed to Business Standard it indeed undertook such surveillance activities but that was the standard practice worldwide.

“The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the ‘Yes Men’, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage,” a Wikileaks release on Monday stated.

The disclosure is part of The Global Intelligence Files, a set of more than five million emails that Wikileaks claims will “reveal the inner workings” of Stratfor as a provider of “confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co”, among others.

The Fortune 500 chemical maker, on its part, admitted that it had monitored Bhopal activists but emphasised that such activities were part of standard procedure. “Major companies, including Dow, are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities around the world from those who would threaten, disrupt and misrepresent the company and its employees,” Scot Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Dow Chemical Company, said.

“Dow takes the obligations to ensure the safety of its people and facilities seriously and will continue to do so within the bounds of the law. We are strong proponents of free speech and encourage public debate on important issues. However, while we have not yet seen the specific documents in question, the theft of any private documents cannot be condoned,” Wheeler added.

When contacted, Madhya Pradesh Urban Development Minister Babulal Gaur said that he was not aware of the development. “But if Dow Chemicals has done that, then we will take this issue up with the centre,” he added.

Bal Krishna Namdeo of Pension Bhogy Sangharsh Morcha, an NGO working in Bhopal, said that Dow is spying “out of fear”. “We are the ones who protest against the company. They fear that our agitation will force them to pay for the clean-up at the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal, which still houses toxic waste,” he said.

The emergence of these surveillance activities by Dow comes at a time when the company’s sponsorship of the London Olympics this year has been strongly opposed by the Indian Olympic Association and a clutch of NGOs.

While the exact nature of the documents pertaining to Stratfor’s monitoring is yet to emerge, the Wikileaks release does specify that the firm monitored “the online activities” for the activists, a fact brought out by some of the correspondence made available on the website of The Global Intelligence Files. The correspondence also contains mentions of the Indian media’s reporting on the activists and events pertaining to the Bhopal accident.