Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 15, 2024

Standing Rock: FBI had up to 10 informants during the resistance to DAPL

Standing Rock: FBI had up to 10 informants in the camps during the resistance to Dakota Access Pipeline

The FBI's special agent in charge, reveals in his lengthy deposition, his search for the motivation of Standing Rock Water Protectors to make their stand -- and he fails to find the most obvious -- The Protection of the Sacred

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, March 15, 2024

In a new court case, the State of North Dakota claims it didn't have enough resources during the Standing Rock resistance to Dakota Access Pipeline, and wants the U.S. to pay up. The testimony reveals that the FBI had up to 10 informants, not just FBI informant Heath Harmon, in the water protectors camps.

"Up to 10 informants managed by the FBI were embedded in anti-pipeline resistance camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation at the height of mass protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016," Alleen Brown reports at Grist.

The FBI's secret office was at the old JC Penney's store.

FBI Supervisor Jacob O'Connell provides details of the FBI's operations from its base at the old JC Penney's store in Bismarck, in his deposition in the case.

O'Connell's deposition is in the case of North Dakota seeking to recover $38 million from the U.S., filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and accuses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal agencies of allowing the protest at Standing Rock to continue.

O'Connell is being questioned by Attorney Paul Seby, representing the State of North Dakota, on Aug. 16, 2022. 

Question: "And where was that office based, in the federal building in Bismarck?"

"No, We're in a standalone building in downtown Bismarck, which is the former JC Penney building that they turned into office space." 

Question "And when you "collect intelligence and react to it, what does that involve?" 

"It can mean a wide variety of activities but in the case of DAPL it was primarily focused on understanding who was in the area, what they were doing, where they came from, what was their history, what was their motivation, and who was providing them resources."

O'Connell said while gathering intelligence, his typical day, began by "going down to the camps." He said law enforcement used a "small knoll" north of the camps, where they could see all of the camps, and watched. He said he drove a 2015 silver Tahoe. "Typically in Indian country we have either pickup trucks or SUVs."

In his deposition, he described the packing up of the suitcase-sized drones, as they were preparing to launch those from the FBI  lookout knoll above the camps, and sending the drones back to FBI headquarters, due to privacy concerns.

O'Connell said he arrived in the summer of 2016.

"It was almost immediately after the confrontation between the highway patrol and the Native Americans on horseback, the picture that was on the cover of the New York Times."

New York Times, Standing Rock, August 16, 2016

Question: "You witnessed it. Can you describe what you recall witnessing?"

"I recall witnessing I want to say 10 to 12 law enforcement officers all wearing kind of the same colors, so it was hard to distinguish highway patrol from Morton County deputies, but they were in the ditch and on the approach to the Energy Transfer Partners staging area and that the Native Americans on horseback were using the horses to almost herd them in a direction or to run through and knock them over And they definitely weren't responding to verbal commands to basically conduct their protests in a peaceful manner."

"There was physical contact and it was definitely menacing."

Using the term made famous in the movie Casa Blanca, O'Connell says there were some "usual suspects" there.

"I know there was -- there was some usual suspects in there who other field officers had dealt with. And when I say "usual suspects," basically I'm referring to the fact that within our databases we have interview transcripts of previous contact with some of those individuals, but I can't characterize what the nature of that contact was."

During the deposition, O'Connell said that North Dakota doesn't have a SWAT team, but calls on Minneapolis FBI or local law enforcement for SWAT teams.

Question: "Who are the other points of contact with the FBI during DAPL protests?"

"You had my boss, Bob Perry, as well as one of his peers, a guy named Joe Weir, who was kind of in between jobs. So I requested that we have an on-scene commander come up. So they had Joe Weir come. And then I think we had one other individual after that. I don't recall with specificity, but the spirit behind that was to allow me to run the squad and take care of standard FBI requirements and let them deal with DAPL on an ongoing basis."

O'Connell said the FBI casework included incidents at Standing Rock casino and hotels in Bismarck, as well as the camps.

O'Connell said he would get up about 4 or 5 a.m., and go down to the camps. During the deposition he was asked what happened when he identified himself as an FBI agent.

"It was mixed to -- from general curiosity to, you could say, aggressive statements like you're not welcome here, but not being in the good-news business, you kind of learn how to diffuse people. And I'd just ask them outright if I needed to be concerned with my safety, and they'd always say no. And from that point on, it was usually a very respectful confrontation."

Q. "In the event someone said to you something not accommodating to respecting your safety, were you prepared to defend yourself?"


