Global Forests Watch – Online Deforestation Tracking

The World Resources Institute recently launched Global Forests Watch (GFW) 2.0, an online tool for tracking deforestation worldwide. I sat down with James Anderson, Forests Communication Officer at WRI, to talk about GFW.

Gromko: How does GFW work?

Anderson: The idea behind GFW is to make the best available forest information accessible to everyone. We have an online platform website and we put the best data that we can find. Some examples of data include forest change data from the University of Maryland, which was published in Science last fall and made a big splash because it was the first high resolution of the entire world’s forests and how they’re changing.

How does that fit into WRI’s mission?

James Anderson

WRI’s mission is to sustain the planet and its resources for future generations. There’s been a lot of excitement here about GFW because many people see it as a big tool to achieve that mission. Forests are facing a number of threats around the world and they are an extremely important resource in terms of storing carbon, providing clean air and water, as well as timber and non-timber forest products for people. But forests are being destroyed much faster than they’re being regrown. The UMD data show that we’re losing forests at the rate of 50 soccer fields every minute.

Figure 1: Forest cover change in Paraguay – deforestation in pink and forest gain in blue

Who do you hope to be the primary users of GFW?

The primary groups that we would love to have using this system are governments, businesses, and local communities. We hope that law enforcement will be able to use GFW to better enforce forests laws and reduce illegal logging. With business, we hope that they’ll be able to identify deforestation risks in their supply chain and generally help move the commodities business in a more sustainable direction. And with communities, we hope that they will be able to add data into GFW. We want to combine not only the top-down satellite data, but also crowd source a lot of our data.

What is the motivation for a company to want to use GFW to look at their supply chain?

A few different reasons. One reason is to avoid the bad and the other is to encourage the good. A lot of companies have seen very effective campaigns by advocacy organizations that have identified deforestation in their supply chains and have waged a PR campaign against them. That can be really damaging for companies’ business interests and public image and it can also potentially open the company up to lawsuit if they are breaking laws in the country. The other reason why companies may want to look at it is simply because they want to encourage the good. They have made strong commitments already and they want to strengthen them.

A company’s supply chain might be really complex and probably more complex than they are able to track. I’m thinking of a Nestle or a Unilever that is sourcing from a multitude of different suppliers who are also buying from sub suppliers. A company like that would need a lot more information than GFW can provide.

Traceability is a big issue. A lot of companies don’t have visibility all the way down their supply chain. The product that they’re buying, they don’t know where it originated, from what plantation or what country. And traceability is a big prerequisite for a lot of the work that GFW is currently able to do. The good news is that a lot of companies are starting to get there. We’re also committing to work more directly with companies to help them with that issue. Our plan is to pilot this work with a group of ten companies, specifically in the palm oil sector in Southeast Asia.

Are there any big research questions out there that you think GFW could help with?

One of the most immediate ones is taking this forest change data and using that to come up with the world’s newest and best calculation of carbon emissions from deforestation and land use change. There have been wildly different estimates of what the carbon emissions are from deforestation and land use change. You could create a new carbon layer and over lay the change data on that and get a one of the world’s best pictures of how carbon is changing in the world’s forests. We have plans to do that with the Woods Hole Institute, the University of Maryland, and other partners.

Switching gears, does GFW distinguish between natural forest and plantation forest?

The University of Maryland data and FORMA [another source of forest cover data] don’t distinguish between plantations and natural forests. And that’s potentially a big issue because of course they are very different. Natural forests store a lot more carbon and have a lot more benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services than plantation forests do. But it’s also technically very challenging to distinguish between them. We’re hoping to build additional data layers that can help distinguish between natural forests and plantation forests.

Figure 2: Forest cover change in Indonesia and Malaysia – loss in pink and gain in blue

I noticed in both Indonesia there is a lot of loss and gain. I knew there’d be a lot of loss, but I hadn’t expected there to be so much gain. Do you think that represents plantation forestry?

As you say, what we are likely seeing there are natural forests being displaced by plantation forests. So the pink loss you see is that natural forest being cleared and the blue gain you see is the plantation grown in its place. And that’s potentially problematic for wildlife, biodiversity, carbon, and other reasons. So helping to make that distinction is pretty important.

You have a stories page and I thought that was great that you’re letting other people use GFW to tell their own stories. Are there any particular stories or trends that other people have found or you have found that are compelling?

You may have heard of the fires in Sumatra, where forest fires have spiked recently because they’re having a very extreme drought there. As a result, there’s smoke and haze settling over the province of Riau where 50,000 people are estimated to be affected. We’ve been able to take NASA’s real time fire alerts on GFW to determine the exact location of the fires and map them against company concessions. We’ve had an outpouring of interest and responses from that. People have a hunger for the data and I think they want to contribute to it. I think were just seeing the tip of the iceberg there.

(Disclosure: Duncan Gromko previously worked at World Resources Institute.)

