You are hereWaging Non-Violence: Can activists win the PR battle with the fossil fuel industry?

Waging Non-Violence: Can activists win the PR battle with the fossil fuel industry?

-By Adam Federman

August 6, 2013- In mid-June, Bold Nebraska — a grassroots environmental organization opposed to construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — obtained documents that detail how local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the company responsible for building the pipeline, are working together to undermine peaceful political protest. The documents revealed that the company, TransCanada, had briefed the FBI as well as law enforcement officials — district attorneys, attorney generals and county sheriffs — in Oklahoma and Nebraska on the potential threat posed by environmental activists and local landowners. In their PowerPoint presentation the company suggested that district attorneys should explore “state or federal anti-terrorism laws” in prosecuting activists and provided a crude dossier on the key organizers. They also included a list of individuals previously arrested for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in Texas and Oklahoma.

There is a long history of corporations and the state acting in concert to suppress environmental activism. But in recent years the relationship has deepened. This is in part a function of the post-9/11 national security state, which has placed a premium on information sharing between Department of Homeland Security fusion centers, local law enforcement officials and the private sector. In fact, on the same day that TransCanada delivered its presentation to Nebraska law enforcement officials, a representative of the Nebraska Information Analysis Center, a Department of Homeland Security fusion center, also briefed participants on the agency’s information-sharing network. According to emails exchanged before the meeting and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request, “The NIAC will brief on our intelligence sharing role/plan relevant to the pipeline project and provide an overview of a project we are working on.”

At the same time, the privatization of intelligence gathering has ballooned with many private security firms now working directly for corporations — most of which already have their own in-house intelligence gathering and security operations. Annual spending on such services is estimated at $100 billion.

“When those entities merge, and they begin to exchange information, there are extremely serious legal ramifications as well as civil rights consequences to those activities,” said Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “And now I would say we’re really seeing gray intelligence [the blurring of public and private intelligence gathering] taken up a notch.”

According to Regan, corporations that engage in espionage or intelligence gathering are not bound by the same regulations that state and federal agencies are, in theory, supposed to follow.

“They don’t have to abide by the U.S. attorney manual on spying guidelines,” Regan said. “They don’t even have to go through secretive FISA courts to hack into people’s computers or listen in on their cell phone calls.”

This is the world in which activists now find themselves. Not only must they contend with the sweeping surveillance powers of the state, brought to light most recently by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, but also the expanding — and essentially unregulated — corporate security and intelligence gathering network.

Yet even against this backdrop — and in the wake of the crackdown on animal rights and environmental groups in the mid-2000s known as the “Green Scare” — the environmental movement has refashioned itself. Opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the Keystone XL pipeline have, in just a few years, become highly visible campaigns known for massive protests and acts of civil disobedience.

Such widespread public opposition, no longer limited to a fringe element, has corporations worried. In an email to Lt. Randy Morehead of the Nebraska State Patrol and John McDermott, a crime analyst at the Nebraska Information Analysis Center, TransCanada security director Michael Nagina drew attention to the recently launched Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, which has gathered nearly 70,000 signatures for acts of peaceful civil disobedience “should it be necessary” to stop the pipeline.

“Certainly not imminent, but a heads up as to the type of action being promoted and the organizations engaged,” he wrote. “Note the reference to symbolic targets such as TC [TransCanada] lobbies.”



Backbone Campaign
Liberty Tree
Progressive Democrats of America
Peoples Email Network
Justice Through Music
Locust Fork Journal
Berkeley Fellowship UU\'s Social Justice Committee
The Smirking Chimp
Progressive Democrats Sonoma County
Center for Media and Democracy
Chelsea Neighbors United
Atlanta Progressive News
Yes Men
No Nukes North