Q. "How would you have done that if someone threatened you, aggressively threatened you?"

"That's a hypothetical I'd prefer not to get into."

Q. "Sure. Let me try and do a better job of asking. You're a trained law enforcement individual and you know how to use a field weapon if someone were to attack you and threaten your life; correct?"

"I've been trained in the use of deadly force."

Q; "Yeah. Do you carry a firearm?"

'Yes, I do."

The FBI Informants at Standing Rock

O'Connell said sources were recruited as FBI informants, and the FBI met with those informants away from the camp.

The number of informants ranged from one to ten, at various times.

"Typically there would not be a lot of agents down managing sources at the camps because it would be not -- it would not be considered good tradecraft to go meeting a source by the camp. So we typically never met sources around the camp."

(A portion here is redacted from the deposition about the FBI informants.)

Besides the secret FBI informants, O'Connell wandered around the camps.

"I went to all three camps," O'Connell said in the deposition.

O'Connell said the U.S. Border Patrol drone that patrolled over the camps flew too high, and was not as useful as was anticipated. Therefore, the FBI had attempted to bring in smaller drones from FBI headquarters, but those were pulled back at the last minute due to privacy concerns.

The smaller drones, that fit into a suitcase, fly lower and hover for about 30 minutes, he said.

O'Connell said the FBI did not find widespread criminal activity in the camps, and pointed out there were unfounded rumors and innuendos.

O'Connell was questioned about the handgun that FBI informant Heath Harmon gave to Red Fawn. O'Connell said the gun was not a service revolver and said he did not know how the gun changed hands.

(Red Fawn was sentenced to five years in prison because of this gun owned by FBI informant Health Harmon of Three Affiliated Tribes.)

O'Connell was asked about Red Warriors, and responded with a derogatory description, but added:

"But the more we dug into it and the more we tried to understand the ideologies and activities, it became apparent that they were just a loose-knit organization of individuals who had kind of a common desire to participate in an activity that probably was something they had never experienced before in their life."

Energy Transfer security officers used dogs to attack Standing Rock water protectors on Sept. 3, 2016

O'Connell was also asked about the dog attack on Sept. 3, 2016, carried out by the security officers hired by Energy Transfer, owner of Dakota Access Pipeline. Concerning the attack with dogs, O'Connell's response was derogatory about Standing Rock water protectors, and in support of law enforcement.

"But, you know, we observed it. I didn't have firsthand observation, but we were kind of over on the road and we could see everything that was going down. And we just sat there and acted as good witnesses."

Q: "Do you think that the federal government should have helped North Dakota?"

Objection by Ms. Jane Bobet, U.S. Attorney General office, Denver -- "Objection; vague, calls for speculation. You can answer."

O'Connell said, "I think the FBI could have done more to support the State of North Dakota."

Question (by Mr. Paul Seby, representing plaintiff)  "What sorts of things are you thinking about, Mr. O'Connell? What more could the FBI have done?"

O'Connell said, "I think the FBI had a mandate to provide resources at its disposal to include aviation resources, to include technical resources, for communications, for evidence gathering. And I think the FBI should have put a lot more energy into investigating the crowd-source funding."

"I think that's something that's going to come back to haunt people with the way the money transferred between idealogues who were not participating in the protests to individuals who were basically paid protesters, paid idealogies, almost mercenary in nature."

Caro Gonzales of the International Indigenous Youth Council in North Dakota. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography Published Oct. 2016

Referring to his role as a manager in the FBI, O'Connell said, "I burned a lot of bridges down and I angered a lot of people because frankly I think they took the easier wrong over the harder right."

O'Connell also said that the BIA had a command post on the south side of the Cannonball River, a base where the BIA monitored the camps.

Question: "The BIA, did they go into the camps, any of them?"

"Yes. They went into the camps. In the beginning, you know, again, there wasn't an outward conflict that was continuous between law enforcement and the protesters. In the beginning you could go in there and talk to people and patrol and, you know, make sure that everything was peaceful."

"But then after a certain time -- and, again, I don't recall when -- basically the camps called themselves off limits to law enforcement. And so BIA, I think, respected that. But they maintained knowledge through basically their ancestry and their access to the culture that was beneficial to law enforcement in the overall conduct."

O'Connell was asked if any other entities had sources in the camp. He said private security companies had sources in the camp, but the FBI does not consider those formal sources. Formal sources are usually known to the local prosecutor's office.

O'Connell said one FBI informant was arrested.

Q: "Were you ever told by a federal official at any level not to pursue criminal investigations against any protester against the DAPL pipeline?"


