Security Firm Hired to Counter Standing Rock Water Protectors May Have Been Operating Illegally

The paramilitary security firm was hired to "guard" the Dakota Access pipeline from peaceful water protectors.

Photo Credit: Dark Servier/Flickr

Last month, it was revealed that the security firm TigerSwan had been hired to combat water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline through surveillance methods and counterterrorism measures. Now, a North Dakota investigative board says TigerSwan had been illegally providing these security services in the state without a license.

According to a complaint filed by attorneys from the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board on June 27 in Burleigh County District Court, the agency denied an application from James Patrick Reese, the founder of TigerSwan, to become a licensed security firm. Despite the denial of the application, the complaint alleges, the security firm continued to operate illegally in the state. TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer Partners last year in an effort to combat the growing protests by indigenous activists and their allies against construction of the oil pipeline.

In North Dakota, providing investigative private security services without a license issued by the security board is classified as a B misdemeanor. The board is now asking a state district court to issue an injunction against TigerSwan and Reese, as well as levy an administrative fine for each violation.

The complaint alleges that TigerSwan “maintains roving security teams to monitor valve sites in the state.” It also states that the firm’s officers are armed with semiautomatic rifles and sidearms. The complaint further accuses the security firm of monitoring those affiliated with and participating in the DAPL protests.

Maxine Herr, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, told the Grand Forks Herald that they did not know TigerSwan was allegedly operating without a license in North Dakota.

“The whole point of any daily reports we got was just to know where they were doing construction because we knew those would be potential areas for protests and therefore potentially unlawful activity,” Herr said.

Internal documents leaked to The Intercept in May reveal the military-style measures employed by TigerSwan to constantly monitor and counter the Dakota Access protesters. Energy Transfer Partners’ hiring of TigerSwan, which was founded as a contractor for the U.S. military and State Department, was part of a collaborative effort between local and federal law enforcement to quash the protests against the pipeline, including officials from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Marshals Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

According to the leaked documents, TigerSwan compared the activists to jihadists and terrorists, saying the DAPL protests “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model,” and that the firm “can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse.” Other reports also highlight a grand-scale security operation that relied on the mass surveillance of water protectors. Some of this manifested in the form of aerial surveillance through drones and helicopters, eavesdropping via radio and even infiltrating camps and activist circles.

The security firm paid particular attention to protesters and activists of Middle Eastern descent. “The presence of additional Palestinians in the camp, and the movement's involvement with Islamic individuals is a dynamic that requires further examination," stated one document cited by The Intercept.

Equally concerning is TigerSwan’s role in helping law enforcement form cases against water protectors. According to an October 16 document, the security team collected “information of an evidentiary level” that would “aid in prosecution of protesters.” Many indigenous activists who protested the pipeline are currently facing charges in court for their participation in the movement.

In an email, Daniel Sheehan, chief counsel of the Lakota People’s Law Project, said that the project's lead counsel, Chase Iron Eyes, "was specifically targeted" by TigerSwan. He added:

In this leaderless, peaceful movement, law enforcement struggled to identify and target those whom they believed inspired others. Chase relayed to me that, at the time of his arrest, a Mandan County Deputy Sheriff told him, 'We know you’re the leader out here. If you don’t get everyone out of this camp, we’ll throw the book at you.' TigerSwan’s briefings of state and local police, not the truth on the ground, informed these types of statements. ... It's notable that Chase and other water protectors are now charged with trespassing upon ancestral lands which the U.S. government unlawfully seized from the Lakota for private profit.

The security firm also waged a propaganda campaign aimed at changing the dominant media narrative around the pipeline protests once the social movement began garnering national attention. In September, employees discussed the development of a “Social Engagement Plan” as well as an information operations campaign.

The security board’s complaints against TigerSwan said it became aware that the firm was providing security services without a license in September. After sending a letter to TigerSwan, the company responded and denied it was conducting such operations. In November, TigerSwan submitted an application, and the board denied it the following month based in part on a “positive criminal history for one or more disqualifying offense.” Reese denied this claim and provided copies of dismissal records for arrest. In January, the board met once more to consider Reese’s application for TigerSwan and again denied it because it was incomplete.

Watch: Daniel Sheehan, chief counsel of the Lakota People’s Law Project, discusses TigerSwan and its actions at the Dakota Access Pipeline:

Celisa Calacal is a freelance writer for AlterNet. She is a senior journalism major and legal studies minor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Previously she worked at ThinkProgress and served as an editor for Ithaca College's student newspaper. Follow her at @celisa_mia.

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