Hacked emails indicate Dow hired intelligence companies to monitor Bhopal victims groups pressing for compensation

Dow Chemical hired US intelligence companies to monitor the activities of protestors belonging to groups demanding justice for victims of the Bhopal disaster in India, according to emails published by whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The methyl isocyanate gas leak from the Bhopal pesticide plant in 1984 killed thousands and injured over half a million and victims are still pressing for further compensation from the US chemical giant. 

The correspondence was obtained when the Texas-headquartered global intelligence company Stratfor was hacked in December. They are among over 5 million emails that WikiLeaks began publishing on 27 February. The emails, dated between July 2004 and late December 2011, suggest that Dow hired Stratfor and Michigan-based Allis Information Management to gather news stories pertaining to the Bhopal incident and track the activities - including travel - of activists seeking compensation from Dow for the disaster. 

"Major companies are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities around the world " - Dow

’The material shows how a private intelligence agency works and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients,’ WikiLeaks stated. ’For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including [comedy spoof act] the Yes Men, for the US chemical giant Dow.’ 

The Bhopal controversy resurfaced as protests against Dow’s sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics continue. The Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) acting president, Vijay KumarMalhotra, has told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Dow has launched ’a false campaign’ to make it appear that Bhopal is a settled issue. 

’The case is still pending in the court and no final compensation has been made. It is the IOA’s considered opinion that Dow Chemical should be removed as the sponsors of the games,’ Malhotra wrote to the IOC’s president, Jacques Rogge. At issue is the Union Carbide pesticide plant responsible for the Bhopal accident, which Dow bought after the disaster. 

The Indian government is also opposing Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympics. But earlier this month, Rogge said Dow wasn’t responsible for the Bhopal tragedy. ’Dow did not have any ownership stake in Union Carbide until 16 years after the accident and 12 years after the $470 million (?295 million) compensation agreement was approved by the Indian Supreme Court,’ Rogge wrote to Malhotra. 

Dow is also defending itself. ’Major companies are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities around the world from those who would threaten, disrupt and misrepresent the company and its employees,’ the company stated. Dow said it upholds free speech and encourages public debate, but ’theft of any private documents cannot be condoned’. 

The company didn’t confirm the nature of its collaboration with the intelligence agencies. Stratfor said some of the emails in question may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies and some may be authentic. 

Rebecca Trager