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A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups

Chapter Four: Investigative Activities Directed at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

B. PETA - Terrorism Enterprise Investigation

In this section, we examine the FBI Norfolk Field Division's decision to open a preliminary inquiry on PETA as a terrorism enterprise.

According to the May 2002 Attorney General's Guidelines, a "terrorism enterprise investigation" refers to an investigation that focuses on an enterprise that seeks to further political or social goals through activities that involve force or violence, or that otherwise aims to engage in terrorism or terrorism-related crimes. A terrorism enterprise investigation is concerned with the entire enterprise, rather than just individuals and specific acts, and examines the structure and scope of the enterprise as well as the relationships of the members.

The 2002 Guidelines made an important change to terrorism enterprise investigations that is relevant to the Norfolk Field Division's investigation of PETA: the guidelines authorized the FBI to use preliminary inquiries to determine whether a full terrorism enterprise investigation of a group was warranted. Under the 1989 Guidelines, a preliminary inquiry could only be used in connection with individual crimes, not to determine whether to open a broader investigation of groups involved in terrorism. Therefore, under the 1989 Guidelines the "reasonable indication" standard for opening a full investigation applied to initiating any terrorism enterprise investigation, but under the May 2002 Guidelines a preliminary inquiry could be opened based on information indicating the "possibility" of a group's involvement in terrorism.

1. Facts

From approximately December 2002 through September 2004, the Norfolk FBI case agent who had opened the Collins investigation also attempted to obtain approval to initiate a full terrorism enterprise investigation on PETA. The agent drafted on at least three occasions documents that included what he believed to be sufficient predication to establish that there was a "reasonable indication" PETA as an organization was involved in terrorism. The drafts were reviewed and edited in the Norfolk Field Division by the agent's supervisor and the Division's Chief Division Counsel, and at FBI Headquarters by personnel in the Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit and Office of the General Counsel. Based on our review of e-mails and edited drafts, it appeared that the FBI had concerns about the lack of current information indicating PETA's involvement in any terrorism-related activity, the strength of the evidence indicating such involvement, and the sheer length of the agent's drafts (the page length ranged from 20-40 pages). The consensus appeared to be that the initiation document should be more focused and drastically shortened, and that consideration should be given to opening the case as a preliminary inquiry.

As a result, in the summer of 2003, a second agent in the Norfolk Field Division was asked to review the case agent's drafts and distill the information into a shorter statement of predication for FBI Headquarters' consideration. The second agent told us that he pulled and verified those key facts from the drafts that he wanted to use and then drafted a new predication memorandum. The Norfolk Field Division Special Agent in Charge approved the memorandum and on August 20, 2003, the Norfolk Field Division again requested FBI Headquarters concurrence to initiate a full terrorism enterprise investigation on PETA.127

The 31/2-page memorandum began by stating PETA was suspected of providing financial and logistical support to ALF/ELF. The memorandum provided some background information about the groups and listed three pieces of information to support the opening of an investigation of PETA: (1) a May 2002 public acknowledgement by a PETA spokesperson that PETA provided funds to ELF; (2) a check from PETA dated May 25, 2001, in the amount of $1,500 made payable to the North American Earth Liberation Front; and (3) PETA tax records for 1999 indicating contributions to "several small, militant grassroots animal rights organizations," some of whose members are "key ALF/ELF members and/or are subjects of ongoing FBI investigations." The memorandum briefly identified some of these members and their links to PETA.128

The memorandum also asserted that "PETA's officers and employees have a history of criminal activities relating to animal rights activities/ extremism, which suggests PETA's involvement in directing and controlling animal rights campaigns through harassment, threats of violence, vandalism, and extortion[.]" The memorandum identified several incidents that purportedly illustrated this involvement:

  • In February 1999, a source of unknown reliability advised that Collins was training people to carry out terrorist attacks.
  • In April 2001, a source of known reliability advised that Collins                                                                 and that Collins travels to                                                                 where attendees are instructed on protest techniques, including arson and bombings, that cause maximum economic damage to business.
  • In January 1999, three PETA activists were arrested in connection with a protest of a government pork purchase program at which hay bales were burned on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.
  • In February 2000, two PETA activists assaulted the CEO of Proctor & Gamble with a tofu pie and pled guilty to state charges.
  • In May 2000, a PETA activist assaulted the Secretary of Agriculture with a pie at the National Nutrition Summit.
  • In November 2002, several PETA activists were arrested for disorderly conduct in connection with threatening and harassing a Victoria's Secret model for modeling fur.

