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TransCanada Cultivates Close Relationship with Nebraska Law Enforcement

Despite lack of criminal activity, Keystone XL company urges law enforcement to keep close tabs on opponents

Since August 2011, the Nebraska Information Analysis Center (NIAC) – one of more than 70 Department of Homeland Security “fusion centers” – and TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, have shared information about anti-pipeline protesters, Nebraska landowners, and opposition to the project more broadly, according to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal.

scan of a document, holiday card depicting a snowman made of sand Christmas card email from TransCanada to Nebraska Fusion Center

The emails, which are primarily from TransCanada to the NIAC and Nebraska State Patrol, catalogue everything from “incidents” and “aggressive behavior” among landowners to peaceful protests and the online activity of opposition groups. In one email, dated October 21, 2011 TransCanada Corporate Security Advisor Michael Nagina writes: “Just wanted to let you know of a couple incidents which occurred this week. Although there is no imminent threat and they were not criminal in nature they could be an indicator of future demonstrations or protests and provided as intelligence” [emphasis added]. The email was sent to the head of the Omaha Police Department, a Nebraska FBI agent, and the NIAC. All details about the incidents referred to in this email and others have been redacted because they are “investigative in nature,” according to the Nebraska State Patrol’s Legal Counsel.

“There’s no doubt that they’re trying to imply that there might be problems and that these people need to be watched,” says Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing landowners in Nebraska who are opposed to the cross-border pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries near Houston. “It’s another attempt to make the landowners look bad.”

Last spring Bold Nebraska, an environmental group opposed to the pipeline, obtained documents showing that TransCanada held a day long “educational training opportunity” for local law enforcement authorities and county district attorneys along the proposed pipeline route. At that meeting TransCanada presented an incident history for Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as information about protest tactics and activists arrested in those states. In their presentation, TransCanada employees referred to landowners as “aggressive” and “abusive” and advised local law enforcement on prosecuting activists under state terrorism statutes. “Resident FBI offices can explore federal charges with the US Attorney,” they explained.

The new documents, obtained through a Public Information Request, show that TransCanada has been appealing for help to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies since at least 2011. In 2012 TransCanada held a day-long “Strategy Meeting” with more than 30 FBI agents and a handful of law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma City. In 2013 local deputies from the Bryan County Sherriff’s department in Oklahoma infiltrated a Tar Sands Resistance Training Camp and relayed intelligence to the Oklahoma fusion center, preempting an act of civil disobedience at the end of the week-long camp. During that same week the fusion center was communicating with TransCanada and even shared a classified situational awareness bulletin with the corporation.

Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska, was referenced in one of the emails sent in 2011. Having grown tired of hearing TransCanada’s director of government relations, Beth Jensen, claim that the company has 50 employees in its Omaha office, Kleeb decided to try to confirm the boast. She went to the office and waited for someone to come out. She asked how many employees the company has there and was told it “ranges from about 20 to 30.” Kleeb recalls that she tweeted or posted a picture of the TransCanada office sign on her Facebook page and left. In an October 2011 email TransCanada’s Corporate Security Advisor wrote: “On the heels of Jane Kleeb attending our Omaha office the following post from actor Alex [sic] Baldwin is interesting.”

photo of a woman's faceBold Nebraska photoJane Kleeb

Kleeb says she never gave her name to the employees at the office, so apparently TransCanada was monitoring her online activity and relaying that information to local law enforcement, Homeland Security, and the FBI.  

Kleeb, who describes Bold Nebraska as a “bunch of moms, farmers, ranchers, and grandmothers,” says that the new revelations are deeply troubling. “As a citizen, shouldn’t I be notified if a foreign corporation is describing actions that I’m doing to the FBI? Shouldn’t I as a citizen be notified of that?”

