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Security firm casts shadow on protests

Security firm casts shadow on protests

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Dakota Access Protest Camp

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp north of Cannon Ball on Sept. 9, 2016. A private security firm hired by the developer of the pipeline says it's the subject of a "misinformation campaign" after it was uncovered that TigerSwan operated in North Dakota without a license. 

It’s unfortunate that top North Dakota law enforcement officials were unaware that a security firm was apparently operating without a license during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

The North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board denied an application to James Patrick Reese, the founder of North Carolina-based TigerSwan, to become a licensed private security provider in the state this year. The board, however, says Reese "and/or" the company have "illegally continued to conduct private investigative and/or private security services following the denial of the application of licensure."

TigerSwan apparently worked for Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline. They continue to work for the company monitoring valve sites in North Dakota using roving security teams that are armed with semiautomatic rifles and sidearms. During the pipeline protests the security firm provided intelligence to Energy Transfer Partners using flyover photography of the construction and protest sites, according to the board's complaint, and worked with local law enforcement. The firm, according to the complaint, also placed or attempted to place undercover agents within the protest group to investigate and monitor them.

After the state board’s complaint became public, Gov. Doug Burgum’s office, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department all said they were unaware that TigerSwan lacked a license.

The board wants a state district court to issue an injunction against TigerSwan and Reese and an administrative fine for each violation they have allegedly committed. Providing private investigative or private security services without a current license issued by the board is a Class B misdemeanor under state law.

The board learned on Sept. 23 that TigerSwan was operating illegally and sent a letter to the company. TigerSwan denied it was doing business in the state, but applied for a license in mid-November. The board denied the license in December and again this year. One reason the board cited was the criminal history of Reese, who denied he had been convicted of any offenses. TigerSwan was formed by retired military special forces members.

It’s disappointing that a company would hire a security firm without checking to see if it was licensed. It’s also disappointing that law enforcement wasn’t informed of the lack of a license. In fairness to Burgum’s office, they began dealing with the protests months after they began.

There were at least two incidents where security personnel hired by the pipeline company clashed with protesters. In both cases, the security members were armed. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in these incidents. The potential, however, for a worst outcome existed. As far as the Tribune knows, TigerSwan wasn’t involved in these clashes.

There also was the Labor Day weekend clash between unlicensed security and protesters when guard dogs were used. The use of security in that case is being investigated.

The fact remains, if you are going to hire armed security they need to be following the law. The first thing they need to do is get a license. You need to be sure you have a reliable firm.

The protesters, including members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, were suspicious of the pipeline security and the role they played with law enforcement. The board’s allegations lend some credibility to those concerns.

TigerSwan last week said it was the target of a "misinformation campaign," but didn’t address the issue of a license. The company said it would do that during a hearing.

If the company didn’t have a license, it wasn’t a victim.

North Dakota law enforcement had never handled anything as large and diverse as the pipeline protests. The Tribune believes they worked hard to avoid major injuries. They no doubt learned many things during the protests. One of the lessons: know who you are working with. It’s too bad, if TigerSwan lacked a license, that it will reflect on all security and law enforcement during the protests.

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