According to the memorandum, PETA's possible violations of federal law included 18 U.S.C. 43, Animal Enterprise Terrorism; 18 U.S.C. 1951, the Hobbs Act; and 18 U.S.C. 2339A, Providing Material Support to Terrorists.

On September 25, 2003, following discussions with the Norfolk Field Division personnel, FBI Headquarters requested that a new opening communication be submitted to open the case on PETA as a preliminary inquiry instead of as a full terrorism enterprise investigation.

According to the Norfolk agent who drafted the initial communication, converting the case to a preliminary inquiry was not a point of contention with the Norfolk Field Division, primarily because the change was not expected to have a practical effect on how the investigation was conducted. The agent told us that there was little difference between a preliminary inquiry and a full investigation under the 2002 Guidelines in terms of the investigative techniques that could be used. The Norfolk Chief Division Counsel similarly recalled that the PETA case did not look like a matter that was going to involve techniques that could only be employed in a full investigation, such as electronic surveillance.129 However, a preliminary inquiry, unlike a full investigation, was required by the 2002 Guidelines to be renewed at fixed intervals "based on a statement of the reasons why further investigative steps are warranted when there is no 'reasonable indication' of criminal activity." A full investigation did not have to be renewed in this manner and, as in the Collins case described earlier, could remain open for a long period of time.

The Norfolk Field Division, relying on the identical predication contained in the original memorandum, submitted an opening EC to FBI Headquarters on November 13, 2003, advising that the case on PETA was being converted to a preliminary inquiry.130

In the preliminary investigation, the FBI collected and analyzed PETA financial records, and identified and interviewed former PETA employees about their experiences with the organization. Many of the ECs documenting the investigative activity referenced both the preliminary inquiry terrorism enterprise investigation and the Collins investigation, and the U.S. Attorney's Office treated the investigations as a single matter. In fact, the only significant difference between the two investigations was the requirement that the PETA preliminary inquiry be periodically reauthorized.

As noted above, the 2002 Attorney General's Guidelines and the FBI's implementing policies provide that an FBI Special Agent in Charge may authorize a preliminary inquiry terrorism enterprise investigation for a period not to exceed 180 days, and may renew or extend the inquiry an additional 180 days. After that 360-day period, if the field office seeks to continue the investigation as a preliminary inquiry - instead of converting the case to a full investigation - the field office must articulate the justification for an extension to FBI Headquarters and obtain its approval.

The PETA preliminary inquiry received three 90-day extensions: the first two extensions were authorized by the Special Agent in Charge, and the third extension was authorized by FBI Headquarters.131

The EC setting forth the justification for the first extension, dated February 23, 2004, stated that as part of the financial investigation of PETA, agents were still awaiting records from a particular company. The EC stated that it was expected these records would create investigative leads overseas to identify the recipients of certain PETA wire transfers. The EC also stated that agents had identified a disgruntled former PETA employee who appeared cooperative and possibly in possession of relevant information, and the FBI was in the process of making arrangements to debrief a second former employee who might have knowledge of criminal actions by PETA.

The EC setting forth the justification for the second extension, dated May 26, 2004, stated that agents had identified over $100,000 in wire transfers between PETA and a firm in London, England that provides "ethical/ environmental design" consultin . Accordin to the EC, the directors of the firm were associated with                                                                . The EC also summarized the results of agents' interviews of the two former PETA employees referenced in the EC that sought the first 90-day extension. The first individual did not provide any evidence of criminal activity and identified another former employee who might be rece tive to an interview. The second individual, who worked for PETA from                                                                 claimed to have observed acts of vandalism by PETA employees, and encouraged by Collins, which targeted fast food restaurants and butcher and fur shops. This individual also claimed that PETA's co-founder made statements indicating that PETA was formed as cover for ALF and that the groups were one and the same. This individual also identified several other former PETA employees who might speak with the FBI. The FBI subsequently administered a polygraph examination of this source to assess the veracity of his statements linking PETA and ALF. During the examination, the source retracted some statements, modified others, and was ultimately determined by the examiner to be "deceptive."

