In 2017, Michael Evanoff was tapped by former U.S. president Donald Trump to serve as assistant secretary of  state for diplomatic security. In his testimony  to the Senate foreign state committee, he detailed his previous  experience in the foreign service, noting he had completed eight  overseas postings, four of which were designated high threat. 

“Among other things, I established the  first [diplomatic security] liaison position with a U.S. military  regional command, managed the largest Russian spy case and damage  assessment in NATO history and designed a post-9/11 informant ‘walk-in’  program at our Islamabad embassy that contributed to the capture of  Khalid Sheik Muhammad,” he said at the time.

Evanoff now works for TC Energy, a  Calgary-based multinational fossil fuel company with offices in Houston  and Mexico City. His official title is director of national security  policy, geopolitical intelligence and research. From his home in  Washington, D.C., the former Trump appointee uses his extensive  geopolitical and military background to protect the company’s interests:  crude oil and natural gas pipelines in Canada, the United States and  Mexico, which earned TC Energy $11 billion in 2023.

leaked recording of a February TC Energy “lunch and learn”  session featuring Evanoff and his colleagues is now pulling back the  curtain on internal company discussions, including its apparent  strategies about how to influence governments, benefit from geopolitical  crises and leverage existing relationships with a range of senior  government officials — including the head of Canada’s spy agency.

The conversations, reviewed by The Narwhal, provide fresh insight into how some senior officials at the  company believe they are locked in an existential battle as governments around the world move away from fossil fuels  in an effort to address the climate crisis. They cover a wide range of  discussions about international events that could seriously affect the  business of TC Energy and other fossil fuel companies, such as President  Joe Biden’s recent decision to pause new permits for liquefied natural  gas exports.

“Our focus as a team is to look at what  exposes us to hostile complex threats such as nation-states using  asymmetric tactics, cyber-threats exploiting vulnerabilities,  geopolitical uncertainties impacting global markets and supply chains  and evolving regulatory challenges,” Evanoff said on the recording.  

While there is nothing unusual about a  large multinational company recruiting top politically connected talent  and prioritizing robust security measures to protect its assets, most  details about their strategies are often tightly guarded secrets.

TC Energy did not directly respond to questions sent by The Narwhal about its team in Washington, D.C., and  its influence in Canada. 

In an emailed statement, Patrick Muttart,  TC Energy’s senior vice-president of external relations, said TC Energy  was “disappointed” that recordings of its recent “lunch and learn”  sessions “were released externally without authorization.” 

Muttart added TC Energy’s operations  include providing energy to customers “in North America and around the  globe” but did not elaborate on how the company gathers intelligence  about geopolitical issues. 

‘On the battlefield trying to … protect the TC tower’

The recording appears to be from a  presentation that took place on or around February 22, 2024. On the  call, several TC Energy staffers based in Washington, D.C., spoke about  how they support TC Energy’s external relations work across North  America.

Julia Nesheiwat, a former U.S. military  intelligence officer and homeland security advisor to Trump, said she  and her colleagues are “on the battlefield trying to work every day to  protect the TC tower.”

“Sometimes of course we’re on the defense  and doing damage control and … making the best of those situations,”  Nesheiwat, who is now TC Energy’s vice-president of policy and insights,  said on the call. She added the company’s goal is to be proactive and  stay “on the offense, when we’re taking it to our opponents.” 

Evanoff struck a similar tone. Opening with a military term, he described the team as a “force multiplier.” 

“We’re in challenging times here, we all  know that,” he said. “The geopolitical intelligence and research team —  the GIR team — is vital, and I would say paramount, in safeguarding …  TC’s North American energy division.”

In response to The Narwhal’s questions,  Muttart, the company’s senior vice-president,  explained the company’s  mission was to deliver secure, affordable and sustainable energy that  powers homes and businesses around the world.

