Asbestos ‘spy’ targeted Canada, court documents claim
Rob MooreADAO Rob Moore, who was allegedly hired to spy on workers' rights groups campaigning against asbestos, was photographed at an Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization conference. next play/pause pre
A man posing as a sympathetic journalist was paid to spy on workers' rights groups campaigning against asbestos with a key focus on activities in Canada, court documents allege.
According to testimony in the English High Court, a British man identified as Rob Moore was paid more than $700,000 to conduct a four-year espionage campaign against key figures in the global movement to ban asbestos, gathering confidential information about its "funding, aims and strategies, including litigation strategies."
The subterfuge was designed to pass information to a corporation with interests in the asbestos industry, the documents claim.
The court heard that Moore identified anti-asbestos groups' plans for Canada, as well as Thailand and India, as "key areas of focus" as early as 2012, when he was contracted through an intelligence consultancy firm called K2 on behalf of a corporate client believed to be based outside the U.K. There is currently a publication ban on that client's identity.
The claimants, who are prominent figures in the international anti-asbestos movement, are seeking aggravated damages for breach of confidence and misuse of private information. Moore, K2 and the anonymous client are all defendants in the civil suit. The allegations have not been proven in court.
The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reported in December that K2 is expected to argue that the amount of confidential information collected was tiny and was only intended to better understand the anti-asbestos movement.
In an email to the Star, Moore called the legal dispute "unfortunate and complicated." He said he would be able to address any allegations when more details of the case were presented by the claimants.
"When I can do that, my role in the issues contained in the claim should become more clear. In short, this case has not even properly begun and the full facts are not yet known," he said.
"I intend to follow the court's process and procedure. Meanwhile, it would not be right to argue the case through the press. Any further comment would be premature."
Laura Lozanski, the Health and Safety Officer for the Canadian Association of University Teachers and anti-asbestos advocate, told the Star she was contacted by Moore and met with him in September in her Ottawa office. She said he claimed to be a filmmaker with an interest in producing a documentary about the campaign against asbestos, even sending her a link to a short film on YouTube about asbestos victims in India he apparently made for the World Health Organization.
"He seemed to be quite legitimate, so we didn't think anything more of it," said Lozanski, who subsequently referred him to other Canadian anti-asbestos campaigners. It was a key period for the movement, as it ramped up political pressure that ultimately resulted in the federal government banning the cancer-causing substance in December.
"We've seen and heard about the tactics and corruption that take place to keep this product circulating so in a way it wasn't a surprise — but it was certainly not something we had experienced," Lozanski said.
The Star has previously investigated the impact of asbestos exposure on former factory workers who used it in a variety of manufacturing processes. The negative health effects of the carcinogen, a lucrative Canadian export until the last mine closed five years ago, were well-known by the 1920s and linked to lung cancer by 1955. Asbestos has been linked to the deaths of 2,000 people in Canada each year, according to studies funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.
Russia is now by far the world's largest producer of the carcinogenic mineral, followed by China, Brazil and Kazakhstan.
Lozanski said she and her colleagues had talked to Moore generally about their campaign to ban asbestos. In December, she said she received a tip that there was "somebody going around interviewing people that was now being sued in the U.K. for being a corporate spy."
"It was him. It was the same person," she said.
Linda Reinstein said she felt personally betrayed when she learned of the allegations against Moore, who she met in her capacity as the founder of the U.S.-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. She established the group after her husband Alan was diagnosed with mesothelioma — an aggressive form of lung cancer that is almost always caused by workplace exposure to asbestos.
Reinstein told the Star she invited Moore, who she then believed to be a journalist, to attend ADAO's annual conference in 2013 and 2015, even paying $1,000 toward his flight and waiving his registration fees.
Reinstein and Lozanski both said they did not know what Moore or his client could have gained from his alleged spying.
"It doesn't really make sense. We're not hiding anything, and everybody knows what we're doing" said Lozanski.
The claimants in the U.K. case include Laurie Kazan-Allen, co-ordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, and a lawyer working with asbestos victims in a developing country who has been granted anonymity because he fears for his safety.
According to a witness statement provided to the High Court in November by Richard Meeran, a partner at the prestigious British law firm Leigh Day, Moore appeared to be trying to "uncover information that could be used to suggest the (anti-asbestos) network was being funded by those with a vested financial interest in it — namely lawyers and/or those in the asbestos substitute market."
The aim, Meeran's statement said, was to "smear and discredit the network in the eyes of the states and organizations it sought to influence."
The witness statement also quotes from a report allegedly written by Moore about the plan, codenamed Project Spring.
"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 am confident that I can enter this world relatively easily and with a high level of legitimacy and credibility," he writes.
He also allegedly suggests approaching the groups with a number of documentary themes to "make my entry seem less deliberate and less suspicious."
"If you read the IBAS website you very quickly detect a degree of (justified) paranoia about the underhand tactics deployed by the asbestos industry to undermine and harass its critics."
According to the Guardian, lawyers for the intelligence firm that hired Moore told the High Court that anti-asbestos campaigners could also be ruthless and argued there was a need "to counter the impression that this is a contest between virtue… and vice."
Lozanski said her network of Canadian campaigners was a broad and inclusive coalition made up of labour groups, health experts and asbestos victims. She said the encounter with Moore was a lesson to be "a little more cautious in the future about someone we're not familiar with."
"But it's not going to stop our work," she added. "It's not going to have an impact on us continuing to do what we need to do."