I was watched by BP

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I was watched by BP

Jess Worth reports. How much of this is there?


I protest against BP after going onto the stage at the Roundhouse Theatre. Later we learned that the audience was full of BP workers. © David Hoffman

I learned recently that BP was watching me.

After a few years as an activist against the company’s work on extracting oil from the tar sands, its abuse of human rights and its financial help to cultural institutions to appear green, I asked myself, is BP watching me?

So I sent a ‘Subject Access Request’, asking the company to send me all its files with my name. They sent a lot of emails and documents. They changed some of them but my name was in them. I was surprised, worried and sometimes amused when I read them. I also understood some of the ways companies are watching activists when they think they will give the company a bad name. The first time BP worried about me was in 2010 I wrote an article for New Internationalist about the campaign to shut the Canadian tar sands. The world’s worst oil extraction project has enough greenhouse gas to change the climate so badly we could never stop it. I wrote that we must stop their project. I started a campaign group – the UK Tar Sands Network. I worked with people in the Alberta tar sands area to protest against the big British companies there – BP and Shell.

In the article, I wrote about my conversation with the head of BP UK, Peter Mather. This was at a meeting to find university graduates to work for the companies. A climate action group stopped the meeting. Peter Mather said what a good company he worked for. He said that if people don’t want the tar sands project, BP will not do it. Soon afterwards, of course, BP did the opposite. I was surprised when I read in one of BP’s emails that they thought my article was terrible. The name of the person who wrote it was no longer there.

An important person

As I did more as an activist against BP, the company watched me more and more. I was now an important person. I went to the company’s annual meeting in 2011. When I arrived, they gave me a full body search. Now I know that they had my photos and used my tweets to find me in the meeting. This didn’t stop us making protests.

But I was very surprised about what they did next. In the summer of 2012, BP paid someone to watch us. The company watched us more closely when I was in two campaigns against its financial help for the London 2012 Olympics. After the really bad 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP decided to support the Olympics to try to give the company a good name. So BP gave a lot of financial support to the London Olympics and to many athletes and also gave the fuel.

It was clear that I must protest against this so that people knew the truth.

First we protested against BP giving financial support to the World Shakespeare Festival. We started a group called ‘BP or not BP?’. We jumped on to the stage in the theatres in London and Stratford-upon-Avon before the plays to protest in the style of Shakespeare. Thus gave us more attention in the media, and more online support. And more people from the theatre talked about how bad BP was as a financial supporter.

‘Our regular activists’

In June 2012, BP paid someone to watch us and to try to learn about our future plans. In their reports, they talked about me and two of my friends as ‘our regular activists’ and as the people most likely to protest during the Olympic Games. They came to our meetings and possibly to our protests.


I am on the left as we protest at the World Shakespeare Festival. Copyright Hugh Warwick

At this time I was arrested for a protest against BP with another campaign. I was with Greenwash Gold. We were with other groups to show that BP, Dow Chemical, and Rio Tinto were all very bad choices to give financial help to the Olympic Games because of their terrible environmental and social records. We asked people to vote for the ‘winner’ (the worst company) of the Greenwash Gold medal. It gave a lot of negative news to all three companies as they were starting their Olympics advertising campaigns.

I was surprised when I was arrested at the award ceremony. I was in a short piece of comic street theatre in Trafalgar Square where I played a BP executive and green custard was poured over me. 25 policemen arrived at the end and arrested seven of us for ‘criminal damage’. They did not believe it was only custard we poured over ourselves. We don’t know who called the police. But we do know from a data request made by another activist that there was a Dow Chemical person watching in the audience that day.

A few days later, someone from BP sent this email: ‘I saw information about a protest against Dow Chemical planned for central London tomorrow. The Facebook page shows that two anti-BP activists (X and Jess Worth) are invited, but no information about if they are going (Jess Worth’s arrest will make that impossible)…’

I found this email very strange hen t read it. They were watching me so closely that it was worth saying that I might go to a meeting that wasn’t about BP. And they had made the effort to find out about my arrest – perhaps from the police. I started to feel stalked.

Undercover police

But since then, I understand things more clearly. Yes, I was watched closely on social media and watched at public events. But many others have suffered much more at the hands of police and big business.

Many of us in Britain have been horrified as we learned more and more about the actions of undercover police in protest movements. We know that some policemen have slept with activists to find information. Many policemen had long-term relationships full of lies and they ended in heartbreak and the policemen disappeared. That means they were given a new job. At least three of the policeman had children they knew they would leave. One woman said it was like ‘rape by the state’. We know that many took the identities of dead babies, and some watched the families of black murder victims.

We know much less about the activities of big business spies – but this is starting to change. Eveline Lubbers’ book Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark tells the story of many activists. Business spies made them friends and then watched them. This dark world of ‘grey policing’ has grown a lot in recent years. The book talks about how these spies join protest movements, campaign organizations, and the scientific community to find information for the companies they work for. The companies include Shell, Nestlé, McDonald’s, and Monsanto. Sometimes they are involved in protests themselves. Eveline Lubbers says that these cases show how the business world does not want people to disagree with them and does not want people to look at what they are doing. It is not simply a matter of giving the companies a good name. The aim is not to win an argument, but to stop opposition. Their plans to stop people getting power is a real danger to democracy. This is why I chose to write about BP watching my campaigning. It’s important that activists know they can be watched, and that they take action.

But I also think we should have hope – from my own experience, at least – because BP clearly felt that the protests and the media debate around its financial support of culture and sport was bad for the company. The company was worried enough to pay someone a lot of money (I believe) to watch Facebook and Twitter and go to attend public events for information about what we might do next.

We are small but big companies see us as a danger. Giving money to sport and the arts is Big Oil’s weak point because it is with the general public that companies like BP need to keep their good name.

Oh, and BP. I know you’re reading this. So I want to tell you we are still here. After our first Shakespeare protest in April 2012, BP has stopped many performances on many BP-branded stages, in the British Museum and in Tate Britain. Our last theatre protest involved 200 performers. We are not going away! I hope to see you soon!


Resources on activist security and how to find out if there are files about you:

UK: Network for Police Monitoring: netpol.org

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance: campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com

US: Civil Liberties Defense Center: cldc.org

Canada: BC Civil Liberties Association: nin.tl/dontspyonme

Australia: ActivistRights: activistrights.org.au

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE:http://newint.org/features/2014/11/01/my-spy/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed.)