Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chevron’s Secret Agent In Ecuador: Meet Sam Anson of Kroll

Last week The Atlantic Magazine, in an article by American journalist Mary Cuddehe, exposed the latest element of Chevron's world-wide campaign to escape liability for illegally dumping toxins in Ecuador: a bona fide corporate espionage scandal.

According to a firsthand account by Cuddehe, Chevron used Kroll (the world's leading publicly traded inv
estigations firm) to help the company concoct a creepy plan to create a journalist spy ring in Ecuador's Amazon to try to undermine a potential multi-billion dollar judgment against the company for 26 years of toxic dumping.

This is consistent with Chevron's desperate behavior in Ecuador. And Kroll had the perfect man for Chevron's black-bag job: Sam Anson, the company's "Managing Director for Latin America & the Caribbean." The fact that this conduct was likely to violate the ethical rules of the legal and investigative professions was apparently of no instance to the company or to Anson.

How do we know the "Sam" in The Atlantic story is Sam Anson? Read on.

The Cuddehe article described "Sam" as a former free lance writer reporting on race and hip hop… a former American journalist… someone in his mid-40s… who carries himself with "the ease that comes with professional achievement". He was also described as a Kroll operative working for Chevron.

Well, that seems to fit Sam Anson neatly. A former reporter before going over to the dark side (check out a Vibe magazine article written by "Sam Anson" on race and hip hop here, and Anson's LinkedIn profile lists him as a former "investigative reporter" for various publications), Anson has a long history with Kroll. He has been with the company for a decade, moving from Managing Director of the company's Los Angeles unit to his current position – at least according to his LinkedIn profile. But we can't give you a link for that – Anson deleted it sometime last week after the article appeared. (You can still catch a glimpse on Google's Cache, if you hurry…) And a simple Google search of his name gives us a bunch of pictures of Mr. Anson (which we've conveniently pasted into this blog), and a bunch of articles (here and here) citing Anson as Kroll's Managing Director for Latin America & the Caribbean.

As a former reporter, Anson knew that if he could find a reporter willing to lie, he would have the perfect spy. So he tried to recruit Cuddehe, a youngish reporter in her 20s based in Mexico City.

Cuddehe, an Iowa-born graduate of Columbia University with a Masters degree in Journalism, has published articles in The New Republic, the Miami Herald, and The Associated Press. She spoke Spanish and was a legitimate journalist – the perfect "pawn" (in her words) for Anson and Chevron.

Anson flew Cuddahe to Bogota and put her up at Chevron's expense in a luxury hotel. Anson then told Cuddehe that he wanted her to go to Lago Agrio, Ecuador (the site of the trial) and pretend to be writing a story about the case, while secretly funneling information back to Chevron.

Cuddehe wrote about Anson's attempt to hire her in The Atlantic:

"At first I thought I was underqualified for the job. But as it turned out I was exactly what they were looking for: a pawn."

"…there was a reason [Chevron] wanted me… If I went to Lago Agrio myself and pretended to write a story, no one would suspect that the starry-eyed young American poking around was actually shilling for Chevron."

Chevron's decision to pay journalists to lie as part of a spy campaign is "disturbing evidence of questionable if not outright illicit conduct by Chevron and Kroll" according to Jonathan Abady, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. Abady noted in a press release that Chevron had the option to use legitimate, above-board investigators, but instead choose to use a clandestine and unethical investigative strategy.

"Legitimate investigations are fine; paying journalists to lie is unethical and a direct attack on the credibility of all journalists worldwide," he said in a press release available here.

Abady also noted that Kroll investigators who misrepresent themselves at the behest of legal counsel could be violating the ethical rules of the legal profession, subjecting Chevron's lawyers to sanctions in the United States. Hew Pate, Chevron's General Counsel, needs to explain the situation.

Chevron's actions shouldn't come as a surprise. The company has been embroiled in a steady procession of scandals as it has engaged in unethical and potentially illegal activity in its efforts to escape liability in Ecuador. Just last year, the Amazonian communities accused Chevron of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by engaging in a "sting" operation where a bribe was offered to help remove the trial judge from the case. An investigation determined that the "sting" operation and bribe offer was made by a long-time Chevron contractor, Diego Borja, who worked under the direction of Chevron's lead Ecuador lawyer Adolfo Callejas and the Chevron vice-president supervising the trial, Ricardo Reis Veiga (now under indictment in Ecuador for criminal fraud).

Borja has a long history with Chevron in Ecuador – earlier this year, Santiago Escobar, a childhood friend of Borja's - publicized taped conversations he had with Borja where Borja brags about the criminal acts he had conducted on Chevron's behalf. Among the items that Borja bragged about? Falsifying evidence at trial and facilitating a Chevron bribe of Ecuadorian army officials in 2005 to fabricate a charge that local indigenous leaders were planning a terrorist attack against Chevron's lawyers, forcing the cancellation of a critical judicial inspection of a contaminated Chevron well site.

Borja is now residing in San Ramon, California – just a few blocks from Chevron's headquarters – where the company stashed him away to keep him out of reach of the subpoena power of the Ecuadorian courts he conspired to undermine. He lives in a luxury villa that backs up to a golf course.

Chevron's actions are irresponsible, unethical, and potentially criminal. But this is a company that dumped (by its own admission) more than 18 billion gallons of toxic "produced water" directly into the waterways and environment on which tens of thousands of people rely – so it isn't expected to care about little things like ethics and corporate responsibility.

Chevron should stop spending millions of dollars on spies, and recognize the fact that it has a moral, ethical, and legal duty to clean up the catastrophe it left in Ecuador.

Sam Anson: who among Chevron's law firms is running you? Gibson Dunn, Jones Day, or King & Spalding? And exactly why did you delete your LinkedIn profile after Cuddehe published her article? And which journalists are you paying to go undercover in Ecuador?

Come clean, Sam Anson.