by Gary Cohn, Feb 9, 2017
It is an extraordinary story of corporate espionage, intrigue, and betrayal.
For four years, a British man working for a prominent corporate intelligence firm infiltrated the global network of anti-asbestos advocates working to ban asbestos in the United States and around the world. By posing as a sympathetic filmmaker working on a documentary about the dangers of asbestos, the British man, Rob Moore, obtained sensitive information about the anti-asbestos network’s funding, aims, and strategies and the personalities of its key advocates.
The remarkable espionage campaign, which lasted from mid-2012 until September 2016 and involved activities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, is detailed in a court case filed in the High Court in London. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance has interviewed several members of the anti-asbestos network who were duped or approached by Moore and reviewed key documents in the case. The interviews and documents reveal how Moore deceived nearly everyone involved in the anti-asbestos campaign by pretending to be a journalist and documentary filmmaker.
“I’ve been able to identify several news stories, angles, pegs and themes that would be of genuine interest to a documentary filmmaker, and I’m confident I can enter this world relatively easy and with a high level of legitimacy and credibility,” Moore wrote to the corporate security firm in a report in the summer of 2012.
The asbestos industry has long been accused of underhanded tactics, from engaging to misinformation campaigns to bribing government officials to intimidating anti-asbestos advocates. But the spying case provides one of the clearest examples yet of the lengths that the industry is willing to go to ensure that a thriving trade in asbestos continues, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that asbestos is a carcinogen.
A History of Betrayal
Advocates for asbestos victims say the spying episode is just the latest in a lengthy series of betrayals by the asbestos industry.
“For the asbestos community, betrayal is a feeling all too common,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), writing in an ADAO blog post. “We’ve been betrayed by the companies whose negligence led to our exposure, we’ve been betrayed by a government that fails to ban this known carcinogen, so trust me – if you’re outraged, you’re not alone.”
She added in an email to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “The asbestos industry knows asbestos mining and use is deadly. Rob Moore and K2 are yet again examples of how deceitful, maniacal and desperate they are to preserve their toxic trade.”
Pamela Gilbert, former executive director of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said the strategies employed by the asbestos industry are similar to those used by the tobacco companies.
“It is not surprising that the asbestos industry would hire spies to infiltrate the citizens’ movement to ban asbestos,” Gilbert said. “After all, this is the same industry that concealed the dangers of asbestos from workers, consumers and the U.S. military, and to this day, continues to lie about its harmful effects and deny compensation to the families of asbestos victims. These are the same tried and true tactics perfected by the tobacco industry, to lie, conceal and misrepresent to deflect blame and keep its deadly product on the market for as long as possible.”
Marc Hindry of the French National Association of Asbestos Victims (ANDEVA), added: “It’s a pathetic, almost ridiculous story, but it reveals a lot about the mind of asbestos promoters – they have long lost any sort of decency or honesty.”
Legal Wrangling and an Unnamed Client
The case in London was filed against Moore and the corporate security firm K2 Intelligence Ltd. by three anti-asbestos advocates, including Laurie Kazan-Allen, a longtime anti-asbestos campaigner and coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, which serves as a conduit of information between people and organizations working towards a global ban of asbestos. Another claimant is a lawyer working on behalf of victims of asbestos-related diseases in a developing country who has been granted anonymity by the court because he fears for his safety.
The lawsuit alleges breach of confidence, misuse of private information, and breach of the British Data Protection Act.
Moore declined to comment in an email to Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. “I have been made a party to this unfortunate and complicated legal dispute,” he wrote in his email. “At present, I am prevented from discussing all the facts due to orders made by the Court.”
K2, a prominent corporate security firm, was working on behalf of a still-unnamed client in the asbestos industry, according to court filings. In a statement filed in the High Court, Richard Meeran, a solicitor representing the claimants, said that the client was “one or more of the asbestos companies, asbestos producing states or insurers of the industry.”
The worldwide trade in asbestos has been enabled and led by a handful of powerful interests, for a long time the Canadian asbestos lobby and now the Russian asbestos producers. Four countries produce almost all the asbestos consumed worldwide today. Russia is by far the world’s largest producing nation, followed by China, Brazil, and Kazakhstan.
Scientists and government agencies have warned that any exposure to asbestos carries risk. Though asbestos is now banned in 58 nations, dozens of countries still use, import and export asbestos, and it is still legal in the United States. In addition to the United States, those countries where asbestos is still legal are primarily developing nations in Asia and Eastern Europe that are desperate for industrial growth and often turn a blind eye to the health and environmental consequences of asbestos exposure.
