Oil Company Official Overseeing Crackdown on Pipeline Resistance Cut Teeth at Amazon and Exxon

The head of security for the oil transport company Enbridge built his résumé managing Exxon Mobil’s response to community protests in Nigeria and helping oversee Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center, a division that has monitored environmental groups and union organizers.

Now, at Enbridge, Troy Kirby oversees efforts to combat a protest movement aimed at stopping construction of the company’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Enbridge’s security operation has drawn criticism for its efforts to influence the police response to the Indigenous-led movement, whose members are known as water protectors.

“These are the people that specialize in the dark arts. Maybe it’s a bit more banal than we might imagine, but these are the spooks.”

Enbridge’s response to the water protectors is part of a pattern of megacorporations working to quell resistance to their environmentally harmful activities. Enbridge’s close cooperation with police, including payments and intelligence sharing, has been deemed by academics and water protector critics as emblematic of corporate counterinsurgency — a suite of tactics, ranging from public relations campaigns to surveillance and support for armed force, designed to win over communities to controversial profit-making projects.

“You have companies that have entire departments dedicated to making sure you stay in your place, that you don’t resist, that you don’t talk about it, and you most certainly don’t act on it,” said Alexander Dunlap, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo, who has written extensively about how corporations utilize counterinsurgency tactics to quell movements against environmental degradation. “These are the people that specialize in the dark arts. Maybe it’s a bit more banal than we might imagine, but these are the spooks.”

An Enbridge spokesperson said the company supports the rights of individuals to protest lawfully and peacefully. “Security teams use a ‘people first’ concept to ensure public safety — their mission is to observe, respond, and report safety issues,” said Juli Kellner, a communications specialist for the company. Kellner did not make Kirby available for an interview.

As this story was being reported, Kirby’s Amazon job description was deleted from his LinkedIn page.

As sophisticated corporate security efforts have burgeoned, lucrative positions lure specialists from company to company, linking together the practices of megacorporations. Kirby, for his part, started at Enbridge in 2019 after a three-year stint as Amazon’s head of corporate security throughout the Americas, according to LinkedIn. Part of his role included overseeing the online giant’s Global Security Operations Center. Internal Amazon documents dated to the year Kirby left, obtained by Vice, provide clues. According to the report, security personnel with the center used Facebook and Instagram to monitor environmental groups as well as union organizers.

In Poland, operatives working for the private security company Pinkerton were sent to an Amazon warehouse to investigate reports of employee misconduct, Vice reported. Pinkerton got its start in the late 19th century, using undercover operatives and agents provocateurs to bust unions. The firm is now a subsidiary of the private security giant Securitas — one of the companies providing security for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

Before Amazon, Kirby spent 16 years doing security work for Exxon Mobil. For at least four years, he worked for Exxon in Nigeria — where there is a history of energy company complicity in human rights abuses. During his time in Nigeria, Kirby was an adviser on “strategic security countermeasures,” which involved managing so-called crises, including pirate attacks and kidnapping, as well as “community protests,” according to a section of his LinkedIn page that has since been deleted.

As in Minnesota, the work in Nigeria included collaborating closely with public agencies. Kirby’s LinkedIn page said he “Established a Nigerian based security network with private and public sector security leaders” and was involved in “Oversight of host government security forces.”

The Exxon Mobil security operation was heavily militarized and focused in part on Exxon’s offshore oil operations. Kirby described designing a “Security Maritime Operations center including a fleet of 17 military-grade security vessels.”

For critics of corporate counterinsurgency, Kirby stands as just one example of corporate officials steeped in highly militarized security efforts abroad bringing those practices back home.

“To corporate entities like Energy Transfer and Enbridge, water protectors and land defenders are perceived as ‘security threats’ endangering shareholders’ profits.”

“It’s telling, but not at all surprising, that the head of security for Enbridge has trained in the so-called Third World to deal with high-stakes security issues impacting corporations in Africa and the Americas,” said Natali Segovia, an attorney and the legal director for the Water Protector Legal Collective. The collective is representing opponents of Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access pipeline, who argue that aggressive law enforcement tactics used near the Standing Rock reservation were influenced by the contract security firm TigerSwan, run by special operations military veterans. “To corporate entities like Energy Transfer and Enbridge, water protectors and land defenders are perceived as ‘security threats’ endangering shareholders’ profits,” Segovia said.

Kirby appears to have put some of the lessons he learned with Exxon Mobil in Nigeria into practice on Enbridge‘s project in Minnesota. Under Kirby’s watch, Enbridge pays law enforcement for pipeline-related police activity. The company’s security team members have set up trainings for local law enforcement and have been invited to attend public safety officials’ intelligence sharing meetings, where information on individual pipeline opponents has been discussed.

In advance of Line 3 pipeline construction, Kirby planned meetings with local law enforcement officers to discuss Enbridge’s approach to responding to opposition. When a local sheriff expressed concern over whether law enforcement agencies would be reimbursed for pipeline-related expenses, Kirby reassured him that the security head had influence over the appointment of the public official who would approve reimbursement requests, according to the sheriff. As the sheriff recalled in an email, Kirby told him “he would be involved to ensure we are taken care of, one way or another.”

It’s Kirby’s colleague Brian Aldrich, Enbridge’s Line 3 security lead, who has worked more routinely on the ground in Minnesota. Aldrich, according to an email sent to state officials, served with the Marines before working for large security firms including Control Risks and Gavin DeBecker and Associates. He also has an Amazon connection — providing personal security for the corporate giant’s founder and executive chair, Jeff Bezos himself.

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