“To achieve our mission, we engage with all levels of government and across every community where we operate,”  Muttart said. “With governments, opinion leaders and policy-makers  across jurisdictions, our role is to advocate for the changes needed to  ensure energy security, job creation, affordability and sustainability.  We do so for our colleagues, for our customers and for the communities  where we operate. We do so with solid, robust and compliant practices  and policies for engagement, while always looking for ways to improve.”

TC Energy executive discusses conversations with spy agency

On the February call, Evanoff said the company is actively working to influence global intelligence sharing. 

On the recording, he gave details of a  meeting he said happened between company CEO François Poirier and  Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director David Vigneault  at an intelligence summit in Palo Alto, Calif., in October 2023. The  summit, hosted by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation director  Christopher Wray, brought together leaders of the Five Eyes intelligence  partnership, a bloc made up of senior officials from the United States,  United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“The [detection of] political threats that  come out of [Five Eyes intelligence] are shared and … four countries  are actually sharing that with the business community,” Evanoff said.  “The fifth one, Canada, is unfortunately hamstrung with the CSIS Act law  that stops CSIS from sharing actual security intelligence to Canadian  companies. This is a miss, a huge miss, that’s been going on since 1984 —  way before the internet.”

He said Poirier witnessed discussions between Vigneault and Wray in California that revealed “the sharing of  information, especially with [the People’s Republic of China] and  Russian threats, [is] not getting to our companies in Canada.” 

Evanoff said Poirier was “pretty charged”  about finding a way to change this. According to the leaked audio, a  conversation between the TC Energy CEO and the CSIS director ensued.

“The director of CSIS, David Vigneault,  basically said, ‘I have a plan, will you work with me?’ ” Evanoff  recounted. “And so [Poirier] absolutely said, ‘Yes, what can we do?’ ”

Evanoff alleged TC Energy analysts then  supplied the CSIS director with a document supporting amendments to the  Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act that would pave the way for  the federal government to share classified security intelligence with  industry. He said the approach was consistent with methods used in the  United States in the 1980s, with a government department called the  Overseas Security Advisory Council.

“We wanted to convey that to the Canadians, to the director. So he’s taken that advice from us to start this,” Evanoff said.

Evanoff said after meetings with the CSIS  director and other intelligence officials, Poirier joined a Business  Council of Canada committee on national security, and is now in regular  contact with Vigneault. 

“Our CEO … co-chairs that with Mastercard  CEO Canada and it’s something that we’re very proud of and we’ll  continue to feed the information to him twice a year,” Evanoff said. “We  believe this is great for TC. It’s also great for us to … be top of  mind with the Canadian intelligence service and even with the National  Security Justice Department and also with RCMP.”

Evanoff did not respond to questions from The Narwhal about his recorded comments.

Eric Balsam, a spokesperson with CSIS, declined an interview request, but confirmed in a statement that Vigneault and Poirier met in Palo Alto. Balsam said discussions  between the two men occurred “in the context of strategic-level  engagements with the Business Council of Canada” and its national  security group co-chaired by TC Energy’s Poirier. Balsam said the  security agency will continue to engage with the business community.

“CSIS works with its partners across the  private sector to ensure they are aware of the threat environment and  that they have the tools and information they need to protect their  interests,” he noted.  

He also said the federal government  launched public consultations on possible amendments to the legislation  in November 2023 to ensure the spy agency has more tools to defend  Canada against security threats including foreign interference.

Public consultations about updating the  CSIS Act concluded in February, with a majority of participants agreeing  the agency should have more tools to share information about threats  with industry, universities, local governments and law enforcement as  well as other potential targets. A report summarizing the consultations  also said a minority of participants expressed concerns about whether  any proposed changes would increase threats to privacy. Some also  expressed “the need for strong oversight and accountability.”

President Biden and the ‘the battle to define natural gas’

On the February recording, former White  House staffer Edward Burrier, now TC Energy’s director of public policy,  told his colleagues Biden’s pause on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports,  announced Jan. 26, 2024, is making waves across the industry. (On July  1, a Trump-appointed federal judge blocked Biden’s pause.)