O'Connell did not provide specifics.

During O'Connell's response regarding potential prosecutions, O'Connell made a brief reference to Sophia Wilansky, 21, whose arm was blown apart. (Wilansky's arm was blown apart by a projectile after law enforcement blasted water protectors with so-called 'non lethal weapons.')

O'Connell stated it this way:

"Then we had the issue of Ms. Wolensky getting herself injured." (Deposition misspells name.)

During questions regarding criminal prosecutions, O'Connell said it wasn't clear if the Dakota Access Pipeline could be considered 'critical infrastructure,' in regards to prosecutions, because it was not completed yet and not operational. On the other hand, the portion of the pipeline coming down from Canada was operational.

O'Connell said the FBI had 15 positions and that somewhere between 50 and 100 FBI employees rotated through those positions during the Standing Rock response.

O'Connell criticized the governor of North Dakota in 2016, John Stewart Dalrymple, and said he failed to seek out enough resources, or take effective action to stop the protest. O'Connell described the governor's discussions at the Emergency Operations Center.

"Dalrymple would come down to the EOC and he'd bring his wife and he'd spend more time talking the great, like, Scotcheroos she brought than talking about the resources they were going to try to provide to address what was on with the protesters."

FBI Special Agent Jacob O'Connell deposition

O'Connell also was critical of his boss, Bob Perry, now retired from the FBI. O'Connell said Perry's approach was basically "keep the water calm."

"My frustration was focused mostly on the organization not holding agents accountable for their conduct. And Bob Perry was very much a get along, tolerate poor performance, you know, just to keep the waters calm. And that's just not me. If I see something that's not going right, I'm going to address it. And it created tension between he and I because my method of dealing with things was different."

The Odd Visit from FBI Headquarters: The Behavior Science Team

O'Connell said three or four agents from the FBI's 'behavioral science unit" came out from Washington. He said it was "odd" and he didn't know what they were doing.

O'Connell was asked if the behavior science team from the FBI Headquarters in Washington came out to "keep an eye on him."

"I don't know if they were there to check up on me or if they were checking up on the Bureau at large or if they were trying to offer resources to the, you know, law enforcement resources in general."

"You know, it wouldn't surprise me if they were there to check up on me."

"And it wouldn't surprise me if they were there trying to figure out if there was something in the motivation of the protesters that they could identify that would be of benefit to law enforcement to understand."

O'Connell provided law enforcement agencies with a briefing when the Standing Rock Tribe and BIA met. On the e-mail list was Steven Takacs.

During the deposition, he was asked about Takacs, an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

"Hungarian. It's pronounced Takacs. He's a CBP task force officer who is part of our task force here in Bismarck."

Q: "So is he a special agent?"

"He is a border patrol agent."

BIA's Involvement: Meeting with Chairman Dave Archambault, Aug. 15, 2016

O'Connell was questioned about sharing information with BIA law enforcement. Darren Cruzan was the top BIA law enforcement director in Washington.

 Question: "Mr. Cruzan is telling this gentleman Jay that he has the assistant secretary and BIA director cced as they are briefing up to the secretary's office. So this is happening in the Department of Interior and Cruzan is asking for an evening briefing on August 15, 6:27 p.m. So in response to that, an individual by the name of Jeremiah Lonewolf -- is that Jay?"

O'Connell responded, "I believe that is Jay."

Q. "So he says to Mr. Cruzan on the evening of August 15, 2016, that I, Mr. Lonewolf, Jay, met with the Standing Rock Sioux chairman David Archambault, Junior and Greta Baker, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe internal affairs, earlier in that afternoon, and then talking about the law enforcement coordination efforts regarding the protest and the involvement of state law enforcement, BIA, and tribal programs to come up with some sort of strategy for crowd management. And Ms. Baker apparently stated at that meeting, quote, This is bigger than Standing Rock now and it's growing. The chairman had some concerns about the non-enrolled members attracted by the protests and that the people in the tribe are scared of them, saying that, quote, Sacred Stone Camp/Spirit Camp and one of the larger number of people started to camp near the Cannonball River."

The deposition reveals that as the camps were growing, the FBI email sharing shows even the FBI Phoenix office was contacted. Jason Thompson at the BIA was among those receiving the information. The FBI's Joe Carpenter in Indian country was included in information sharing.

And they had a "CHS" confidential human source sharing information with them on the growth of the camps, O'Connell confirmed in his deposition.

"No camp leaders known," was stated in the law enforcement email circulating.

The deposition includes requests from individuals at Standing Rock regarding the possibility of money being returned to the tribe from the oil flow.

