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Exclusive: Cops and Former Secret Service Agents Ran Black Ops on Green Groups
Meet the private security firm that spied on Greenpeace and other environmental outfits for
corporate clients. A tale of intrigue, infiltration, and dumpster-diving. " />
April 11" , 2008" A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service
officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through
at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives
within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating
confidential meetings. According to company documents provided to Mother Jones by a former
investor in the firm, this security outfit collected confidential internal records—donor lists,
detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members, strategy
memos—from these organizations and produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and
major corporations involved in environmental controversies.
In addition to focusing on environmentalists, the firm, Beckett Brown International (later
called S2i), provided a range of services to a host of clients. According to its billing
records, BBI engaged in "intelligence collection" for Allied Waste; it conducted background
checks and performed due diligence for the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm;
it provided "protective services" for the National Rifle Association; it handled "crisis
management" for the Gallo wine company and for Pirelli; it made sure that the Louis Dreyfus
Group, the commodities firm, was not being bugged; it engaged in "information collection" for
Wal-Mart; it conducted background checks for Patricia Duff, a Democratic Party fundraiser then
involved in a divorce with billionaire Ronald Perelman; and for Mary Kay, BBI mounted
"surveillance," and vetted Gayle Gaston, a top executive at the cosmetics company (and mother
of actress Robin Wright Penn), retaining an expert to conduct a psychological assessment of
her. Also listed as clients in BBI records: Halliburton and Monsanto.
BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay,
worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including
Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR
outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their
products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods;
Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical
manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a
suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.
Like other firms specializing in snooping, Beckett Brown turned to garbage swiping as a key
tactic. BBI officials and contractors routinely conducted what the firm referred to as "D-line"
operations, in which its operatives would seek access to the trash of a target, with the hope
of finding useful documents. One midnight raid targeted Greenpeace. One BBI document lists the
addresses of several other environmental groups as "possible sites" for operations: the
National Environmental Trust, the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Media Services, the
Environmental Working Group, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the Center for
Health, Environment and Justice, an organization run by Lois Gibbs, famous for exposing the
toxic dangers of New York's Love Canal. For its rubbish-rifling operations, BBI employed a
police officer in the District of Columbia and a former member of the Maryland state police.
Beckett Brown's efforts to penetrate environmental groups and other targets came to an end when
the business essentially dissolved in 2001 amid infighting between the principals. But the
firm's officials went on to work in other security firms that remain active today.
Beckett Brown International began when John C. Dodd III met Richard Beckett at a bar in Easton
in 1994. Dodd had recently become a millionaire after his father had sold an Anheuser-Busch
beer distributorship on Maryland's eastern shore. Beckett ran a local executive recruiting and
consulting business. Soon after they met, according to Dodd, Beckett introduced him to Paul
Rakowski, a recently retired Secret Service agent, who had put in two decades protecting
presidents and foreign heads of state and had become regional manager of the agency's financial
crimes division. Rakowski told Dodd he had an idea for a new security business.
Dodd subsequently received a fax of a business plan for the new company. The sender's address
at the top of the fax, according to Dodd, read: "11/02/94 USSS Financial Crimes
Division/Forgery"—which suggested it had come from a Secret Service office. But Dodd was
reluctant to put in the start-up money for the enterprise, because he didn't know who all the
partners were. To impress him, Dodd says, Rakowski and his former Secret Service colleagues
began taking him and his friends on special tours of the White House. "This wasn't a White
House tour conducted by tour guides," he says. "They would take us…to areas that said 'Do not
pass this line.'"
At one point, Dodd says, a senior Secret Service agent named Joseph Masonis arranged for him to
tour a Secret Service facility. "To encourage me to invest in this company," Dodd notes, "they
all said 'why not go up to technical security headquarters [of the Secret Service] and you will
get an exclusive tour.'…They showed me everything....They were worried about someone flying way
up high in a plane, miles from the White House, jumping out of a plane, skydiving, popping the
chute and getting on the White House grounds without anybody knowing it. They were working on
the technology to pick that up." Dodd says he was blown away by what he saw. (Masonis says, "I
have never taken Mr. Dodd to any facility in D.C.") And at a waterfront party, Dodd says, he
was introduced to and deeply impressed by George Ferris, another Secret Service officer and an
expert in demolitions.
Eventually, Dodd says, he agreed to be the sole investor of the new firm, and he put up
$170,000, the first of what would be several loans at 15 percent interest. (His investment in
the firm, Dodd estimates, would grow to a total of $700,000.) The company was officially
launched in August 1995, named after Beckett and Sam Brown, a lawyer who helped get it started.
