Democracy Now: Private Mercenary Firm TigerSwan Compares Anti-DAPL Water Protectors to “Jihadist Insurgency”

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to an explosive new investigation by The Interceptthat reveals how international private security firm TigerSwan targeted Dakota Access water protectors with military-style counterterrorism measures. TigerSwan began as a U.S. military and State Department contractor. It was hired by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. The investigation is based on leaked internal documents, which show how TigerSwan collaborated closely with law enforcement agencies to surveil and target the nonviolent indigenous-led movement. In the documents, TigerSwan also repeatedly calls the water protectors, quote, “insurgents” and the movement a, quote, “ideologically driven insurgency.”

AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept also reports that TigerSwan did not limit themselves to monitoring activists. They also tried to change the narrative about them on social media. This is a clip of Robert Rice, who hosted a series of online videos critical of the pipeline protest movement without disclosing that he was working for TigerSwan. This clip is from a show that aired under the name Defend Iowa.

ROBERT RICE: As you’ve probably heard, a group of protesters from Standing Rock formed a camp near Williamsburg in Iowa County. Their stated goal is to build the camp from 20 people to at least 100 people by midsummer. They say they want to develop new ways to fight pipelines. Now, let us be clear: We are not against peaceful protesting. However, many of the members of this cell have been part of the destruction in Standing Rock last year. And they have all been posting regularly on social media about how they refuse to be part of society. That means constantly asking for money and support from locals. We are not here to convince you they shouldn’t be welcomed into your community. We just want to make you aware of the full situation to keep you informed. Defend Iowa will provide helpful information to help you stay in the loop on what’s happening with this group.

AMY GOODMAN: That clip of Robert Rice, who worked for TigerSwan, as discovered and reported by The Intercept.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Alleen Brown is with us, a reporter with The Intercept, lead reporter of the story that’s headlined “Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics Used at Standing Rock to Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies.” And joining us from Washington, D.C., Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth. She’s Ojibwe from the Couchiching First Nation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alleen, why don’t you lay out what you found?

ALLEEN BROWN: Sure. So we received more than 100 documents from a TigerSwan contractor, alongside a number of other documents via a public information request, that describe in detail not only the tactics used by this private security firm, which include aerial surveillance, infiltration of pipeline opponent groups and an effort to alter the narrative using videos like this one featuring Robert Rice—

AMY GOODMAN: But give us the history of TigerSwan.

ALLEEN BROWN: Sure, sure. So TigerSwan started out as a rival to the mercenary company Blackwater during the war in Iraq. So, you know, its employees are largely former special ops military guys, a lot of them coming from Delta Force. And so these guys really came up, you know, thinking of their work as counterinsurgency work. So they think of these water protectors and describe them in the documents as—compare them to jihadist terrorists, for example.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And do you know when TigerSwan started working with Energy Transfer Partners and whether what you discovered—does it demonstrate that what TigerSwan did was in fact illegal?

ALLEEN BROWN: So, TigerSwan started working with Energy Transfer Partners after this incident where another private security firm sicced dogs on water protectors. You know, Amy Goodman, of course, was there. So—

AMY GOODMAN: That was the video we showed from Labor Day weekend when the water protectors came up on the property, where they did not expect to see the Dakota Access pipeline bulldozers excavating what they called their sacred land, and the security guards unleashed dogs on the water protectors who were biting the people and their horses.

ALLEEN BROWN: Right. So, after that incident, TigerSwan came on as sort of a manager for all these various small security firms that were involved. And, in fact, they did not even receive a license to operate as a security firm in North Dakota, framing themselves as a management and IT consultant, rather than—you know, saying they provide no security work.

AMY GOODMAN: After your article was published, Alleen, in The Intercept, North Dakota indigenous activist and organizer Kandi Mossett posted a picture of a small device on Facebook, writing, quote, “This bug was found under a table in a room at the Prairie Knights Casino in October 2016. I do believe it’s a violation of some sort for a hotel to bug their rooms. I’m sure this belongs to Tiger Swan. After reading ‘The Intercept’ article I was reminded of this find.” And I’d like to bring in Tara Houska now. Tara Houska is with Honor the Earth. She is Ojibwe, spent a good deal of time out at the resistance camps in North Dakota. Your response to both what Kandi wrote and found—do you know about this bug that they found?—and to the overall article in The Intercept?

