The FBI and a previously-unknown informant in the animal rights movement discussed, among other topics, how to disrupt political activism, according to FBI documents. The topics discussed echo COINTELPRO-era tactics of the 1960s, including the possibility of discrediting activists through planting rumors.
The FBI file is dated May 12, 2005, by the FBI’s Johnson City Resident Agency, which is part of the Knoxville field office. It is based on conversations between an FBI agent and “Source,” who is only identified as someone who was involved in “direct actions” and is willing to share information with the government in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
The result is an FBI agent’s notes that offer a rare glimpse of how the government is targeting its “number one domestic terrorism threat.”
Of particular interest to the FBI agent was how the animal rights movement has responded to the government’s use of informants. I have reported here previously about the FBI infiltrating vegan potlucks, and much more serious cases involving an informant named “Anna,” Brandon Darby, and Jacob Ferguson, among others.
These high-profile cases have made activists fearful of FBI spying. According to the FBI agents’ notes, the informant reported that fear alone of such infiltration can be enough to sabotage political activity:
“The Animal Rights Movement does little research on newcomers into the movement and basically goes with its gut instinct as to whether a person is an informant or not. Organizers of the Animal Rights Movement can be discredited and removed from the scene by planting rumors that they are plants and/or informants.” [emphasis added]
The potential for such tactics appears to be validated in the mind of the FBI agent, who notes that there is “no risk of violence to these persons about whom these false rumors may be started as most of the animal rights people are also strict advocates of nonviolence against human persons.”
Weak Links in Security Culture
A common term in activist circles is “security culture,” which means being aware of government surveillance and taking reasonable steps to protect your privacy, and the privacy of others. One aspect of security culture, for instance, includes email encryption via PGP.
Activists who have had homes raided by the FBI or been harassed through grand jury witch hunts have learned the importance of protecting their privacy, and making it less easy for the FBI to snoop into their political activity. “Security culture” has been cited in court cases and Congressional hearings as a source of frustration for FBI agents.
In this document, the FBI agent notes “the day of those strict rules may be passing. Source believes that many of the younger activists do not subscribe to these strict requirements as they are extremely inconvenient.”
A Century of Similar Efforts
This FBI document was provided to me by Ryan Shapiro, who is a PhD candidate at MIT. Shapiro, a historian of science, is researching conflicts over animal experimentation and national security. This document surfaced in one of his Freedom of Information Act requests.
Shapiro’s research is a ground-breaking investigation of early campaigns to exploit national security fears in order to fight animal rights activists. As he told me:
“Politicians, industry, and law enforcement have long employed the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to counter animal advocacy. Today’s Green Scare actually stands on the shoulders of a century of similar efforts to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to American security.”
COINTELPRO Tactics Resurface
Throughout U.S. history, there have been government campaigns against progressive social movements. This document reveals a continuation of that trend, not only in terms of the ideological motivations, but in terms of the specific tactics used by law enforcement.
One of the most notorious eras of FBI spying in recent memory was dubbed COINTELPRO. According to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO aimed to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” radical social movements in the 1960s, using any means at their disposal.
The tactics discussed in this document, including the details about spying, informants, and rumor-spreading, are direct parallels to those used in COINTELPRO. The Church Committee hearings in the 1970s ostensibly put an end to those operations, reining in rogue police operations. This is yet another example of how the COINTELPRO legacy has been institutionalized, and continues to endure.
Manufacturing the Threat
The FBI agent’s notes, no matter how disturbing, are actually quite astute throughout the document. That is, except for a final section on the potential threat posed by animal rights activists:
“The Animal Rights Movement activists will not resort to violence as a source of funding. By that, source means that activists will not become bank robbers or armed robbers and commit crimes of that nature in order to fund their movement.”
To anyone familiar with the animal rights movement (such as the informant), the thought of this is quite odd. Animal activists have not robbed banks. They have not taken up arms. Judging by the structure of the document, though, and the accompanying material, it is clear that these transcribed comments were the informant’s response to direct questions by the FBI agent.
In other words, the FBI agent was seriously questioning the informant about the feasibility of animal rights activists and “eco-terrorists” building a true guerilla-style revolutionary movement.
In many ways, this is the most revealing segment of the entire file. The animal rights movement has never injured a single human being in the name of protecting animals, let alone in the name of money. For the FBI to entertain the possibility, and press an informant for further information, is another reflection of how much the bureau has lost touch with reality.
As I have discussed on this website at length, the creation of animal rights and environmental activists as the “number one domestic terrorism threat” has been a coordinated campaign by corporations and the politicians who represent them. As we see here, the rhetoric has taken on a life of its own; even the most far-fetched ploys are discussed straight-faced, business as usual, and the scare-mongering has been institutionalized into national security operations.