On April 4, 2012 the FBI held a daylong “strategy meeting” with TransCanada Corporation, the company building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request. The meeting, which took place in the agency’s Oklahoma City Field Office, came just three weeks after President Barack Obama visited the state vowing to cut through bureaucratic red tape and approve the southern portion of the pipeline. In a speech at a TransCanada pipe yard in Cushing, Oklahoma on March 22 Obama said: “Today, we’re making this new pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf a priority. So the southern leg of it we’re making a priority, and we’re going to go ahead and get that done.” The same day the White House issued an executive order expediting the permit and review process for energy infrastructure projects.
The FBI meeting with TransCanada suggests that concerns over opposition to the pipeline had reached the highest levels of the law enforcement community. Terry Brannon, Cushing Police Chief at the time, says it was an information-sharing meeting. “I think it was important that law enforcement and the oil companies worked hand in hand together to make sure that if something did happen, that law enforcement wasn’t playing behind the eight ball,” he told me. He said the biggest concerns raised at the meeting were opposition to the pipeline as well as terrorism and environmental activism.
The FBI declined to comment for this, story citing the contention surrounding the pipeline. According to Linda Wilkins, a public affairs specialist at the FBI, “TransCanada/Keystone Pipeline seems to be very politicized and controversial at this time. And the FBI generally do not participate or comment on such issues.”
The FBI routinely refuses to comment on, or even acknowledge, ongoing investigations. However, the agency does not appear to have a formal policy that bars it from commenting on politically sensitive issues.
“Every arm of the federal government, apparently including the FBI, has been doing favors for TransCanada,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. “That they want to cover it up comes as no great surprise.”
Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, says there are plenty of valid reasons why a company might meet with the FBI, including security threats and pipeline safety. He was surprised to learn, however, that the meeting came at the behest of the FBI and that the agency would produce a document with the FBI logo alongside that of a private corporation. He doesn’t see any reason why the FBI should dodge questions about the meeting. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the FBI to refuse comment because something is political or controversial,” German says. “You’re asking about their conduct. That their conduct might be controversial is the entire point of your asking the question.”
According to the documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, the meeting included presentations by TransCanada and the FBI. The agenda shows the dual logos of TransCanada and the FBI at the top and describes the day-long meeting as a “Training Session.” (TransCanada disputes this characterization of the meeting. “We did not participate in any training session with law enforcement,” says Shawn Howard, a company spokesperson.) In a March 13, 2012 FBI synopsis of a planning meeting between TransCanada and the FBI, the upcoming April event was described as a “Keystone XL Pipeline Strategy Meeting.” At the meeting TransCanada delivered presentations on the Gulf Coast project, pipeline operations, and corporate security. The FBI offered a legal briefing, a cyber briefing, and a “Common Operating Picture Support to Pipeline Initiative.” The day concluded with a 45-minute “Strategy Meeting.”
A copy of the meeting agenda obtained by Earth Island Journal shows the dual logos of TransCanada and the FBI at the top and describes the day-long meeting as a “Training Session”.
In addition to TransCanada, representatives from several other oil and gas firms attended the meeting. These included Blue Knight Energy, Centurion Pipeline, and Plains Pipeline. More than 30 FBI agents from several states participated in the meeting, along with local and state law enforcement agencies, as well as representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.
TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard says the company was asked by the FBI to “update law enforcement officials” about their experience during the construction of the Gulf Coast Project. “While we are responsible for the construction activities that take place on our job sites,” he added, “law enforcement is responsible for enforcing the laws in the state and county where that work is taking place.”
In spring 2013, one year after the FBI strategy meeting, a similar event was held with Nebraska law enforcement agencies and TransCanada. According to a spokesperson for the Nebraska State Patrol, that meeting was initiated by TransCanada but organized and facilitated by the state police. Documents made public from that session included a TransCanada presentation on activists arrested in Texas and Oklahoma as well as legal justifications for those arrests. It also featured profiles of three prominent organizers: Scott Parkin of the Rainforest Action Network, Tar Sands Blockade’s Ron Seifert, and Rae Breaux of 350.org.
Law enforcement has been keeping a close eye on activists along the southern leg of the pipeline. As I reported in Earth Island Journal last August, the Bryan County Sheriff’s department in Oklahoma infiltrated a Tar Sands Resistance Training camp in March 2013. The intelligence passed from the undercover officers to the Department of Homeland Security was used to thwart a planned act of civil disobedience in Cushing. During that same week the Oklahoma Department of Homeland Security Fusion Center was communicating with TransCanada and even shared a “Situational Awareness Bulletin” with the company.
A final decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline is expected in the next couple of months. If Obama approves the pipeline, environmental activists, Native Americans, and landowners along the pipeline route have promised a sustained campaign of protest and civil disobedience.
“As we look ahead to the pending approval of the presidential permit for Keystone XL,” says TransCanada’s Shawn Howard, “law enforcement agencies (local, state and federal) have wanted to know how these protests have been managed in the past – and what they may have to be prepared for if the same occurs in the future.”
Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at adamfederman.com.
This article originally appeared in the Earth Island Journal.