Internal documents show that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) violated its own internal policies while spying on people protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, The Guardian reported.

The FBI did not get approval before getting informants and opening files on protesters, the documents said.

From The Guardian:

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

The documents reveal that one FBI investigation, run from its Houston field office, amounted to “substantial non-compliance” of Department of Justice rules that govern how the agency should handle sensitive matters.

One FBI memo, which set out the rationale for investigating campaigners in the Houston area, touted the economic advantages of the pipeline while labelling its opponents “environmental extremists”.

“Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,” the documents said. “The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.

The FBI documents, which were obtained by The Guardian and Earth Island Journal, show how the Bureau gathered “inside knowledge” about upcoming protests, kept names of people taking pictures of “oil-related infrastructure,” and “cultivated at least one informant.”

In one case, the FBI targeted the Tar Sands Blockade, an anti-pipeline group that had been campaigning in southern Texas. Documents now reveal that the FBI’s investigation of the activists “occurred without prior approval of the top lawyer and senior agent in the Houston field office, a stipulation laid down in rules provided by the attorney general.”

In a statement explaining the “breach of protocols, the FBI also said it was committed to “act properly under the law.”

“While the FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained, once discovered, corrective action was taken, non-compliance was remedied, and the oversight was properly reported through the FBI’s internal oversight mechanism.”

The FBI did not deny that it had opened investigation into activists, adding it was “compelled to ‘take the initiative to secure and protect activities and entities which may be targeted for terrorism or espionage.”

Click here to read the full Guardian report.