In what Democracy Now!1 refers to as an "explosive report" by The Guardian,2 documents obtained during the discovery process of lawsuits against Monsanto reveal the company has been engaged in a coordinated campaign to discredit critics of the company.
Among them are journalist Carey Gillam, the nonprofit U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) and singer-songwriter Neil Young, whose 2015 album, "The Monsanto Years," was an artistic critique of the company.
"The records … show Monsanto adopted a multi-pronged strategy to target Carey Gillam, a Reuters journalist who investigated the company's weedkiller and its links to cancer," The Guardian writes.3
"Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, also monitored a not-for-profit food research organization through its 'intelligence fusion center,' a term that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use for operations focused on surveillance and terrorism.
The documents, mostly from 2015 to 2017, were disclosed as part of an ongoing court battle on the health hazards of the company's Roundup weedkiller."
Monsanto records show organized plan to silence journalist
According to The Guardian,4 the records obtained reveal how Monsanto planned to discredit Gillam's book, "White Wash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,"5 ahead of its release in 2017 by instructing "industry and farmer customers" to post negative reviews and paying Google to promote search results critical of Gillam and her work.
In all, the attack on Gillam's book, dubbed "Project Spruce,"6 (an internal code name for Monsanto's defense directive to protect the company against all perceived threats to its business7) had more than 20 activity points, including the engagement of regulatory authorities and providing "pro-science third parties" with talking points.
Gillam told The Guardian the documents are "just one more example of how the company works behind the scenes to try to manipulate what the public knows about its products and practices."
According to The Guardian, staff at Monsanto's PR firm also appear to have pressured Reuters to prevent Gillam from reporting on Monsanto and its products, saying they "continue to push back on [Gillam's] editors very strongly every chance we get."
In an August 9, 2019, article in The Guardian, Gillam is more forthcoming with her sentiments, stating that:8
"As a journalist who has covered corporate America for more than 30 years, very little shocks me about the propaganda tactics companies often deploy. I know the pressure companies can and do bring to bear when trying to effect positive coverage and limit reporting they deem negative about their business practices and products.
But when I recently received close to 50 pages of internal Monsanto communications about the company's plans to target me and my reputation, I was shocked … I never dreamed I would warrant my own Monsanto action plan …
One Monsanto plan involved paying for web placement of a blogpost about me so that Monsanto-written information would pop up at the top of certain internet searches involving my name … In addition, Monsanto produced a video to help it amplify company-engineered propaganda about me and my work …
The documents show that Monsanto enlisted Washington DC-based FTI Consulting to help it with its plans. FTI was in the news earlier this year after one of its employees posed as a reporter at the Roundup cancer trial held this March in San Francisco.
The woman pretended to be reporting on the Hardeman v Monsanto trial, while suggesting to real reporters covering the trial certain storylines that were favorable to Monsanto."
USRTK targeted by Monsanto's surveillance center
Monsanto's surveillance center also produced written reports on Young's anti-Monsanto advocacy efforts and USRTK's activities, along with a detailed plan9 for how to deal with USRTK's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
"Monsanto officials were repeatedly worried about the release of documents on their financial relationships with scientists that could support the allegations they were 'covering up unflattering research,'" The Guardian writes. 10
Indeed, among the many action steps listed in Monsanto's USRTK response plan11 are "Edit existing copy" to "Bolster language on transparency and collaboration," and "Write post that tells the story about the impact of a project (one that resonates well with a societal audience) that was made possible through the collaboration of Monsanto and Academia … " The Guardian adds:12
"Government fusion centers have increasingly raised privacy concerns surrounding the way law enforcement agencies collect data, surveil citizens and share information.
Private companies might have intelligence centers that monitor legitimate criminal threats, such as cyberattacks, but 'it becomes troubling when you see corporations leveraging their money to investigate people who are engaging in their first amendment rights,' said Dave Maass, the senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation …
Michael Baum, one of the attorneys involved in the Roundup trials that uncovered the records, said the records were further 'evidence of the reprehensible and conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others' … 'It shows an abuse of their power that they have gained by having achieved such large sales,' he added."
In an August 9, 2019, press release, USRTK comments on the documented campaign against the organization:13
"USRTK has made public records requests to taxpayer-funded universities since 2015, leading to multiple revelations about secretive industry collaborations with academics …
The documents, which were made available through discovery in the Roundup cancer litigation, show that Monsanto was worried that the public records requests had the "potential to be extremely damaging" and so crafted a plan to counter the USRTK investigation …
'The story of the Monsanto Papers is that the company acts like it has an awful lot to hide,' said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, who led the investigation. 'Whenever scientists, journalists and others raise questions about their business, they attack. We are just the latest example. This has been going on for years.'"
The press release goes on to list several key findings from the documents, detailing how Monsanto intended to safeguard its "freedom to operate." One way of doing that was to "position" USRTK's investigation into its dealings as "an attack on scientific integrity and academic freedom."
The documents also show Monsanto would have the right to review any documents released by FOIA before their release to USRTK, "even though USRTK requested the documents by state FOI," the press release notes. Monsanto's campaign plan also specified the use of third parties to counteract USRTK.
Again, this tactic is purposely used to make it appear as though Monsanto has nothing to do with the critique against USRTK, when in fact it's the driving and coordinating force behind it.
Third parties to be employed include Forbes and other third party content creators, GMO Answers contributors, Sense About Science, the Science Media Center, Center for Food Integrity, International Food Information Council, various farmers groups, Jon Entine with the Genetic Literacy Project, Henry Miller (previously caught publishing articles ghostwritten by Monsanto, which led to Forbes firing him and deleting his articles).