Since Spying to Benefit Monsanto Is Not Industrial Espionage, It’s Okay

One of the examples I often raise to show how our government likely uses SIGINT to advantage specific businesses is the way the government helps Monsanto budge into markets uninterested in its products.

One WikiLeaks cable showed the US embassy in Paris planned a “military-style trade war” to benefit Monsanto.

I pointed out that WikiLeaks had revealed that our diplomats had proposed a “military-style trade war” to force Europeans to adopt Monsanto’s controversial products.

The US embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country which opposed genetically modified (GM) crops, newly released WikiLeaks cables show.

In response to moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007, the ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of former US president George Bush, asked Washington to penalise the EU and particularly countries which did not support the use of GM crops.

“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.

“The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” said Stapleton, who with Bush co-owned the St Louis-based Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s.

I have suggested these diplomatic warriors for Monsanto likely relied on intelligence collected by the NSA.

Which is apparently what this 2004 document — described in Laura Poitras and James Risen’s latest describing spying on American law firms — seems to suggest.

Other documents obtained from Mr. Snowden reveal that the N.S.A. shares reports from its surveillance widely among civilian agencies. A 2004 N.S.A. document, for example, describes how the agency’s intelligence gathering was critical to the Agriculture Department in international trade negotiations.

“The U.S.D.A. is involved in trade operations to protect and secure a large segment of the U.S. economy,” that document states. Top agency officials “often rely on SIGINT” — short for the signals intelligence that the N.S.A. eavesdropping collects — “to support their negotiations.”

If they’re using SIGINT for “negotiations,” then they’d surely use it for “military-style” campaigns to “target retaliation” against countries trying to resist a product, wouldn’t they?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. Frank33 says:

    If they’re using SIGINT for “negotiations,” then they’d surely use it for “military-style” campaigns to “target retaliation” against countries trying to resist a product, wouldn’t they?

    The Spymasters are revealing a lot of classified secrets to their Big Business allies. Big Business and the NSA/CIA are one and the same. They would love to use “military style” campaigns against anyone who resists United States products. They being, the Secret Governments of the Five Eyes, and products being anything that benefits the One Percent. That especially includes the targets in the Ninety Nine Percent who resist the most profitable product of the One Percent, Wars.

    But the products of Monsanto, poisons and carcinogens are also protected and included in military style campaigns with great enthusiasm by Hayden and Clapper and Alexander. Sadly General Petraeus can no longer help his fellow Generals pollute the world with wars and pesticides.

    The civilian agencies of the United States Government do not represent the people, but rather they represent the corporations that carry out soft or hard genocide. Their NSA and CIA and Five Eyes are targeting the rest of us useless feeders.

    Of course with respect to the European Union, “Fuck the EU” as Vickie Nuland Kagan says. And that is not “Fuck” in a good way. The Europeans must start poisonong their soil, and water, just as Monsanto demands. Vickie has been promoted to being an Empire Builder in the Ukraine. Vickie has been promoted again and again, as she fails in bigger and bigger projects.

    I myself, when I drive my car, I do brake for animals. However I do not break for Kagans or Haydens. If a Kagan or a Hayden runs in front of my car, that Kagan or Hayden becomes road kill.

  2. chetnolian says:

    Really takes me back to the days of the Iron Curtain when us Brits regularly assumed, and sometimes proved, that our team chats in such as Poland and Czechoslovakia were overheard during negotiations. We thought it mean and underhand and of course we knew our friends would never do that. During the 1990s and just beyond I was involved in negotiations with, and sometimes against, US businesses. On occasions we didn’t know quite why we lost. Now I think I might just know. Another fond assumption gone west!

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A foreigner “trying to resist a[n American] product”. Next to terrorism, communism, and being non-aligned, it’s the world’s greatest sin. At least according to the USG and its corporate patrons.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @chetnolian: As you know, it is a global passion, not just something cooked up by the Ruskies to defeat the old, “super secret” Berlin phone tunnel.

    The Chinese regularly use surveillance in connection with business negotiations, as reputedly do the Japanese. First class airline seats are presumed to be bugged by the national carrier. Hotel rooms frequented by high-end business guests often are, as are conference and meeting rooms. The US has apparently known about many of the conversations held at UN headquarters for decades. But the USG’s passion for selling the products of its patron corporations seems to have moved up orders of magnitude in intensity.

    As Frank33 says, Monsanto’s products are especially ruinous to normal farming and the environment. Their business methods make Walmart seem friendly. They assert, for example, “ownership” over their patented seeds and any plant their gm genes enter, which can bankrupt a traditional farmer whose fields lie downwind of fields planted with Monsanto products. Their litigation conduct makes taser int’l, and oil and tobacco companies look downright neighborly. Monsanto is a poster child for the harm that comes from combining wealth, arrogance, the ethics of a bankster, and the backing of a strong government.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I found the following quote by Duane Layton, cited in the Poitras and Risen story, to be hilarious. Mr. Layton is apparently a partner working in Mayer Brown’s DC office and is heading the team representing the Indonesian government in trade talks with the US. Mayer Brown is a large, powerful, multi-city law firm headquartered in Chicago.

