Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin/Mission Despicable

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This article was first published as "MBD: Mission Despicable"in PR Watch, Volume 3, No. 2, Second Quarter 1996. The original article was authored by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to talk to a spy? The experience is quite a bit less dramatic than the scenarios you see in Mission Impossible, according to activists who have recently been targeted by phone calls and other information-gathering efforts.

The field operatives who gather information for Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin are typically polite, low-key and do their best to sound sympathic to the people they are interrogating. They have misrepresented themselves, claiming falsely to be journalists, friends of friends, or supporters of social change. Most of the time, however, they simply give very limited information, identifying their company only by its initials and describing MBD euphemistically as a "research group" which helps "corporate decision makers . . . develop a better appreciation of the public interest movement" in order to "resolve contentious public policy issues in a balanced and socially responsible manner."

MBD performs its services by pumping members of activist groups for information about their philosophical beliefs, funding sources, organizational structure and affiliations, and names of key personnel. Information only gets shared in one direction, however. "Our relations with our clients are confidential," stated MBD President Jack Mongoven in a June 7, 1995 memo refusing PR Watch's request for a list of MBD's corporate clients.

MBD says it is "grateful" when activists "cooperate" by answering its information requests, but don't expect the company to show its gratitude in any meaningful way, such as sending you a copy of the reports it writes about you. Those reports will be stamped confidential and delivered only to MBD's clients, who pay as much as $9,000 per month for the privilege of seeing them. Otherwise, MBD's "research" only sees the light of day on the rare occasions when a conscience-stricken corporate employee decides to turn whistleblower.

Dialing for Dollars

Environmental activist Paul Orum reports receiving a call on June 3 from MBD employee Emily Frieze, who "was interested in finding out about the environmental community's activity to keep ethylene glycol on the list of right-to-know chemicals (the Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI)."

Ethylene glycol is used in making common antifreeze. It is a highly toxic poison which is especially dangerous because of its enticingly sweet taste and smell. As little as two teaspoons of antifreeze can cause death or blindness, and every year it claims the lives of children and pets who drink it by accident.

Currently, antifreeze makers are petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take ethylene glycol off the TRI list, a petition which which has drawn written opposition from dozens of environmental groups. Orum says that Frieze did not go out of her way to identify her employer during her interview with him, but she did not overtly misrepresent herself either. "She identified herself as with 'MBD' when asked. . . . I asked her if MBD was working for the ethylene glycol manufacturers. She implied yes, and said MBD likes to keep up with what's going on."

Another environmentalist, Ann Hunt, reports receiving a similar call on May 23 from "a woman who identified herself as Tanya Calamoneri." Hunt is executive director of Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC), a Michigan group located near the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, a leading producer of toxic chemical compounds.

Calamoneri asked Hunt to send her a list of the conference materials from "Backyard Eco Conference '96," an annual CACC-sponsored event. "She gave a DC address on Connecticut NW," Hunt says. "Knowing that there are a lot of nonprofits in that area, I asked which group she represented. Her response was 'MBD,' which she characterized as a public policy and research consulting group. I later learned that it was Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, chief consultants and dirt-diggers for the Chlorine Chemistry Council. . . . It amazes me that the forces of darkness are that interested in what a little grassroots group in central Michigan is doing. Certainly an indication of our collective power!"

In fact, MBD's interrogatory net spreads worldwide. Bob Burton, the coordinator for Wilderness International in Tasmania, Australia, reports receiving a letter dated January 25, 1995 from Bartholomew Mongoven (Jack's son), seeking "assistance in a significant research undertaking" to "promote improved understanding and cooperation between major businesses and consumer- and environmentally- oriented interests throughout Asia and the world." [1] To assist in this research endeavor, Mongoven asked Burton to fill out a detailed questionnaire. Burton, however, is a PR Watch subscriber. He promptly alerted other environmental groups in Australia and neighboring countries to beware of MBD's true purposes.[2]

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