Spy Cables: Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo Targeted by Intelligence Agencies as "Security" Threat

February 25, 2015

Al Jazeera has obtained leaked diplomatic cables showing a number of foreign requests to South African intelligence to spy on activists, NGOs and politicians. One document shows South Korea sought out a "specific security assessment" of Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo in the run-up to a meeting of G20 leaders in Seoul in 2010. The disclosure is among scores contained in leaks to Al Jazeera by a South African intelligence source. From South Africa, we speak with Kumi Naidoo. "We are winning the [climate change] argument, and those trying to hold us back are getting desperate," Naidoo says.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International. Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday that it obtained leaked cables showing a number of foreign requests to South African intelligence for the spying on activists, NGOs and politicians. According to Al Jazeera, one document shows South Korea sought out a specific security assessment of Kumi Naidoo in the run-up to a meeting of G20 leaders in Seoul in 2010.

Kumi, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about these revelations that have just come out?

KUMI NAIDOO: Thank you very much, and thank you for having us. We were contacted late last year with the information that Al Jazeera had some surveillance intelligence that they had picked up. And essentially, this was in 2010, when I was planning to go to the G20, when his request was made. This was also at a time when the South Korean government was at the G20 pushing its nuclear technology on South Africa, India, Turkey and so on. So, obviously, this is quite a big story here in South Africa. And I’m in South Africa at the moment.

And, you know, we make an assumption, right, that there are surveillance. We’ve got many cases where companies have actually spied on us and have paid damages to us or apologized publicly and so on. This is the first time we have sort of evidence. While we—especially since the Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks information has come out, you would be naïve not to anticipate that governments might be doing this. But, you know, it’s one thing sort of knowing that governments might be doing that; it’s another thing having it confirmed by looking at these cables and so on.

But the bottom line is, you know, Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win." They’re not ignoring us. They’re not laughing at us. They’re fighting us really, really hard—not, you know, just this case, but in India and elsewhere. And we are also going to take some comfort at the fact that our campaigning in the broader environmental movement—and, by the way, this is not just Greenpeace that is impacted, but other environmental groups, as well as other civil society groups. And I would urge us to take some comfort to say that we are winning the argument. Those who are holding us back are getting desperate. And I would see this as more an act of desperation rather than act of strength on the part of the governments in question.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kumi, what’s been the reaction of the South African government to the revelations? How have they justified or attempted to defend their actions?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, the request was made by South Korean intelligence. And what—and there are cases in the full so-called spy cables where there’s requests made and where the South African has, in some cases, gone back, with regard to, for example, a Cameroonian opposition leader, when requested by Cameroonian intelligence to say—to give information about his activities while he was visiting in South Africa, the South African government said, "We have noted your request, but we do not believe there’s a need to actually respond, because there’s no justification for it."

Now, what’s missing from that cables package is a equal thing with regard to this request regarding whether I’m dangerous or not. You know, that was how it was put, that, you know, they considered me dangerous. So, the South African government needs to answer the question of whether they shared any information. They need to either confirm or deny that. And they need to also—if they confirm that, then, you know, obviously, we will push hard to find out exactly what information was actually shared.

But right now, I am consulting with a public interest litigation NGO in South Africa, which has been around since the anti-apartheid struggle, called the Legal Resources Center. And I’m doing a press conference with the South African media tomorrow morning South African time, where I will outline what course of action Greenpeace and myself are planning to take.

AMY GOODMAN: Kumi, where are we speaking to you in South Africa? Are you in Durban, or should I just ask South African intelligence?

KUMI NAIDOO: Yeah, they know where. I’m in Johannesburg at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re in Johannesburg. I was interested because, of course, I saw you in—well, at all the U.N. climate summits—well, not the last, but certainly in Durban, South Africa. And we in the United States right now are experiencing, to say the least, extreme weather. The weather centers on television used to be called "weather centers," you know, where the meteorologists stood. Now it’s "extreme weather center" or "severe weather center." The South has never experienced this kind of cold and snow; the Northeast, the freezing temperatures; droughts in California. As we wrap up—and you heard we were speaking to Kert Davies, as well, about the American Petroleum Institute and other corporations funding Dr. Soon, the climate denier—your thoughts on this backdrop of what’s happening in the world today around climate change?

KUMI NAIDOO: Well, most of all, political and business leaders have now been pushed into a corner, where they have had to acknowledge the science, acknowledge the fact that we have to change, and are saying, in broad terms, the right thing, that we have to cut down emissions, we have to transition to a clean economy and so on. Where there is a fundamental gap between what we are saying in the environmental movement and what governments are saying is that the pace of change is sort of based on their own realities, with a more business-as-usual approach, and our political and business leaders have to understand we cannot change the science, we can only change political will, and that the longer we delay, the more we drag our feet, the consequences, in terms of the loss of human life, loss of infrastructure, economic impact and so on, are all going to be negative.

And what we are saying to the South African government, to governments around the world, is, turn the crisis of climate change into an opportunity, because in South Africa right now, there’s an electricity crisis. There’s an ultradependency on coal and, to a lesser extent, nuclear. And our government has the capability of actually revolutionizing our energy supply by harnessing the fact that solar has unlimited potential, wind potential, other renewable energy potentials. And if we did it smart, in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, we can have a double win. We can have a win for the economy, because various studies show the job-creation potential of a serious energy revolution, from dirty, brown, fossil fuel-based, -driven economy to clean, green, renewable-based energy, could—if done smartly and thoughtfully and strategically, could give us a jobs bonanza.

AMY GOODMAN: Kumi Naidoo—

KUMI NAIDOO: So, we will—we are very clear that it is the interests of the current oil, coal and gas companies, which actually own many of our governments, that are holding us back.

AMY GOODMAN: Kumi, thanks so much for being with us, Kumi Naidoo, executor director of Greenpeace International, speaking to us by Democracy Now! video stream from Johannesburg, South Africa. And thanks to Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, formerly also with Greenpeace.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re talking education, from student debt to an adjunct walkout across the country. Stay with us.

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