The Justice Department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI’s obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” would leave more dangerous threats unchecked.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General audited the FBI and provided recommendations for improving its terrorism investigations. [You can read Audit Report 04-10 here.] The audit raised multiple concerns with the bureau’s treatment of animal rights and environmental activists as terrorists, concerns that take on a new urgency in light of the recent shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others.
Are there institutional, systemic flaws within law enforcement that allowed this to occur?
The inspector general’s report focused on communications problems within the FBI, and the quality of terrorism intelligence sent by the bureau to state and local law enforcement. The audit revealed the FBI’s weekly Intelligence Bulletins and Quarterly Terrorist Threat Assessments often focused on political activists. The inspector general recommended that the FBI’s intelligence updates focus on “domestic terrorist activities aimed at creating mass casualties or destroying critical infrastructure, rather than information on social protests and domestic radicals’ criminal activities.”
More importantly, the audit warned that the FBI’s focus on animal rights and environmental activists placed public safety at risk. In one of its six recommendations, the inspector general’s office advised the FBI to stop investigating animal rights and environmental activists as terrorists and to shift these cases to the FBI’s criminal division.
The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism has become too broad, the report said: “. . . a more focused definition may allow the FBI to more effectively target its counterterrorism resources.”
The FBI refused.
Steven C. McGraw of the FBI’s inspection division responded in a letter to the inspector general that these groups have “caused considerable damage to the U.S. economy,” and that the Joint Terrorism Task Forces are the best way to investigate them.
Although the inspector general’s office does not have the power to override such refusals, the office wrote back and reiterated its concerns:
“We believe that the FBI’s priority mission to prevent high-consequence terrorist acts would be enhanced if the Counterterrorism Division did not have to spend time and resources on lower-threat activities by social protestors.”