As Standing Rock Camps Cleared Out, TigerSwan Expanded Surveillance to Array of Progressive Causes

As law enforcement began evicting residents of North Dakota’s Oceti Sakowin camp, the private security company reached for ways to stay in business.

In this aerial photo the Sacred Stones Camp on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and along the Cannonball River, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline, is seen in Cannon Ball, N.D., Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. A federal judge on Monday refused to stop construction on the last stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline, which is progressing much faster than expected. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)
This aerial photo shows the Sacred Stones Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation and along the Cannonball River, where people protested the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D. on Feb. 13, 2017. Photo: Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune/AP

By the time law enforcement officers began evicting residents of the Oceti Sakowin Dakota Access Pipeline resistance camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on February 22, the brutal North Dakota winter had already driven away most of the pipeline opponents. With protesters’ numbers dwindling, along with nationwide attention to their cause, it would have been a natural time for the private security company in charge of monitoring the pipeline to head home as well. But internal communications between TigerSwan and its client, pipeline parent company Energy Transfer Partners, show that the security firm instead reached for ways to stay in business.

“The threat level has dropped significantly. This however does not rule out the chance of future attack,” states a document dated February 24, two days after the eviction began. “As with any dispersion of any insurgency, expect bifurcation into splinter groups, looking for new causes.”

Indeed, TigerSwan appeared to be looking for new causes, too. As The Intercept has reported, the security firm’s sweeping surveillance of anti-Dakota Access protesters had already spanned five months and expanded into Iowa, South Dakota, and Illinois. More than 100 leaked situation reports provided to The Intercept by a contractor working for TigerSwan describe in detail the firm’s observations of the NoDAPL movement; information obtained via invasive surveillance tactics such as infiltration of protest groups, aerial surveillance, and radio eavesdropping; and efforts to track the movements of individual pipeline opponents.

In January and February the NoDAPL movement suffered major blows. On January 24, days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump revived the stalled pipeline by reversing an Obama administration decision that had denied Energy Transfer Partners a key permit. The eviction of the resistance camps followed a month later.

Situation reports filed to Energy Transfer Partners in January and February reveal that as the pipeline’s construction neared completion, potentially threatening TigerSwan’s continued relationship with its client, the security company stepped up its efforts to portray the situation as volatile and dangerous.

In a document dated February 27, the report’s author made a comparison clearly derived from TigerSwan’s background as a private defense contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq:

The archetype of a jihadist post-insurgency is the aftermath of the anti-Soviet Afghanistan jihad. While many insurgents went back to their pre-war lives, many, especially the external supporters (foreign fighters), went back out into the world looking to start or join new jihadist insurgencies. Most famously this “bleedout” resulted in Osama bin Laden and the rise of Al Qaeda, but the jihadist veterans of Afghanistan also ended up fighting in Bosnia, Chechnya, North Africa, and Indonesia, among other places.

The “anti-DAPL diaspora,” the document argued, was spreading to Iowa, New York, Florida, and Arkansas. Finding less to report in North Dakota, the company focused in February on individual opponents’ movements to other states and described surveillance of causes as varied as climate change and resistance to incoming President Donald Trump.

Demonstrators protest against US President Donald Trump outside Trump Tower on the one-month anniversary of his inauguration, February 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP / Derek R. HENKLE        (Photo credit should read DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Demonstrators protest against President Donald Trump outside Trump Tower on Feb. 19, 2017, in Chicago.

Photo: Derek R. Henkle/AFP/Getty Images

TigerSwan became particularly interested in Chicago, and the February documents describe various efforts to infiltrate area activist groups. A February 4 report refers to a TigerSwan operative’s intention to conduct “observation and photographic documentation” of a local protest. Documents dated between February 19 and February 21 describe TigerSwan’s efforts to monitor an anti-Trump protest organized by the local chapter of the Answer Coalition, an anti-war, anti-racism group. “TigerSwan collections team will make contact with event organizers to embed within the structure of the demonstration to develop a trusted agent status to be cultivated for future collection efforts,” notes the February 19 report, which also speculates on the remote possibility of violence at the event.

Answer Coalition’s coordinator in Chicago, John Beacham, who organized the protest TigerSwan described, said that while participants were supportive of the NoDAPL movement, it was not the event’s primary focus. “They’re trying to make connections where they aren’t. It’s almost like they’re trying to cast conspiracy theories across the entire progressive movement because they’re sympathetic to the NoDAPL movement,” he told The Intercept.

A February 22 document describes an upcoming organizer training put on by the group Lifted Voices: “This would be a good opportunity for us to get someone inside, become known and gather the most current direct action [tactics, techniques, and procedures]. While Lifted Voices is not a #NoDAPL organization, Kelly Hayes has influenced organizing protest events and has spoken at the last two events in Chicago.”

“We were pretty aware that, with that number of people in the mix, an agent of law enforcement might be in the room,” Hayes told The Intercept. “So hearing that it was a rent-a-spy that was in the room isn’t that shocking.”

TigerSwan also focused on Iowa, and the documents describe in detail the growth there of the Little Creek Camp, built primarily as a space for education and healing. Documents dated between February 22 and February 27 provide updates on the movements of a group of water protectors as they traveled from North Dakota to the new Iowa camp, stopping at a hotel and at one point getting stuck in the mud.

