Internal agency documents show for the first time that FBI agents have closely been monitoring anti-Keystone activists and violating guidelines that had been designed to prevent the bureau from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

From the Guardian

The hugely contentious Keystone XL pipeline, which is awaiting approval from the Obama administration, would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast. It has been strongly opposed for years by a coalition of environmental groups. Some of these groups are now being monitored by federal law enforcement agencies for simply engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. 

An FBI investigation run from its Houston field office, amounted to “substantial non-compliance” of Department of Justice rules that govern how the bureau 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."

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

Confronted by evidence contained in the cache of documents, the agency admitted that “FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained” for the investigation, but said the failure was remedied and later reported internally.

For a period of time – possibly as long as eight months – agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with the Tar Sands Blockade. Tar Sands Blockade appeared on the FBI’s radar in late 2012, not long after the group began organizing in east Houston, the end destination for Keystone’s 1,660-mile pipeline.

Environmental activists affiliated with the group were committed to peaceful civil disobedience that can involve minor infractions of law, such as trespass. But they had no history of violent or serious crime.

The FBI rules, laid out in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, dictate that special care should be taken over sensitive investigations such as those targeting elected officials, journalists and political organizations.

FBI work on “sensitive investigative matters” requires prior approval of both the chief division counsel (CDC), the top lawyer in the field office, and the special agent in charge (SAC).

Both are supposed to consider the severity of the threat and the consequences of “adverse impact on civil liberties and public confidence” should the investigation be made public.

However, neither Houston’s CDC or SAC were consulted in relation to the FBI’s monitoring of Tar Sands Blockade activists, the documents show. 

The documents appear to suggest the investigation was one branch of a wider set of investigations, possibly including anti-Keystone activists elsewhere in the country.

-By Brigida Santos, The Off the Grid Team

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