One Reporter’s Experience Covering the Environment in the Heartland

RANTOUL, Ill. — Journalism is about seeking the truth. That is why I wanted to be a journalist.

After college, I eventually landed my first fulltime job as a reporter at the Rantoul Press, a small weekly newspaper in the village of Rantoul, Illinois. I believed the newspaper would look out for the best interest of its readers. I was wrong. That, perhaps, naive notion was dispelled when the newspaper’s editor and general manager decided the village’s economic interests were more important than the public health.

Reporter Bob Bajek picks up a rock by Heritage Lake in Rantoul. Heritage Lake used to be a sludge pit in Chanute’s 900 area, but it was converted into a man-made lake in the 1980s to be used for the airmen’s and later public’s recreation. This lake is by four landfills that produce chemical runoff.

I wrote a story on Aug. 28, 2013 about how Agent Orange was possibly on the now shuttered Chanute Air Force Base’s property. The story was how a former airman named Michael Glasser in the 1960s mixed the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T into what would later be known as Agent Orange. He then buried some of it by Heritage Lake, a manmade body of water that used to be a sludge pit on the base. Today, some area residents use the lake for recreation.

Local readers gave me positive feedback on the story, saying they would never have moved to Rantoul had they known of the pollution concerns.

The following week, on Sept. 4, I wrote a followed up story for the Rantoul Press about a Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting addressing the Air Force’s efforts to clean up of the skeet (munitions) range. The story also reiterated environmental concerns about Chanute, especially how chemical seepage might affect the ground water and the possibility that drums of Agent Orange might be buried at the site. Photographs of the polluted Heritage Lake (now under village control) also accompanied the story.

A day after publication, the Rantoul Press’ general manager, Tim Evans, talked to me about the Agent Orange stories. Evans, a hefty 59-year-old newspaperman, said these stories “weren’t what community newspapers were about and made the town look bad.” Evans then insisted I go with him to then village administrator Bruce Sandahl’s office “for an off the record meeting.”

Bruce Sandahl

Once there, Sandahl, a bespectacled, imposing man with a ruddy complexion and a walrus mustache, said these stories were “pure opinion and crap.” He never told me, nor did I agree, that the meeting was off the record. Sandahl also criticized a Rantoul Press report about the multi-million dollar pork plant, Rantoul Foods, indiscriminately dumping hog waste in rural Rantoul. The plant’s unsanitary disposal produced a sickeningly pungent smell that negatively impacted several nearby residents. The village and Illinois EPA took no actions against Rantoul Foods for its carelessness.

Sandahl—hired in 2008 and paid $157,196 annually, about twice as much as the going rate for town managers of Rantoul’s size — emphatically said that story was “horseshit” and damaged the community. But others believed that story prompted Rantoul Foods president James Jendruczek to announce at a public study session in August that his company would construct a $10 million rendering plant that should be completed by fall 2014. Jendruczek declined to be interviewed by the Press after the announcement, running out of the building before my editor, Dave Hinton, could ask him questions.

Village administrator Sandahl went on to say to me that “you are on one extreme by maintaining the base is severely contaminated, and the Air Force is on the other saying its perfectly fine. I believe its somewhere in the middle.” I asked him if he believed it was in the middle, wouldn’t that concern him. Sandahl snapped, swore and became agitated with me and said, “This meeting is getting nowhere.” He wanted me to see his side, but I asked, “Am I just to take your word for it? You are paid well by the village to make it look good.” Sandahl abruptly ended the meeting, and told Evans, “I will talk to you later about this” as we were leaving the office.

Throughout the meeting, Evans did not support the paper or me. He took Sandahl’s side. Evans and Sandahl are on good terms outside the office. Evans, like many local newspaper executives, is a member of Rantoul’s Chamber of Commerce.

Evans then took me to his office once again and said he did not believe Chanute had any problems and he suggested I stop putting time in the story. I said it was not affecting my productivity, and I believed there were problems at Chanute that could negatively impact Rantoul’s public health.

The general manager then rustled his hands through his thin, white hair and said, “I don’t think (publisher) Mr. (John) Foreman would’ve published that Agent Orange story.” I told Evans The News-Gazette (our sister paper) did indeed publish it on Aug. 31, but he still contended Foreman would not run it.

Meanwhile, apparently worried about the town’s image from my stories, the Rantoul Press wrote a five-part series about how Chanute’s closure 20 years ago has affected the village and surrounding community. Not one story mentioned environmental contamination. For the Oct. 30, 2013 issue, Evans wrote five glowing reports about how Rantoul’s economy was on the rise.

In the cover story, Sandahl said the Air Force has “recognized their obligations” and been good to work with. Sandahl mentioned “environmentalists need not fear contamination in property on the base, noting if something is discovered, the Air Force is responsible for cleaning it up, whether it be soil, water or structures.” Evans wrote Sandahl has “siphoned through thousands of pages of documents and has some ‘knowledge of where we’ve been, how we’re doing and where we’re going.’ ”

Another story mentioned Restoration Advisory Board member Ian Wang, co-owner and director of the Prairie Village retirement home who bought large parcels of property when Chanute closed in 1993. The story said he wanted to invest $2 million to “give the community a cultural art center/park on base.”