The EC justifying the second extension also cited cases in two other FBI field offices that contained suggestions of PETA's involvement in criminal activity. In one case, a PETA employee was detained sometime in June 2003 with a bag containing items, including a pistol, ski mask, rope, bolt cutters, and flashlight. In the other case, agents determined that a vehicle observed in a driveway to a residence that Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty recently moved into was registered to PETA. Agents in this case also                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                      during which the leader of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty said PETA was, as stated in the EC, "a good group and helped out a lot."

The PETA investigative file indicates that the Norfolk Field Division intended to close the case at the conclusion of the second 90-day extension because there was not enough information to justify converting the case to a full terrorism enterprise investigation. However, as the Norfolk Field Division was in the process of drafting a closing EC, personnel at FBI Headquarters called the office and advised that it would grant an additional 90-day extension for the preliminary inquiry. According to the EC from FBI Headquarters documenting the extension, the decision was based on (1) the potential links between PETA and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty as described in the EC for the second extension, and (2)                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                     . In an EC confirming the 90-day extension, the Norfolk Field Division summarized the investigative activities it expected to conduct during the period: identify and interview additional disgruntled former PETA employees, monitor the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty investi ation for additional links to PETA, and maintain contact with the                                                                .

The third extension was set to expire on November 28, 2004. Several days before this date, the Norfolk Field Division submitted an EC to FBI Headquarters requesting what would be the fourth 90-day extension. The only new information contained in the EC was an interview with a former PETA employee who had described some suspicious activity by senior PETA management                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                      and indications of telephonic contact between the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine and the girlfriend of an animal rights activist on the day and immediately after the activist disappeared and became a fugitive.132

FBI Headquarters did not immediately act on the fourth extension request, and on January 4, 2005, the case agent reported to Headquarters two developments that might affect the extension decision. First,                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                     . Second, the FBI developed a former PETA employee as a source. Later in January 2005, FBI Headquarters counterterrorism personnel and representatives from the FBI Office of General Counsel met to discuss how the case should proceed. They concluded that they could not support a fourth extension and that there was not sufficient evidence of PETA's involvement in any federal criminal violations to warrant converting the case to a full terrorism enterprise investigation. As a result, the Norfolk Field Division closed its investigation.

2. OIG Analysis

We concluded that the FBI did not violate the Attorney General's Guidelines when it opened a preliminary inquiry on PETA in August 2003 to determine whether grounds existed to initiate a broader, terrorism enterprise investigation of the organization. Under the 2002 Guidelines, a terrorism enterprise investigation could be initiated when facts or circumstances "reasonably indicated" that two or more persons were engaged in an enterprise for the purpose of furthering political or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involved force or violence and violation of federal criminal law. Thus, a preliminary inquiry could be initiated when information or allegation indicated the "possibility" of such activity.

In the PETA preliminary inquiry, the second element required that the activities used to further a political or social goal involve force or violence. The opening memorandum for the PETA preliminary inquiry stated PETA was suspected of funding and directing individuals affiliated with ALF/ELF and other extremist animal rights groups and individuals, entities that have engaged in unlawful acts resulting in millions of dollars in property damage.133 While the memorandum did not provide specific examples of these activities, ALF-attributed "direct actions" involved the destruction of property of animal enterprises. In addition, other groups and their members identified in the opening memorandum were subjects of FBI investigations for their involvement in criminal activities that included destruction of property.

The third element in the 2002 Guidelines also required that the activities violate federal criminal law. The opening memorandum for the PETA case cited three criminal statutes, including 18 U.S.C. 43. As previously described, this statute prohibits individuals from traveling in interstate or foreign commerce, or using any facility of interstate commerce for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise and in fact intentionally causing such damage. The opening memorandum alleged an effort by PETA to fund and direct on a national level unlawful acts that included the destruction of property of animal enterprises. Such an effort, if proven, could violate 18 U.S.C. 43. We therefore concluded that the FBI's opening of a preliminary inquiry on PETA did not violate the Attorney General's Guidelines or FBI policy.

