Report: FBI Spied on Houston Tar Sands Blockaders in Violation of Agency Rules

Two years ago, the East Texas pines played backdrop for a dramatic struggle. Environmental activists and protesters locked themselves to earth-moving machines. Some took to the trees, sitting in platforms suspended 50 feet in the air by lines tethered to heavy equipment on the ground. Anything to stall construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry heavy, molasses-like crude oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Houston became a natural staging ground for many of the protesters. In particular, activists began to organize in Manchester, an east Houston neighborhood that sits in the shadow of a Valero refinery capable of processing heavy crude.

And Houston is where FBI officials kept tabs on Tar Sands Blockaders, according to documents recently obtained by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the Guardian, those confidential FBI files “show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.”

The documents appear to show that between November 2012 and June 2014, the FBI's Houston field monitored local anti-Keystone activists, as well as other people seen photographing local oil-related facilities. The FBI also collected information on upcoming protests and even cultivated an informant with “good access and a history of reliable reporting," according to the Guardian.

And it appears that the FBI's snooping was, at first, all in violation of the bureau's own internal safeguards laid out in the FBI's so-called Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which requires prior approval from both a field office's top lawyer and special agent in charge. The rules are meant to force the bureau to take special precautions when investigations target journalists, elected officials, activists or other political groups.

For as long as eight months, according to the Guardian, local FBI investigators kept watch over Tar Sands Blockaders without approval of the field office's top attorney or special agent in charge. 

Go here for the full report from the Guardian. 
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Michael Barajas
Contact: Michael Barajas