In November, I told Evans and Hinton about my Nov. 8 interview with Betty Panzer and her concerns that her well might be contaminated. Evans said I did not have enough for a story and decided to hold it. That article was never published.

That same week, Evans told me the Rantoul Press would never publish any story about the possibility of dioxin in the water because it would ruin the town. Evans said no newspaper or news organization would pick it up. He also said we are not supposed to be Panzer’s voice, and that this 70-year-old woman who is poor, alone and severely ill “should grow some balls and speak at the RAB board.” I told Evans she was afraid of them, but Evans dismissed that notion.

Evans went on to say, “You might have 5 or 10 percent of the truth, but I will not publish this.” He said I had to have the “whole story” and that “no one would ever publish this.”

I wrote a column for the Nov. 13th issue about how the public should attend the Nov. 21 RAB meeting and question the Air Force and Illinois EPA. Both agencies seemed to be misleading Rantoul residents about Chanute’s cleanup. I also listed my additional research on Chanute’s contaminants, how dioxin was detected in private wells in 1998, and that both entities were stonewalling me every time I asked questions.

Both Evans and my editor, Dave Hinton, read the column and wanted it to be “clarified because it was too confusing.” I did and then Evans said he would not run it. He then proceeded to write an editorial about the situation, seemingly siding with the Air Force while undercutting my previous reporting on Agent Orange.

Debra Rawlings, a former Rantoul Press reporter who once covered the RAB, is currently a RAB member. She tried to discredit me in a letter to the editor on my Sept. 4′s story about Heritage Lake and ground water contamination, writing that my story was one-sided (which is her right). She had tried to undermine a source by email to my editor a month before and had overlooked dioxin issues when she was reporting on the board. On Nov. 15, she attempted to publish a letter to the editor with some untrue statements about me and two sources, writing: “Reporter Bob Bajek is relying on information from RAB member and conspiracy theorist Doug Rokke” and “Mr. Bajek might consider that he is only as credible as his sources.”

I emailed Illinois Press Association lawyer Don Craven to explain the situation. Evans grew angry with me because “Dave (Hinton) was supposed to do it.” I told Evans and Hinton I wanted to make sure I defended myself. Craven advised Hinton to strike out Rawlings’ accusations about my sources and me. Here is her published letter.

The November RAB Meeting

A couple of days before the Nov. 21 RAB meeting, I received a phone call from Air Force spokesman Chad Starr asking me if I would be interested in meeting with Linda Geissinger, a public affairs specialist for the Air Force, and personnel from Chicago Brick & Iron to talk about environmental issues concerning Chanute after the meeting. (CB&I, formerly known as Shaw Environmental, Inc., is the contractor finishing the base’s cleanup. It has more than $3.3 billion from 35 DOD contracts.)

I told Geissinger I wanted to meet them with my editors and record the meeting. Geissinger was surprised and said she did not understand. I refused to give into her demands.

Michael Glasser, who served as an airman at Chanute in the 1960s, is 69-years-old and now lives in South Florida. He wanted to be interviewed for the November meeting on speakerphone or Skype as he was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment for his returning cancer and could not be cleared medically to attend. Glasser was already listed on the agenda to be interviewed about herbicide usage at Chanute. I asked the Air Force’s Paul Carroll and CB&I’s Diane Gill by email if Glasser could be put on speakerphone since the RAB was exploring potential contamination.

Chris Hill

Carroll, who speaks softly and has a Mr. Rogers demeanor, and Illinois EPA’s Chris Hill did not get back to me by email or phone. Carroll told me that Glasser would not be interviewed until the next meeting (which would be in February or May 2014). I pointed out Carroll was on speakerphone during an informational meeting about the Chanute water towers during the October governmental shutdown, but Carroll did not answer why it was possible for him to be on a phone call to the meeting but not Glasser.

At the Nov. 21 RAB meeting, Hill — a nervous, lanky man about 40 whose hair is thinning and who wears fashionable jeans at public meetings — presented an “interview” he had with Glasser on Aug. 28 and stated that during their phone conversation Glasser said, “He didn’t use Agent Orange.”

“What they are doing is using semantics,” Glasser said after the meeting. “I didn’t know I was being interviewed with Mr. Hill as it wasn’t recorded and he misrepresented me. By saying Agent Orange isn’t there is like Bill Clinton saying he didn’t have sex with that woman.”

Glasser also added how Hill told him, “We don’t look into the past; we only are concerned about the future.”

The Rantoul Press did not publish my story about the Nov. 21 RAB meeting even though the public, the Restoration Advisory Board, the Air Force and the Illinois EPA engaged in heated discussions.

