It was early afternoon on October 11th, 2016 when TigerSwan’s program manager, retired Delta Force Sergeant Major John Porter, met with Silverton’s owner, Carl Clifton, inside a hangar at the Mandan Municipal Airport. The hangar was initially used by Silverton security as a clandestine office for their intelligence cell that collected information on the protesters, self-described water protectors, at Standing Rock. The managers from the two rival private security companies had both been hired by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to manage the protesters at the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). They had much to discuss.
Clifton and Porter talked about the profitability of running intelligence operations against the protesters versus running site security before Clifton mentioned the fact that another security company named Russel Group of Texas (RGT) is running harassing surveillance against his wife and taking pictures of her. This is the type of surveillance that CIA officers expect to have put on them in a place like Moscow to prevent them from meeting with their intelligence assets. They want you to know that you are being followed. In this case, the message to Clifton and Silverton security was clear, back off and let rival companies milk the profits from ETP.
When this subject came up, John Porter began to stutter saying, “Look dude…that’s none of my business…I…I…I’m so…I don’t even see that shit happening and it’s none of my concern either.”
Clifton then asked why Russel Group was running around the DAPL site carrying firearms. TigerSwan had been brought in to coordinate and supervise the half dozen security companies that the oil company, ETP, had initially hired. Clifton pointed out that there is no way that they could have gotten their licenses so fast. Indeed, many RGT contractors had to be sent home since the licensing board had denied them the gun permits, as the board itself was staffed by the owners of local security companies who didn’t like seeing outsiders making money on their home turf. “You know what bro, I don’t care about the licenses,” Porter said, blowing off the legalities involved.
Once TigerSwan showed up on the scene they began trying to choke out the smaller security companies in order to maximize their own profits. “Consistent with the logic of both markets and war, competition in the market for force escalates until one market actor emerges victorious with the monopoly of force, eliminating all rivals,” writes Sean McFate in his book, “The Modern Day Mercenary,” about private security companies.
Taking swipes at a rival security company or putting the wife of an employee under surveillance was really the least of the many problematic activities perpetrated by John Porter and TigerSwan in North Dakota. The next month in November, Porter acted as an agent provocateur, stoking the protesters and encouraging them to be more violent. This is why, “many cringe at linking armed conflict to profit motive,” writes McFate, “because it incentivizes private armies to prolong and expand war for financial gain.”
TigerSwan hits the ground in North Dakota
The prairie of North Dakota would not normally be a place that would draw international media coverage but in 2016, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) began construction of a oil pipeline that would run from North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa, and into Illinois. In North Dakota, the pipeline would pass the northern tip of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The Sioux Tribe opposed the construction of the pipeline for two main reasons. The first was that the pipeline was going to be built on an ancient sacred burial ground, a claim that archeologists were never able to establish. Several individuals were also discovered attempting to bury bison bones in the area where the pipeline would be built as well. The second major concern that the Sioux Tribal Nations had was the environmental impact that the pipeline would have on their water supply.
The protest movement against the pipeline began around April when the native Americans at standing rock established the first protest camp. The camp became a lighting rod for native American land rights and by some accounts was the first time that all of the native American tribes across America were united in a single issue since the 1800’s. The protest movement, self-described as water protectors grew, and attracted many activists from outside the native American community to include a large number of US military veterans.
Security contractors on the scene at DAPL knew that a native American festival was coming up in mid-september, one which had all of the local hotels booked as a lot of people would be attending from out of town. It didn’t make any sense to begin construction of the oil pipeline while thousands of additional native Americans were in town so the contractors held informal talks with the FBI, who agreed with their assessment that building should not begin until after the event and people began heading home. By that time, the protest in general would probably be winding down as well according to some analysts in North Dakota.
The FBI agreed and communicated this point of view to ETP, attempting to nudge them in what they felt was the most sensible and prudent direction. The FBI also made it clear to the oil company that they currently did not have enough assets to protect the pipeline construction, nor would they until after the native American festival. The security contractors also did not have nearly enough personnel to handle such an undertaking. ETP agreed to wait until after the festivities before initiating construction on September 22nd.
