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2012-02-28

WikiLeaks: "Private Spies" Stratfor Helped Dow Chemical Monitor Bhopal Activists, The Yes Men

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Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor reveal the chemical industrial giant Dow Chemical closely followed the work of activists around the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster, the 1984 gas leak that killed anywhere between 3,500 and 25,000 people. Of particular interest to Dow was the group, The Yes Men, the anti-corporate pranksters who pulled off a famous 2004 hoax that led the world to believe Dow had finally taken responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy. "With us, they were carefully paying attention to every move that we were making publicly, especially anything to do with Dow and Bhopal," says Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men. "What surprised us in those emails, though, was that we would have assumed that Dow would be really concerned with the exact issue of Bhopal and Dow’s responsibility, stuff that could directly impact their bottom line. But what Sratfor seems to be really a bit obsessed with is whether we or other organizations are going to draw this into a bigger critique of corporate power." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the issue of Dow Corporation and The Yes Men. We’re joined by Andy Bichlbaum. His real name, Jacques Servin. It’s good to have you with us, as well as Kristinn in London. Andy, explain what you understand, what these emails, I assume you have read carefully, that Dow has—that have been released from this Stratfor release.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Mm-hmm. Well, the emails that were about us, the monitoring of us, was, I think, what Kristinn would call low-grade information. It was obtainable from news sources and tweets and information about our college appearances and stuff that anybody paying a lot of attention could have seen. There was nothing like the, you know, psychological and sexual control emails that are really sinister that came out of Stratfor or the insider trading with Goldman Sachs that’s clearly illegal. With us, it was just—they were carefully paying attention to every move that we were making publicly, especially anything to do with Dow and Bhopal.

What surprised us in those emails, though, was that what—we would have assumed that Dow would be really concerned with the exact issue of Bhopal and Dow’s responsibility, stuff that could directly impact their bottom line. But what they—what Stratfor seems to be really a bit obsessed with is whether we or other organizations are going to draw this into a bigger critique of corporate power. There’s at least four long email exchanges about this, in which different Stratfor people, vice presidents and others, debate why we haven’t actually brought it into a much bigger issue. They—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain quickly what you did and why you became the target of Stratfor.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Right. We went—we went onto the BBC at—we were accidentally invited by the BBC in 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you set up a website.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: We set up a website in 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was called what?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: DowChemical.com, DowEthics.com. There were two of them. And we set that up in 2002, publicized it. It got into Google, and then—or whatever the search engine was at the time. And in 2004, a BBC researcher stumbled onto our site instead of the real Dow site and invited us accidentally to speak on behalf of Dow Chemical Corporation on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: So this was 2004.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Four.

AMY GOODMAN: And you went on—how did you identify yourself?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: As Jude Finisterra.

AMY GOODMAN: Finisterra?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Finisterra, end of the world, end of the earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Finisterra, end of the earth.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Finisterra, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, I want to go to that clip on BBC, December 3rd, 2004, 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. Andy Bichlbaum of Yes Men, posing as a Dow Chemical spokesperson, appears on BBC World News. You were in Paris at the time, right? In a Paris studio?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Identifying yourself as Jude Finisterra. Bichlbaum says—well, you get to hear what he has to say in this SOT.

BBC WORLD NEWS: Well, joining us live from Paris now is Jude Finisterra. He’s a spokesman for Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide.

Good morning to you. A day of commemoration in Bhopal. Do you now accept responsibility for what happened?

JUDE FINISTERRA: Steve, yes. Today is a great day for all of us at Dow and, I think, for millions of people around the world, as well. It’s 20 years since the disaster. And today I’m very, very happy to announce that for the first time Dow is accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe.

We have a $12 billion plan to finally, at long last, fully compensate the victims, including the 120,000 who may need medical care for their entire lives, and to fully and swiftly remediate the Bhopal plant site.