At the meeting, Linda K. May, a controversial local activist from Pontiac and a Champaign County native, provided three documents that she said proves Chanute Air Force Base’s chemical usage has contaminated the public water supply.

Doug Wolfe and Linda K. May

An Illinois EPA official said during the meeting that the village’s water is tested rigorously for contaminants. The state itself does not test for dioxin and TCE in water supplies, but instead relies on private contractors.

Another concern brought up during the meeting was the wells south of Chanute that tested for dioxin and other contaminants in 1998 and 2001.

Mary Walsh, a longtime rural Rantoul resident, said she and her neighbors worry about the base’s uncontrolled contaminated ground water because of the shallow water table and nearby farms.

“Out there, we are concerned about the ground water being tested on Chanute, and how Rantoul’s water supply could have an issue,” Walsh said. “But what are we supposed to do? Check our own wells?”

It was when she was asking that question that Rantoul police entered the meeting. A police press release later said that someone at the meeting was concerned when RAB member Doug Rokke left the meeting after a heated discussion and returned with a backpack. When Rokke reached into the backpack, he was physically restrained by the police and then roughly led out the room for questioning. The action postponed the meeting for about 10 minutes.

Rokke said the police released him and apologized for detaining him. They said a man from the meeting called saying he was making threatening gestures and was reaching for a possible weapon in a backpack. Rokke showed the police his backpack. It was filled with public documents.

When the meeting resumed after the police incident, the Air Force’s Carroll did not address Walsh’s questions about contaminated ground water.

Doug Wolfe, a reporter for Decatur’s WAND-TV, asked Carroll if dioxin had been detected on base.

“Yes, sir,” said Carroll, after taking a long drink of water before the interview. “There are detections of dioxin that were found. Everything that’s regulated by the EPA safe drinking water standards must meet EPA MCL (maximum containment level) requirements. Any public water supply has to meet those requirements, and Rantoul’s does as well.”

When questioned, Bob Carson of the Illinois EPA said that he does not think there is danger to the public from Agent Orange. ”I don’t believe there are any threats here,” Carson said. “There were a number of threats that were cleaned up. That work is underway. There is ground water contamination at this base. It’s to a limited extent due to the geology here.”

Wolfe, one of Central Illinois’ top broadcast journalists, asked Carson if contaminants seeped into the Mahomet aquifer.

“I’m not aware of any of that,” Carson said. “I’ve never heard mention. Yes, the Wisconsinan, which is the upper level of glacial materials, has the contamination. Below that, I can’t speak of that.”

RAB member Denise Becnel said she realizes the community has concerns over Chanute’s chemical usage. “I am concerned that there are members of Rantoul’s community that firmly believe that the environmental condition of Chanute is not right,” Becnel said. “I don’t have a technical background. I am not saying that there is Agent Orange or other contaminants on Chanute. I absolutely don’t know one way or another. But as a RAB member, I’m saying that we have to find a way to address the pressing concerns this community has regarding Chanute’s safety.”

The RAB voted to meet semiannually instead of quarterly. Linda Geissinger after the Nov. 21, 2013 RAB meeting told me the Air Force did not want to meet “due to what happened at the meeting” and “they were going to have to punt.”

After the meeting, I asked Hill why he seemed to avoid the WAND-TV cameras and why he helped apprehend Rokke. He did not answer. Carson told me Hill was ordered not to talk to me and that I can only ask Illinois EPA spokesman Andrew Mason or himself about Illinois EPA issues. I asked if it was common procedure or a special case, and Carson said, “You have to earn it, and, boy, did you earn it.”

The Fallout From the Meeting

Tim Evans

Following the intense meeting on Nov. 21, 2013, Evans, my general manager, told me, “You were unprofessional” and “many in the community complain about your professionalism and how you act with others.”

I asked Evans to give me examples numerous times, and he said, “It doesn’t matter” each time. Hinton and Evans told me they were weary of quoting Doug Rokke and Linda K. May due to their concerns about the sources’ credibility. Some local environmental activists like May have mistakenly cited Chanute as a Superfund site, even though the Air Force prevented its final nomination to the National Priority List. Sometimes advocates offer opinions beyond their recognized expertise. Both Rokke and May were helpful to me by providing government documents and other facts, but my editors were right to question some of their assertions. I never received any complaints personally, by phone calls, texts, emails or letters about lacking professionalism. I reiterated that there were many sources who had opened up about extremely personal issues for comprehensive features.

Evans told me either to tender my resignation on Monday (Nov. 25, 2013), or there would be “other avenues” because “Dave and I won’t stand for this anymore and will put an end to it.”

On Nov. 25, I told Evans I refused to resign because I did not do anything wrong. The next day I scheduled a meeting for Dec. 3 with News-Gazette Inc. publisher John Foreman to talk about Rantoul’s water issues.

Foreman’s secretary cancelled the meeting on Dec. 2, a day before the scheduled meeting. I never had a chance to talk to Foreman.