Rakowski, Masonis, and Ferris were officials in the firm.
Business was good. In early 1997, Beckett Brown provided security services for Bill Clinton's
second inauguration, landing a contract worth nearly $300,000. Early clients also included
Phillip Morris, Mary Kay, Browning-Ferris Industries, and Nichols-Dezenhall, a Washington-based
firm founded in 1987 by Nick Nichols and Eric Dezenhall that specialized in crisis
communications, particularly for corporations involved in biotechnology, product safety, and
environmental controversies. BBI provided protection for retired General Norman Schwarzkopf,
Dodd says, and there was talk it might also get a job to guard the Rolling Stones.
NEXT PAGE: "Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dumpsters in alley—take your pick."
By 1998, BBI had 22 employees working in five different divisions, along with subcontractors
that it hired as operatives. The company also looked abroad for new opportunities and recruited
more law enforcement and intelligence veterans. David Bresett, a former chief of the Secret
Service's foreign intelligence branch, joined the firm as a vice president. (A company
biography noted that Bresett, while detailed to the CIA, had directed the investigation that
identified the terrorists who blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.) The firm retained Vincent
Cannistraro, a former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, and earlier one of the
government officials responsible for overseeing U.S. support of the Nicaraguan contras, as a
consultant at $75,000 a year. "I did due diligence on a couple of customers," Cannistraro
recalls. On the advice of Cannistraro and Bresett, BBI turned down a $1 million job with the
Church of Scientology, according to Dodd. (Bresett did not respond to a message asking for
comment.) At one point, an employee named Tim Ward, who had been a sergeant in the Maryland
state police, traveled to Saudi Arabia for the company, according to Dodd.
Phil Giraldi, a former CIA officer, was also on the payroll. According to Giraldi, there was
not a lot of work for him and Cannistraro. "We would go to a company like Enron and see if they
had any issues if they were looking to acquire a company," he recalled. "See if the [company to
be acquired] is connected to the Russia mob. That's what we were selling. We were not very
successful." Giraldi left the firm in 1999. By then, he had become aware of the firm's more
unconventional activities: "Scooping garbage, trying to get penetrations of companies and
environmental groups. I didn't know a lot of the details." But, he says, he knew BBI was
"working on Greenpeace."
In 2000, the firm—which had changed its name to S2i after Richard Beckett left the company—was
targeting a group of activist organizations opposed to genetically engineered food that had
formed a coalition called GE Food Alert. In the fall of 2000, with these groups poised to
assail Taco Bell, S2i operatives got on the case.
Their thoughts soon turned to garbage.
On September 26, Jay Bly, a former Secret Service agent working for S2i, sent an email to Tim
Ward, the former Maryland state trooper on the payroll:
Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell
turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not
been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos.
Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the
initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7
dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere.
There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a
neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.
In this email, Bly explained the urgency and the goal: "Apparently there is an article or press
release due out next week and [Ketchum] would like some pre release information." He then
turned practical: "I want to send Sarah [another BBI employee] to site #1 for a job inquiry.
She can see how big the offices are and get the lay of the land. Maybe this will narrow the
field. If they have a job opening could she work there for two or three days to find out what's
going on?" The Friends of the Earth site, he noted, would be tougher to penetrate. As for the
garbage of GE Food Alert, Bly had a plan: "if we can get some help from our friends who ride
the truck. The alley is tight. I think the truck can drive down the alley but the container
probably is rolled out and dumped. Looks like one dumpster for the building. I'm sitting on the
building at 4:00 am tomorrow morning (if Ketchum gives us a budget)." And Bly noted that there
were other possible opportunities: "we have found some other affiliates with the above groups.
We are looking for their locations in [Washington, D.C.] and hopefully a more S2i friendly site."
The following day, Bly emailed Ward about his early morning surveillance:
Re: Dumpster Dive.
I got hold of Jim Daron [a Washington police officer working for BBI] yesterday. He was
supposed to do Vermont Ave and Penn Ave SE last night. I have not heard from him today—what's
new. I did 18th St. Weard [sic] set up—the dumpster is behind locked gates. The truck drives
down the alley and rings for the night guard to open the gate. The guard comes out, unlocks and
goes back into the building (probably pissed off because they woke him up), the guys walk the
bags out to the truck one at a time. When they finish they locked the gate behind them. There
was so much trash they had to compact the truck two times while they were there. I did not find
anything from the 5th floor, but the good news is it's doable.
