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“Our Energy Moment:” The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz

11:52 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Our Energy Moment log

Blue Engine Media’s pro-fracking moment

Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.

And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”

Its member list includes industry heavy hitters such as Cheniere Energy, Sempra Energy, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and Freeport LNG.

Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about theU.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNGexport facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.

So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.

At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.

Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.

Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.

Blue Engine Media

According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”

Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.

The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”

Common Purpose has received strong criticism from both investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and founder of FireDogLakeJane Hamsher.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 formsmatches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.

Other Blue Engine luminaries include:

  • Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
  • Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of theU.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
  • Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
  • Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.

Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.

And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.

Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power overLNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.

Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.

Liberty Concepts

Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”

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Divide And Conquer: Unpacking Stratfor’s Rise To Power

3:55 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

This is Part 1 of a Mint Press News investigation into the story of Stratfor.

Stratfor logo

A look at Strategic Forecasting, the private intelligence agency.

On Christmas Day 2011, the hacktivist collective Anonymous ruined the day for a security firm that, throughout much of its history, enjoyed operating in the shadows.

The firm: Strategic Forecasting, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based intelligence-collecting contracting company better known as Stratfor. Its clients include some of the most profitable multinational corporations on the planet, such as the American Petroleum Institute, Archer Daniels Midland, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Northrop Grumman, Intel and Coca-Cola.

Anonymous hacked into the content management system of Stratfor’s computer system, eventually handing over 5.2 million emails and accompanying attachments to WikiLeaks, which coined the database the “Global Intelligence Files.”

Working through an informant named “Sabu,” who posed as a fellow “comrade,” federal officials tracked down the hacktivist responsible for the leak, Chicago’s Jeremy Hammond, just three months later.

In March 2012, the FBI raided Hammond’s apartment and handed him charges. After more than a year of sitting in the Manhattan Correctional Center, Hammond eventually settled out of court in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and his sentence will be handed down on Sept. 6. He may serve up to 10 years in prison.

Stratfor’s precursor, Pagan International, built the corporate public relations playbook still utilized by the firm today.

The goal of a corporate PR plan “must be to separate the fanatic activist leaders … from the overwhelming majority of their followers: decent, concerned people who are willing to judge us on the basis of our openness and usefulness,” Pagan stated in 1982, fully understanding that the public should never know this was the game plan.

Hammond — perhaps without knowing every detail of the history of the playbook itself — essentially cited it as the rationale behind his Stratfor hack and leak to WikiLeaks.

“I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions,” he stated in a press release announcing the plea deal. “I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.”

In this investigation, Mint Press examines Stratfor’s rise to power and its use of the “divide and conquer” philosophy to take on some of the largest boycott movements against multinational corporations.

‘Divide and conquer’

The story of Stratfor begins with a short-lived but deeply influential firm called Pagan International.

If there’s a short description of the modus operandi of Stratfor’s predecessors, military-like “divide and conquer” perceptions management — or rough-and-tumble public relations — is it.

That’s not by accident. Two of Pagan’s co-founders started their careers doing covert work for the U.S. military. Modern public relations got its start in military psychological operations, or psy-ops. “Divide and conquer” is one of the tenets laid out in the “U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual.”

Pagan International was named after Rafael D. Pagan Jr., who joined the U.S. Army in 1951 and spent two decades doing upper-level military intelligence work. He used it as a launching point into the corporate PR world.

“A former Army intelligence officer, the Potomac resident briefed Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on the Soviet bloc’s military and economic capabilities. He advised Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush on policies promoting Third World social and economic development,” explains his 1993 obituary in The Washington Times.

Upon leaving the Pentagon, Pagan got three public relations jobs for corporations seeking markets for their products in the developing world.

“Pagan began his international business career in 1970 as a senior executive in new business development with three major multinational companies, International Nickel of Canada (now Inco), Castle & Cooke (now Dole), and Nestle,” according to his obituary. “He specialized in addressing conflicts for multinational companies seeking to invest and operate in Third World countries.”

Pagan followed in the footsteps of the father of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, who helped with the PR surrounding United Fruit Company’s work with the U.S. government to foment a coup in 1954 in HondurasPagan also did PR for Castle & Cooke in Honduras.

Pagan’s experiences working in the Honduran “banana republic” under the U.S.-installed right-wing, corporate-friendly military dictatorship would suit him well for his the next step of his career: doing the PR bidding of multinational corporate behemoth Nestle.

The playbook in action for Nestle

Speaking at the April 1982 Public Affairs Council conference to his colleagues in the PR industry, Pagan revealed the skeleton of the playbook that would last all the way through the Stratfor days.

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