On Dec. 3, Evans and Hinton met with me, and Evans said I was “no longer an employee of the News-Gazette family.” I asked why and who made this decision. Evans would not say why I was fired, and that “it was a decision that Dave, I, and Mr. Foreman felt needed to be made.”

The Rantoul Press finally published two stories about the Nov. 21 RAB meeting on Dec. 11, but those stories failed to mention the heated debate, the police presence or the WAND-TVcoverage. The leads in both stories were the RAB to meet twice a year and RAB working with school children.

I filed a Freedom of Information Act on Nov. 13 to the Illinois EPA and followed up on Dec. 6 with Illinois EPA’s Sharon Dawson about why the request had not been acknowledged.

Dawson replied by email on Dec. 10 stating, “We attempted to contact you via phone on 12/4 at the Rantoul Press. We were informed that you were no longer employed at the paper. Tim Evans told us that the newspaper was not interested in the information and that we could close out this FOIA request. Therefore, the Agency will not be sending a response and this request is considered to be closed.”

Later that day I re-filed the request for DCBureau.org.

On Dec. 10, I filed a FOIA with the Rantoul Police Department about who made the emergency call about Doug Rokke during the Nov. 21 RAB meeting at the Rantoul Business Center. The incident report, written by Sgt. Justin E. Bouse, revealed that Illinois EPA’s Clarence Smith made the call on the police’s administrative line. He said that the RAB meeting had a subject “becoming upset, left the meeting, went to his car, and retrieved a backpack.” The subject then came back into the meeting with the backpack. Smith said the backpack appeared to contain something “heavy” and was concerned the backpack “may contain something dangerous.”

Earlier in the meeting, RAB member Debra Rawlings read for several minutes from a prepared written statement attacking Rokke’s credibility. Rokke did not appear upset while Rawlings continually raised her voice.

Bouse continued that he approached Rokke “when he reached into the backpack.” Another male subject, Illinois EPA’s Chris Hill, moved towards Rokke and “grabbed his left side.” The meeting was called to a halt and evacuated for more than 10 minutes. The police questioned Rokke and found that his backpack “contained only papers and other documents.”

The police then physically escorted Rokke from the building, not allowing him to return to the public meeting.

Joseph Trento of DCBureau.org and I called and emailed Mason, Smith and Hill for comment about the November meeting and why they called the police on Rokke. All three did not answer their phones, and Mason twice emailed, “Illinois EPA has nothing to add.”

Traci Nally, vice president of human resources and general counsel for The News-Gazette, Inc., emailed me on Dec. 16 saying, “It has been reported to me that you are still reporting on stories from Rantoul and in particular a story regarding environmental issues at the former Chanute Air Force Base.” Nally continued by saying the email was a warning regarding my ongoing work, including that any information or photographs obtained while working for the Rantoul Press belonged to that organization. She continued, “You are instructed by this email to destroy that information whether it is now on any of your personal electronic devices (computers or cameras) or in handwritten notebooks.”

I had not talked to anyone from The News-Gazette about my work.

When I asked Starr and Geissinger through email and phone calls about the November RAB meeting, both declined to comment. Geissinger referred comments to Starr since “you’re no longer with the Rantoul Press.”

Steam Plant

On Dec. 17, the Rantoul Press reported that the economic conveyance agreement was signed by the Air Force and Rantoul so White Hall and the steam plant can both legally be transferred to the village and be demolished in late 2014 or early 2015. The steam plant will take $5.3 million to demolished and remove materials safely, while White Hall will be in the neighborhood of $12 million.

On Jan. 15, the Rantoul Press published an article that White Hall was the “third most haunted place in Illinois,” according to the Illinois Paranormal Society. Village inspector Dan Culkin said in the article that the Illinois Paranormal Society has “taken pictures inside.” Culkin did not say that anyone visiting White Hall needs to wear a respirator for safety.

Rantoul Mayor Chuck Smith fired village administrator Sandahl on Feb. 28 after five and a half years. Smith declined to give the Rantoul Press a reason for the termination, citing personnel regulations.

In a March 19 column praising Sandahl, Evans wrote, “I truly know of no other person who thought more of Rantoul’s potential than Sandahl. He had insight that others couldn’t see” and “if it wasn’t for Sandahl, we wouldn’t be talking about harvesting crops on former Air Force base property.”

Rantoul wants to use 40 acres on base property to grow food crops for private and commercial consumption starting April 1.

