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

Chapter Seven: Investigation of Protests by Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker at Vandenburg Air Force Base

The FBI opened a preliminary inquiry and full investigation into the activities of Greenpeace, the Catholic Worker, and other groups and individuals with respect to the Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB or Vandenberg) in Central California. Because of the complexity of this case we are addressing this investigation in this separate chapter. In reviewing the FBI's actions, we examined the adequacy of predication for opening the investigation and the appropriateness of the FBI's characterizations of the Catholic Worker in internal records.

I. Facts

The Vandenberg Air Force Base is a Department of Defense facility that is used for space and missile testing as well as satellite launching. Because the VAFB has been the site of test launches of the National Missile Defense Initiative, a nuclear missile defense program, it has regularly drawn protests from various groups.

In an EC dated April 25, 2001, a Special Agent working in the FBI Los Angeles Field Division's Santa Maria Resident Agency opened a preliminary inquiry on Greenpeace and three other groups, two individuals, and unknown subjects.176 The FBI opened the preliminary inquiry under the investigative classification designated for acts of terrorism by domestic terrorists occurring on government reservations. As detailed below, the Catholic Worker was added as a subject in a subsequent EC.

The opening EC alleged the following facts. Greenpeace, along with other groups and individuals, planned to disrupt test launches of a National Missile Defense missile, including a test launch in May 2001. One of the individuals solicited volunteers to "participate in an 'encampment' on Vandenberg Air Force Base days before the launch and, on the day of the launch, visibly enter the safety zone in order to preclude the test launch."177 The other individual had been arrested for trespass at the Vandenberg in October 2000 and had stated his intention to continue to attempt to illegally impede future launch attempts by trespassing and other 'non-violent' activities.178 The FBI also received information indicating that Greenpeace purchased two powered paraglider aircraft "with the purpose of impeding the [National Missile Defense Initiative] test launches." Greenpeace, in alliance with one of the other groups that was also named in the opening EC as a subject, called for the Vandenberg trespassers to carry walkie-talkie radios and other equipment. This other group's website solicited protesters to engage in "nonviolent civil disobedience" in order to interfere with the May 2001 launch.179 The opening EC stated that the solicited actions (to intrude on the base) at a minimum constituted violations of federal law prohibiting illegal entry on military property, malicious mischief, "and possibly" destruction of national defense materials.

The opening EC also contained the following statement, portions of which were restated in other file documents:

The majority of people involved in protesting the [National Missile Defense Initiative] are exercising legitimate and proper First Amendment rights. The FBI has no interest in collecting information derived from free speech. This is an investigation of violations of Federal Law only. Extraordinary care will be taken that no source or other government agent interferes with the free speech of protestors. No information will be gathered from any school records.

The FBI file contained other reports of information obtained from a source detailing Greenpeace's plans to impede the National Missile Defense through the use of powered parachutes.                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                     . The source expressed concern that the plans were dangerous and, if attempted, could result in accidental loss of life. The source provided additional information over several months detailing Greenpeace's plans. The source also stated that hundreds of groups would attempt to interfere with the launch. The source stated that other groups were also expected to "infiltrate" the VAFB to impede the launch although the source did not identify any of the other groups.

On May 19 and 20, 2001, approximately 225 people participated in protest activities at the VAFB. A total of 33 protesters were arrested for trespassing, including some who were members of the Los Angeles area Catholic Worker. Of these, 23 were arrested for crossing onto the VAFB during a rally held outside the base's main gate on May 19. The other 10 protesters were arrested the following day for trespassing onto the "backcountry" of the VAFB in an area known as south base. The FBI Special Agent who opened the case described these "backcountry" trespassers as Catholic Worker members. The Special Agent stated they trespassed surreptitiously onto south base and had to call base officials to alert them to their presence in order to be arrested. The Special Agent said these trespass activities were typical of the VAFB protests and were carried out in different locations in an attempt to interfere with base operations, in addition to protests conducted at the VAFB's front gate. Although the opening EC stated that a launch was scheduled for May 2001, it appears that no missiles were launched during this month.180

The Special Agent interviewed the Catholic Worker members who were arrested in May 2001. They provided him with information on the group and its intentions to block a missile launch. In addition, the agent told us that one of the Catholic Worker members who was arrested voluntarily called him on several subsequent occasions. The file did not indicate that the FBI directed any other investigative activities at the Catholic Worker or its members as a result of the investigation, and the Special Agent did not identify any such activities.

