Watch out for TigerSwan: It bites

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“A shadowy international mercenary and security firm” employed by Energy Transfer Partners sent undercover agents to infiltrate protest camps at Standing Rock, harvested information from social media, used aerial surveillance, and eavesdropped on radio communications. TigerSwan, which started life as a U.S. military and State Department contractor, also collaborated closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement to target protesters. The Intercept combed through hundreds of leaked documents to show what TigerSwan is and how it operated, and has now posted many of those documents online. Among its conclusions:

“The leaked materials not only highlight TigerSwan’s militaristic approach to protecting its client’s interests but also the company’s profit-driven imperative to portray the nonviolent water protector movement as unpredictable and menacing enough to justify the continued need for extraordinary security measures.”

Coming from its beginnings as a counterterrorism contractor, TigerSwan saw terrorism everywhere Internal documents showed TigerSwan warning that the NoDAPL protesters “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model,” despite overwhelming evidence from all observers of the consistently nonviolent nature of the protests and their leaders’ repeated shutdown of any moves violating that principle.

Even more alarming than TigerSwan’s misrepresentation of protesters to its employer, Energy Transfer Partners, is its close collaboration with actual law enforcement agencies. This is a private-public partnership that endangers civil liberties and public safety. Law enforcement agencies must operate within constitutional limits. TigerSwan and its ilk do not. From the second part of The Intercept’s report on the “surveillance-industrial complex:”

“Private companies have few obligations to protect constitutional rights to free speech, association, or privacy. And while public agencies, including law enforcement, do have that obligation, they also have ample leeway to operate in invasive and unethical ways that are nonetheless legal….

“If TigerSwan were meeting regularly enough with the FBI, acting at the bureau’s behest, or even simply feeding agents information, it could represent an end-run around FBI rules.”

TigerSwan even insisted that it did not need to comply with North Dakota law on registration of private security operations, calling its work “management and IT consulting.”

Eventually the North Dakota licensing board learned about its operations and told it to apply for a license. When TigerSwan refused to give the board information about its activity in North Dakota, the application was denied. No matter. TigerSwan kept going, both inside North Dakota and in other states where pipeline protests occurred.

Besides surveillance, TigerSwan covertly took action to undermine protests. The Intercept reports:

“On September 22, they discuss the development of an information operations campaign run by the company’s North Carolina-based intel team and Robert Rice, who without disclosing his TigerSwan affiliation posed as “Allen Rice” in a series of amateurish videos in which he provided commentary critical of the protests. The videos, posted on the Facebook pages “Defend Iowa” and “Netizens for Progress and Justice,” were removed after The Intercept contacted TigerSwan, Rice, and the pages’ administrators for comment. None responded.”

The Intercept’s stellar coverage continues, describing “TigerSwan’s sweeping enterprise, over nine months and across five states, which included surveillance of activists through aerial technology, social media monitoring, and direct infiltration, as well as attempts to shift public opinion through a counterinformation campaign.” The Intercept’s reporting is essential reading for anyone concerned about “private” security firms that work hand-in-glove with federal and local police agencies, and with the U.S. military.

In Part II, The Intercept describes the “fusion center” at Standing Rock, and TigerSwan’s participation in it. Fusion Centers were established by the 2007 9/11 Commission Act and ” originally intended to facilitate sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.” Now there are 70 fusion centers around the country. And apparently they are no longer limited to law enforcement agencies.

“‘The insidious thing is that the role of private-sector entities in fusion centers has grown up without any specific legislation authorizing it,’ said German, who co-authored a 2007 report on behalf of the ACLU called ‘What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers?’ ‘Instead, the development of these techniques and relationships, such as the one involving TigerSwan and North Dakota law enforcement, has occurred within the closed-off world of law enforcement.’”

The first step in fighting back against what The Intercept calls “the surveillance-industrial complex” is to become informed. And a closely-aligned second part is to support the news media bringing you these reports. The Intercept is free to read online, but you can make a monthly pledge to support its work.


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