Undercover Agents Infiltrate Tar Sands Action Training
After a week of careful planning, environmentalists attending a tar sands resistance action camp in Oklahoma thought they had the element of surprise—but they would soon learn that their moves were being closely watched by law enforcement officials and TransCanada, the very company they were targeting.
On the morning of March 22 activists had planned to block the gates at the company’s strategic oil reserves in Cushing, OK, as part of the larger protest movement against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline. But when they showed up in the early morning hours and began unloading equipment from their vehicles they were confronted by police officers. Stefan Warner, an organizer with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, says some of the vehicles en route to the protest site were pulled over even before they had reached Cushing. He estimates that roughly 50 people would have participated—either risking arrest or providing support. The act of nonviolent civil disobedience, weeks in the planning, was called off.
“For a small sleepy Oklahoma town to be saturated with police officers on a pre-dawn weekday leaves only one reasonable conclusion,” says Ron Seifert, an organizer with an affiliated group called Tar Sands Blockade. “They were there on purpose, expecting something to happen.”
Seifert is exactly right. According to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, investigators from the Bryan County Sherriff’s Department had been spying on a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training camp that took place from March 18 to March 22 and which brought together local landowners, Indigenous communities and environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.
At least two law enforcement officers infiltrated the training camp and drafted a detailed report about the upcoming protest, internal strategy and the character of the protesters themselves. The undercover investigator who wrote the report put the tar sands opponents into five different groups:
- Eco-activists who “truly wanted to live off the grid.”
- Occupy members.
- Native American activists “who blamed all forms of government for the poor state of being that most American Indians are living in.”
- Anarchists “many wore upside down American flags.”
- Locals from Oklahoma who “had concerns about the pipeline harming the community."
The undercover agent’s report was obtained by Douglas Parr, an Oklahoma attorney who represented three activists (all lifelong Oklahomans) who were arrested in mid April for blockading a tar sands pipeline construction site. “During the discovery in the Bryan county cases we received material indicating that there had been infiltration of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance camp by police agents,” Parr says.
At least one of the undercover investigators attended an “action planning” meeting during which everyone was asked to put their cell phones or other electronic devices into a green bucket for security reasons. The investigator goes on to explain that he was able to obtain sensitive information regarding the location of the upcoming Cushing protest, which would mark the culmination of the week of training. “This investigator was able to obtain an approximate location based off a question that he asked to the person in charge of media,” he wrote. He then wryly notes that, “It did not appear … that our phones had been tampered with.”
The memo also states that organizers at the meeting went to great lengths not to give police any cause to disrupt the gathering. The investigator writes: “We were repeatedly told this was a substance free camp. No drug or alcohol use would be permitted on the premises and always ask permission before touching anyone. Investigators were told that we did not need to give the police any reason to enter the camp.” They were also given a pamphlet that instructed any agent of TransCanada, the FBI or other law enforcement agency to immediately notify the event organizers.
The infiltration of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance action camp and pre-emption of the Cushing protest is part of a larger pattern of government surveillance of tar sands protesters. According to other documents obtained by Earth Island Journal under an Open Records Act request, Department of Homeland Security staff has been keeping close tabs on pipeline opponents—and routinely sharing that information with TransCanada, and vice versa.
In March, TransCanada gave a briefing on corporate security to a Criminal Intelligence Analyst with the Oklahoma Information Fusion Center, the state level branch of Homeland Security. The conversation took place just as the action camp was getting underway. The following day, Diane Hogue, the Center’s Intelligence Analyst, asked TransCanada to review and comment on the agency’s classified situational awareness bulletin. Michael Nagina, Corporate Security Advisor for TransCanada, made two small suggestions and wrote, “With the above changes I am comfortable with the content.”
Then, in an email to TransCanada on March 19—the second day of the action camp—Hogue seems to refer to the undercover investigation taking place. “Our folks in the area say there are between 120-150 participants,” Hogue wrote in an email to Nagina. The Oklahoma Information Fusion Center declined to comment for this story.
It is unclear if the information gathered at the training camp was shared directly with TransCanada. However, the company was given access to the Fusion Center’s situational awareness bulletin just a few days before the Cushing action was scheduled to take place.