We also considered whether there was a sufficient factual basis for the three 90-day extensions authorized in the PETA preliminary inquiry. The investigative guidelines in effect at the time provided that an extension to a preliminary inquiry may be granted "based on a statement of the reasons why further investigative steps are warranted when there is no 'reasonable indication' of criminal activity." We believe the first two extensions did not violate the guidelines, but we questioned the third extension. At the time of the first extension, FBI agents were awaiting additional subpoenaed financial records that they believed might create investigative leads overseas. The agents also had identified a disgruntled former PETA employee who appeared cooperative and possibly in possession of relevant information, and were in the process of making arrangements to debrief a second former employee who might have knowledge of relevant criminal activity. The 90-day extension provided the agents additional time to continue these lines of investigation.

The EC that requested the second extension highlighted some wire transfers between PETA and a London environmental firm, although it did not identify any anticipated follow-up investigation. The request also summarized the results of interviews with the two former PETA employees referenced in the first request for an extension. One witness did not provide any information about possible violations of federal law, but did identify another disgruntled former PETA employee who might speak with the FBI. The other witness initially provided agents some potentially useful information; however, when a polygraph examination was administered, the witness retracted some statements, modified others, and was ultimately determined by the examiner to be "deceptive." The EC also reported on some recent connections to PETA that were identified in two pending investigations in other FBI offices, including in connection with the indictment of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty organization. On balance, we concluded that because of the potential additional witness identified by the former PETA employee and PETA's connections to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, follow-up by the FBI was consistent with the Attorney General's Guidelines.

As discussed above, the Norfolk Field Division was prepared to close the preliminary inquiry on PETA when the second extension expired because it did not believe there was sufficient information to justify converting the case to a full terrorism enterprise investigation. However, FBI Headquarters advised that it would approve another 90-day extension because of the information about PETA's connections to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty that were cited in support of the second extension, as well as because of a                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                     . The rationale for keeping the Norfolk Field Division's preliminary inquiry open was to monitor the Stop Huntin don Animal Cruel case for an additional connections to PETA and to                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                     . While this rationale might technically satisfy the requirement for an extension, we questioned whether either of the purposes - neither of which involved investigative steps or even required the existence of an open case -was consistent with FBI policy requiring that an investigation with potential impacts on First Amendment activity "not be permitted to extend beyond the point at which its underlying justification no longer exists."

We agreed with FBI Headquarters' conclusion at the expiration of the third extension that there was not a sufficient factual basis to convert the preliminary inquiry to a full terrorism enterprise investigation, and that it was appropriate after 15 months of investigation for the FBI to close the case.

127 FBI policy at the time provided that a full terrorism enterprise investigation could be authorized by a Special Agent in Charge only with the concurrence of the appropriate FBI Headquarters official, which was the Counterterrorism Division Section Chief with program responsibility for the type of case being opened.

128 Based on our review of the investigative file, we believe the first two items the EC cited as indications of PETA's support of ALF/ELF are related and do not represent independent examples. PETA's May 2002 public acknowledgement that it provided funds to ELF was in specific reference to the disclosure of the $1,500 check.

129 The 2002 Guidelines permitted the use of all lawful investigative techniques in a preliminary inquiry, except mail openings and nonconsensual electronic surveillance (or any other investigative technique covered by Chapter 119 of Title 18, United States Code (Wire and Electronic Communications Interception and Interception of Oral Communications)).

130 Under FBI policy at the time, preliminary inquiry terrorism enterprise investigations could be authorized by the Special Agent in Charge and did not require concurrence from FBI Headquarters.

131 The preliminary inquiry was considered officially opened on August 29, 2003, and was set to expire on February 28, 2004. The first 90-day extension authorized by the Special Agent in Charge extended the case to May 28, 2004, and the second extension carried the case to August 28, 2004. FBI Headquarters then authorized a third 90-day extension. That extension expired on November 28, 2004, and the case was closed.

132 As described earlier, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine is the nonprofit organization                    Jerry Robinson. The fugitive animal rights activist, Daniel Andreas San Diego, was wanted at the time for his alleged involvement in the bombings of two corporate offices in California with ties to Huntingdon Life Sciences. San Diego was indicted on

133 According to the opening memorandum, ALF and ELF in 1993 claimed solidarity in action, and since 1987 individuals affiliated with the groups were responsible for unlawful acts that resulted in more than $50 million in damages.

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