Home News Testimony Addressing the Threat of Animal Rights Extremism and Eco-Terrorism
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  • John E. Lewis
  • Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
  • Washington, DC
  • May 18, 2005

Good morning Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Jeffords, and members of the Committee. I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear today and to discuss the threat posed by animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists in this country, as well as the measures the FBI and its partners are taking to address this threat.

One of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats come from special interest extremist movements such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. Adherents to these movements aim to resolve specific issues by using criminal "direct action" against individuals or companies believed to be abusing or exploiting animals or the environment.

"Direct action" is often criminal activity that destroys property or causes economic loss to a targeted company. Traditional targets have ranged from, but have not been limited to, research laboratories to restaurants, fur farmers to forestry services. Extremists have used arson, bombings, theft, animal releases, vandalism, and office takeovers to achieve their goals.

The distinctions between constitutionally protected advocacy and violent, criminal activity are extremely important to recognize, and law enforcement officials should be solely concerned with those individuals who pursue animal rights or environmental protection through force, violence, or criminal activity. Law enforcement only becomes involved when volatile talk turns into criminal activity. Unfortunately, the FBI has seen a significant amount of such criminal activity. From January 1990 to June 2004, animal and environmental rights extremists have claimed credit for more than 1,200 criminal incidents, resulting in millions of dollars in damage and monetary loss.

While most animal rights and eco-extremists have refrained from violence targeting human life, the FBI has observed troubling signs that this is changing. We have seen an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics. One extremist recently said, "If someone is killing, on a regular basis, thousands of animals, and if that person can only be stopped in one way by the use of violence, then it is certainly a morally justifiable solution."

Attacks are also growing in frequency and size. Harassing phone calls and vandalism now co-exist with improvised explosive devices and personal threats to employees. ELF's target list has expanded to include sports utility vehicle dealerships and new home developers. We believe these trends will persist, particularly within the environmental movement, as extremists continue to combat what they perceive as "urban sprawl."

Preventing such criminal activity has become increasingly difficult, in large part because extremists in these movements are very knowledgeable about the letter of the law and the limits of law enforcement. Moreover, they are highly autonomous. Lists of targets and instructions on making incendiary devices are posted on the Internet, but criminal incidents are carried out by individuals or small groups acting unilaterally. Criminal activity by animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists in particular requires relatively minor amounts of equipment and minimal funding. Extremists of these movements adhere to strict security measures in both their communications and their operations.

The FBI has developed a strong response to domestic terrorism threats. Together with our partners, we are working to detect, disrupt, and dismantle the animal rights and environmental extremist movements that are involved in criminal activity.

Our efforts are headed by a headquarters-based team of national intelligence analysts, program managers, and seasoned field agents. We draw on the resources of our Terrorist Financing Operations Section to support field investigations into domestic terrorism, just as we do for international terrorism investigations. We also draw upon our expertise in the area of communication analysis to provide investigative direction.

Second, we have strengthened our intelligence capabilities. Since 2003, we have disseminated 64 raw intelligence reports to our partners pertaining to animal rights extremism and eco-terrorism activity. In addition, since 2004 we have disseminated 19 strategic intelligence assessments to our federal, state and local counterparts. And we have developed an intelligence requirement set for animal rights/eco-terrorism, enabling us to better collect, analyze, and share information.

Finally, we have strengthened our partnerships. We have combined our expertise and resources with those of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners nationwide through our 103 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. We have increased training for JTTF members and have strong liaison with foreign law enforcement agencies.

Our challenges are significant, but so are our successes. Currently, 35 FBI offices have over 150 pending investigations associated with animal rights/eco-terrorist activities. Since the beginning of 2004, the FBI and its partners have made a number of high-profile arrests of individuals involved with animal rights extremism or eco-terrorism. These arrests have led to several successful prosecutions.

Let me give you a brief snapshot of our recent successes:

In 2005,

  • An individual who had been a fugitive, was arrested and charged with two counts of Animal Enterprise Terrorism for a series of animal releases at mink farms in 1997;
  • Three individuals were arrested for a series of arsons and attempted arsons of construction sites in California; and
  • One individual was arrested for the 2003 arson of a McDonald's in Seattle.

In 2004,

  • Two individuals were arrested for arson on the campus of Brigham Young University in Utah;
  • Seven individuals associated with SHAC were arrested in New Jersey, California, and Washington State;
  • An individual was arrested and indicted for arsons of logging and construction equipment;
  • William Cottrell was indicted and convicted last month in California for conspiracy to commit arson, seven counts of arson; and
  • Two individuals were arrested in Virginia during an attempt to firebomb a car dealership.

These are just some of our many accomplishments, but we have much more work ahead of us. One of our greatest challenges has been the lack of federal criminal statutes to address multi-state campaigns of intimidation, threats, and damage designed to shut down legitimate businesses.

On the legislative front, we are interested in working with you to examine federal criminal statutes, specifically 18 USC 43, "Animal Enterprise Terrorism." The statute provides a framework for the prosecution of animal rights extremists, but in practice, it does not cover many of the criminal acts that extremists have committed.

Additionally, the statute only applies to criminal acts committed by animal rights extremists, but does not address criminal activity related to eco-terrorism.

Therefore, the existing statutes may need refinements to make them more applicable to current animal rights/eco-extremist actions and to give law enforcement more effective means to bring criminals to justice.

Investigating and preventing animal rights extremism and eco-terrorism is one of the FBI's highest domestic terrorism priorities. We are committed to working with our partners to disrupt and dismantle these movements and to bring to justice those who commit crime in the name of animal or environmental rights. Chairman Inhofe and Members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the challenges we face and the ways we can overcome them. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

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