According to the documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, it appears that regular contact between TransCanada and the NIAC began in August 2011, around the time of the Nebraska State Fair. In an August 11, 2011 email, John McDermott, a critical infrastructure analyst with the NIAC, thanks TransCanada’s Nagina for sharing information with him about “three incidents in connection with the Keystone XL Pipeline project.” He then adds: “If you would send me information on the TransCanada booth at the State Fair that would be ideal.” TransCanada not only had a booth at the fair but was also one of its sponsors. In 2011 TransCanada hired Concentric Public Affairs, a Calgary-based consulting firm, to help with stakeholder relations and community outreach. The Nebraska State Fair booth was part of that effort. 

On August 17, nine days before the fair got underway, Nagina asked McDermott if he had, “heard any rumblings of protests or demonstrations in regards to the Fair?” A few days later, in an email to a member of the Nebraska State Patrol, Nagina explained that the company had contracted with Double Locked Security – a private security firm based in Grand Island, Nebraska, where the fair is held – to provide additional support. “Although we do not have any specific threats at this time,” he wrote, “given the recent incidents (intimidation/harassment/threats) in northern Nebraska and the ongoing protests in Washington regarding our project we are concerned about our booth at the Fair.”

Following the State Fair, TransCanada continued to report on anti-pipeline protest activity and upcoming meetings with landowners in the state. On November 7, 2012 TransCanada alerted the NIAC to landowner meetings in Albion, Fullerton, Neligh, and O’Neill. The company also reached out to local sheriff’s offices. In a February 2013 email Nagina wrote: “As a quick update, some of our Land Agents will be in northern Nebraska as early as this week to initiate discussions with local landowners. I will determine which counties and advise accordingly.” In other emails Nagina refers to “an increase in aggressive behavior in Nebraska” and “Verbal Aggression” in Holt County.

By 2013 TransCanada and the NIAC were communicating regularly about rallies and protests in the region. In January TransCanada sent an email with the subject line, “Norfolk Office – Peaceful Protest.” In a March 2013 email from TransCanada to the NIAC, Nagina forwarded a Bold Nebraska Facebook post about a rally in Omaha. “The timing of our discussion earlier in the week could not have been better!” he wrote.

In a written statement TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard said: “TransCanada has had to deal with both lawful and unlawful protests against projects the company has. …Wherever we operate, we maintain an open dialogue with law enforcement and when there are activities that are targeted against our company, we ensure they are informed in case they are called to resolve something.” He did not respond to specific questions about the company’s correspondence with the NIAC, including whether TransCanada routinely supplies law enforcement with information on activities that are “not criminal in nature.”

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TransCanada’s cozying-up to Nebraska Law Enforcement – at the end of 2011 Nagina sent McDermott a Christmas card – seems to have paid off. At the April 2013 meeting, NIAC briefed attendees on an “intelligence sharing role/plan relevant to the pipeline project.” A few weeks later McDermott sent Nagina an email asking if the NIAC could use some of TransCanada’s slides for a “Law Enforcement Intelligence product on possible unlawful tactics and techniques of individuals/groups opposed to Keystone XL pipeline which law enforcement officers might encounter.”

Public Information Requests for documents related to the intelligence plan or product were denied. In an email from the Nebraska State Patrol, the agency’s legal counsel wrote, “We do not keep files on protesters.”

The NIAC may not keep files on protesters, but it appears that TransCanada does. And the company routinely passes that information along to the FBI, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement.

Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, says that TransCanda likely views landowners in Nebraska as a greater threat than other activists. “There are so many more earnest people getting engaged,” Regan says, “because it’s affecting them on a daily basis. It’s affecting their farm or their family.”

“They’re like the flies that take the cow down,” she adds. “Low level chipping away is very effective.”

Indeed, earlier this year landowners scored a major victory against TransCanada when a district judge ruled that the company cannot use eminent domain to seize private land in order to build the pipeline. Nebraska’s attorney general has appealed the ruling.

Kleeb, who was in Washington, DC for Earth Day when I reached her, points out that an inscription above the main entrance to the Nebraska Capitol reads: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.”

“That’s what we do,” Kleeb says. “That’s what landowners do.”

Adam Federman, Contributing Editor, Earth Island Journal
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.

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