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Leaked Documents Expose Military Tactics Used to Defeat Pipeline 'Terrorists' at Standing Rock

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In September of last year, when protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota were at its peak, disturbing footage showed security personnel releasing their dogs at the peaceful water protectors.

This widely shared clip sparked nationwide criticism and anger towards the controversial project. To counter the protests, DAPL parent company Energy Transfer Partners turned to a private security firm that treated the demonstrators to a "jihadist insurgency," according a jaw-dropping report from The Intercept.


TigerSwan, which is run by a special forces Army veteran and has offices in Iraq and Afghanistan, is described by The Intercept as a "shadowy international mercenary and security firm" that "originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror."

Citing leaked internal communications, the firm considers the movement against DAPL "an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component." Furthermore, the leak documents discuss the water protectors as "terrorists," their direct actions as "attacks," the camps as a "battlefield," and the anti-pipeline movement as "a national security threat."

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

According to The Intercept, TigerSwan applied "military-style counterterrorism measures" including the use of helicopters and drones for aerial surveillance, radio eavesdropping, infiltration of camps and activist circles, and even tracking persons "of interest" over state lines. The firm also planned a "counter-information campaign by creating and distributing content critical of the protests on social media."

"We knew that these tactics were being used," Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with Standing Rock and the Indigenous Environmental Network, said. "Our devices would stop working for periods of time, hard drives would be cleared of information and footage, and from time to time camp security would identity infiltrators inside the camp who were working for Energy Transfer Partners."

Another troubling revelation is TigerSwan's alleged collaboration with law enforcement across five states and the federal government to suppress the uprising. The leaked documents detail "communications among agents from the FBI, the 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," The Intercept wrote.

The firm also purportedly helped law enforcement put together charges against water protectors. According to The Intercept:

"TigerSwan also aided prosecutors in building cases against pipeline opponents. According to an October 16 document obtained via a records request, the security team's responsibilities included collecting 'information of an evidentiary level' that would ultimately 'aid in prosecution' of protesters."

"When the state colludes with private paramilitary contractors and the oil industry to overthrow its own citizens that is called fascism," renowned filmmaker Josh Fox told EcoWatch.

"Equally dangerous is the fact that TigerSwan created a language of propaganda that dominated the media and government response to peaceful protestors—labeling them rioters and insurgents and comparing peaceful water protectors to jihadist insurgents and terrorists. This allowed the media and the police to dehumanize and stigmatize a movement which was legitimate, popular and just," Fox continued.

"All this to prop up the dying oil industry that we know must be phased out. Energy Transfer Partners and TigerSwan are the modern day ideological equivalents of General Custer. The government of North Dakota and the United States has lost all legitimacy with regards to DAPL and climate change, and is walking a very dangerous path with respect to our basic first amendment rights."

Even though the camps have dispersed, TigerSwan is still working for Energy Transfer and continues to document "the threat of growing activism around other pipeline projects across the country."

Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, called the usage of counterterrorism tactics "extremely disturbing" and "feeds into a historical narrative of oppression that Indigenous Peoples and People of Color have dealt with for generations."

"However, we will not let such repressive efforts to dissuade us from our moral and spiritual obligation to protect the sacred integrity of Mother Earth," he pointed out. "We will continue to speak up for the dignity and rights of our Indigenous peoples, and we will resist any attempts to diminish that directive."

Meanwhile, the $3.8 billion pipeline is not even flowing yet and it is already leaking.

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