By Steve Horn and Curtis Waltman
Retired Major General James “Spider” Marks chairs the advisory board for TigerSwan, a private security firm hired by Energy Transfer Partners to help police protests of the Dakota Access pipeline — an approach for which Marks has shown vocal support.
DeSmog has found that Marks also headed up intelligence efforts for the task force which brought over 10,000 U.S. military troops to police the 1992 riots following the acquittal of Los Angeles Police Department members involved in beating Rodney King. In addition, Marks, a long-time military analyst for CNN, led intelligence-gathering efforts for the U.S. military’s 2003 “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq, which was dubbed “Operation Iraqi Liberation.”
In recent months, Marks has endorsed Dakota Access and its southern leg, the Bayou Bridge pipeline. He has shown this support by writing op-ed pieces published in various newspapers and on the website of a pro-Dakota Access coalition run by a PR firm funded by Energy Transfer Partners.
“I spent a good portion of my adult life in Iraq, and I must tell you that the similarities are stark,” Marks said in November of the anti-Dakota Access encampment set up by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Marks, according to The Washington Times, traveled to Standing Rock “as an adviser to the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now” (MAIN), a pro-pipeline front group run by the Republican Party public relations firm, DCI Group.
“General Marks is still an adviser to the coalition. He is given a modest stipend for his time and expertise,” DCI Group's Craig Stevens told DeSmog of Marks' relationship with MAIN. “TigerSwan is not a member of the Coalition nor does the Coalition receive any funding from them.” Stevens manages public relations efforts for MAIN and is the crisis management lead for DCI.
In February, Marks traveled to Louisiana to speak in favor of the Bayou Bridge pipeline at a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources hearing.
Neither Marks nor TigerSwan responded to requests for comment for this story. TigerSwan has recently come under fire by the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board for operating in the state without a permit, with the Board filing a legal complaint about the matter. Energy Transfer Partners says TigerSwan is no longer working on its behalf in North Dakota.
Among his numerous public appearances, writings, and television pit stops, Marks has failed to disclose his advisory board position for TigerSwan. Failure to disclose affiliations, though, is not unusual for Marks.
As a military pundit for CNN, both The New York Times and the watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) have documented that Marks has often appeared on cable TV while not disclosing his ties to military weapons companies. The 2008 New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation — “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” — covered Marks and explained that he and over 75 others were paid by the George W. Bush administration to give seemingly independent, pro-Iraq War analyses on cable TV outlets beginning in early 2002.
The catch: The public was never informed that these pro-war pundits were on the Pentagon’s payroll and often on the payroll of military weapons companies as well.
“To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as ‘military analysts’ whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world,” wrote The Times. “Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.”
The thousands of documents obtained for The New York Times investigation were organized and published online in a searchable format by the Center for Media and Democracy. Those memoranda, emails, and other materials offer an insightful window into the cozy relationships among the upper echelons of the U.S. media, the U.S. military, and the U.S. government. General Marks fits neatly in the intersection of these three entities.
In an email to Major General Donald Shepperd, Joy DiBenedetto, then Vice President of Network Booking and Research at CNN Worldwide, thanked Shepperd for putting her in contact with General Marks. She wrote, “you can always contact me for any CNN reason, and if I’m not the right person, I can certainly get you to the right person.”
In 2006 Marks traveled on a pro-Iraq War trip during his capacity as a Pentagon pundit. That trip was convened by the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Pentagon tried to have Marks ask CNN to foot his bill for travel expenses. Along with other retired military men-turned-analysts, Marks was part of a roundtable meeting with General David Petraeus in 2007, and participated in conference call discussions with Defense Department officials. Marks had his media appearances reviewed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In PAI's 2013 report, “Conflicts of interest in the Syria debate,” the watchdog group named 22 people serving as commentators on the issue of whether or not the U.S. should attack Syria for using chemical weapons on its own citizens. That report, paralleling The New York Times' findings on the Iraq War, found numerous cases of undocumented conflicts of interest. The group of men, which once again included Marks, landed mainstream media pundit gigs on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX and wrote op-eds for Bloomberg and The Washington Post.
PAI noted in its report that out of 111 total appearances by the pundits in October 2013 alone, only 13 had mentioned their relationships to the defense industry. Marks appears on the list identified as the former Commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. The list ties him into the defense sector by noting his position at Willowdale Services, a boutique consulting firm for the energy and national security industries.
In the documents obtained by The New York Times, a picture emerges of Marks’ advocacy for military intervention in Syria long before 2013. When asked by CNN in February 2007 to speak about the failed bombing attempt on Vice President Cheney, he told the network to “bear in mind you have Syria, which is to the west of Iraq, which is a safe haven for the introduction of new ideas and an opportunity for insurgents to go across that border, and refit, regroup, and reintroduce themselves into the fight.”
And just hours later on another CNN show, Marks made similar remarks about Pakistan, telling CNN’s Brian Todd that “what is significant is the proximity of Bagram Air Base to Pakistan, which is as the crow flies only 70 miles, as you can see right here from Bagram to Pakistan. The region right here is Waziristan. This is the root of the challenge.”
Marks also serves as a source for the private security firm Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting Inc.), according to a roster leaked to and published by Wikileaks. Stratfor's past client list has included the American Petroleum Institute.
1992 LA Riots
Marks also headed up the Joint Task Force Los Angeles, assigned with cracking down on the violent 1992 riots which erupted in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict. The task force operated under the authority of an executive order issued by then-President George H.W. Bush.
“What we saw last night and the night before in Los Angeles is not about civil rights,” then-President Bush said in a May 1992 address aired on national television. “It's not about the great cause of equality that all Americans must uphold. It's not a message of protest. It's been the brutality of a mob, pure and simple. And let me assure you: I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order. What is going on in LA must and will stop.”
Law enforcement’s crackdown of the Los Angeles riots in 1992 came under criticism for its heavy-handed and militarized approach. Fast forward to 2016, when the crackdown by out-of-state cops on protests at Standing Rock, often done with military gear lobbied for by the National Sheriffs’ Association, likewise received similiarly sharp scrutiny for its militarized nature. Tigerswan provides funding to the National Sheriffs’ Association, which has, in turn, endorsed the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which will bring Dakota Access oil to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1996 Col. William Mendel, then a senior analyst with the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, wrote that Los Angeles in 1992 should be seen from a U.S. military perspective as an example of “urban warfare.”
“Many misunderstood the LA Riot of 1992 as predominantly a race riot. As witnessed by the California National Guard Field Commander, the riots were seen as a case study in urban warfare,” wrote Mendel. “The Guard's counter-riot operations tell of the increasingly dangerous nature of military and police operations in the urban environment.”
In the end, Mendel concluded that law enforcement and U.S. military effots during the Los Angeles riots created what he estimated was more harm than good.
“Little good came out of the events of the LA riots of 1992. Nearly everyone looked bad, except for the individual soldiers, firemen and policemen who performed selflessly throughout the difficult week of rioting,” Mendel posited. “The social and economic scars remain in central Los Angeles where Bloods and Crips gangs continue drug trafficking.”
Main image: James “Spider” Marks speaking in support of the Bayou Bridge pipeline at a Louisiana permit hearing in February 2017. Credit: Julie Dermansky for DeSmog