FBI Papers Show Terror Inquiries Into PETA; Other Groups Tracked
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2005:
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005; A11
FBI counterterrorism investigators are monitoring domestic U.S. advocacy
groups engaged in antiwar, environmental, civil rights and other causes,
the American Civil Liberties Union charged yesterday as it released new
FBI records that it said detail the extent of the activity.
The documents, disclosed as part of a lawsuit that challenges FBI
treatment of groups that planned demonstrations at last year’s political
conventions, show the bureau has opened a preliminary terrorism
investigation into People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the
well-known animal rights group based in Norfolk.
The papers offer no proof of PETA’s involvement in illegal activity. But
more than 100 pages of heavily censored FBI files show the agency used
secret informants and tracked the group’s events for years, including an
animal rights conference in Washington in July 2000, a community meeting
at an Indiana college in spring 2003 and a planned August 2004 protest
of a celebrity fur endorser.
The documents show the FBI cultivated sources such as a “well insulated”
PETA insider, who attended the 2000 meeting to gain credibility “within
the animal rights/Ruckus movements.” The FBI also kept information on
Greenpeace and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the
The disclosure comes amid recent revelations about the extent of
domestic spying by the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks. Those disclosures include the expansion within the United
States of military intelligence and databases covering, among others,
peace activists; increased use of “national security letters” by the FBI
to examine personal records of tens of thousands of citizens; and, most
recently, warrantless eavesdropping of overseas telephone calls and
e-mails by U.S. citizens suspected of ties to terrorists.
ACLU leaders contend that the memos show that FBI and government Joint
Terrorism Task Forces across the country have expanded the definition of
domestic terrorism to people who engage in mainstream political
activity, including nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.
“The FBI should use its resources to investigate credible threats to
national security instead of spending time tracking innocent Americans
who criticize government policy, or monitoring groups that have not
broken the law,” ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson said.
Previously released papers showed that the FBI kept files that mentioned
the organizations, she said, “But we didn’t know that they actually
launched counterterrorism investigations into these groups.”
FBI officials said that the agency is not using the threat of terrorism
to suppress domestic dissent and that is has no alternative but to
investigate if a group or its members have ties to others that are
guilty or suspected of violence or illegal conduct.
“As a matter of policy, the FBI does not target individuals or
organizations for investigation because of any political belief.
Somewhere, there has to be a crime attached,” FBI spokesman John Miller
said. “At the same time, the fact that you have ties to an organization
or political beliefs does not make you immune from ending up in FBI
files when you go and commit a crime.”
The status of the PETA inquiry is unclear. Justice Department spokesman
Brian Roehrkasse said: “The Justice Department does not comment on or
confirm the existence of criminal investigations. All matters referred
to the department by the intelligence agencies for purposes of further
investigation are taken seriously and thoroughly reviewed.”
PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr called the FBI’s conduct an abuse of
power that punishes activists for speaking out.
“These documents show a disturbing erosion of freedom of association and
freedom of speech that we’ve taken for granted and that set us apart
from oppressive countries like the former Iraq,” Kerr said, adding that
the documents show no illegal activity by PETA. “You shouldn’t have to
wonder when you go to a speech at a college campus, or when you go to a
meeting, whether you’re being surveilled by the FBI. It goes back to the
dark days of Nixon and the enemies list.”
John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism,
told a Senate panel in May that environmental and animal rights
militants posed the biggest terrorist threats in the United States,
citing more than 150 pending investigations.
The ACLU said it received 2,357 pages of files on PETA, Greenpeace, the
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the ACLU itself. One
file referring to the committee included a contact list for students and
peace activists who attended a 2002 conference at Stanford University
aimed at ending sanctions then in place in Iraq.
The FBI has said that when it interviewed members of groups planning
demonstrations at last year’s conventions, it did not yield information
into criminal activity. But the agency said the interviews were prompted
by specific threats. The latest data lay out a similar, broader pattern
regarding 150 groups whose FBI files the ACLU has asked to see.
For example, a June 19, 2002, e-mail cites a source offering information
on Greenpeace regarding “activists who show a clear predisposition to
violate the law.” Other documents contain suspicions that PETA funds,
supports or otherwise acts as a front for “eco-terrorist” groups that
use arson, bombs or vandalism, such as the Animal Liberation Front or
Earth Liberation Front.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.