MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian Coal Companies Used Spies To Infiltrate Group Of Activists

Published by MAC on 2014-06-04
Source: ThinkProgress, Sydney Morning Herald

For a previous article on MAC: A Cop out in the Coal

Australian Coal Companies Used Spies To Infiltrate Group Of Activists

By Will Freeman


3 June 2014

Two Australian coal companies have been exposed for hiring former soldiers and intelligence officers to spy on anti-coal protests in New South Wales, according to revelations published by the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.

In an episode reminiscent of the Canadian government's use of spies to sabotage environmental groups, mining companies Idemitsu Australia Resources and Whitehaven Coal allegedly hired private spies to infiltrate a network of local farmers, aboriginal groups, and environmental activists that has been actively protesting the Boggabri mine and blockading construction sites near Maules Creek since December, where Whitehaven Coal is currently in the process of building a $767 million open-cut coal mine.

A little over 200 miles northeast of Newcastle, Australia, the Maules Creek mine is the largest coal mine currently under construction in the country. When it's finished, it will emit the same amount of carbon pollution per year as the entire nation of New Zealand. The mine is expected to operate for 30 years.

In interviews with Fairfax Media, the undercover agents revealed they were employed by the Centre for Intelligence and Risk Management (CIRM), a private intelligence firm run by Tony Groves, a former Australian military intelligence officer. The Idemitsu mining company  openly admits it contracted CIRM in order to gather information about protesters. For five months, the firm's undercover operatives pretended they were anti-coal activists and used fake names, secretly sending detailed field reports back to CIRM relaying sensitive information about  protest leaders and plans of action.

The spying "could fall foul of provisions in the corporations, consumer and privacy laws," Barbara MacDonald, a law professor at Sydney University, told the Sydney Morning Herald, particularly if "someone had acted on the deception to the material detriment" of those being spied on. Given the information that has recently come to light, Idemitsu and Whitehaven Coal could be charged with seriously violating Australian law.

Both the Boggabri and Maules Creek mines have stirred up considerable controversy among locals and international environmental groups alike, who claim the large scale mining projects will exacerbate already intense effects of climate change in Australia. The past few years have seen record high temperatures and several extreme weather events in the nation, such as droughts and increasingly severe wildfires in the Australian bush.

Despite these warning signs, the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dismantled much of the country's progressive environmental legislation and, as leader of the G20 summit, argued that climate change should be excluded from the meeting's agenda. Greg Hunt, Abbott's Minister of the Environment since 2013, gave the green light to Whitehaven Coal to proceed with construction of the Maules Creek mine despite mounting evidence that the coal industry is endangering public health.

The Hazelwood coal mine fire in Victoria, which burned for 45 days starting in early February, forced residents to evacuate 750 homes due to toxic coal dust, and trains carrying coal have caused communities to suffer increased health issues. If the Maules Creek mine is finished, it will release nearly 20 thousand tons of dust into the surrounding area, causing severe health problems and destroying fields of crops.

A coalition of local farmers and aboriginal groups, concerned that the Maules Creek mine will bring a similarly devastating tide of environmental degradation to their communities, have actively resisted the construction project for over six months. Farmers fear the impact of drought on their livelihood, as the mine threatens to drain up to seven meters from the water table in the area. The Gomeroi people, an aboriginal group and the traditional owners of the land, will see destruction of sacred sites and historical artifacts if the mine is completed.

Over the months, a group of doctors and medical students, dubbed Medics Against Coal, and religious leaders from several faiths joined in the protests as well. Since December, police have made over 120 arrests, even detaining a 92-year-old World War Two veteran for his participation in the protests.

Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.

Idemitsu admits it hired contractors in coal spies operation

Tom Allard, National Affairs Editor

Sydney Morning Herald

3 June 2014

Mining company Idemitsu Australia Resources has admitted it contracted two companies at the centre of the extraordinary operation to use spies to infiltrate protesters opposed to the expansion of coal mining in northern NSW.

The admission follows revelations in Fairfax Media on Monday of the clandestine but bungled operation. Several of the private intelligence operatives were uncovered by the activists.

As revealed on Monday, the Centre for Intelligence and Risk Management handled the infiltration, in which former military and intelligence officers pretended they were anti-coal activists, sending field reports back to CIRM about what they saw and heard.

It has since emerged that CIRM was working for C5 Management Solutions, a Canberra-based security consultancy headed by former Australian Federal Police officer Tyrone Clark.

C5 Management Solutions oversaw the hiring of the private intelligence operatives, requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Strongs Security Services is Idemitsu's security contractor at its coal mine at Boggabri.

"Idemitsu has contracted Strongs Security and C5 Management Solutions to provide security services and advice," the company's chief operating officer Rod Bridges said in a statement released late on Monday.

"Both contracts require that these firms will carry out their services pursuant to the law and all applicable regulations."

In a later interview, Mr Bridges said: ''How they found out all this information [about the protesters' activities] ... Well we didn't ask questions."

Mr Bridges said he had little knowledge about Strongs Security despite the lucrative security contract it was awarded about six months ago, although he believed it was headed by an "ex-French foreign legionnaire".

Strongs Security Services, which has no listed telephone number, is owned by Tovegram Pty Ltd, which is owned by James Scott Ainslie Brown.

Fairfax emailed questions to C5 Management Professional Solutions on Sunday and spoke briefly to Mr Clark on Monday morning. Mr Clark promised to call back but never did.

Mr Bridges said he was unaware that the security firms were using spies for hire.

"I was pretty shocked by what I saw in the newspaper," he said, adding that he had not made inquiries with Strongs Security and C5 Management Solutions after reading Fairfax's report "on legal advice".

The spying by the private firm could be illegal if the deception caused material detriment to those who were tricked.

Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek development is also the subject of protest action as it will see massive clearing of the ecologically unique Leard State Forest.

Its security contractor is Verifact, owned by former World Cup winning Wallaby Dan Crowley.

"We are not involved in any way," Mr Crowley said.

However, a senior Verifact insider - who asked not to be identified - said the company was aware of the spying "in dispatches".

Mr Bridges said the "increasingly aggressive and dangerous" actions of activists - known as the Leard Forest Alliance - required high level security.

"These people have a right to their viewpoint. They do not have a right to break the law and put personal safety at risk for the sake of publicity and to interrupt a legitimate business.''

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace, which supports the environmentalists and local landowners who oppose the coal expansion in northern NSW, said: "All the activists at that camp take their safety and the safety of others very seriously."

"Idemitsu itself has a poor safety record," she said. "Rather than spending money to spy on others, they should use the money for their own safety training."

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