Oscar Wilde once described the traditional English gentleman’s pastime of fox hunting as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”
I thought of that great line when I caught news that Monsanto, probably the globe’s most reviled agribusiness firm, had contracted the services of Blackwater, the globe’s most notorious “private security” (i.e., paramilitary) firm.
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation‘s ace investigative journalist who has been dogging Blackwater and breaking news on the shadowy company for years, has the goods. Monsanto hired the company in 2008, Scahill reports.
Before we dig into the story, let’s establish that by 2008, Blackwater had proven itself to be a really, really dodgy company. Blackwater first became famous in 2003, soon after the start of the war in Iraq, when the company flooded the country with armed contractors at the invitation of the Bush administration, which had multiple ties to Blackwater’s right-wing founder, the wealthy heir Erik Prince. Blackwater quickly involved itself in a long string of violent incidents, including the killing of 17 unarmed civilians in 2007 in Iraq. By then, the company’s trigger-happy gunmen had become involved in the war in Afghanistan and even in post-Katrina New Orleans.
The 2007 atrocity in Iraq wrecked the company’s reputation, forcing it change its name to the unpronounceable Xe and break into what The New York Times recently called “a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries [created] in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts.” (None of this has stopped the Obama administration from continuing to work with Blackwater and its shell companies; last year, Scahill reported that Blackwater was on the ground in Pakistan on a U.S. contract.)
Into this unsavory milieu stepped Monsanto in 2008, Scahill reports. The agribusiness giant was one of a group of transnationals — others include Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays — that hired a Blackwater shell company called “Total Intelligence Solutions” for overseas services.
In an email obtained by Scahill, a Blackwater operative who had talked to Monsato officials ahead of the hiring claimed that the security firm would “develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto” — including infiltrating activist groups working to oppose it. The operative wrote hopefully of Monsato’s “generous protection budget.”
A Monsanto official told Scahill that the relationship ended in early in 2010 and denied that there were ever plans to infiltrate activist groups. Instead, he said, Blackwater served Monsanto “by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information.” Scahill adds: “The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning the content of activist blogs and websites.”
I can confirm that Monsanto likes to keep a close eye on blogs and websites. Back in 2005, I got my break as a food-politics writer after a Monsanto lawyer slapped my blog, with its all of 30 readers, with a cease-and-desist letter.