A Protester make their last stand as authorites approach Oceti Sakowin Encampment in North Dakota Authorities clear Standing Rock protest camp, North Dakota, USA - 23 Feb 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)

A protester makes a last stand as authorities approach the Oceti Sakowin encampment in North Dakota to clear the Standing Rock protest camp on Feb. 23, 2017.

Photo: Rex Features/AP

Meanwhile, in the weeks before the Oceti Sakowin camp eviction, TigerSwan continued to deploy its invasive surveillance tactics in North Dakota. On February 7, TigerSwan noted its use of a “rotary-wing mounted mobile [forward-looking infrared cameras] to conduct evaluation of heat signatures and disposition of camps,” while on February 10 it made a case for the expansion of a “listening post” that might “yield increased situational awareness due to proximity of [radio frequency] devices” and on February 13 it made reference to “unsecure [radio frequency] communications used by camp security.”

The documents also highlight TigerSwan’s continued close cooperation with law enforcement, often referencing meetings with local sheriffs’ deputies, police chiefs, and the National Guard, as well as its effort to procure intelligence to be used to prosecute protesters. On February 10, a TigerSwan operative in Iowa even mentioned a meeting with Sen. Joni Ernst’s husband “to rekindle an informal relationship.” Sen. Ernst did not respond to a request for comment on the nature of any such relationship.

A February 5 document notes that the company had “continued to proceed with ETP’s legal team’s requests,” and on February 12, a report stated that the company would continue to “assist Federal Law Enforcement with identifying locations of Camp 4, pertinent to their criminal activity investigations.” On February 13, discussing the movement of “weapons cases” by some unidentified individuals, TigerSwan reported that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and North Dakota law enforcement “were passed the information and media gathered from the event.” And a February 27 document notes, “(TigerSwan-North Dakota) continues to support The Department of Interior with requests for [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] and information in the completion of the full removal of illegal personnel within the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] land and the Reservation lands.”

On February 9, mentioning a well-known water protector’s recommendation that others stop using Facebook, TigerSwan notes: “Remaining protestors are acutely aware of LE infiltration, and the monitoring of Social Media, seeing themselves as increasingly vulnerable to prosecution.”

As it was throughout the operation, TigerSwan was particularly alarmist about the potential for violence and sabotage, speculating about “flammable liquids being gathered” and “homemade incendiary weapons.”

At times, the speculative nature of its observations is almost farcical. “There is no indication the protesters have planned sabotage activities; however successful sabotage of equipment will hinder ongoing construction,” a report dated February 15 reads. “The threat of IEDs is of concern, however there is no indication that such devices are employed along the routes used by DAPL personnel.”

The February documents also repeatedly refer to water protectors with derogatory terms such as “snow poopers” and “sewage producers,” apparently in reference to a refuted narrative spread by local officials that water protectors had polluted the grounds of their camp. Occasionally, the documents openly display racism toward Native Americans. On February 24, for instance, after listing the names of various water protectors, the author adds, “Editors note! These names were not made up at a bar!” 

While earlier documents had focused on the presence of Palestinians and Muslims at the camps, in February TigerSwan zeroed in on groups like Veterans for Peace and the Catholic Worker, which it accused, respectively, of “anti-American/Pro-communist activities” and gathering funds “from various democratic parties, communist groups, and various other groups that seek to establish a revolutionary movement in the United States.”

As was the case in the fall, the January and February reports name dozens of individuals, with particular focus on some whom TigerSwan deemed to be the “most radical.”

Among them is Chase Iron Eyes, an activist, attorney, and former candidate for Congress, whom TigerSwan tracked to the airport where he boarded a flight to a climate conference in British Columbia, which TigerSwan characterized as a meeting with “an extremist native organization.”

“I had suspicions [they were watching me] but I also want to believe that we live in liberty, and that we can pursue freedom, justice, and equality without being demonized, having our rights violated, having our privacy violated, and being treated like a terrorist and not a patriot,” Iron Eyes told The Intercept.

“It was an event at a university. … Naomi Klein was one of the speakers,” he added. “It literally was inside this university amphitheater and we had Indian tacos and we had a meal together and we talked about the context and the importance of these pipeline struggles.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline began service to its clients this month. Opponents saw a win last week when a federal judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps to revisit parts of its environmental review of the project, raising the possibility that oil flow could be halted as the review is completed.

Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment on the leaked situation reports, writing in an email to The Intercept that it does not “discuss details of our security initiatives, which are designed to ensure the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work.” In an email sent to The Intercept from a TigerSwan account, an unnamed representative of the firm stated, “We will not comment on the security aspects of your story beyond saying that safety is always our top priority.”

Documents published with this story:

Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-28
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-27
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-26
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-25
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-24
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-23
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-22
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-21
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-20
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-19
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-18
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-17
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-16
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-15
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-14
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-13
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-12
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-11
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-10
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-09
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-08
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-07
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-05
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-02-04
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-01-25
Internal TigerSwan Situation Report 2017-01-18

The Intercept has redacted the names of persons identified in internal TigerSwan and public documents unless those persons have directly communicated their willingness to be included. The names of senior TigerSwan and law enforcement personnel have not been redacted. To search all TigerSwan documents published by The Intercept, go to the TigerSwan project page on DocumentCloud.

Top photo: This aerial photo shows the Sacred Stones Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation and along the Cannonball River where people protested the Dakota Access Pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., on Feb. 13, 2017.

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