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  • Police use pepper spray against protesters near an oil pipeline construction site adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, Nov. 2, 2016.

    Police use pepper spray against protesters near an oil pipeline construction site adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota, Nov. 2, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 May 2017

The exclusive report by The Intercept reveals how a mercenary corporation treated protesters as religiously motivated insurgents.

A mercenary and security firm targeted the massive pipeline protests in North Dakota last year with military-style counterterrorism tactics, including surveillance on activists and intelligence sharing with law enforcement agencies, according to a media report published Saturday.

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The Intercept obtained documents that clearly show how TigerSwan, a company with a deep background in global counterterrorism operations, responded to the Indigenous-led protest on behalf of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It includes more than 100 internal documents leaked by a TigerSwan contractor, as well as a set of over 1,000 documents obtained by The Intercept via public records requests.

In April 2016, Indigenous activists launched the “No DAPL” movement against the construction of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota and traverses through three other states.

TigerSwan described the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compared the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters in its internal communications revealed by The Intercept.

“While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies,” one report said.

TigerSwan did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment. Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment, saying in an email that it does not “discuss details of our security efforts.”

In one internal report dated May 4, a TigerSwan operative said the effort to amass digital and ground intelligence would allow the company to “find, fix, and eliminate” threats to the pipeline. It echoed “find, fix, finish,” a military term used by special forces in the U.S. government’s assassination campaign against terrorist targets.

Under that strategy, TigerSwan used helicopters and drones to photograph and monitor the pipeline opponents. One document noted its plan to obtain night vision goggles, body armor and FLIR (forward looking infrared cameras) for its aerial surveillance.

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TigerSwan also launched a campaign of infiltration of protest camps and activist circles to gather information from the ground. It agents regularly sought to obtain the trust of protesters by using false names and identities, the TigerSwan contractor said.

With this information, TigerSwan developed “daily intelligence updates” to share with law enforcements, such the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Justice Department, the Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as state and local police.

In those internal reports and intelligence briefings, TigerSwan named dozens of DAPL opponents, including some well-known activists, as well as identifying information such as photographs and license plate numbers that would ultimately “aid in prosecution” of protesters.

One leaked report detailed the TigerSwan’s plan to “continue building Person of Interest (POI) folders and coordination with [law enforcement] intelligence.”

As protesters in Standing Rock met with heavily militarized police, TigerSwan also discussed in its reports the need for a “Social Engagement Plan” to change public narratives and swing public support from the “No DAPL” movement.

Success would require “strategic messaging from the client that drives the message that we are the good guys, tell the real story and address the negative messaging with good counter messaging,” as one leaked report in early September said.

The firm’s agents were also reported to collect and analyze media coverage to warn their client about how certain incidents might be received by the public.

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However, records from the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board show that TigerSwan didn’t have a license for the entirety of the pipeline security operation in North Dakota. Instead, TigerSwan said it was doing "management and IT consulting for our client and doing no security work.”

With the Dakota Access Pipeline construction nearing completion, TigerSwan reinstated the need for security.

“Everyone must be concerned of the lone wolf,” a TigerSwan operative wrote in a March 7 report. “We will always over-watch as the protectors what is in the best interest for ETP, as we are the guardians.”

In the most recent reports, TigerSwan also emphasize the threat of growing activism around other pipeline projects and even anti-Trump protests across the country as summer nears.

“Much like Afghanistan and Iraq, the ‘Fighting Season’ will soon be here with the coming warming temperatures,” TigerSwan said in a March 24 report.

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