Energy Transfer Blames Dallas Goldtooth

Energy Transfer area supervisor Joey Mahmoud was involved with discussions with the FBI, regarding the day of the dog attack on Sept. 3, 2016.

O'Connell said, "Joey Mahmoud is a very aggressive personality, very accomplished, and he's used to being the man in charge. And I think he was frustrated that he wasn't in charge of the FBI."

Question: "He mentions an individual by the name of Dallas Gold Tooth, who apparently was on social media bragging about the events of the day, the trespass and other things that Mr. Mahmoud is telling you about, and that he's the ring leader making this violent. Did you ever look into who Mr. Gold Tooth was? Not a "Bond, James Bond" character, but this fellow Dallas Gold Tooth?"

O'Connell responded, "I'm sure we would have given him -- you know, we would have queried our systems to see if his name came up, but, you know, again, there's a lot of room between what the FBI's mission is and what we were doing versus what Joey Mahmoud's expectations were."

Question: "So these opinions you formed about Mr. Mahmoud, were they present in your mind as of September 3, 2016, hothead, aggressive, wished he had control over the FBI, didn't, that kind of thing?"

"I think it's accurate. I mean, you are in Denver (referring to the person conducting the questioning.)

"You know what it's like to deal with the oil industry. Time is money and they make a lot of money. And their time is valuable and they want everything done now."

"And that's just not how the FBI operates. That's not how law enforcement operates. And so he was very frustrated with everything."

After the attack with dogs, others became involved. There is the mention of a briefing prepared by the FBI director for the President. There's also a Sept. 5, 2016, meeting of the U.S. Department of Justice's community representative, with the Standing Rock Tribe, along with individuals who said they represented the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Although O'Connell did not place much importance on the Department of Justice  community representative's visit, he did place importance of a DOJ civil rights attorney's presence in Standing Rock.

After the dog attack, Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier contacted the Department of Justice in Washington. The DOJ dispatched Civil Rights Attorney Dana Mulhauser to Standing Rock to investigate the dog attack.

Chairman Frazier was speaking out for a Cheyenne River Lakota woman had been bitten by a dog. (Censored News is not publishing her name, but it is in the deposition.)

Law enforcement was not focused on the attack with dogs, but instead on Energy Transfer's heavy equipment operators who found it difficult to run away after being surrounded by protesters on that day, the deposition reveals.

During the deposition, O'Connell gave a derogatory description of the interview with the Lakota woman who was bitten. He discredited her account of being attacked and bitten by the dog. O'Connell was present at the interview with Lakota woman and DOJ Attorney Mulhauser, at a Prairie Knights Casino Hotel room where the Lakota woman was.

On December, 10, 2016, law enforcement circulated a report from "our friend," apparently a confidential source.

Question: "And the estimates are as follows. He gives a persons count in three locations, the main camp, which is the camp north of the Oceti Camp north of the Cannonball River on Corps property has 500 people in it, according to this report, and the casino on the reservation is 35, and the little town of Cannonball has 40 people in it. But he goes on to say the camp -- assuming that's the Oceti Camp that he was referring to earlier -- "was very busy with construction of buildings continuing and people still committed to staying, though many are experiencing flu symptoms."

O'Connell ends his deposition by saying that law enforcement could have ended the protest quickly by blocking the roads or telling everyone to leave. He says there should have been an investigation into the money flow, to determine who was behind the movement.

During his deposition, he suspects other countries of being involved, and searches for the motive behind the movement.

In his search for answers, O'Connell fails to recognize the most obvious: The Protection of the Sacred.

Border Patrol Drone over Standing Rock Camps

The North Dakota Monitor reported that the U.S. Border Patrol used a drone for surveillance, in its article on the current case in its coverage on Feb. 22.

"The FBI was involved in investigating some criminal cases connected to the protests,"FBI Special Agent Bob Perry said. The FBI had five to 10 paid informants within the protest camp.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations in Grand Forks provided aerial equipment including a drone during the protests, agent Douglas Walker said during a deposition played in court.

"The drone flew when weather conditions allowed between August 2016 and February 2017 and provided surveillance through a direct link to the Morton County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Operations Center," Walker said.

Helicopter over Standing Rock water protectors, photo by Myron Dewey, killed when a truck ran into him head-on near his home on Sept. 26, 2021, in Yomba, Nevada. The helicopter is registered to Homeland Security and was used previously by the U.S. Border Patrol in the El Paso, Texas, region. Censored News

North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican, who published weekly reports on the court case, said, "Walker described the deployment of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) MQ-9 unmanned aircraft, AS-350 helicopters, and 10 CBP agents to the DAPL protest area to assist law enforcement on the ground."