Within a few days after the May 2001 protests at the VAFB, the FBI named the Catholic Worker and another group as additional subjects in the VAFB investigation.181 In an EC dated May 22, 2001, the FBI summarized the case to date and reported on the protest activities that had occurred at the VAFB on May 19, 2001. The May 22 EC stated that the subject groups proposed a variety of activities to disrupt or impede future National Missile Defense missile launches. The EC stated that "the subject groups have proposed trespassing onto the VAFB and entering the 'safety zone,' thereby causing the launch to be aborted." The methods, according to the EC, "could be as simple as hiking on to the base or by using the Greenpeace ships to launch rubber boats into the safety zone . . . . One method that poses a serious threat that would be hard to counter (without injuring someone) would be to launch powered parachutes and hover over the missile silo." The May 22 EC stated that based on "overhears and conversations with protesters, the Catholic Workers advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology." The EC also characterized the ideology of two other groups present at the protest.

Another EC, dated May 23, 2001, provided additional information about the protest at the VAFB. It quoted one Catholic Worker protester who was arrested as having stated that the Catholic Worker group "advocates love and peace thru prayer." According to the EC, this protester and another Catholic Worker protester "advocated impeding [National Missile Defense] launches thru non-violent civil disobedience." The Special Agent who wrote the EC told us that prior to interviewing the Catholic Worker protesters he did not associate the Catholic Worker with the goal of impeding future missile launches. After noting that the Catholic Worker protesters advocated nonviolent means to impede the National Missile Defense, the agent wrote that based on his "interpretation of comments made by various [Catholic Worker] protesters, [the Catholic Worker Group] also advocates a communist distribution of resources."

The FBI Special Agent stated that when he spoke to the Catholic Worker members as a group during their May 2001 arrests, he shared with them his interpretation of how they described the philosophy of the group. He told the OIG that he told the members that his interpretation was that they believed in peace, Christian love and in a "communist distribution of resources."182 The Special Agent stated that the members, who did not all agree on wording, liked how he characterized the group. According to the Special Agent, one member stated his desire to have the characterization appear in the Special Agent's report because their purpose in going to the VAFB was to trespass and get their message heard.183

The Special Agent told us that he characterized the Catholic Worker political philosophy in these ECs because he felt it was important to explain the Catholic Worker's two motives in trespassing onto the VAFB: (1) to publicize their belief in a communist distribution of resources, and (2) to impede National Missile Defense missile launches. The Special Agent told us that when he asked the group members why they came to the VAFB to violate the law they told him they trespassed to get the word out that they want a communist distribution of resources.184 He said the Catholic Worker's peace philosophy and Christian ideology explained the group's additional motive of wanting to impede missile launches.185

On June 1, 2001, the FBI issued an EC that converted the case from a preliminary inquiry to a full investigation, maintaining the domestic terrorism on government reservations classification. The June 1 EC stated that the FBI had received information from a reliable source that "a group associated with Greenpeace intends to use powered parachutes to trespass" onto VAFB, in order to impede the launch of the National Missile Defense, and that "[t]he parachutes will be violating restricted airspace." The EC stated that the Special Agent in the past year had interviewed trespassers who have "made general comments that they support actions to impede test launches." According to the EC, one arrestee stated that "the use of powered parachutes to block a launch, is at least in theory," a method that he supported. The EC concluded by stating that "the use of a powered parachute to impede a military operation is a possible violation of Title 18 U.S.C. Section 2155" (destruction of national-defense materials, national-defense premises, or national-defense utilities) and accordingly the case would be converted to a full investigation.

The June 1 EC did not identify any additional facts about the Catholic Worker Group to support the conversion from a preliminary inquiry to a full investigation. The only additional facts the EC added that were linked to a subject group or individual was information appearing to confirm Greenpeace's intent to use powered parachutes to impede a National Missile Defense test launch.

The Special Agent told us he did not recall having any particular evidence that the Catholic Worker was coordinating with Greenpeace on the powered parachute plan. However, he stated that he believed there was an affiliation among the group members protesting at the VAFB, not just because they appeared to know each other when arrested for trespassing but also because they entered the VAFB at different points in a manner that appeared coordinated. The Special Agent also stated the best recollection he had of specific information linking the Catholic Worker with the other groups was that Catholic Worker members contacted a member of another group when the Catholic Worker members were trespassing on south base.

The Special Agent stated he opened only one investigation containing the various groups and individuals because they all shared the same objective of impeding future missile launches on the same date. He said the Catholic Worker members who he interviewed during the May 2001 protest told him that they were there to block any missile launches. He also said that one Catholic Worker member's blog stated that it was his intent to impede a missile launch. The Special Agent told us that he believed this Catholic Worker member with a website was speaking to him as "essentially" the leader of the Catholic Worker group.

Two subsequent ECs in the case file provided details about a "credible threat" to a July 14, 2001, National Missile Defense launch test from the use of powered parachutes by Greenpeace. One EC stated that Greenpeace was "planning on using backcountry hikers, inflatable boats and light aircraft to attempt to impede" the National Missile Defense launches. These ECs provided no further information about the Catholic Worker or its members.

