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FBI Spied ‘Beyond Its Authority’ on Keystone XL Opponents

New investigation reveals agency’s actions amounted to ‘substantial non-compliance’ with its own rules

By Nadia Prupis

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) broke its own internal rules when it spied on Keystone XL opponents in Texas, violating guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming overly involved in complex political issues, a new report by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal published Tuesday has revealed.

Internal documents acquired by the outlets through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show how the FBI failed to get approval for launching investigations into Houston-based protesters, whom the agency labeled “environmental extremists,” and held a bias in favor of the controversial tar sands pipeline—currently awaiting federal approval—extolling its supposed economic benefits in one document which outlined reasons for spying on its opponents.

“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the file states. “The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.”

The Guardian reports:

Between November 2012 and June 2014, the documents show, the FBI collated inside knowledge about forthcoming protests, documented the identities of individuals photographing oil-related infrastructure, scrutinised police intelligence and cultivated at least one informant.

….However, the partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.

Additionally, the FBI appeared to have opened its file on the Keystone XL opponents in 2013 following a meeting between officials from the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

“For a period of time—possibly as long as eight months—agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with [direct action climate group] Tar Sands Blockade,” the Guardian writes.

Dozens of activists were arrested in Texas in late 2012, although none were accused of violent crime or property damage, according to key Tar Sands Blockade organizer, Ron Seifert.

“Less than a month after TransCanada showed the FBI a PowerPoint claiming that people opposed to [Keystone XL] need to be watched, Houston’s FBI office cuts corners to start an investigation; it’s not surprising but it is revealing of who they really work for,” Seifert told Common Dreams on Monday. “The FBI has been harassing and actively repressing communities of organizers for decades.”

Yet more records show that the FBI associated the Tar Sands Blockade, which organizes peaceful protests, with other “domestic terrorism issues.”

Other documents suggest that the Houston-based investigation was only one of a larger probe, possibly monitoring other anti-Keystone XL activists around the country.

“We’re not surprised,” Seifert continued. “We’re also not deterred. Movements for climate and environmental justice are activating people from diverse political backgrounds to take direct action to defend themselves from threats like [Keystone XL]. People are stepping out of the blind alleys of electoral politics and building grassroots power, and that’s scary for people who want a monopoly on power.”


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  1. Mike Johnson
    May 12, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    I’m guessing we won’t see the media-wide outrage we were subjected to when the IRS targeted 501c4s, many of which were, holy cow, tea partyish. It’ll be interesting to see if the campaign forces candidates to take a stand on the use of eminent domain to enrich foreign corporations.

  2. Pluto
    May 12, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Well, on that note, last Friday:

    Human Rights Watch sues US over surveillance

    WASHINGTON: Human Rights Watch said today it filed a suit alleging the US Drug Enforcement Administration illegally collected records of its phone calls to foreign countries for years.

    The lawsuit comes after a series of media reports and disclosures in public documents revealing a surveillance program dating back to the 1990s, which reportedly collected data on virtually all international phone calls.

    “At Human Rights Watch we work with people who are sometimes in life-or-death situations, where speaking out can make them a target,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at the watchdog group.

    “Whom we communicate with and when is often extraordinarily sensitive — and it’s information that we wouldn’t turn over to the government lightly.”

    The suit filed in federal court in California asks a judge to declare the surveillance a violation of the group’s constitutional rights, and to purge all records from the program.

    “The DEA’s program is yet another example of federal agencies overreaching their surveillance authority in secret,” said Mark Rumold, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing the human rights organization.

    “We want a court to force the DEA to destroy the records it illegally collected and to declare — once and for all — that bulk collection of Americans’ records is unconstitutional.

    Read more at:

    The problem is endemic across the rogue Federal government.

  3. sisterlauren
    May 13, 2015 at 4:13 am

    My first thought was of the plan they had in Texas to shoot Occupy leaders in the head.

  4. sisterlauren
    May 13, 2015 at 4:20 am

    ….However, the partially redacted documents reveal the investigation into anti-Keystone activists occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.

    As a leader of the faithful opposition, it seemed to me that their larger goal was to tie all of the activists together into some sort of perceived threat, and then call us all terrorists. I really considered it a major threat and I was worried about dealing with it for years.

    That is why we needed to have so many different leaders, so they would not be able to get us all. A lot of our leaders were destroyed by their machine, we should all take a moment of silence and remember them.

  5. Duncan Watson
    May 13, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I doubt we will see any mainstream acknowledgement of this at all. As an aside, I am sad to see that FDL’s commentariat has become so small.