On September 28,Ward responded:
Good news! Think that once Jim [Daron] calls you back we will know where we stand. If he
can't get in with the shield, it will be difficult at sight #1. I think #2 we can do
regardless. The issue is a hot one in general. I've been following it from here. Don't forget
our GP [Greenpeace] boy in Baltimore has been handling the work for GP. It may be worth a check
in the city. Maybe one of our BPD [Baltimore Police Department] guys can hit that one. When you
talk with the client push the fact that their client (the cheese people)…should put together a
trend tracking program for the future. The anti's now have found an exposed corporate target
and they will be back for more blood.
This email appears to suggests that the Beckett Brown operatives were considering using a
Washington police officer's badge to gain access to the garbage of the Center for Food Safety.
And Ward was apparently hoping that Beckett Brown could persuade Ketchum to hire the company to
monitor the ongoing activity of the activists opposed to genetically-engineered food.
These emails do not indicate whether Beckett Brown succeeded in scooping valuable intelligence
from the garbage at these three sites. But Beckett Brown had already managed to penetrate the
anti-GE food network. In a 1999 report to Ketchum—entitled "Intelligence Analysis for Dow
Global Trends Tracking Team" —BBI described in detail a strategy session held by 35
representatives of various environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, US PIRG, the Union
of Concerned Scientists, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The report noted
the targets the coalition was considering (Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, the Grocery Manufacturers of
America) and listed various tactics the group had discussed. Such strategy meetings of this
coalition were confidential, according to Dale Wiehoff of the Institute for Agriculture and
Neither Bly nor Ward would discuss this series of emails or any of the work they did for
Beckett Brown or S2i. "Legally, I can't tell you anything about what the company did," Ward
says. He accuses Dodd of trying to "besmirch the names of the people involved" in the company.
Rakowski, Daron, and Beckett did not reply to requests for comments. Nor did Ketchum. A
spokesman for Kraft says, "After a review of our historical procurement files, we have no
record of work on or about Sept. 26, 2000, with either Ketchum, Beckett Brown International or
S2i. In the late '90s, Ketchum provided some PR services to Kraft for one of our coffee brands.
However, Ketchum does not currently provide PR services to Kraft and has not done so for many
Time and again, according to Beckett Brown records, the firm looked to trash for intelligence.
These trash runs at one point did raise concern within the company. In 1998, David Queen, a
senior vice president, sent Rakowski a memo about "dumpster diving." Queen, a former deputy
assistant secretary of the treasury and once a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, noted that in
certain instances searching trash could raise "some troublesome issues," including possible
violation of state trespass laws and "possible violation of trade secrets laws." He concluded,
"If BBI expects to use this method of information gathering, it would be prudent to get the
opinion of outside counsel which could be relied upon by BBI should there be future litigation
directed against BBI."
Whether or not BBI sought counsel, the dumpster diving continued. In November 1999, according
to company documents, Jay Bly traveled to St. Augustine, Florida, to meet with a private
detective. He told the investigator that BBI wanted to obtain garbage from the offices of
Whetstone Chocolates, a locally based candy manufacturer. (According to BBI billing records,
BBI at the time was working for Nichols-Dezenhall on a "Nestle Project-Florida." At press time,
Nestle had not responded to a request for comment.) This private investigator and another local
gumshoe then tracked the garbage men who made pick-ups at Whetstone and tried to persuade one
of the drivers to turn over the trash from Whetstone. The trash collectors wouldn't cooperate.
A month later, another private investigator apparently attempted to grab the garbage himself.
He sent Bly a fax reporting, "We made a pickup run on December 23,1999 as requested. We were
unable to enter the area where the dumpster is located as there appeared to [be] a company
party taking place in the break area located in front of the dumpster. We remained in the area
for a short time, however, the party continued and we departed the area." A December 1, 1999,
BBI briefing paper on a "Nichols-Dezenhall/St. Augustine Project" reported on activities within
Whetstone and said that "BBI now has operative in place."