Now, when we acquired Union Carbide three years ago, we knew what we were getting, and it’s worth $12 billion. $12 billion. We have resolved to liquidate Union Carbide, this nightmare for the world and this headache for Dow, and use the $12 billion to provide more than $500 per victim, which is all that they’ve seen, a maximum of just about $500 per victim. It is not "plenty good for an Indian," as one of our spokespersons unfortunately said a couple of years ago. In fact, it pays for one year of medical care. We will adequately compensate the victims.

Furthermore, we will perform a full and complete remediation of the Bhopal site, which, as you mentioned, has not been cleaned up. When Union Carbide abandoned the site 20 years ago, or 16 years ago, they left tons of toxic waste, which continues—the site continues to be used as a playground by children. Water continues to be drunk from the groundwater underneath. It’s a mess, Steve, and we at Dow—

BBC WORLD NEWS: It’s a mess, certainly, Jude. That’s good news that you have finally accepted responsibility. Some people would say too late. It’s three years—

JUDE FINISTERRA: Yes.

BBC WORLD NEWS: —almost four years on. How soon is your money going to make a difference to the people in Bhopal?

JUDE FINISTERRA: Well, as soon as we can get it to them, Steve. We’ve begun the process of liquidating Union Carbide. This is, as you mentioned, late, but it’s the only thing we can do. When we acquired Union Carbide, we did settle their liabilities in the United States immediately. And we are now, three years later, prepared to do the same in India. We should have done it three years ago; we are doing it now.

AMY GOODMAN: The hoax ran twice on BBC World with big "breaking news" flashing on the screen and was picked up by major news wires before the BBC determined no man named Jude Finisterra worked at Dow and that he was an impostor. The action caused Dow’s market value to drop $2 billion in less than half an hour. Later that day, Dow corrected the apology that their supposed spokesperson had made.

MARINA ASHANIN: This morning a false statement was carried by BBC World regarding responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy. The individual who made this statement identified himself as a Dow spokesperson named Jude Finisterra. Dow confirms that there was no basis whatsoever for this report, and we also confirm that Jude Finisterra is neither an employee nor a spokesperson for Dow.

AMY GOODMAN: In one of the emails from Stratfor that have just been released, the company’s vice president, Bart Mongoven, writes of the Bhopal activists,
"With less than a month to go [until the 25th anniversary], you’d think that the major players — especially Amnesty — would have branched out from Bhopal to make a broader set of issues. I don’t see any evidence of it." Andy Bichlbaum, final response?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, yeah, they seem to be really concerned that we, Amnesty, Greenpeace, etc., would be broadening this into a systematic critique and attacking the basis of corporate power. And it’s interesting that that’s what they were concerned with, rather than anything to do with the exact bottom line of Dow itself. And that might be a clue that they were really concerned about systemic critique and, you know, making statements that could affect policy. Maybe that’s also why they’ve been so afraid of Occupy Wall Street.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have released—you released at the time a press release, right? After Dow said this wasn’t true, you were an impostor, you also—DowEthics.com—released a press release.

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Attacking ourselves, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Attacking yourselves, saying that, "No, we do not apologize." It was under—made it look like it was Dow: "We do not apologize for what happened in Bhopal."

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Yeah, their denial was so disappointing—it was like that one short paragraph—that we wrote a whole page-long denial for them and released that as if they were attacking us and denying the hoax, just to communicate exactly what they were refusing to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Bichlbaum, I want to thank you for being with us. In 20 seconds, what would you describe The Yes Men to be?

ANDY BICHLBAUM: Well, we try, by any means at our disposal, to get important messages into the media or to augment important messages that are already in the media but not enough, like the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe, biggest industrial disaster in history and a real indicator of what’s wrong with letting corporations have so much power.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Bichlbaum, I want to thank you for being with us, and Kristinn Hrafnsson in London, a WikiLeaks spokesperson, as well. We will link to the WikiLeaks website. This is Democracy Now! Back in 15 seconds.

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