FARGO – A global security firm with ties to the government reportedly conducted extensive surveillance and infiltrated activist groups during the prolonged protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The firm, TigerSwan, used “military-style counterterrorism measures” and worked closely with law enforcement agencies in five states, including North Dakota and South Dakota, according to a report by The Intercept, an online publication.
A contractor leaked more than 100 pages of internal documents to The Intercept, whose reporters also obtained over 1,000 pages of documents through public records requests. TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which carries oil from western North Dakota to a hub in Illinois that provides access to refineries along the Gulf Coast, among other destinations.
TigerSwan’s surveillance included aerial photographs and video, sometimes made available to law enforcement and public safety officials as live feeds, according to The Intercept.
The security firm also infiltrated activist groups, gathering intelligence and speculating about their future activities. Operatives identified “persons of interest” among the protesters and compiled databases, including identifying information such as photographs and license plates.
TigerSwan characterized the protests, which drew thousands of demonstrators from August 2016 to February 2017 and resulted in 761 arrests, as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component,” and compared activists to jihadist fighters, according to internal documents cited by The Intercept.
TigerSwan, based in Apex, N.C., was established by a retired army colonel who was a commander in an elite Army special operations unit called Delta. The firm, created during the height of the Iraq War, has an estimated 350 employees and operates offices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, Latin America and Japan.
In North Dakota, TigerSwan worked with Sheriff Dean Danzeisen of Mercer County, who agreed to “sharing of information,” as well as Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier of Morton County, the location of the protests. TigerSwan operatives also worked with members of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation as well as federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the FBI and Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, according to The Intercept.
TigerSwan operatives reportedly helped gather evidence against protesters, including photographs and video.
The Lakota People’s Law Project, an advocacy group based in Rapid City, S.D., that supported the protests, condemned TigerSwan’s tactics and its characterization of protesters as an insurgency.
“The widely criticized violent law enforcement actions and excessive state and federal criminal prosecutions are the product of the unconstitutional targeting of these peaceful demonstrators as ‘terrorists,’” said Daniel Sheehan, chief counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project, in a statement.
The Lakota People’s Law Project accused TigerSwan of conducting a “disinformation campaign” and seeking to “generate public opposition against water protectors and to poison the minds of potential jurors.”
Phone and email messages left with Energy Transfer Partners seeking comment on its hiring of TigerSwan were not returned Wednesday, May 31.
The documents leaked to The Intercept, including field reports filed by operatives, were from September 2016 to May 2017, and were delivered to the pipeline company, the publication said. Energy Transfer Partners has continued to hire TigerSwan, even though most of the anti-pipeline protesters have left North Dakota, The Intercept reported. The security firm’s focus now is reportedly on anti-pipeline activism elsewhere across the company.