In July 2001, 17 persons associated with Greenpeace were arrested for a variety of trespass activities that succeeded in penetrating an established missile launch safety zone. The defendants were initially charged with felony conspiracy, violating an order of a U.S. Coast Guard Captain by entering a safety zone, as well as misdemeanor trespass. The trespassing acts involved use of boats to position protesters to swim onshore and enter onto highly restricted areas of the VAFB. According to the grand jury indictment, the defendants used four Zodiak vessels to enter the Coast Guard safety zone after being advised of the zone's location by Harbor Patrol. Some defendants entered the water in the safety zone and swam to shore. Helicopter rescues were ultimately necessary for some of the swimmers who needed immediate medical attention. According to the Special Agent, some swimmers became hypothermic and were taken to the hospital. However, the powered parachute plan was not attempted at the VAFB. There is no record of Catholic Worker members participating in this protest.

On July 17, 2001, the FBI Los Angeles Field Division opened a separate full investigation on Greenpeace and the 17 persons arrested during this incident. This investigation was also classified as a domestic terrorism on government reservations matter. The investigation was focused on the July 2001 arrests and subsequent prosecution of the 17 persons associated with Greenpeace. In a January 2002 EC, the Special Agent stated that according to a source, as a result of recent guilty pleas from Greenpeace members for VAFB activities, most organized groups "would refrain from any civil disobedience that exceeds the threshold of misdemeanor trespassing."186 The persons arrested in July 2001 were convicted in January and April 2002. The file contains no indication of any further activity of significance by any of the groups at the VAFB.

In a July 2002 EC, the FBI closed the original investigation, stating that at that time there was no indication that any of the subjects intended to further violate the law. The FBI also closed its full investigation of Greenpeace and the 17 persons arrested and convicted for the trespass activities at the VAFB in July 2001.

The FBI Special Agent told us that the classification of the investigation of Greenpeace and Catholic Worker as an act of domestic terrorism was justified because while the actions themselves were nonviolent, they could be dangerous to human life, an element of the statutory definition of domestic terrorism. He said that although he did not believe that simple trespass should generally be equated with domestic terrorism, in this case the entry onto designated safety zones, the planned use of aircraft that may not be safely flown in the area of the safety zone, or swimming in extremely cold waters, are acts that while not involving the use of force or violence would expose individuals to serious danger and were thus potential acts of domestic terrorism. He said that while he did not have specific evidence that Catholic Worker members were involved in the dangerous acts, he did not know at the time the extent of their involvement with Greenpeace's plans and believed the groups could be affiliated. The Special Agent also said that they used the domestic terrorism classification for the Catholic Worker "only for processing" the VAFB trespass arrests and he would not have taken issue if "someone would have said it belongs under crimes under government reservations."

Documents in the FBI file indicate that the FBI                                           SENTENCE DELETED                                      sometime after their arrests.187 According to the FBI file, on August 1, 2001, most of these individuals were convicted of several counts of misdemeanor conspiracy and trespass onto military property. The FBI file indicates that these individuals were                                            on May 18, 2002.

An April 2002 news column appearing in a Catholic oriented national publication alleged that a police officer had "recently" stopped one of these individuals for speeding in Arizona. According to the column, the officer handcuffed the individual for about an hour and justified the procedure by stating that the individual was "affiliated with a terrorist organization." We found no other information suggesting the individuals were detained or otherwise subjected to greater investigative scrutiny                                           .

II. OIG Analysis

A. Predication for the Investigation

We concluded that under the Attorney General's Guidelines the FBI had factual predication to open the initial preliminary inquiry on Greenpeace to determine whether it was planning to disrupt the National Missile Defense missile launches at the VAFB. The 1989 Attorney General's Guidelines in effect at the time provided that the FBI may open a preliminary inquiry in response to an allegation or information "indicating the possibility of criminal activity." When the FBI opened the initial preliminary inquiry, it had information that Greenpeace had purchased two powered paraglider aircraft to use in attempts to impede the National Missile Defense test launches. This information indicated the possibility that Greenpeace planned to commit a federal offense, such as interference with the national defense of the United States, 18 U.S.C. 2155.

