Report: Fired Employee Says Wal-Mart Condoned Large-Scale Surveillance Operation

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The Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) worker fired last month for intercepting a reporter's phone calls says he was part of a larger, sophisticated surveillance operation that included snooping not only on employees, but also on critics, stockholders and the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., The Wall Street Journal reported.

As part of the surveillance, the retailer last year had a long-haired employee infiltrate an anti-Wal-Mart group to determine if it planned protests at the company's annual meeting, according to Bruce Gabbard, the fired security worker, the Journal said.

The company also deployed cutting-edge monitoring systems made by a supplier to the Defense Department that allowed it to capture and record the actions of anyone connected to its global computer network, the Journal said.

The company fired Gabbard, a 19-year employee, last month for unauthorized recording of calls to and from a New York Times reporter and for intercepting pager messages. Wal-Mart conducted an internal investigation of Gabbard and his group's activities, fired his supervisor and demoted a vice president over the group.

Gabbard said in the Journal that he recorded the calls on his own because he felt pressured to stop embarrassing leaks. But he said in the Journal that most of his spying activities were sanctioned by superiors.

A company spokeswoman, Sarah Clark, characterized its security operations as normal.

"Like most major corporations, it is our corporate responsibility to have systems in place, including software systems, to monitor threats to our network and our intellectual property so we can protect our sensitive business information," she said in the Journal.

"It is also standard practice to provide physical and information security for our corporate events and for our board of directors and senior executives."