Surveillance State: FBI Spied on Keystone Pipeline Activists

The Keystone XL Pipeline is once again making headlines. The project, which proposes creating a 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada’s tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, has been heavily debated among Democrats and Republicans for President Obama’s entire presidency. However, this time the controversy revolves around the Federal Bureau of Investigations monitoring of activists in Houston, Texas.

A new report from The Guardian reveals that the FBI violated its own internal regulations by spying on the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group working to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and highlight dangers to the communities near the proposed pipeline.  A bill in favor of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline was recently vetoed by President Obama. Shortly after, the Senate failed to override the President’s veto, leaving the project in limbo.
The documents show that the bureau did not get proper approval before working with informants and opening files on protesters. The FBI also worked with TransCanada, promising to share “any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the pipeline or the company.

The Guardian and Earth Island First Journal received 80 pages of documents from the FBI via a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Guardian reports:

“The documents reveal that one FBI investigation, run from its Houston field office, amounted to “substantial non-compliance” of Department of Justice rules that govern how the agency should handle sensitive matters.

One FBI memo, which set out the rationale for investigating campaigners in the Houston area, touted the economic advantages of the pipeline while labelling its opponents “environmental extremists”.”

Under the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, the bureau outlines how special care must be taken for investigations that target elected officials, journalists and political organizations.

In order to launch an investigation into “sensitive investigative matters”, the bureau must first get approval of both the chief division counsel (CDC), the top lawyer in the field office, and the special agent in charge (SAC).

This investigation apparently took place without approval from the CDC and SAC in the Houston field office.

From November 2012 to June 2014, the FBI monitored the activist group, identifying members who took pictures of oil infrastructure, and maintained at least one informant. One of the documents refer to a source who had “good access and a history of reliable reporting”.

The FBI claims the situation was a failure that was fixed and reported internally.


Whatever your position on the politics of the Keystone XL Pipeline, it seems obvious that federal agencies like the FBI are largely ignoring their own rules to pursue a policy of assumed guilt. Activists practicing constitutionally protected activity continue to be targets of illegal investigations. At what point do Americans say enough is enough?