Facing “hostile complex threats” on foreign soil, a team of American spies deployed as a “force multiplier” to help TC Energy’s 16 local lobbyists achieve victory.

No, it’s not a Tom Clancy novel about special forces soldiers in some faraway jungle or desert. This covert operation, first revealed by The Narwhal, took place in sleepy Victoria, B.C.

“In the next few years we’ll see savings of hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs,” said Edward Burrier, an ex-White House staffer turned pipeline executive, on a leaked tape.

He’s talking about a high-stakes push by TC Energy’s “Geopolitical Intelligence and Research” team to protect pipelines from a new B.C. government policy to reduce emissions.

“Successful shots fired” is how Burrier describes the Washington, D.C.-based team’s efforts to weaken regulations at both the federal and provincial level in Canada.

If it sounds like a war, that’s because to them it is. “We’re on the battlefield trying to work every day to protect the TC tower,” said Julia Nesheiwat, former Homeland Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, in the same recording.

TC Energy is hiring special agents, intelligence officers and soldiers to help expand oil and gas infrastructure, and protect its profits, in the face of growing opposition.

They claim to have shaped the public’s perception of fracking, swayed government regulators, put words in politicians’ mouths, and won billions in tax exemptions for their shareholders.

Their latest mission? To convince the Nisga’a Nation to buy the risky Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, before the expiry of a key project certificate makes it worthless.

Money is ammunition

Nesheiwat and her fellow TC Energy executive Michael Evanoff built their careers in the ‘War on Terror’. Nesheiwat was a military intelligence officer after 9/11. Evanoff led a team of 75 agents charged with protecting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the U.S. war on Iraq.

Both would have been steeped in the counterinsurgency doctrine developed at that time by U.S. general David Petraeus. Petraeus later served as Director of the CIA before joining Wall Street as head of intelligence for private equity firm KKR.

KKR specializes in buying troubled assets – for example, pipelines opposed by Indigenous communities in Mexico or Canada – and finding ways to make them profitable.

In 2019 KKR used pension funds to buy a majority stake in TC Energy’s troubled Coastal GasLink pipeline project, then proceeded to “de-risk” it using a textbook counterinsurgency campaign.

You can learn more about the tactics used by Petraeus’s private mercenaries against Indigenous land defenders in this panel from last year’s Peace and Unity Summit.

One of Petraeus’s catchphrases from Iraq and Afghanistan was “money is ammunition”. In other words, military objectives can be achieved by buying off the right people, rather than shooting them. He calls this “reconciliation”.

TC Energy, guided by high-level veterans of U.S. foreign policy, has discovered that the same principles apply to forcing pipelines through Indigenous lands in a place like British Columbia.

Nice democracy you have there

Oil industry executives know that time is running out for fossil fuels. So the battle to expand infrastructure, and lock in profits, is an urgent one.

TC Energy’s biggest problem is democracy: a growing majority of people in B.C. want our leaders to invest in renewable energy, instead of fracking and LNG projects that make climate disasters worse.

So the company deploys spies and soldiers, lobbyists and lawyers to demonize its opponents, warp the public debate and twist the arms of decision makers at all levels of government, including First Nations.

And they’re clearly not worried about playing fair or following the rules.

Previous reporting by The Narwhal showed Liam Iliffe, a former BC NDP chief of staff hired by TC Energy, laughing about all the ways he dodged B.C.’s lobbying laws.

TC Energy is the company that knowingly bulldozed Wet’suwet’en archeological sites, erasing a part of their history forever.

Indigenous pipeline monitors risked arrest to reveal systemic violations of fisheries laws and environmental permit conditions by Coastal GasLink crews. TC Energy was fined repeatedly, including for lying to regulators.

When fed-up Wet’suwet’en chiefs evicted the company from their lands, TC Energy pressured the RCMP for arrests. During one police raid, a TC Energy lawyer told RCMP commanders they didn’t need a warrant to breach a cabin door, which they did with an axe and a chainsaw.

Meanwhile TC Energy is working with Canada’s spy agency to loosen federal laws, to allow CSIS to spy on Canadian citizens and share that intelligence directly with corporations. Dogwood is one of the groups challenging this collusion between CSIS and the oil industry in court.

The influence of TC Energy over our government regulators, police, spies, media and lawmakers is disturbing – but there may still be time to expel them from the halls of power in B.C.

Operation PRGT

Despite the braggadocio on display in their corporate “lunch and learn” sessions on Zoom, TC Energy executives are worried.

Coastal GasLink was supposed to cost $6.2 billion. After five years of blockades, lawsuits, extreme weather and construction failures, that cost hit $14.5 billion – and counting.

TC Energy’s stock price has dropped as the company scrambles to sell assets. The latest pipeline it’s trying to unload is the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project, approved in 2014.

The company hasn’t moved forward on PRGT in 10 years, but needs to convince the Nisga’a Nation that it’s worth buying. So with the expiry of the project certificate looming in November, TC Energy is leaning on the B.C. government to keep it alive.

Here’s TC Energy’s audacious, borderline desperate scheme.

It needs the BC Energy Regulator to secretly split up the project, then retroactively accept notice that the company plans to start construction in one tiny section, to satisfy the six-month lead time required by law – without consulting any Indigenous communities other than the Nisga’a.

Then it needs the regulator to completely fudge a legally required Cumulative Effects Assessment, copy-pasting field surveys done by TC Energy in one small area in 2012-2013, instead of looking at the true impacts of the whole project.

Meanwhile the company needs a separate agency, the BC Environmental Assessment Office, to fast-track a major amendment rerouting the “Prince Rupert” pipeline to a terminal on the Alaska border. And then allow construction to start before the terminal or the new route are approved.

All of this is geared to allow three months of symbolic construction this fall, the bare minimum that TC Energy hopes will convince the next Environment Minister to declare the project “substantially started” after the B.C. election.

Only then could the expired project certificate be reinstated, keeping the pipeline alive while avoiding a modern Environmental Assessment under current laws.

Puppets or leaders?

TC Energy’s plan might work, if B.C. politicians and government regulators do exactly as the company says, on the tightest possible timeline. The lobbyists do have some reasons to be confident.

On the other hand, the Nisga’a Lisims Government could ask TC Energy to “de-risk” PRGT before forking over the money to buy a project that expires in four months.

Staff at the BCER or BCEAO could consult their own policies on how to run a proper public process, enforce the project’s permit conditions as written, and follow their own laws.

The Environment Minister, who plans to retire this fall, could choose not to bend over backwards for TC Energy in his final months in office. Sign our petition to George Heyman here.

The ex-spies, soldiers and political staff pushing pipelines for TC Energy, like Liam Iliffe lurking by the coolers at Costco, are certainly unnerving. But they’re not invincible.

Their motivations are very simple, which makes them easier to predict. Without deeper beliefs or a relationship to land and place, they will eventually give up if there’s an easier way to make money.

And like cockroaches, they hate the spotlight – witness their scurrying denials ever since reporters Matt Simmons and Mike De Souza from the Narwhal broke this story.

The politicians, too, understand how much of the public thinks of them as corrupt buffoons. They’re worried about feeding that perception by acting like puppets for oil companies.

There’s a window here to force our leaders to demonstrate they are still capable of making decisions in the public interest – that we live in a damaged but still functional democracy.

If we try that and fail, we still have options to counter TC Energy’s paramilitary strategy and stop PRGT. But at least we’ll know where we stand.

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Or sign our petition urging B.C.’s environment minister not to fast-track PRGT