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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When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. 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Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 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The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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