Eric Dezenhall says that he cannot identify clients or vendors with which his firm worked. But
he notes in an email that he never saw the briefing paper referring to a BBI operative and
Whetstone and that "we would not have been involved in any infiltration operation." He adds,
"Nichols-Dezenhall Communications never authorized, directed, or was informed of unethical or
illegal activities by forensic investigators employed on any project we have worked on. With
regard to our work on matters in which we were teamed with investigators, we are aware only of
information-gathering through public records checks and other legitimate means." Dezenhall says
that "any use of an 'operative' to infiltrate a company…would be counter to our business
interests and any information gathered in that manner would be unusable in court." (In 2003,
Dezenhall bought out Nichols and renamed the company Dezenhall Resources. "Our client base and
employees from the 1990s have turned over almost entirely," Dezenhall says. According to a
source familiar with the firm's current operations, the company has moved away from handling
corporations involved in environmental controversies.) Another target of BBI's trash men was
Fenton Communications, the liberal PR firm headed by David Fenton that for years has assisted
environmental causes. On December 8, 1999, a BBI operative, according to an internal report,
"sat surveillance" at Fenton's Washington home, beginning at 2:50 am. In the report, the
operative noted the time of the morning garbage pick-up and that he returned to the office to
"sort material" and "analyze." BBI ran background checks on both Fenton and his then-wife. The
company's files contained photographs of their house as well as client lists, billing
information, and personnel information from Fenton Communications. Between July 1998 and
February 2001, Fenton says, his firm experienced several break-ins, during which boxes of files
and two laptops were stolen. The culprits were never caught.
NEXT PAGE: "It was Mission Impossible-like."
Greenpeace was the target of one of BBI's more elaborate—and cinematic—intelligence-gathering
efforts, according to company documents and an interview with an eyewitness. Jennifer Trapnell,
who was dating Ward in the late 1990s, recalls an evening when she accompanied Ward on a job in
Washington D.C. "He said they were trying to get some stuff on Greenpeace," she says. Ward wore
black clothes and had told her to dress all in black, too: "It was Mission Impossible-like." In
Washington, Ward parked his truck in an alley, she remembers, and told her to stay in the truck
and keep a lookout. In the alley, he met a couple of other men, whose faces Trapnell did not
see clearly. Ward was talking on a walkie-talkie with others, and they all walked off. About an
hour later, the men came back and placed two trash bags in Ward's car. Trapnell says she didn't
know what they did with the bags—and Ward never explained. In addition to Ward's work, on
several occasions in 2000, Jim Daron, the Washington cop who also worked for BBI, submitted
reports to BBI for surveillance of Greenpeace's offices.
BBI gathered numerous internal Greenpeace documents, including financial reports. It also
obtained the instructions for using the security system at Greenpeace's offices. And the
Greenpeace files at BBI included a handwritten document that appears to record attempts to
crack the security codes on entry doors with notations such as "codes do not match" and "open."
BBI prepared reports on Greenpeace—based on "confidential sources"—for Ketchum. In at least one
case, according to Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace (who reviewed these reports
at Mother Jones' request), a BBI report written for Ketchum contained information tightly held
within the group about planned upcoming events. And a December 2, 1999 BBI report (which does
not mention Ketchum) noted that Greenpeace had chosen Kellogg's, Kraft, and Quaker as "their
main targets in the GE campaign," that it was developing a campaign tactic called "Food-Aid
Expose" (which would highlight the export of genetically-modified foods to other countries),
and that it was helping a Wall Street Journal reporter track food companies involved in the
debate over genetically-engineered foods.
Over the years, Greenpeace has repeatedly been the target of public relations firms working for
industry, and the group has experienced burglaries and caught would-be spies posing as students
seeking employment. But Greenpeace officials say they did not know that their organization was
under surveillance during that period of time.
In the late 1990s, Greenpeace was working with environmental groups in the stretch of Louisiana
dubbed "Cancer Alley," organizing against various forms of industry pollution. Its work there
and that of its Louisiana partners became another target for BBI. In 1998, according to BBI
emails, correspondence, and records, BBI retained Mary Lou Sapone, a self-described "research
consultant," who recruited a paid operative in Louisiana to infiltrate an environmental group
called CLEAN. Sapone had something of a talent for infiltrating activist groups. In the late
1980s, working for a security firm called Perceptions International, which was, in turn,
working for the U.S. Surgical Corporation, she penetrated a Connecticut-based animal-rights
group, gathering evidence on an activist who would later serve jail time for planting a pipe
bomb near the parking space of the company's CEO. The activist would eventually accused Sapone
of coaxing her into the plot.