    In that gig, Mr. Layton would know that the CIA has been intimately involved in domestic Indonesian politics and politics-cum-business since Sukarno became the first president of an independent Indonesia in 1947. (The most notable examples would be the debacle in East Timor and coup attempts in 1958 and 1965, the latter involving several hundred thousand deaths.) He would also know that Indonesia is intensely populated, is the most populous Muslim state, boasts considerable mineral wealth and other natural resources (much of it extracted by US, Chinese and Japanese companies), and lies astride some of the world’s most important shipping lanes. His quote:

    “I always wonder if someone is listening, because you would have to be an idiot not to wonder in this day and age,” he said in an interview. “But I’ve never really thought I was being spied on.”

    With that comment, Mr. Layton could be doing his Sam Ervin imitation (I’m just a lil’ ol’ country lawyer – and a Harvard Law School-trained Senator). Mr. Layton could be hoping to join the State Dept., or he could be entirely self-obsessed. But if he really believed that last bit about not being spied on, Mayer Brown needs a new head for its Indonesian team.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: if I’m Brazil or any number of African countries, it’s enough to know they’re using the spying on Ag rules anyway (especially since some of our biggest competition agriculturally are the countries that can’t do anywhere near as much spying as we do).

    But the Monsanto one is the one that has always bugged me. It’s got it all for the US: captive customers, IP police, and dependence,

  7. orionATL says:

    i keep wondering and speculating about why the obi one and his gang are so protective of the nsa and so resistant to even reasonable changes.

    now i’m offered another opportunity to guess:

    “national secirity” is the feint and the aegis. the real interest to power of nsa’s technology may be its ability to boost american business competition, its aid to american diplomatic initiatives involving natural resources and raw materials, and its value to nationwide domestic policing.

  8. Morris Minor says:

    Why don’t I get access to this kind of inside trade info? I paid my taxes. Reserving this info for the big boys is Socialism. Put up an auction site!

  9. john francis lee says:

    This is all just testament to the corruption of the essential fabric of our society by the spying and secrecy of the NSA. Kill the NSA. This afternoon.

    It can always get worse and in this case it can only get worse.

    We need a corporate death penalty as well … and Monsanto has been crying out “Kill me, kill me! Before I kill again!” for years.

    Or we can just sit by and watch our country self-destruct.

  10. dustbunny44 says:

    “If they (X…) then they could surely (Y…), and probably did.”

    That is surely the justification process used by our spy culture, both towards its targets and towards those who “leaked” evidence of their lies. They absolutely have to be judged by these same criteria. I don’t know what will lead us (back?) to a sane spy culture, or even what that means, but I know we don’t have one now.

  11. orionATL says:

    the fundamental question i have about the value of this american commercial espionage is this:

    does one drive a better bargain or best competitors best by listening to their conversations?

    or does one do better when basing one’s competitive responses on costs, market importance, likely growth, regulatory impasses, taxes, incentives, bribes, and the like?

    i would ask an analagous question of the u.s. spying corp:

    does one make better security decisions based on overheard conversations?

    or on research and analysis of political, ethnic, military, ideological information?

    the answer, of course, is both. but what if data collection and analysis is ignored or overshadowed by electronic evesdropping?

    furthermore, will not deliberate misdirection in conversation become an established tactic for those suspicious of being surveilled?

    the golden days of electronic spying ended beginning in june, 2013.

  12. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Right. I increasingly believe one of many reasons why the US never learns about the cultures of people we’re interacting with is we don’t have to “listen” because someone else is doing it for us, and as a result don’t actually hear what the other party’s interests are.

  13. C says:

    Just to play Devil’s advocate, is there evidence from this document that the NSA released data to this or just that an idiotic and politically-selected “diplomant” expected them to do so?

  14. C says:

    Leaving aside the NSA connection this illustrates the vast disconnect between at least that “diplomat” and the American People. Americans are in general dubious about or even opposed to GMO products and yet the government rather than defending that principle seeks to force other people to take them. Sickening.

  15. DH says:

    While I detest both the NSA overreach as well as the GM farming lobby (and Monsanto in particular) I find it hard to see the obvious NSA link here. Individual country opposition to GMOs within the EU is extremely easy to find and indeed has been very openly debated. For several years GMO approvals in the EU were typically blocked by countries such as Denmark, Greece, Austria, Greece and France. This is not NSA-info. Having said that there is little doubt NSA is being used also for purposes of industrial espionage to benefit US commercial interests.

  16. Norma says:

    I don’t think Wikipedia is the right reference. It’s a suspicious site, right from it’s onset. And ESPECIALLY, since the website, goes in and changes information, that is quite valid. The information is changed their way, they way they want, NOT the truth!.

  17. PJ London says:

    “I will use the full power of the CIA and the U.S. military to steal the resources of any country who opposes the intrusion of Wall Street bankers, oil magnates and transnational corporations.
    a 1992 internal government document entitled “Defense Planning Guidance,” authored by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (CFR) and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (CFR), which contemplated the use of military force against any nation the conspirators perceived to be hostile against their interests.

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