The following article, written by Gavin Aronsen, was originally published by Iowa Informer on June 12, 2017.
Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access crude oil pipeline began service June 1, but a private security firm employed by the company last year to monitor protests against the project in order to keep it on track remains active in Iowa, according to activists and a landowner who described recent personal encounters with the firm’s employees, as well as ETP itself.
The paramilitary-style international firm, TigerSwan, which is based in Apex, North Carolina, has recently been the subject of national news attention thanks to internal documents leaked to nonprofit news organization The Intercept that detail how it surveilled protest movements in the four states across the pipeline’s 1,172-mile route. On June 3, The Intercept published a second article in its ongoing series about TigerSwan along with additional internal situation reports prepared by the firm that reveal more details about how it tracked various protest groups in Iowa.
Those reports, spanning from Oct. 3 to Dec. 21 of last year, documented the whereabouts of the Lee County-based Mississippi Stand protest group after it decamped and attempted to raise funds to travel to the primary protest site in North Dakota near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation for the winter, activities of other anti-pipeline protesters and organizations including Ed Fallon’s Bold Iowa, and TigerSwan’s interactions with law enforcement agencies with which it shared its surveillance information. They provide compelling evidence that the protest movement was not just monitored on social media and the ground but also infiltrated.
I asked him point blank, ‘Are you a member of TigerSwan?’ And he said he was.
Many of the reports discussed the firm’s efforts to secure a site in Boone County east of Pilot Mound where Dakota Access construction contractors were preparing to lay the pipeline underneath the Des Moines River, an activity the reports said had been delayed because of drilling problems. There are several notes about protesters “surveilling” the area that include general descriptions of their appearances and vehicles, among other observations including the suspected use of a drone by activists hiding in the woods and gunfire heard in the area but presumed to be from a hunter.
On the day the pipeline began service, several longtime opponents of the project returned to the site to hold a vigil by the river. They decided to meet at the County Highway E18 bridge, which crosses over the river near the pipeline’s route underneath it. The first to arrive was Carolyn Raffensperger, an attorney who lives in Ames and the director of the Science and Environmental Health Network. To kill some time, she decided to drive down to the river, along the way passing the property of LaVerne Johnson, where a pipeline valve was constructed on an easement seized through eminent domain.
As Raffensperger drove back toward the bridge, she noticed a helicopter overhead. Near Johnson’s property, a man got out of a car, blocking her path and taking photographs of her vehicle and license plate. She began taking pictures of him in return, and eventually he let her pass but got back in his car and tailed her closely. Raffensperger took a left turn back toward the river, and before long, a white SUV started following her, too. When she arrived, she found other vigil-goers and parked. The man in the car approached them wanting to chat, asking them basic questions like what their names were. They balked, but he wouldn’t leave them alone.
Then, Johnson drove by. Noticing the situation, he turned around to stop and check out what was going on, and soon enough, the man got in the middle of his conversation with Raffensperger and the others. As it turned out, the man’s name was Todd, and he had previously told Johnson that he was working for TigerSwan. “Nice fellow,” Johnson said. “He’s from out of state like everybody else. I asked him point blank, ‘Are you a member of TigerSwan?’ And he said he was.”
There has been other evidence, if unconfirmed, of TigerSwan’s continued presence in Iowa. On Facebook May 30, Fallon posted an anonymous tip he said he’d received about the firm: “TigerSwan is definitely deeply imbedded in Iowa. They have upped all of their men between Fort Dodge and Sioux Falls. Hotels in the areas in between are filled with their crews.” DefendIowa, a Facebook page that posted (since removed) videos critical of protesters featuring a TigerSwan employee using a fake name, as recently as May 31 criticized members of the Little Creek Camp protest group in Williamsburg. The page’s administrator did not respond to messages seeking details about its affiliation with TigerSwan.
Likewise, TigerSwan did not respond to requests for comment, but asked about firm’s current activities in Iowa, Lisa Dillinger, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, acknowledged through implication that it still has a presence in the state. “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, our assets and the communities in which we work,” she said. “Based on the level of threats that were made against the company, the pipeline and our employees, coupled with the illegal activity that was taking place by protestors, we felt it was necessary to put additional security in place for the protection of all involved.”
Dillinger did not cite specific examples of threats or illegal activity, although several are mentioned in the situation reports from late last year. TigerSwan took particular interest in the activities of Mississippi Stand, which originated as a protest camp in southwestern Iowa’s Lee County whose members attempted to prevent Dakota Access from laying its pipeline under the Mississippi River. Before the camp disbanded, the firm took notes about the group’s protest plans, which often ended in arrests for disrupting construction work. Protesters delayed Dakota Access’ efforts to pull the pipeline underneath the river from Iowa to Illinois, but by the end of October, the company completed the connection and the camp decided to take its protest on the road as a caravan performing acts of civil disobedience elsewhere in Iowa with the intention of eventually traveling to the protest camp in North Dakota.
Read the rest of the report here.