He suggested the Biden administration  implemented the pause as a response to worries about the upcoming  election and explained how innovative techniques in extracting gas from  underground shale reserves pushed companies like TC Energy into the  spotlight.

“Thanks to the shale revolution, in just a  few short years the U.S. went from importer to exporter of natural gas,  becoming the number one last year, surpassing Qatar and Australia,” he  said. “The success of [the] industry has definitely put it in the  crosshairs of activists.” 

“President Biden has really struggled with  key demographics: war in the Middle East, student loans, environmental  activism,” he continued. “In some ways we’re kind of laughing but it is  an eye opener: the White House had top officials meeting with  25-year-old TikTok influencers that were producing LNG videos. It’s  through this prism that it’s clear this was entirely a political  decision by the White House.”

He added he believes the decision was  “facilitated by a group of activists and academics” and said the impact  isn’t limited to the United States. 

“This decision isn’t just important to us  but it’s reverberating around the world. Our allies are worried about  U.S. leadership and our adversaries are doing a victory lap.”

Burrier noted on the call that Biden’s fossil fuel policies had become an election issue, and predicted  Trump,  if elected, would overturn the pause on liquefied natural gas exports  on day one of a new mandate.

He said he’s paying close attention to messaging from opponents of fossil fuel development, noting “the battle to define natural gas is on.”

Natural gas is a fossil fuel mostly  composed of methane. According to the United Nations Economic Commission  for Europe, over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of heating the planet.

In B.C., TC Energy recently completed the Coastal GasLink pipeline project  which will transport the fossil fuel to the Pacific coast, to be  converted into liquefied natural gas and shipped overseas. The oil and  gas industry has proposed a number of LNG facilities along the coast to support more production and exports.

Proponents say the gas can help countries  like China, Japan and Korea reduce reliance on other fossil fuels, such  as coal. That argument is contested by climate scientists who maintain emissions and leaks during extraction, processing and transport make liquefied natural gas worse for the climate than coal.

Burrier isn’t buying it.

“I often wake up and kind of wonder if I’m  on a different planet — reading studies that LNG is dirtier than coal  is one of those moments,” he said on the internal call, referring to a  study by a Cornell University professor who he described as “a long time  anti-natural gas advocate.” He noted the paper wasn’t peer-reviewed.

“I grew up as a young staffer on Capitol  Hill and the debate was about drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife  Refuge,” he continued. “It was a major kind of fight. [There’s] not one  Democrat who says that they’re for that. Keystone XL — these guys don’t  even have to think about it. They said they’re instinctively against it.  We are at this spot where we cannot let that happen for natural gas  exports.”

‘Success of environmental activism’ in U.S. could inspire action in B.C., TC Energy exec worries

Canada’s first major liquefied natural gas export project is nearing completion. LNG Canada, which will be supplied by TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, will start shipping the fossil fuel to Asia next year. 

“In the short term, in Canada, I think  we’ll see some renewed interest in LNG Canada as Asian partners look to  diversify,” Burrier said of the impact of the U.S. pause. “But I think  if we’re talking about a real opportunity, we’d really have to see the  Canadians — the federal government [and] the province — really ready to  push through the next set of projects. And I think, to be honest, the  Canadian government really doesn’t do competitive policy like that all  that well.”

He cautioned the impacts of Biden’s pause could be more subtle.

“We do have to be worried that the success  of environmental activism in the United States could be a jolt for  their brethren in B.C.,” he said. “I know again that they’ve called for a  pause of Canadian exports, which I always laugh to myself, since  they’re still at zero right now.”

“I think we often have to remember that  Canada’s aggressive climate policies can themselves present reliability  of supply questions to our partners,” he added. 