Back at the hangar, Silverton had brought in K9s and dog handlers with the idea that they would be deployed as a quick reaction force once construction began as needed. Silverton did not yet have the proper licenses for the dog handlers, but with ETP agreeing to delay construction, they now had some breathing room, giving them time to acquire the proper paperwork before the dogs would ever be used. All this changed abruptly.
At 7PM on September 2nd, ETP decided that they would begin construction the next morning and that the security contractors, who were made aware of this decision around 9PM that night, would mobilize all assets available early the following morning. Over a dozen dogs and their handlers were sent out around noon the on September 3rd. The contractors were so short handed at that time that their personnel assigned to intelligence collection and the overall program manager all had to be out on the ground for them to have a chance at defending the construction site. The only exception was a former Delta Force operator working with another security company called SRC and his men whose only task was to record protesters with video cameras. Everyone else was to be used for security.
“Four hundred people showed up in force, they lined up along the fence at first,” said Silverton contractor Landon Steele. “We stayed inside our vehicles with the canines and let the construction guys do what they wanted to do. Then the protesters started rocking the fence, knocked that down and picked up metal posts and started charging at the construction workers. Then we got out of our vehicles to give the construction workers a buffer.”
Protesters taunted the dogs, who then began barking, and one security contractor got into a wrestling match with a protester. Several protesters were bit by the canines and a few dogs had to be brought to the hospital after being injured in the fighting. Pictures from that day quickly emerged in the news media, showing para-military looking security contractors with their K9s. Steele, an Army veteran, was quickly identified when pictures of him appeared on social media websites. Steele’s dog was a personally owned bomb detection dog, not an attack dog. Silverton was still unlicensed for dog handling.
The conflict escalated between the contractors and the protesters as a result. ETP had made a critical strategic blunder. The incident with the dogs happened on a Saturday, and the next Monday TigerSwan was showing up in North Dakota ostensibly to harmonize the half dozen or more security companies on the ground as a command and control node. The rate at which TigerSwan was brought onto the contract, in just five working days, was impressive.
Some at TigerSwan’s headquarters in Apex, North Carolina expressed concern about the company getting involved in theDAPL project. “It was good money for the company but the controversial nature of the pipeline itself would lead to some negative publicity,” a senior member of TigerSwan told SOFREP. “There was so much money thrown at the company it was just like let’s just execute and figure it out later and some people were brought in who should not have been brought in,” he said. These concerns were brushed off by TigerSwan’s CEO, James Reese who saw huge profit margins and the opportunity to expand his business into the field of domestic oil security.
Answers are not forthcoming as to why the oil company made such an abrupt decision to begin construction that day. Landon Steele told SOFREP that, “Now they will never say that we used you guys [contractors] as bait, but you know it certainly changed the tempo of everything that happened out there….They really really wanted to see a confrontation.”
Intelligence analysts hired on as security contracts kept track of SIGACTS, Significant Actions, and charted them out on a day to day basis the same way they did when deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. SIGACTs include violent incidents and attacks. When TigerSwan arrived at Standing Rock, there was a clear and noticeable uptick in SIGACTs. Analysts know that correlation is not necessarily causation, but when anecdotal accounts from numerous security contracts are taken into account and the qualitative data is cross referenced with quantitative data, it becomes clear that TigerSwan was actively heating up the conflict.
TigerSwan acted as both the arsonist and the firefighter in North Dakota.
Players with no names
As TigerSwan personnel began to arrive in North Dakota, protesters began showing up in the camps at Standing Rock calling for violence and engaging in increasingly menacing rhetoric. The FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Bureau of Land Management all had infiltrators placed inside the protest camps from the beginning. They watched and observed, in case things began to get out of hand as there were fears that the protests could spawn eco-terrorism. Suddenly, new protesters were showing up in the camps calling for violence.