Sapone's operative in Louisiana relayed to her information on what the local enviros were
planning, provided gossip on the internal rivalries, and identified the scientists aiding the
groups. She passed the intelligence to BBI. In an August 20, 1998 "client briefing," BBI
boasted that "our operative is being nominated to the citizen action panels for local
industries" and it asked which local industry Condea Vista, the chemical manufacturing firm,
would prefer the operative to focus on. (The previous year, Condea Vista had lost a lawsuit
brought by the residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, against the company for the 1994 ethylene
dichloride leak and had been slapped with a $7 million judgment.) Another BBI document noted,
"The operative has been trained to be inquiring, but not participatory. Operatives are not
allowed to offer suggestions or `help' targets in any way. They are trained to seek documents,
ID friends and foe legislators and regulators, follow money trails, ID informants, discover
BBI produced detailed confidential reports for Ketchum on the environmental activism underway
in Louisiana. And BBI records indicate that the firm worked for Nichols-Dezenhall on a "Condea
Vista Project." Citing "strict confidentiality agreements," Dezenhall will not say whether his
firm worked with Condea Vista (or any other company), but he notes in an email, "It would be
extremely damaging and wrong…to interpret or portray the term 'operative,' a generic term often
used by investigators and former law enforcement types to mean an individual, as implying
someone necessarily engaged in illicit actions such as corporate espionage." (Sapone did not
respond to a message requesting comment.)
Penetrating a citizens group was not a new endeavor for BBI. In 1996 and 1997 in northern
California, where Browning-Ferris Industries was engaged in a battle over the future of a
garbage dump, BBI conducted what its records labeled "covert monitoring" and "intelligence
gathering" on the North Valley Coalition, a citizens group opposed to the Browning-Ferris
project. In September 1997, BBI received a payment of $198,881.05 from BFI.
NEXT PAGE: The firm's Obama connection.
BBI fell apart in 2001 amid arguments over the company's finances. "It was not a happy
company," says Phil Giraldi, the ex-CIA man who had worked there, adding, "I have worked for a
number of security companies. Some are ethical, some are not. Beckett Brown was not especially
so." When the company was collapsing, Dodd says, he heard that document shredding was underway
in its offices, and one weekend he went to the offices and carted off scores of cartons stuffed
BBI's demise led to a lawsuit. Dodd sued Rakowski, Ward, Bly and two others, claiming they had
engaged in fraud. In a pretrial statement, Dodd accused them of having "dipped into the
Company's coffers for generous salaries, commissions, bonuses, loans, benefits and unsupported
expense reimbursements, all the while presenting false and misleading financial information" to
Dodd. In 2005, after a month-long trial in Maryland's Talbot County Circuit Court, Dodd lost.
He now was out the $700,000 he had invested in the company. By his own estimate, he had spent
over a million dollars in legal fees. And he was mad. He claims that he only learned of the
firm's sleazier actions after the company imploded and that his lawyers encouraged him not to
raise that issue as part of his lawsuit. But after the trial was done, Dodd began contacting
some of BBI's targets and shared its records with them. "I wanted the facts to come out," he
says. "I feel terrible that my money was used to screw these people over."
Today, boxes and boxes of BBI records sit in warehouse space Dodd rents. Dodd has not gone
through all of the material. (The records include internal and confidential financial reports
of a local bank that had been the subject of a takeover.) Much of what BBI did remains a
mystery to Dodd. A law firm representing the Mars candy corporation pored over all the records,
according to Dodd and his lawyer, apparently in search of evidence that Mars had been the
target of corporate espionage. (The files contain records indicating that BBI obtained
information on the phone calls made by a PR man working with Mars.) Then Dodd heard nothing
further from this law firm. Dodd says he would be delighted to testify before Congress about
BBI—but no one has invited him to do so.
As for BBI's principals, they are still operating. Tim Ward now runs a security firm called
Chesapeake Strategies, which bills itself as "a multinational security and investigative firm
comprised of professionals with extensive security experience." Jay Bly works there. Its
website boasts that it maintains affiliated offices in Paris, Beijng, Tokyo, Qatar, and Kuwait
and that "many team members continue to hold Secret and Top Secret government security
clearances." The firm has been active in protecting research facilities from animal-rights
activists. In 2002, it won a contract from the General Services Administration "for
recreational, hospitality, law enforcement, facilities, industrial and environmental services
and products." It was listed on a 2005 line-up of Defense Department contractors. "I don't have
any comment about what I am currently doing or what I plan to do," Ward says.
Joseph Masonis works for the Annapolis Group, a security firm. Its website notes that the
company's managing directors "have over forty-five years of combined experience with the United
States Secret Service." Paul Rakowski married Amy DiGeso, who was CEO of Mary Kay when BBI
worked for the cosmetics firm. (Currently, she is a top executive at Estee Lauder.) Rakowski's
current occupation—if he has one—is not publicly known.
Richard Beckett is now CEO of Maryland-based Global Security Services, which, according to its
website, offers clients a "suite of business solutions" that includes "intelligence services,"
"disaster management," "information systems security," and "paramilitary operations." Last
year, his firm provided bodyguards to Senator Barack Obama.
James Ridgeway is Mother Jones' Senior Washington Correspondent.
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