[On 11 November] a French court convicted the French state electricity company, Electricité de France SA (EDF), on charges of spying on Greenpeace in France. The company was fined €1.5 million, and ordered to pay €500,000 in damages to Greenpeace for non-material losses.
EDF was charged with complicity in concealing stolen documents, and complicity with an operation to break into a computer network. In 2006, EDF hired a hacker and a private investigator in a ‘cloak-and-dagger’ undercover effort to spy on Greenpeace France. The spying operation monitored Greenpeace while it challenged plans by the UK government to work with EDF to expand its nuclear operations. The hacking allowed the theft of more than 1,400 documents from the computer of Greenpeace France’s Programme Director.
In addition to the charges against EDF, two EDF nuclear safety officials and two staff from Kargus Consulting, the company EDF hired to spy on its behalf, were convicted on charges related to spying. All four were jailed, and three were also fined.
The convictions follows revelations earlier this week that the New Zealand Police refused an OIA request by the Taranaki Daily News for details of how the department knew in advance about a peaceful protest by Greenpeace against the arrival of the deep sea oil exploration vessel Polarcus Alima at Port Taranaki on October 17.
Greenpeace activists were intercepted in the early hours of the 17th by a police roadblock, as they drove towards New Plymouth. A police launch, which is reportedly not normally stationed at the Port, was also on hand to prevent activists entering the harbour. However peaceful protests both outside the port, and by surfers on the water, successfully went ahead.
The Polarcus Alima is currently prospecting for oil in Deepwater Taranaki on behalf oil giant Anardarko, and will later travel to the Great South Basin to prospect on behalf of Shell Oil. If the surveys are successful, oil drilling at depths of up to thousands of metres could start as soon as late 2012.
“We would not like to think that our police force in New Zealand has been tasked with doing what EDF were doing in France – spying on the public to protect the interests of big corporations,” says Greenpeace NZ’s Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid.
“Democracy is built upon the right to peaceful protest. Without it we wouldn’t have votes for women and they would still be testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. Treating Greenpeace as if we are a threat to the common good is, at best, a waste of public resources,” McDiarmid says.
Greenpeace has been the subject of both company and state-sponsored spying in the past.
In 2008, the state-owned company Solid Energy admitted to paying spies to monitor people who were campaigning to prevent an open-cast coal mine being dug in the West Coast’s Happy Valley. Greenpeace New Zealand staff and volunteers were amongst those the SOE sought information on. No one was ever prosecuted in relation to that episode.
In the 1980s a French Government agent, known as Christine Cabon, posed as a volunteer in order to spy on Greenpeace as they prepared to protest against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. The information she gathered was used by the French secret service to prepare for the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour in 1985, in which Greenpeace crew member Fernando Pereira was killed. Following worldwide protests against the attack on the Rainbow Warrior the French Government cancelled their nuclear weapons testing programme in the Pacific and later signed an international treaty banning nuclear weapons testing.