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Why the U.S. Dept of Defense confirmed Shell espionage investigation

*Industrial espionage, economic espionage or corporate espionage is a form of espionage conducted for commercial purposes instead of purely national security purposes.


As as outside observer of the shenanigans that have been taking place over the last few weeks with Shell and Wikipedia, and which have been publicized on your blog, I would like to add my two cents worth of observations.

The first is that this is great cyber-opera. Very entertaining. I cannot wait for the next installment of the drama.

The second is that the Wiki – nonsense and the messing with your server are very amateurish on the part of Shell. Forgive me if I have passed judgment on Shell with the limited facts available, but I have no doubt they were initiated by Shell given the nature of the articles you published about Shell and its apparent industrial espionage scheme. Nobody else has motivation to give you a hard time. The deduction is obvious. But that kind of crap is just petty harassment.

What I find to be most interesting is that DoD would confirm the fact that there was indeed such an investigation to you. Why? Obviously, DoD wants Shell, and the world, to know that they know what Shell, and their (alleged) gang of bungling accomplices,  have (apparently?) been up to, and that they have known about these activities for a very long time. But they have not used the ‘usual source’ to do that. Interesting. But you did scoop mainstream media on all of this. And it was released in the UK, not the States, again interesting. The consideration here was probably political.

DoD is a very funny organization. It is not the administrative monolith people think it is. By law it is a loose confederation of self-serving bureaucratic feudal kingdoms that are supposedly unified in purpose. In fact, there is a lot of back-biting, infighting, turf protection, etc., that goes on continually. And DoD’s power to constraint all these agencies is actually quite limited. The task is often times much like herding a bunch of bickering cats. The task has gotten easier in recent years, but there is a long way to go.

In the case that you have reported on, the alleged security violation by ONR is very serious and would have had to be investigated by NCIS. US Navy cops investigating US Navy transgressions. You can guess how that came out. No publicity, and things taken care of very ‘quietly’, behind the scenes. The release of nuclear weapons design information is about as serious a security violation as there is.

So, DoD has used you to announce to the world that Shell USA is/was under investigation for (an alleged) conspiracy to commit espionage. They have also used you to expose ONR’s (alleged) bungling and security violations. DoD didn’t do it themselves. Why? The answer is essentially very simple, DoD agencies don’t take other DoD agencies out to the woodshed. These people must work together, not engage in self-destructive internal bureaucratic warfare.

What does this all mean for Shell and their (alleged) bungling minions? In could very well mean that DoD is announcing to Shell, and the world, that they have got the goods on these guys, but for political reasons, i.e., ONR’s screw-up, have not been able to pursue the matter. Exposing Shell would have meant exposing ONR’s bungling. Now that the facts are out in the open, and released/leaked by some news blog, DoD’s hand may be a great deal freer to deal with Shell, et al, and with the transgressions committed by ONR.

Washington is a town where ‘leaks’ to the press are done for a purpose. The purpose here appears to have been to expose Shell and fire a shot across their bow. Shell is also a company with a lot of political connections. This information could do a lot to neutralized those connections and political protection.

Remember, Shell USA is a US corporation, run and staffed by Americans, mostly. RD Shell may own it, but it is a US corporation. Americans spying on Americans? For what, promotions and corporate greed? Very bad business. Very bad indeed. Under US law that would be considered treason in time of war. But a conviction for espionage in peace time carries with it a life sentence in a Federal maximum security prison without possibility of parole. And under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 there is a forfeiture of property clause that is very, very onerous. Uncle Sam could end up owning One Shell Plaza in downtown Houston.

I do think you have managed to get Shell management’s attention. I look forward to the next chapter of this story. Just a few thoughts from a well-entertained observer. When this is all over with you might be able to write a book.

*Wikipedia definition

Comment by John Donovan.

Royal Dutch Shell has repeatedly refused to comment or deny the industrial espionage story. Perhaps senior management was otherwise occupied concentrating on settling bribery charges also brought by the U.S. authorities? Thus far none of the individuals named in the article and related historical narration, including attorneys well known in Houston, have contacted me to protest their innocence and deny any involvement.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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