In an emailed statement, TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard did not directly address the Tar Sands Resistance training camp. Howard described law enforcement as being interested in what the company has done to prepare for activities designed to “slow approval or construction” of the pipeline project. “When we are asked to share what we have learned or are prepared for, we are there to share our experience—not direct law enforcement,” he wrote.
The evidence of heightened cooperation between TransCanada and law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma and Texas comes just over a month after it was revealed that the company had given a PowerPoint presentation on corporate security to the FBI and law enforcement officials in Nebraska. TransCanada also held an “interactive session” with law enforcement in Oklahoma City about the company’s security strategy in early 2012. In their PowerPoint presentation, TransCanada employees suggested that district attorneys should explore “state or federal anti-terrorism laws” in prosecuting activists. They also included profiles of key organizers and a list of activists previously arrested for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in Texas and Oklahoma.
In addition to TransCanada’s presentation, a representative of Nebraska’s Homeland Security Fusion Center briefed attendees on an “intelligence sharing role/plan relevant to the pipeline project.” This is likely related to the Homeland Security Information Sharing Network, which provides public and private sector partners as well as law enforcement access to sensitive information.
The earlier cache of documents, first released to the press by Bold Nebraska, an environmental organization opposed to the pipeline, shows that TransCanada has established close ties with state and federal law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route. For example, in an exchange with FBI agents in South Dakota, TransCanada’s Corporate Security Advisor, Michael Nagina, jokes that, “I can be the cure for insomnia so sure hope you can still attend!” Although they were unable to make the Nebraska meeting, one of the agents responded, “Assuming approval of the pipeline, we would like to get together to discuss a timeline for installation through our territory.”
The new documents also provide an interesting glimpse into the revolving door between state law enforcement agencies and the private sector, especially in areas where fracking and pipeline construction have become big business. One of the individuals providing information to the Texas Department of Homeland Security’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division is currently the Security Manager at Anadarko Petroleum, one of the world’s largest independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies. In 2011, at a natural gas industry stakeholder relations conference, a spokesperson for Anadarko compared the anti-drilling movement to an “insurgency” and suggested that attendees download the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual.
LC Wilson, the Anadarko Security Manager shown by the documents to be providing information to the Texas Fusion Center, is more than just a friend of law enforcement. From 2009 to 2011 he served as Regional Commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees law enforcement statewide. Wilson began his career with the Department of Public Safety in 1979 and was named a Texas Ranger—an elite law enforcement unit—in 1988, eventually working his way up to Assistant Chief. Such connections would be of great value to a corporation like Anadarko, which has invested heavily in security operations.
In an email to Litto Paul Bacas, a Critical Infrastructure Planner—and former intelligence analyst—with Texas Homeland Security, Wilson, using his Anadarko address, writes, “we find no intel specific for Texas. There is active recruitment for directed action to take place in Oklahoma as per article. I will forward any intel we come across on our end, especially if it concerns Texas.” The article he was referring to was written by a member of Occupy Denver calling on all “occupiers and occupy networks” to attend the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance training camp.
Wilson is not the only former law enforcement official on Anadarko’s security team; Jeffrey Sweetin, the company’s Regional Security Manager, was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration for more than 20 years heading up its Rocky Mountain division. At Anadarko, according to Sweetin’s profile on Linkedin, his responsibilities include “security program development” and “law enforcement liaison.”
Other large oil and gas companies have recruited local law enforcement to fill high-level security positions. In 2010, long-time Bradford County Sheriff Steve Evans resigned to take a position as senior security officer for Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania. Evans was one of a handful of gas industry security directors to receive intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm and distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security. Bradford County happens to be ground zero for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, with more active wells than any other county in the state. In addition to Evans, several deputies of the Bradford County Sheriff’s office have worked for Chesapeake—through a private contractor, TriCorps Security—as “off-duty” security personnel. TransCanada has also come to rely on off duty police officers to patrol construction sites and protest camps, raising questions about whose interests the sworn officers are serving.
Of course for corporations like TransCanada and Anadarko having law enforcement on their side—or in their pocket—is more than just a good business move. It gives them access to classified information and valuable intelligence—essential weapons in any counterinsurgency campaign.
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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