The operator of the trans-Alaska pipeline is being investigated by a congressional committee for allegedly spying on a former tanker broker it suspected of supplying information to the committee's probe of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, chaired by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), has asked the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. to provide documents resulting from surveillance by its security contractor, Wackenhut Corp., between March and September, 1990, Alyeska confirmed.
Wackenhut, based in Coral Gables, Fla., has also been asked to supply documents. Alyeska is a consortium of oil companies including Exxon Corp. and Atlantic Richfield Co. of Los Angeles.
In court documents, an unidentified former Wackenhut employee testified that the company established a Washington office to target Miller himself, as well as other congressmen to whom the broker was suspected of supplying information about environmental wrongdoing by Exxon, Alyeska and other oil companies in Alaska.
The tanker broker, Charles Hamel of Alexandria, Va., is an industry gadfly who now is suing Exxon in a business dispute.
James B. Hermiller, president of Alyeska, said the company would cooperate fully with Miller's request, but denied that Alyeska had targeted Hamel for investigation. Instead, he said, the company hired Wackenhut to identify the source of company leaks to Hamel.
"The only thing we knew was that Mr. Hamel had stolen documents of ours, or copies of those documents, which were privileged," Hermiller said in a telephone interview from Anchorage. "The only way we figured was to work backward to determine where the leaks were in our own security."
He denied any illegal or improper surveillance and said the investigation ended inconclusively in September, 1990.
In a statement, Hamel accused Alyeska and Wackenhut of covert electronic surveillance, wiretapping, burglary and outright deception--all of which Hermiller flatly denied.
Officials of Wackenhut could not be reached late Friday. In an interview Thursday with Miami television station WTVJ, company President George Wackenhut denied any wrongdoing.
In a sworn statement filed in U.S. District Court in Houston in connection with Hamel's suit against Exxon, the former Wackenhut employee said the company's special investigations division conducted illegal electronic surveillance of Hamel's home, searched his garbage, obtained his telephone records and attempted to furnish him with large amounts of cash. The employee, whose name was blacked out in the court file, said Wackenhut agents also masqueraded as news reporters.
A second former Wackenhut employee said in a separate affidavit that Hamel had released information embarrassing to Alyeska and Exxon; the intent of the probe, he said, was "to compromise Mr. Hamel in some way."
The employee said Exxon and Alyeska spent more than $1 million to fund the operation.
Alyeska spokeswoman Marnie Isaacs denied that, saying the company spent a little less than $200,000 for the entire operation.
Hermiller declined to comment on the specific allegations in the court documents. But he said: "Wackenhut is probably the premiere security firm in the world, and they do not do anything illegal. They conduct programs in a very professional and legal way."
Times staff writer J. Michael Kennedy in Houston contributed to this story.