Nesheiwat, the former Homeland Security  advisor and now TC Energy vice president, said that’s one of the  challenges her team helps to address.

In January, The Narwhal reported  how TC Energy lobbied the federal government to exempt liquefied  natural gas facilities from a proposed cap on heat-trapping pollution  from oil and gas activities. At that time, a federal spokesperson said  the government would not grant any exemptions, noting the LNG sector was  expected to grow.

“In Canada, our team is dealing with  stringent and evolving climate policies or regulatory inefficiencies,”  Nesheiwat said on the leaked recording. “The fact is, as a company we’re  often navigating these public perceptions and again across multiple  countries and cultures.”

Burrier, Nesheiwat and other TC Energy  executives spent much of their careers developing and influencing policy  in the U.S. TC Energy did not respond to questions about why it hired a  Washington D.C.-based team to influence Canadian policies.

‘We literally did the government’s homework for them’

Burrier said one example of “successful  shots fired” in Canada was how the company lobbied the federal  government around the Impact Assessment Act, legislation that gives  decision-makers the means to consider environmental impacts when  approving or rejecting major industrial development projects. The  government is amending the act after the Supreme Court of Canada found it to be unconstitutional last fall, but Burrier suggested TC Energy was behind the government’s openness to changes that benefit industry. 

“As many on this call will remember, early  last year the Canadian government had two sentences in their proposal  saying that they wanted to make improvements on its permitting process,”  he said in the recording. “We used that as our opening. We produced for  government a deliberate, thoughtful, 20-plus-page paper with  recommendations.” 

He explained TC Energy staffers based in  the U.S. capital developed a case study for Canadian government  officials that dissected how Germany “built three LNG import terminals  in less than a year” by enacting special legislation.   

“We literally did the government’s homework for them,” he added.

Dixie Quintanilla, a spokesperson with the Impact Assessment Agency, said the federal government met with numerous  stakeholders, including TC Energy, as part of the process to develop  proposed amendments. 

She said the agency “did not receive any submissions from TC Energy on amendments to the Impact Assessment Act.”

When asked by The Narwhal about the  claims, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Burrier’s  statement is “an outrageous claim and it’s so preposterous.” At an  interview during a conference organized by the Toronto Region Board of  Trade on June 27, Guilbeault said TC Energy was one of 30 stakeholders  and 60 Indigenous organizations consulted over the changes and that he  didn’t believe the company had put its thoughts in writing. 

A spokesperson said the minister’s office  “relied on the best available science and on the unbiased, high-quality  advice of the Impact Assessment Agency” for amendments to the  legislation. 

The Supreme Court ruling was “the only  reason we made changes,” Guilbeault said. “To think that I would take my  orders from a company on something like that? I think it’s someone who  is grossly overestimating their importance and the role they played …  It’s ridiculous.” 

Burrier also said he and his colleagues helped with efforts to weaken a “climate scheme that British Columbia was advancing.”

“I won’t bore you with the details here  because it does get pretty technical but we helped … the team in B.C.  with assessing the proposals and providing recommendations and, lo and  behold, it worked,” he said. “The final recommendations came out and in  the next few years we’ll see savings of hundreds of millions of dollars  in compliance costs and it factors up to billions if you look out at 25  years from now.”

It appears he was referring to provincial regulations that restrict emissions from the oil and gas sector. On another leaked recording, a TC Energy executive who resigned after The Narwhal began its reporting said the company was successful in excluding “midstream” infrastructure — namely, pipelines — from the new rules. 

A spokesperson with the Office of the  Premier in B.C. did not directly respond to the claim, saying only that  the premier maintains a “clear and persistent commitment to B.C.’s  climate plan,” which includes an emissions cap for the oil and gas  industry.

— With files from Fatima Syed

By Matt Simmons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Mike De Souza

Original Published on Jul 02, 2024 at 22:07

This item reprinted with permission from   The Narwhal   Victoria, British Columbia
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