Editor’s Note:Bob Bajek’s boss, Rantoul Press General Manager Tim Evans, was responsible for Bajek’s dismissal from the Rantoul Press on December 3, 2013. His version of events differs from the account that Bajek provided DCBureau.org. Evans told DCBureau.org he considered Bajek a “troublemaker.” When asked why he was dismissed, Evans said, “This is a personnel matter and none of your business.” When I pressed Evans on Bajek’s assertion that he had been fired because he was pushing for Chanute Air Force Base coverage, Evans said, “It wasn’t because of Chanute.”“All that kid did was cause trouble and stir up shit… He didn’t represent our publications very well,” Evans said. While Evans refused to say precisely why Bajek was fired, he said Bajek had been a solid reporter “up until he started covering subjects other than sports. He pissed off people in town because he liked to stir stuff. He began listening to people who like to stir stuff up.”When asked about his paper’s lack of in-depth coverage of the Chanute story, Evans said that the paper did not have the resources to investigate such a complicated story. “You have to trust your community leaders on this. Bajek was talking to troublemakers, and they got him stirred up and we know their history. We were not just going to go there. It took too long to investigate this stuff. He was fired because he upset every community leader in town. They personally told me they could not trust what he wrote.” When asked for names we could contact, Evans said that was none of our business. Bajek’s immediate editor, Dave Hinton, said that Bajek’s inability to get along with people in the way he represented the paper was at the heart of his “problems.” Hinton said he was not specifically fired over the Chanute story, but Hinton was unhappy with Bajek’s reliance on two local sources on the Chanute story. Hinton said that based on his experience, they were not trustworthy. Hinton said he repeatedly warned Bajek about the sources. When asked why Bajek’s story on Agent Orange was spiked, Hinton said it was because there “was no evidence that Agent Orange was ever at Chanute.” When asked if he thought the former airman quoted in Bajek’s story was lying, Hinton said his problem was with the other sources making the claim. Hinton volunteered that neither he nor the Rantoul Press “is in the pocket of the Air Force.”  

The Murky Depths of Ocean Mining

The entire ocean mining industry that promises investors untold riches had its birth in a CIA covert operation at the height of the Cold War.

Starting off as OPERATION AZORIAN, the idea to build a huge ship to lift a Soviet submarine – filled with nuclear and code secrets – off the ocean floor in the middle of the Pacific was a project Naval Intelligence brought to what was known in 1968 as the “Forty Committee.” This group approved or disapproved high-risk intelligence operations. The Forty Committee had a long history of approving some infamous intelligence operations. It concluded the project of trying to recover the K-129, a diesel-powered Soviet sub, was too high risk for just the Navy. The CIA was brought into the operation under the codenames OPERATION DESKTOP and JENNIFER.

The United States had a serious challenge with the operation. The Soviets had informally asked the United States for help in locating the sunken sub when it first disappeared. Our undersea SOSUS system had actually recorded the explosions and hull collapse of the sub in real time. We knew exactly where the K-129 was and how deep the sub had gone down. We told the Soviets that we would assist them in trying to find the sub, but, in the part of the Pacific where the tragedy took place, actually recovering the wreckage would be almost impossible.

William Colby

Under the leadership of William Colby, the CIA partnered with the legendary Howard Hughes to have Hughes design and engineer at Hughes Tool Company the giant ship with a “moon pool” hidden at its center to hide a giant undersea crane and claw to lift the sub to the surface. Colby’s team developed the cover story that the Hughes Glomar Explorer was a new kind of undersea mining vessel. While the ship was being constructed, the Navy and CIA sent in teams that took thousands of remote photographs of the wreckage site.

The CIA insisted on working with Hughes through his Summa Corporation located in Hollywood, California. Hughes kept the classified paperwork of the operation at this office. A mysterious and still unsolved break-in took place where key documents detailing the massive expenditures of money on the Glomar project were compromised.

Two seemingly unrelated CIA operations were involved in the compromise of the Hughes Glomar Explorer operation. John Paisley, the CIA’s Deputy Director of Strategic Research (and a suspected Soviet agent) was running the infamous “plumbers unit” that was conducting a number of CIA-sanctioned illegal break-ins. FBI agents suspected it was Paisley’s team that did the Summa Corporation break-in. Why would a CIA team break into a contractor’s office? According to the FBI official who investigated the case, the Agency had become convinced Hughes was cheating it out of millions of dollars in overcharges on the Glomar project. The FBI believed it was Colby who ordered the break-in. Colby denied it.

Nicholas Shadrin

By 1974 the ship was ready and in place for the recovery attempt. It was Colby himself who may have compromised the operation. He suggested that there probably would be bodies of Soviet sailors found on the ship, and “we needed to document that these crew members were treated with respect.” Colby contacted the CIA’s Soviet Division for advice, and they came up with the idea of tasking a high-ranking defector, Nicholas Shadrin, who had been a Soviet naval officer, to advise them on the appropriate funeral service for any bodies recovered.

Nicholas Shadrin was, in reality, Captain Nikolay Fedororvich Artamonov, who had defected to the West in 1959 on a small boat to Sweden with his lover, a Polish dentist named Ewa Gora. Shadrin told the local CIA Station Chief, Paul Garbler, in Sweden that he defected because of his love for Gora whom he had met while serving in Gdansk, Poland. Artamonov told Garbler he was married in the Soviet Union to the daughter of Sergei Gorshkov, the head of the Soviet Navy. On the surface, the defection of the imperial-looking Artamonov was a huge coup for the CIA. But to several counterintelligence officers, he was too good to be true. Officers from the CIA’s Soviet Division cut the counterintelligence officers out of the process and rushed Artamonov to the United States.