TARA HOUSKA: I saw a number of people posting about various devices that were discovered, and I heard stories about them when I was out at the camps. We were very aware of the fact that we were being surveilled, heavily surveilled. And to see this article come out kind of just, you know, basically reinforced and showed, you know, this is what was really happening. There was this conspiring happening between police officers and a private security firm. And we were basically being treated as terrorists. And, you know, this kind of—this talk about destruction of Standing Rock, we were trying to protect Standing Rock. We were trying to protect the water. So, it just, you know, validates everything we were saying.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Tara, the article in The Intercept—sorry, the document that TigerSwan prepared for Energy Transfer Partners on what was happening at the camp at Standing Rock talked about the presence of Palestinians at the resistance camp and “the movement’s involvement with Islamic individuals.” They go on to say that this is a “dynamic that requires further examination.” “Currently there is no information to suggest terrorist type tactics or operations.” However, “with the current limitation on information flow out of the camp, it cannot be ruled out.” Could you comment on that?

TARA HOUSKA: I think, throughout those documents, we see this, you know, narrative of—you know, they also suggest that we had weapons around camp, when this is a completely unarmed resistance—to discuss Palestinians, you know, trying to paint this model of violence and these insurgency tactics. We gained support from people all over the world. You know, this is a very clear issue of people defending water. The movement was “Water is life.” So, to try and do this, it created, in turn, this dynamic where, you know, as people going out and exercising our constitutional rights, the response was incredibly violent, incredibly brutal, and with people being treated as animals, you know, being put into dog kennels.

This is a very real thing that happened on U.S. soil. And it’s a continuation of the treatment of indigenous peoples since the beginning of the relationship with the United States. You know, one of the last armed conflicts in the U.S. was with indigenous people. The so-called battle, but really massacre, that happened at Wounded Knee is one of those last moments where the U.S. used these type of weapons, and again on the American Indian Movement. So this is, you know, an ongoing thing and an ongoing narrative of painting Native people as violent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to one of the documents referenced in The Interceptpiece, where Alleen writes that in an October 3rd report, TigerSwan discusses how to use its knowledge of internal camp dynamics. They write, quote, “Exploitation of ongoing native versus non-native rifts, and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements is critical in our effort to delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement.” Alleen?

ALLEEN BROWN: Yes. I mean, that’s a theme we see again and again in the documents, this noting rifts in the movement, you know, and framing that as important to TigerSwan’s efforts at undermining the movement. So, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Tara, if you can respond to this, TigerSwan, started by, what, Delta Force, person from Delta Force, exploiting tensions within the camp, and what you experienced of this?

TARA HOUSKA: This was an entirely new community that was created. You know, it was people that were coming together for a united cause, but obviously coming from all walks of life. And there were tensions in camp. There were tensions that existed. However, this was a very, you know, unified front of people peacefully defending water and peacefully trying to change a narrative and trying to stop this corporate takeover of our natural resources and of our continued survival.

It does not surprise me at all that those, you know, tactics were being used. The divide-and-conquer method is one that has been employed against Native people and against, now, movements. They discuss how they are looking now at other pipeline, you know, insurgencies. These are people trying to protect their water and saying no. So, to exploit that and try to fractionate the movements just tells us, as organizers on the ground, we have to be extremely unified and all come together and remind ourselves continuously of what we’re there for.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara, very quickly, is oil flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline? Donald Trump says he is against leaks, but not this kind. Apparently, there have been a few leaks in the Dakota Access pipeline. Is it flowing? And, finally, can you respond to this latest news that’s just coming over the wires? Multiple news outlets—ABC, CBS—say President Trump is poised to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate change deal. Oil flowing in DAPL and the climate change deal?

TARA HOUSKA: You know, the Dakota Access pipeline isn’t even operational yet, and it’s already had a number of leaks. So oil is not flowing in the sense of it being fully ready to go. But there’s already leaks happening. So, exactly what we were talking about this entire time, this concern about leaking happening, is already happening, before it’s even operating.

And as far as the Paris climate change accord goes, you know, it’s not surprising at all from hearing—from a president that said we’re basically going to turn this process into a rubber-stamping situation and deregulate, deprotect all these resources. So, it’s very disappointing, and I’m hopeful that other world leaders step up and hold the United States accountable for this.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question: If it’s not operating, how is it leaking?

TARA HOUSKA: Because they’ve been testing it. So they’re testing at various pump stations, and it’s already leaking.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Houska of Honor the Earth. Alleen Brown, a reporter with The Intercept, we will link to your piece.

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