1 December 2020
PROJECT CENSORED — The agricultural giant Monsanto — which the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer acquired in 2018 — created an “intelligence fusion center” in order to “monitor and discredit” journalists and activists, Sam Levin reported for the Guardian in August 2019.
Levin wrote that Monsanto “adopted a multi-pronged strategy” to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who had reported on the likelihood of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer causing cancer. Monsanto also monitored a nonprofit organization focused on the food industry, US Right to Know, and the Twitter account of musician Neil Young, a prominent critic of Monsanto. An ongoing legal case over the dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer led to disclosure of the internal documents. As Levin reported, company communications “add fuel to the ongoing claims that Monsanto has ‘bullied’ critics and scientists and worked to conceal the dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.”
Monsanto’s internal communications documented how the company planned a series of “actions” to attack the credibility of Gillam’s 2017 book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, by providing “talking points” for “third parties” and explaining to “industry and farmer customers” how to post negative book reviews; how the company paid Google to promote search results for “Monsanto Glyphosate Carey Gillam” that criticized her work; and how it considered placing pressure on Reuters, where Gillam had worked for seventeen years, to “push back on her editors” in hopes that she would be “reassigned.”
After musician Neil Young released a 2015 album titled The Monsanto Years, Monsanto’s fusion center also produced reports on Young’s public criticism of the company, and the center evaluated the album’s lyrics “to develop a list of 20+ potential topics he may target.”
The revealed documents show that Monsanto considered legal action against Young.
According to the LinkedIn page of one person identified as a manager of Monsanto’s “global intelligence and investigations,” the fusion center included a team “responsible for the collection and analysis of criminal, activist/extremist, geo-political and terrorist activities affecting company operations across 160 countries,” the Guardian reported.
Noting that government-run fusion centers have “increasingly raised privacy concerns surrounding the way law enforcement agencies collect data, surveil citizens and share information,” the Guardian quoted Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who distinguished between corporations monitoring legitimate criminal threats, such as cyberattacks, and “corporations levering their money to investigate people who are engaging in their first amendment rights.” […]