Espionage Right Out of Hollywood
The espionage campaign began in 2012, when Moore approached Kazan-Allen, stating that he was a documentary filmmaker working for a production company about the dangers of asbestos. The key to the espionage scheme, Moore wrote, was obtaining the trust of Laurie Kazan-Allen, a longtime anti-asbestos advocate and then using that connection to gain access to other members of the anti-asbestos network around the world. “I would like to engage with IBAS and LKA in the most genuine and heartfelt way possible so that I can establish both an intellectual and emotional connection with LKA.”
Kazan-Allen and others in the network of anti-asbestos campaigners took Moore “into their confidence and he was granted extraordinary access to the Network, including interviews with its leading protagonists, attendance at conferences and meetings restricted to the Network, both in Britain and overseas, and joining email lists containing confidential communications between members of the Network,” according to a court filing from Kazan-Allen’s solicitor.
The court case has been the subject of newspaper and other media reports in Great Britain and Canada, but has received little attention in the United States. But the court documents and interviews show that Moore was also active in the United States.
According to Reinstein, Moore gained access to two ADAO Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conferences, in 2013 and 2015, by posing as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. “He photographed what seemed like every slide from our conference presentations and conducted numerous interviews with medical experts, advocates, asbestos victims in attendance.”
Thinking that Moore was working to help document the dangers of asbestos, ADAO even paid thousands of dollars to help cover Moore’s travel and conference expenses. “It appears that Moore was not taking the photos for a documentary though,” Reinstein wrote in her blog. “In fact, he works for the consulting firm K-2, who contracted him out to spy on the anti-asbestos movement.”
Worldwide Spying Effort
In his wide-ranging espionage effort, according to court files, Moore’s efforts were aimed at gaining intelligence on campaigns to try to ban asbestos in Canada, Thailand, and India. In seeking information about Thailand, for instance, he prevailed on Kazan-Allen to help him secure an invitation to a key conference in Bangkok. After attending the conferences and speaking to key people in Thailand, Moore produced a report for K2 about the strategies and intentions of the anti-asbestos campaigners, according to court files.
“The ultimate product of (Moore’s) Thai visit was the ‘Interim Report of Ban Asbestos Legislation in Thailand,’ which included an extraordinary amount of confidential and sensitive information detailing the internal divisions between different Government ministries on the desirability and likelihood of a ban, the arguments being deployed by those ministries with government, the views of pro-ban campaigners on the forces opposing a ban, asbestos industry tactics against campaigners and campaigners’ responses to those tactics,” according to court records.
Throughout the four-year espionage effort, Moore often warned K2 of the need for secrecy, to prevent the anti-asbestos advocates from learning of his true intentions. At the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva in July 2015, for example, he used his contacts in the anti-asbestos network to infiltrate a “working party” of anti-asbestos advocates working to place chrysotile asbestos on its list of dangerous substances.
“Today we have been invited to be part of the Rotterdam Convention working party – and therefore we are now being given access to the most confidential information that is shared by an extremely small circle. If any of this gets out we will be exposed,” Moore wrote to K2.
According to interviews and court records, Moore made a point of stressing the human element. When Kazan-Allen suffered a heart attack in 2013, for example, Moore wrote a letter to her husband, court records show.
Overall, Moore collected 35,000 documents, emails, texts and audio files during the four-year espionage campaign, according to court files. About 650 were provided to K2. The court files also state that Moore received more than £460,000 in salary and expenses between 2012 and 2016.
Undeterred Anti-Asbestos Advocates
The espionage campaign came to an end in September 2016 after the anti-asbestos campaigners got a tip that Moore was actually working for the asbestos interests. But the advocates’ feelings of betrayal have continued to this day.
“It is appalling that asbestos interests have for four years been spying on organizations and individuals who are working to protect people around the world from asbestos harm,” said Kathleen Ruff, who has long been a leader in the effort to ban asbestos in Canada. “Using lies and deceit, the spy they hired took advantage of people’s trust by pretending to be an ally, while in reality working for asbestos interests. These are immoral tactics practiced by an immoral industry.” Ruff recalled meeting Moore at a conference in Bangkok.
Despite their feelings of betrayal, anti-asbestos advocates said they will be undeterred in continuing to fight for a ban on asbestos in the United States and worldwide.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve faced thugs, liars and spies – and won’t be the last,” Reinstein said. “I will continue to speak truth of power as we work to end the asbestos man-made disaster.”