ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 March 2002


According to PR Watch <>, "a PR executive for DuPont once asked us, 'Are you the people picking on Jack Mongoven?'"

In its upcoming June issue, Tobacco Control Online, a scientific publication of the British Medical Journal Publishing Group, is publishing a detailed report on the secretive PR spy firm of Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin which, according to PR Watch, lies and uses other unsavory tactics to gather information used to defeat environmental and consumer groups. Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin's clients include dozens of the biggest Fortune 500 industries and their lobby groups.

The story the new report tells is highly relevant to the GM debate and indeed Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin are known to have turned their attention to that debate on behalf of tobacco and food giant Philip Morris:

"MBD is particularly experienced in fighting environmental NGOs... In the late 1990s, MBD intelligence was important to Philip Morris‚ planning to ensure that they were able to continue to use genetically modified organisms across the PM group of companies."

The report doesn't look at the GM debate in any greater detail but it does describe MBD's tactics more broadly in a way that is very relevant.

MDB, the report notes, is part of a global industry of "anti-activism". They aim to provide expert intelligence-gathering to help multinationals bring down advocacy campaigns both through advice and through practical, logistical support. Activist and public interest groups, churches, unions and/or academia are all targets. The report notes, "activists, NGOs and even bureaucrats need to be alerted to the possibility of MBD infiltration of their activities and of their own ranks."

MDB's founder, Jack Mongoven made his name with his work for Nestlé on undermining the boycott it faced over its promotion and mis-selling of its infant feed formula in the Third World, "a practice which led to widespread infant death due primarily to lack of access to clean water". Mungoven helped devise a "divide and conquer" plan to bring down the boycott. Having helped damage the boycott, and so no longer needed at Nestlé, he then formed a PR firm, 'Pagan International', with a partner "and worked for the defence, chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries until a scandal scuttled the company and Jack Mongoven left to form MBD with Alvin Biscoe and Ron Duchin."

Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin's wider work for its corporate clients included building up background information for character assassination of activists, scientists and even bureaucrats viewed as problematic:

"MBD maintain extensive files on organisations and their leaders including personal biographies, funding sources and susceptibility to co-option... They get their information by joining mailing lists, reading newsletters and other publications, and using spies (people generally claiming to be concerned citizens or freelance journalists) to gather inside information at advocacy events and from within advocacy organisations, sometimes infiltrating the organisation and gathering information over long periods. MBD also uses mail and telephone "surveys" of activist organisations, generally framing their true objectives euphemistically."

It also uses a 'third party strategy' ("develop an entity") ­ for example, setting up fronts and astroturf organisations to act as indirect conduits for corporate pr. MDB, of course, is far from alone in using such tactics - Burson-Marsteller, the world's largest PR firm, is among those who have been shown time and time again to have done so.

MDB's NGO-busteing for their corporate masters includes 4 key components: isolate the radicals, re-educate the idealists, flatter the opportunists and co-opt the realists:

"First, you isolate the radicals: those who want to change the system and promote social justice. Second, you carefully 'cultivate' the idealists: those who are altruistic, don’t stand to gain from their activism, and are not as extreme in their methods and objectives as the radicals. You do this by gently persuading them that their advocacy has negative consequences for some groups, thus transforming them into realists. Finally, you co-opt the realists (the pragmatic incrementalists willing to work within the system) into compromise. 'The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue ...If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution.'"

The report also notes that, "In Mongoven’s world, public health, consumer advocacy, and 'the kind of fuzzy thinking which brought us the likes of the precautionary principle' must bow before the might of corporate 'science'. In this world MBD operate their own form of scaremongering where the corporations are innocent giants under attack from "radicals". In support of this "grand narratives of modernization, technology and western values" are presented as being under threat from activists.

Not in the new report is Mongoven's work for the chemical industry and specifically the Chlorine Chmistry Council - CCC - created by the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Here he advised in a memo on how CCC deal with an upcoming meeting involving a critical expert, Dr Davis, breast cancer survivors, and "anti-chlorine sentiments" as follows:

"**Schedule through KPR [Ketchum Public Relations, in Washington, D.C.] editorial board meetings in Dayton prior to Department of Health and Human Services Devra Lee Davis['s] speech to a forum on breast cancer sponsored by Greenpeace and WEDO to be held in Dayton....

** Enlist legitimate scientists in the Dayton area who would be willing to ask pointed questions at the conference....

** Stimulate peer-reviewed articles for publication in the JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] on the role of chlorine chemistry in treating disease.....

** Convince through carefully crafted meetings of industry representatives (in pharmaceuticals) with organizations devoted to specific illnesses, e.g., arthritis, cystic fibrosis, etc., that the cure for their specific disease may well come through chlorine chemistry and ask them to pass resolutions endorsing chlorine chemistry and communicate those resolutions to medical societies.  If it is possible to identify potential prominent allies in the organizations before the meetings that would be preferred...."

Last year Jack Mongoven died - ironically, given his extensive work for Big Tobacco, of lung cancer. However, the work for which the firm he founded gained such notoriety lives on.
The new Tobacco Control Online report is currently available as a free PDF download
[for more details and other links see:]

See also:
Tobacco industry accused of foul practice

ngin bulletin archive