BIA Undercover Officers at the Casino

Grist reports that the new details about federal law enforcement surveillance at Standing Rock were released as part of a legal fight between North Dakota and the U.S. government over who should pay for policing the pipeline fight.

Until now, the existence of only one other federal informant in the camps had been confirmed.

"The FBI also regularly sent agents wearing civilian clothing into the camps, one former agent told Grist in an interview. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, operated undercover narcotics officers out of the reservation’s Prairie Knights Casino, where many pipeline opponents rented rooms, according to one of the depositions," Grist reports.
FBI Supervisor O'Connell went to the camps early, around dawn.

"For the first couple months of the protests, O’Connell himself arrived at the camps soon after dawn most days, wearing outdoorsy clothing from REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods," Grist reports.

“Being plainclothes, we could kind of slink around and, you know, do what we had to do,” he said. O’Connell would chat with whomever he ran into. Although he sometimes handed out his card, he didn’t always identify himself as FBI.

“If people didn’t ask, I didn’t tell them,” he said.

TigerSwan: No Mention of Mercenaries During Questioning

During this questioning, there is no mention of TigerSwan by name, the mercenaries that were hired by Energy Transfer Partners, owner of Dakota Access Pipeline, as security in September of 2016.

The State of North Dakota regulatory office later ruled that TigerSwan operated without a license in North Dakota, when it carried out surveillance of Standing Rock camps, and when TigerSwan met with state, local and national law enforcement agencies during strategic meetings.

As a result of the North Dakota regulatory's action, TigerSwan spy documents were made public. The Intercept began publishing those documents.

North Dakota's Compensation

"North Dakota has already received $25 million in compensation for the demonstrations; $10 million from the U.S. Justice Department and the other $15 million from pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners. Those dollars are not factored into the total North Dakota is seeking," North Dakota Monitor reports.

Courtesy photo, Censored News.

Local and state law enforcement and troops with the National Guard conducted a military-style sweep of a site where demonstrators had gathered to try and block the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Jenni Monet for The PBS NewsHour

Read more:
New! BIA top cop can't dodge questions in court deposition: 
BIA head of law enforcement in Washington reveals BIA's role at Standing Rock during water protectors resistance, by Censored News
New! FBI Special Agent reveals informants reported rumors and third-hand information on water protectors at Standing Rock, deposition in North Dakota v. U.S.

New! U.S. Marshals requested its secretive Special Operations Group be deployed to Standing Rock camps, but the request was denied. SOG led the attacks at Wounded Knee with tanks and snipers firing from helicopters. 

New! Morton County Sheriff reported bogus crimes, that there was no evidence of, to President Elect Trump, urging him to shut down the camps. After taking office, federal agents and law enforcement violently raided and cleared the camps. Morton County Sheriff's second deposition in current case.

New! The Kirchmeier File at Standing Rock: The 'Perfect Storm' was the perfect human rights disaster. Morton County Sheriff's first deposition in current case.
The Intercept -- FBI informant Heath Harmon, Three Affiliated Tribes, owned the gun at the center of FBI case: It resulted in a nearly five year prison sentence for Red Fawn Fallis, Lakota:

The Guardian -- Wilansky may lose her arm 

Marcus Mitchell Dine' (Navajo) Shot in the Eye, Interrogated in Hospital

In a case now before the federal court -- Marcus Mitchell, Dine' (Navajo) was shot in his eye by a shotgun fired by law enforcement at Standing Rock in the early hours of January 18, 2017, at Backwater Bridge. After he was shot, militarized law enforcement threw him on the ground and he felt like he was drowning in his own blood. 
After waking from surgery, he had to endure questioning by law enforcement in the hospital.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News, content may not be used without written permission.


Yvonne Swan said...

Thank you for this information. I was in support of the resistance, but I couldn't go there. I wanted to stand with the people to defend their water and land but I had to have surgery and couldn't. I was very concerned for the families there. The brutality used against them and their supporters was sickening.

Anonymous said...

There was definitely more than 10 informants(man&woman)at standing rock. probably 1 for every 50 people. from Alcatraz, DQUniversity to wounded knee and big mtn just to name a few. fed informants are everywhere in the movement, just look for the skins with a criminal record or on probation that can easily be blackmailed. or even some of the self proclaimed leaders will be informants as well. Like the movie Thunderheart, they send our own people in after us and to ultimately sell us out. Free Leonard Peltier!