By the time Shadrin was brought into the Hughes Glomar Explorer operation through one of his new U.S. Naval Intelligence pals, he was already well connected at the top of the U.S. Navy. Admiral Rufus Taylor had personally vouched for Shadrin. His best friend at the Office of Naval Intelligence was Tom Dwyer. Dwyer was a key player in the Glomar project. Had CIA officers not rushed Shadrin’s security clearance, they might have realized his defection made no sense. To compound the intelligence failure, another key Soviet agent, who the FBI thought they had turned, codenamed KITTY HAWK, was given permission to make contact with Shadrin. So in the middle of the most important Naval Intelligence operation in history, a Soviet citizen and high-ranking naval officer was given full access to its secrets.

Shadrin told his colleagues that the CIA was wasting money trying to recover the sub – “that all they would get should they bring it up was old technology and nothing of value.” Shadrin’s information was used to assist in the critical design of the claw and other elements of the Glomar operation.

Shadrin’s main task was to make certain a proper Soviet burial service was conducted if any bodies were recovered. Shadrin was flown to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego before being transported to the Glomar Explorer for the recovery attempt.

Hughes Glomar Explorer

In the spring of 1974, 750 miles west of Hawaii, the claw contraption was lowered over the Soviet submarine and made a seemingly successful grab. But at 5,000 feet, the K-129 sub broke into several pieces when the claw contraption failed. Had Shadrin deliberately fed the Navy wrong information about the weight of the sub or did Hughes simply build an inferior lift device?

What ended up in the Hughes Glomar Explorer’s moon pool was about a third of the sub. Two nuclear torpedoes and codebooks and instruction manuals (for the sea-launched ballistic missiles that were lost to the sea) were successfully recovered. Attached to the exterior of the sub were manganese nodules from the ocean floor. Also in the wreckage were the bodies of six Soviet sailors. Shadrin helped conduct the service that Colby ordered filmed so that at some point it could be given to the Soviets.

When CIA officials proposed a second operation to recover the ballistic missiles, Colby said no. “By then the operation was compromised and there would be no point,” he said. (Colby died in 1996 under mysterious circumstances.)

In December 1975, Shadrin told his FBI handlers that Soviet intelligence officers had asked for another meeting with him in Vienna, Austria. Five days before Christmas, Shadrin left Ewa at the Bristol Hotel and went to a meeting with his Soviet handlers on the steps of the Votivkirche where his son escorted him back home to mother Russia.

The Forest Trust: An Interview with Scott Poynton

Duncan Gromko recently intereviewed Scott Poynton, Founder and Executive Director of The Forest Trust (TFT), an NGO. TFT works with companies to make commodity production more responsible by working on environmental and social issues in their supply chains. TFT recently started working with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Wilmar, two companies in the pulp and paper and palm oil sectors that have been responsible for significant deforestation across Southeast Asia. Can TFT help companies eliminate deforestation from their supply chains? Does Poynton worry about green washing accusations, for working with companies that have had such a negative impact on the environment?

Scott Poynton

Duncan Gromko: You’re from Australia, but a lot of TFT’s work is in Indonesia. What drew you to Indonesia?

Scott Poynton: I actually started my work in Vietnam and I lived there for six years on two occasions and have travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. With deforestation being such a huge issue in Indonesia, we’ve naturally been drawn here to try and work on that.

DG: What is TFT’s mission?

SP: I always say our mission is to stick to our values. People expect us to say it’s to save forests, but we have a fundamental set of values: truth, respect, humility, compassion, and courage. If we act according to those values, good things happen.

DG: Why did you decide to work with companies?

SP: If you talk about putting your finger firmly on the problem of deforestation, the problem is global supply chains because they suck the deforestation through them. We work with companies to help them make their business operations more responsible.

DG: What does that work look like in practice?

SP: For example, with APP we helped them develop a policy to remove deforestation from their supply chain. The policy is about 10% of the work. 90% of the work is getting out into the bush, in their supply chains, looking at where they get their products, how they’re doing their business, who they’re buying from, and what those guys are doing. If the company is a retailer, they say, “We don’t want our furniture to cause deforestation.” We help them make a policy and see where they get their wood from. And sometimes they don’t know. So we help them work that out and find responsible suppliers. It’s a very hands-on approach.

If you go and talk to a company with compassion and respect, with the courage to tell them the truth and the humility to act in a dignified way and not pretend you’re the bloody expert, we find that we can help people move forward to find their own path to transformation because they’re ready to talk to us. That’s where those abstract values come into play.

DG: Why do companies want to work with you? What is the benefit to the companies?

