Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Gas leak tales
Wikileaks reveals that Dow spied on Bhopal activists
In a sensational revelation, Wikileaks has alleged US chemical major Dow Chemicals 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 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.
Meanwhile, groups fighting for the Bhopal gas victims today said they were not surprised at revelations that a US-based security think-tank spied for Dow Chemicals on the activists of the 1984 gas tragedy.
"Such things happen as a matter of routine even between nations like America and Iran. We are not worried or surprised about that," Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangthan convener Abdul Jabbar said.
WikiLeaks has not done any great job by revealing that Stratfor was snooping on Bhopal gas activists, he said.
One can appreciate WikiLeaks only if it can reveal the names of people, including senior Indian officials, who were helping Dow Chemicals, Jabbar added. Cases against Dow Chemicals were being currently heard in the US federal courts, the Supreme Court of India and Madhya Pradesh high court, Jabbar said.
Stratfor, meanwhile, released a statement saying, "Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimised twice by submitting to questioning about them." The website of this Texas-based organisation said that it was offering all its contents for free.
"I wanted to warn you that individuals continue to send out false communications that appear to be from Stratfor. These spam emails may contain malware and attachments, and may attempt to lead you to websites that look like our own. They may also attempt to convince you to provide your private information," says Stratfor CEO George Friedman on its website.
The e-mails posted by WikiLeaks on its website, revealed that Stratfor not only provided to Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide the analysis of the daily developments on the case related to the Bhopal Gas tragedy in Indian courts, but also the activities including the travel plans and like where they are staying or what they plan to do.
The Indian government on Monday lodged a formal complaint against Dow's sponsorship of London 2012 Olympics with the Union Sports Ministry writing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Union Sports Ministry strongly protested over the sponsorship.
"A false campaign has been launched by the Dow Chemical's saying that matter has been settled. It is not correct. The case is still pending in the court and no final compensation has been made. It is IOA's considered opinion that Dow Chemical's should be removed as the sponsors of the Games," the letter, written by IOA Acting President Vijay Kumar Malhotra to IOC President Jacques Rogge said.
The IOC, however, maintained that Dow Chemicals was not responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy as it had no ownership stakes in Union Carbide till 2000, adding that they appreciated the concern of the IOA for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
In a letter to IOA acting President Vijay Kumar Malhotra, IOC chief Jacques Rogge said that "IOC recognises that the Bhopal tragedy in 1984 was horrific event for India and the world. The Olympic Movement sympathises with the grief of the victims' families and regrets the ongoing suffering people face in the region."
Meanwhile, the IOA has said that India will participate in the London 2012 Olympics and a decision on the kind of protest will be taken later.
Speaking on the issue, VK Malhotra, the acting president of IOA said, "We are still protesting… we will decide on the form of protest. It will hurt the players who have qualified if we tell them that they are not going."
Later, IOA secretary Randhir Singh said that India will participate in London Olympics, adding, "How India will participate, with protest or with no protest, that is something that has to be looked into."