Spying is not Good Business

November 24, 1991

Corporations should never behave as if they are the government. It appears that the leadership of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. forgot that when they began an eight-month spying campaign against a critic, a congressman and several environmental groups. The campaign allegedly involved setting up a bogus company to obtain information from environmentalists, taking mail and intercepting cellular phone calls by critic Charles Hamel and even planning to embarrass or win criminal charges against California Rep. George Miller. It started out as a search for leaks, but turned into a national probe of environmental critics and finally alarmed Alyeska's corporate parents, Exxon Corp., British Petroleum, Atlantic Richfield Co., Amerada Hess Corp., Unocal Corp., Phillips Petroleum and Mobil Corp.

Now Representative Miller is doing some probing of his own. The House Interior Committee, which he heads, launched hearings to determine how much surveillance went on and what was involved. What it found, including documents Mr. Miller called "a blueprint" on how to shadow him and a law firm's memo warning Alyeska's parents of the danger of prosecution for federal wire fraud, mail fraud interstate transportation of stolen goods and other violations, is deeply embarrassing to the corporations. "I wish to hell we had gone to the police," Alyeska president James Hermiller told the committee, citing concerns that Alyeska's documents were being stolen and given to Mr. Hamel and other environmental critics.

It's a safe bet he means it, but what is surprising is that it took so long for Alyeska's managers to figure out what its corporate parents apparently saw right off. Their attempt to spy on whistle-blowers and snoop on environmental groups went far beyond the bounds of what even a government agency might properly do.

Wackenhut Corp., the security firm which handled the surveillance campaign, now maintains its own lawyers say that Wackenhut broke no laws. That may be so, but the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts should have the final say. Spying on private citizens exercising their constitutional rights, intercepting mail and phone conversations, running a "sting" operation to get inside information on environmental groups and tricking Representative Miller cannot be considered acceptable behavior.

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