Palm Oil Plantation

SP: Some companies are getting beaten up by NGOs and turn to TFT. Nestle was an example. There was this Greenpeace video with an orangutan’s finger in the Kit Kat. I live just down the road from Nestle. They invited me to speak to them, they understood that the problem they had was they didn’t have full visibility right out to what was happening in the plantations supplying their raw materials.

Other companies are not being attacked, but just want to change their supply chain. They say, “We hear a lot about deforestation in palm oil supply chains, and we don’t want to be a part of that. We want to be responsible.” So they come to work with us to help them ensure that’s the case.

DG: It sounds like a good cop/bad cop relationship with Greenpeace. Is that an explicit relationship, where you put together a strategy or is it something that happens organically?

SP: It’s organic. Greenpeace is so active in this space that they end up inadvertently pushing companies to us. It’s not a deliberate strategy. Over time we’ve built a lot of trust with each other. We have a good reputation for stepping into really complex situations where the company doesn’t know what to do. Nestle was a good example. Greenpeace had asked them not to cause deforestation and Nestle had a policy not to. And yet you saw what happened [with the orangutan advertisement]. We said, “You’re speaking Nestle-ese and Greenpeace is speaking Greenpeace-ese and you guys aren’t connecting.” We act as translators, to help the company understand Greenpeace’s demands and to translate those into a policy response for the company. We help the company convey its serious intentions to Greenpeace.

DG: A lot of the companies you work with, like APP and Wilmar, have done some terrible things in the past and now you come in and give them this stamp of approval. Are you worried that you’re legitimizing companies that aren’t squeaky-clean?

SP: I recognize that companies might have done some pretty grim things in the past. You run the risk of letting people off the hook, but we say to the company, “If you don’t implement the policy, we will walk away.” It’s our credibility at stake. We have walked away from companies. We walked away from a bank that asked to work with us. When I asked who they were doing business with, they wouldn’t tell us. I told them I couldn’t do my job without that information, but they said, “Don’t worry about that, we just want to give you a big donation to say we’re working with you.” So we decided we couldn’t work like that and we walked away.

By getting Nestle, [Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) – a palm oil company], APP, and Wilmar, we’ve got some big companies looking seriously at how they can transform their processes. If these guys can change their operations, anyone can. Inevitably, some people will accuse us of green washing. But there’s no company out there that has a stronger policy than a TFT member. And there’s no company implementing their policy like a TFT member. There are NGOs who don’t like us because we engage with companies. But those particular NGOs tend to complain a lot and like to criticize; it’s their role. My view is that complaining can make folk uncomfortable, and that’s good, it’s part of the change process, but alone it doesn’t do much to change things. I’m not interested in complaining, I’m interested in transformation.

DG: What are your thoughts on some of the agribusiness certification standards?

SP: The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil standard allows peat and secondary forests to be cleared. Their standard allows deforestation and it hasn’t slowed deforestation rates yet they claim RSPO certified means “sustainable.” I think that amounts to green washing.

DG: Wilmar and APP have recently made no deforestation commitments; does getting these huge companies on board represent a bigger change in business?

SP: I think so. More and more companies are looking at it and we’re seeing the start of the tipping point. What’s happening in consumer countries, led by Nestle, is that many more companies don’t want to be linked to deforestation. They provide the pull of the supply chain, to say “listen, Wilmar and APP, we don’t want to be linked to deforestation.” So the companies have jumped and they’re implementing their policies. In Wilmar’s case, they’re so big and dominating of the sector that everyone else is thinking of changing too. I think we’ve started something together with these companies and we’re approaching a tipping point.

DG: What happened to make consumer goods companies want these changes?

SP: NGO campaigns have increased pressure. And there’s been so much in the media about climate change and the links between deforestation and climate change. Sumatra [Indonesia] is almost bare. The Amazon has been devastated. The Congo Basin is in trouble. People in America, in Australia – mind you they just elected the most ridiculous government ever, that doesn’t believe in climate change – and people in Europe are starting to be affected by climate change. When [the NGO community] was talking about saving the tiger or saving the panda, people agreed with it, but it wasn’t really in their daily life. But look at what’s happening now: the floods in the UK, the extreme weather events in the U.S., and Australia is cooking. So it’s affecting them and they’re responding by saying, “We don’t want you to cause deforestation to supply us products. Stop it.”

DG: With the lack of government action around the environment and climate change, can groups like TFT and other civil society make a big difference?

SP: We can achieve a lot more, but I’m not sure exactly how much. Our theory of change is that governments are worried about making policy changes that put people out of jobs, which in democracy will cost them their job. We’re trying to prove to governments that we can implement these commitments without losing jobs. We need cases like APP, Wilmar, and GAR to show to governments that No Deforestation commitments can actually increase business from consumer countries.

DG: Anything else to add?

SP: It’s a really interesting time now with the big companies coming on board to provide the case study to government. The Wilmar announcement can really change the way food is grown and the way the world does business. If we can do it, there’s no reason why there should be deforestation in soy, in any commodity. We’re at a game-changing threshold. If we can cross it we’ll be in a different place.