The leak of 1,100 documents from the paramilitary firm TigerSwan has revealed that the private security company was contracted by pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners to conduct an invasive infiltration and surveillance operation against protest groups opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Comparing the protesters to "jihadists" in internal reports, the operation included coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement, spanning the multiple states that the pipeline passes through. This revelation has left organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union to question why it is legal for a private company to be allowed to conduct intrusive surveillance programs such as this.

TigerSwan, founded in 2007 by retired Delta Force members, was initially contracted to provide paramilitary security services in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to internal reports, they characterize the protest movement as "an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component" and compare the Sioux water protectors to jihadist insurgents.

A February 27 2017 report states that since the movement "generally followed the jihadist insurgency model while active, we can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse." Continuing this combat-oriented mindset, the report continues, “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies."

TigerSwan also reports that their "social media cell has harnessed a URL coding technique to discover hidden profiles and groups associated with the protesters allowing the firm to access private social media information. … Self-incriminating information can be gathered on protesters to be used at a later date." This hacking technique was used, for example, to access the private Facebook page of Mississippi Stand, a group organizing transportation for individuals traveling to protest sites like Standing Rock.

"It’s like a big brother society, with a private corporation — with even less restraints than the government — totally interfering with our right to privacy, free speech, assembly, and religious freedom," explains civil rights attorney Jeff Haas, who is working in coordination with the National Lawyers Guild and is representing a number of the approximately 800 individuals arrested during the protest.

Haas adds that if the government isn’t allowed to perform surveillance like this, "Why should a private corporation working for another private corporation be able to?" Law enforcement cannot legally initiate surveillance of this sort without probable cause, but in TigerSwan’s coordination with law enforcement officials, this could very well have acted as a workaround for police to gain information they otherwise would not have been legally entitled to.

"It’s like we have a second level of government interference of surveillance that’s shared with official government forces, but how do you control that?" Haas questions. "I’m not sure the law is totally clear, but this could be a way to basically get around the Constitution. And until these documents got leaked, it was certainly a way to get around the public knowing about it."