Sssh! You're not paranoid if they really are watching you. Industry groups and government agencies are outsourcing the job of spying on environmental journalists to firms that hire former NSA, CIA, and FBI investigators.
At least Abrahm Lustgarten, who won a Polk award for his ProPublica coverage of the fracking revolution, was targeted in 2009 by Stratfor — a for-hire intelligence agency. Stratfor's client was the American Petroleum Institute. Lustgarten has also won awards from the Society of Environmental Journalists.
You are not supposed to know this. Stratfor's reports to its clients are supposed to be "confidential." Documentation of Stratfor's spying on ProPublica was released November 15, 2013, by Wikileaks, the watchdog group whose leader Julian Assange, is currently being hunted by the U.S. government.
PR agencies, of course, have long kept tabs on environmental reporters. But the intelligence-gathering tactics of spy agencies like Stratfor are allegedly different: dumpster-diving, infiltration, and informal collaboration with government and law-enforcement officials, that go well beyond PR.
Stratfor is hardly the only industrial espionage firm — there are many others — just one whose operations have been extensively documented. Most of the spying targets seem to be activist groups rather than journalists. Clients include not just corporations, but also government agencies which may regard both activists and journalists as adversaries.
In a recent article for the Canadian Press, Ben Makuch reports that 13 Canadian federal departments had subscribed to Stratfor's services. Some of the agencies had not disclosed their contracts with Stratfor, despite legal requirements that they do so.
The contract spying, together with U.S. federal efforts to gain access to journalists' confidential communications with sources, have spawned a new interest among journalists in encrypting and anonymizing their communications.
- "The Fracking Files: Stratfor Provided Energy Industry with Intel on ProPublica, Environmental Groups," Earth Island Journal, December 10, 2013, by Adam Federman.
- "Harper Government's Extensive Spying on Anti-Oilsands Groups Revealed in FOIs," Vancouver Observer, November 19, 2013, by Matthew Millar.
- "Wikileaks Documents Reveals 13 Federal Departments Had Contracts with Stratfor," Canadian Press, December 15, 2013, by Ben Makuch.
- "AP Phone Records Seized by Justice Department As War on Leaks Continues," Huffington Post, May 13, 2013, by Michael Calderone, Sam Stein, and Ryan J. Reilly.
- "Encryption, Security Basics for Journalists," Columbia Journalism Review, September 17, 2013, by Lauren Kirchner.
- "Freedom of the Press Foundation Steps Up Encryption Efforts for Journalists," MediaShift (PBS), December 16, 2013, by Denise Lu.
- Previous Stories: WatchDog of December 4, 2013 and EJToday Headlines of December 16, 2013.