The American agribusiness big name, Monsanto ran a “fusion center” to keep an eye on journalists and activists and disgrace them, and singled out Carey Gilliam, a reporter who criticized the company in her book, documents disclosed. The agrochemical company also inspected the singer Neil Young and wrote up an in-house memo on his music and social media activity.
According to Guardian, the records reviewed indicate Monsanto implemented a multi-directional plan to aim Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who probed the company’s weedkiller and its associations to cancer. Monsanto, now possessed by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical corporation also examined a not-for-profit food research organization via its “intelligence fusion center.” An intelligence fusion center is a term used for operations related to surveillance and terrorism that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use.
In a current court conflict on the company’s dangerous Roundup weedkiller, documents from 2015 to 2017 were revealed. They disclosed the following:
- Monsanto intended a chain of “actions” to aim a book penned down by Gillam before its publishing. This includes writing opposing points to condemn the book with third parties and ordering farmer and industry customers to give hostile reviews about the book.
- Monsanto even paid search giant, Google to quash Gillam’s work and support results for “Monsanto Glyphosate Carey Gillam” that disapproved her work. Internally, Monsanto’s PR staff agreed to maintain pressure on Reuters and also continued to bully Gillam’s editors strongly for every chance they get. They were also waiting for Gillam to get reassigned.
- Its “fusion
center” officers authored a detailed report about singer Neil Young’s campaign against Monsanto, keeping a check on his influence over social media and also considered legal action at the moment. The US Right to Know (USRTK), a not for profit, was religiously monitored and weekly reports were made on the organization’s online activity.
- Monsanto officials were deeply concerned about the disclosure of documents on their monetary associations with scientists that could back the allegation that they were hiding faulty research.
The in house discussions further fan the flames to the developing statements in court that Monsanto has intimidated faultfinders and researchers and worked hard to cover the hazards of glyphosate which is a broadly used herbicide in the world.
In the last year, two US juries have given the verdict that Monsanto was accountable for petitioners’non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a blood cancer, and ordered the company to pay weighty sums to cancer patients. Bayer has maintained that glyphosate is safe.
When Gillam was ready to publish her book “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” in 2017, Monsanto went into a vigorous campaign against her as Guardian reported. However, the drive was undercover. The company prepared a spreadsheet of 23 specific steps focused on opposing her book before its publication. Not only Monsanto worked with Pro Science third parties but also united with “SEO experts” to propagate its attacks. The critics and Gillam were labeled as “anti-glyphosate activists and pro-organic capitalist organizations” as part of the marketing tactic.
Gillam in an interview, mentioned that she knew Monsanto disliked her work and pressurized her and the editors, but she never thought that a multibillion company would employ so much time and energy to counter her research. Gillam is a Guardian contributor and USRTK’s research director for now.
Gillam who has worked for 17 years with the international news agency Reuters, told guardian that the opposing reviews flooded on Amazon, soon after the official release of Whitewash and many even mentioned similar identical talking points several times.
The book got excellent reviews from professional book reviewers, but at Amazon, things were different for Gillam. It was upsetting for her to read horrible reviews about her first book, but she knew it was fake and a deliberate plan by the industry.
Christopher Loder, a Bayer spokesman refused to give statements on specific documents or the fusion center, but said in an announcement to the Guardian that the records show “that Monsanto’s activities were envisioned to ensure there was a just, correct and science-based dialogue about the company and its products in reply to important misrepresentation, including steps to respond to the publication of a book written by an individual who is a frequent critic of pesticides and GMOs”.
According to him, the accuser’s lawyers and their deputies handpicked the documents and did not challenge existing science supporting the continued use of glyphosate. He added that the company takes the safety of their products and their reputation seriously and work to make sure everyone has accurate and balanced information.
Meanwhile, the records do not give crucial details on the undertakings or scope of the fusion center but clearly shows that it was involved in monitoring various people, including Gillam. An officer under the name “Monsanto Corporate Engagement, Fusion Center” provided detailed analyses on tweets associated with Gillam’s work in 2016.
The fusion center also made in depth graphs of Neil Young’s Twitter activity. Young released an album in 2015 named the Monsanto Years. A list of 20+ possible topics that he may target was drawn after the evaluation of the lyrics on his album. Then a strategy was built to aggressively arrange the content and prepare for a swift response. An official from Monsanto wrote that it was keenly watching discussions about a concert featuring Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Young, and Dave Matthews.
An e-mail revealed that the company has contacted the legal team and is keeping them aware of Neil’s actions in case any legal action is required.
A person whose LinkedIn page claimed that he was a manager of “global intelligence and investigations” for Monsanto said he set up an “internal Intelligence Fusion Center” and administered a “team responsible for the gathering and examination of criminal, activist , geo-political and extremist 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.”
The company saw the activists as a threat and were involved in holding intelligence operations about them without them being aware.
Escalated privacy concerns were raised about government fusion, specially the method law enforcement agencies use to gather data, track citizens and share information. Private companies might have intelligence centers that monitor genuine unlawful threats, such as cyberattacks. However, Dave Maass, the senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that it becomes bothersome when corporations milk their money to scrutinize people who are engaging in their first amendment rights.
David Lavine, a University of California Hastings law professor, told that he had not heard of any other private corporations having “fusion centers,” but said it did not shock him to learn that Monsanto was involved in this type of rigorous digital monitoring.
Even the Ruskin’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests targeting the company and authoring documents on its relationship with researchers was a significant concern for Monsanto. The record showed that the company considered it to be detrimental and could affect the whole industry.
In 2016, one Monsanto officer voiced the frustration of disapprovals that the company paid academics to write positive reports on their products. He went on to say that the experts were paid as an acknowledgment of the time they invested in writing responses for outside engagement and no one works for free.
Michael Baum, an attorney involved in the Roundup trials that unveiled the documents said that the records were proof of the disgraceful and conscious neglect of the rights and safety of others. He said that the advocates would continue to back current punitive damages for those who got cancer after using Roundup.
He said that it is the misuse of their authority that they have got after attaining such vast scales, and it is the massive sum of money and many secrets that they are trying to keep.
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