KATC Investigates has found the Louisiana board that regulates the private security industry has denied a license for a North Carolina-based security contractor that's affiliated with Energy Transfer Partners, which seeks to build the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and which hired the contractor to oversee security during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
The private contractor in question, TigerSwan, applied for a license with the Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners on June 19, according to the application. But the board denied that application on Monday, citing ongoing litigation filed against TigerSwan by the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board for allegedly providing its services without the required license.
Fabian Blache III, executive director for the LSBPSE, said the denial was based on the "suitability" portion of the law governing the private security industry, especially the portion requiring any applicant to demonstrate an ability to function within regulation.
"What concerned me about that not being the case is the fact that they were denied licensure twice in Dakota and are pending litigation," Blache said on Wednesday.
Here in Louisiana, the proposed, 162-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline would link refineries in St. James to hubs in east Texas. The project would be constructed beneath 11 parishes and the Atchafalaya Basin, and it marks the tail end of the cross-country system that starts with Dakota Access.
The project's received one permit — that's being challenged in court — and another permit is pending. But as the debate continues, some are concerned their position on the issue is being compromised.
According to allegations made in the lawsuit, TigerSwan began work for ETP without a license, and once the North Dakota board issued a cease and desist order, it continued to do the work. All the while, TigerSwan employees performing the services were “armed with semiautomatic rifles and sidearms while engaging in security services,” the lawsuit claims.
But to bolster its arguments, the board includes as evidence what appear to be internal TigerSwan situation reports provided to ETP during the protests. Those documents detail an intelligence operation that involved tracking not only protesters along the pipeline route but groups gathering across multiple states in support of the protesters, even alleging security personnel infiltrated the groups to gain intelligence.
It's spooked locals opposed to the Bayou Bridge project in such away that none agreed to an on-camera interview to prevent security operatives from identifying their faces.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré is no stranger to Louisiana environmental issues.
"All of a sudden in America, we've got people disillusioned by protesters," Honoré said.
At Wednesday night's Acadiana meeting of the Sierra Club, we asked him about issues surrounding TigerSwan. The company's founder, Reese, is a retired military officer with years of counterinsurgency experience in the global War on Terror in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information included in the company's application.
Honoré pointed to the military-style responses seen during the Dakota protests.
"Some of the tactics we saw up there were extreme by all measures," Honoré said. "These were civilians, and this is not a terrorist operation. It's dealing with protesters."
Blache said that any private investigative effort in Louisiana requires a separate license from the Louisiana State Board of Private Investigative Examiners.
Anything beyond physical security, he said — "I'm talking about you're on the street and you're watching, you're surveilling, you're reporting information, developing intel, that kind of thing" — requires a PI license.
Neither TigerSwan or its CEO, James Reese, had applied for a private investigation license as of Wednesday, an LSBPIE employee said.
Evidence included in the North Dakota lawsuit also alleges TigerSwan engaged in public relations efforts on behalf of the pipeline, including "counter-messaging," as one report states.
It's a tactic that's already been underway in Acadiana.
In a Feb. 8 editorial in The Daily Advertiser, a man named James "Spider" Marks writes in favor of the pipeline, urging the project's approval and stating that "many of these protesters are not native Louisianans."
Yet Marks, who identifies as a retired U.S. Army major general and president of a corporate advisory firm, does not disclose that he's on the TigerSwan board of advisors.
KATC could not get in contact with Marks but reached out to Reese with questions about his affiliation, along with whether TigerSwan plans to appeal the denial of its license and comment on the North Dakota lawsuit and its included evidence.
A spokesperson issued this statement:
TigerSwan and the many military and former law enforcement veterans we employ have been attacked and criticized with postings on the internet by groups that seek to disrupt America’s oil and gas industry, which contributes almost $70 billion in economic impact to the State of Louisiana. Yes, we shared information with law enforcement officials to prevent further destruction of private property and incitement of violence and cyber bullying against workers and contractors of our client. It is unfortunate the chaotic situation that developed in North Dakota and hope this does not spread to other towns within this great nation. We support the First Amendment rights of all our citizens, but we will not apologize for providing information to officials and personnel whose job it is to ensure the public's safety. We have cooperated fully with state officials regarding the specifics of our role in North Dakota and are happy to clarify our record in any other state. Our company is owned and run by service-disabled veterans and former law enforcement officers who served our country with honor and distinction.
Construction on the Bayou Bridge project cannot move forward until all permits have been issued, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Patrick Courreges said in a recent interview. Its Coastal Use Permit is pending a legal challenge, and a second permit is still pending.
It's unclear how ETP plans to address its security measures should the project move forward.
An ETP spokesperson, Vicki Granado, said in an email the company does not discuss its security initiatives, although she did confirm its affiliation with TigerSwan.
"We did contract with TigerSwan as part of our effort to ensure the safety of our employees and our assets in North Dakota," Granado said.
If TigerSwan wishes to appeal its license denial, it must request an appeal within 30 days, according to the LSBPSE.