New documents reveal US government plan to spy on oil pipeline protestors

By agency reporter
September 6, 2018

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Montana have released documents corroborating reports of collaboration between state and federal law enforcement officials ahead of the anticipated Keystone XL protests by environmental activists and indigenous communities over the construction of an oil pipeline in the state.

The records provide substantial evidence of federal preventative measures against Keystone XL protests, such as a Department of Justice “anti-terrorism” training in Fort Harrison, Montana, and a DOJ “Social Networking and Cyber Awareness” training in the town of Circle, Montana. They reveal discussions between federal officials about the creation of an “interagency team” to “deal with safety and security concerns related to the Keystone XL project.” The records also suggest that additional documents exist, which the government continues to withhold, detailing plans for protests.

The documents were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and parallel state records requests. The ACLU and the ACLU of Montana filed a federal lawsuit on 4 September 2018 in Montana against the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies seeking further documentation of law enforcement plans to surveil and police Keystone XL protests.

“Evidence that the federal government plans to treat Keystone XL protests with counterterrorism tactics, coupled with the recent memory of excessive uses of force and surveillance at the Standing Rock protests, raises immense concerns about the safety of indigenous and environmental protesters who seek to exercise their First Amendment rights” wrote Jacob Hutt, who filed the information requests that are the subject of the lawsuit, in an ACLU blog post. “The First Amendment protects political speech from the threat of undue government scrutiny, and the extent of such scrutiny is currently unknown. If the government is planning to prevent or monitor indigenous and environmental protests, the activists involved have a right to know about it.”

With the lawsuit, the ACLU aims to determine what plans the government has for preventing, surveilling, and engaging with indigenous and environmental activists who oppose the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The ACLU also plans to look into whether and how the federal government is targeting already overpoliced indigenous communities to preempt political protest.

“In light of the government’s excessive and violent responses to pipeline protests at Standing Rock, we are very concerned about the spectre of government and law enforcement officials plotting to silence opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana. “We don’t want to see that kind of governmental overreach and abuse in our state.”

The ACLU filed its original records request in January after obtaining a report showing that state and federal agencies may already be spying on potential protesters. The report, which references the Standing Rock protests, characterises pipeline opponents as “extremists” intent on “criminal disruptions and violent incidents.”

“The government has a history of punishing those that fight and speak for what is right", said Angeline Cheek, a Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota activist, community organiser, and teacher from Ft. Peck Reservation. “Now, as people of different nations fight to defend their rights, land, water, identity and people, history is repeating itself. But the strength of our ancestors will remain within us, resilient to forced oppression, cultural cleansing, and genocide. We are the dream and vision of our ancestors. In prayers we are united – all my relations (mitakuye oyasin).”

Peaceful protesters at Standing Rock and other pipeline demonstrations were monitored by the government and private security firms hired by oil companies. They used drones, social media monitoring, and undercover FBI agents to keep watch on the protests. Law enforcement agencies also used water cannons, dogs, tear gas, and concussion grenades on indigenous protesters and their allies. Journalists were also blocked from covering the protests.

The complaint by the ACLU follows months of refusals by federal agencies to release documents.

* The legal documents in the case can be read here

* Jacob Hutt's blogpost is here

* American Civil Liberties Union https://www.aclu.org/

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