The FBI added the Catholic Worker as a subject of the preliminary inquiry after Catholic Worker members were arrested for trespassing onto the backcountry of the VAFB in May 2001. When the Catholic Worker protesters were arrested at the VAFB, the FBI had information indicating a "possibility" that the group had violated and may again violate a federal law such as trespassing onto a military installation, 18 U.S.C. 1382, in an attempt to impede an National Missile Defense test launch. Therefore, at that time the FBI had evidence that a federal crime had been committed and the Catholic Worker members' statements provided further evidence that the group would likely commit a trespassing crime on the VAFB in the future in an attempt to impede National Missile Defense test launches.188

The FBI subsequently converted the preliminary inquiry to a full investigation. The 1989 Attorney General's Guidelines stated that a general crimes investigation may be open "when facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that a federal crime has been, is being, or will be committed." We believe the reasonable indication standard was satisfied at the time the FBI opened the initial preliminary inquiry based on all the facts and circumstances then known to the FBI. When the FBI later converted the matter to a full inquiry it had additional information, particularly about the Greenpeace powered parachute plans.189

B. Characterizations of the Catholic Worker

As noted above, in the May 22 and 23 ECs written after the arrests of Catholic Worker members for trespassing on the VAFB, the FBI agent characterized the group's ideology as advocating "peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology," "love and peace thru prayer," "impeding [National Missile Defense] launches thru non violent civil disobedience," and "a communist distribution of resources."

The MIOG, Introduction, 1-4(4), stated that "[t]he collection of information concerning groups and individuals must be justified as reasonable and necessary for investigative purposes." We concluded the characterization of the Catholic Worker's alleged advocacy of a communist distribution of resources lacked a reasonable and necessary relationship to any alleged actions on the group's part to impede National Missile Defense launches. The agent who wrote the ECs told us that one of the reasons the Catholic Worker members stated that they trespassed on the VAFB was to draw attention to their ideology. The ECs characterized the group as communistic but did not explain that one of the group's motives for trespassing was to obtain publicity for its political philosophy. Even assuming the "communist" characterizations had some marginal relevance in explaining the group's motive for trespassing, memorializing the characterizations in an FBI file as the agent did showed questionable judgment, particularly given the way it was stated.190

C. Classification as an Act of Terrorism Matter

We considered the FBI's decision to classify its investigation of Greenpeace, the Catholic Worker, and their members as relating to Acts of Terrorism. FBI policy in effect at the time stated that the classification for domestic terrorism investigations "shall include any investigation of a criminal act which involves an individual or individuals affiliated with a domestic terrorist group." MIOG, Part 1, 266-1(1). We are not aware of any specific definition of "domestic terrorist group" that was used by the FBI at that time, although the 1989 Attorney General's Guidelines defined a "domestic security terrorism investigations" as "focused on investigations of enterprises . . . whose goals are to achieve political or social change through activities that involve force or violence."

The documents we were provided do not show that the FBI had designated Greenpeace or the Catholic Worker as a "domestic terrorist group," or a terrorist enterprise. Although other classifications were available, in light of the nature of the alleged protest plans, we did not conclude that this classification was a violation of FBI policy. However, this matter, like several others described in this report, illustrates the consequences of the broad definitions of terrorism used by the FBI to classify investigations involving potential crimes by domestic protesters.

176 The three additional groups and two individuals are not any of the groups or the individual that we selected for this review.

177 This individual had previously served a federal prison term for damage to government property, and an FBI document stated that he was responsible for S3 million in damage to a government global positioning satellite.

178 An e-mail from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) attached to the opening EC stated that at the October 2000 protest, 200 people demonstrated at the VAFB's main gate and blocked traffic. The e-mail stated that 23 persons were cited for trespass and released. The Special Agent who wrote the opening EC told us he believed the Catholic Worker may have been involved in the October 2000 protest at the VAFB because movie actor Martin Sheen was arrested for trespass at that protest. The Special Agent said he remembered there was discussion at the October 2000 protest of Sheen starring in a movie about the Catholic Worker and its founder.

179 The e-mail from the Air Force OSI attached to the opening EC stated that at the previous launch date in July 2000, various groups announced their intention to disrupt the launch and seven individuals hiked through the rough terrain of the base in an attempt to disrupt the launch. The seven individuals were located and removed prior to the launch window. They were charged with trespassing.

180 The FBI file, which includes arrest affidavits and news articles describing the events of May 19 and 20, does not state that a missile launch occurred during May 2001. File documents state that the test launches held after the opening EC were in July and December 2001.

181 According to two May 2001 ECs, the other group, which is not one of the groups selected for this review, had four to eight members present at the protest. This other group "advocated confrontation, possibly physical confrontation, in order to defeat the capitalist domination of America." According to the Special Agent, he observed four protesters, believed to be members of this other group, who "were advocating confrontation with the Air Force police."

182 According to the Special Agent, the Catholic Worker members described themselves as believing in "distributionism and communitarianism." The Special Agent paraphrased for us what some of the Catholic members told him they believed: "everybody works according to their abilities, and gets according to their needs, but we are anti-Communist when it goes outside the scope of the distribution of resources and wealth because Communists are Atheists, and we are strongly Christian."

183 As noted in Chapter One, after the disclosure of documents pursuant to the FOIA request, the FBI came under criticism for these characterizations of the Catholic Worker. According to a December 20, 2005, New York Times article, an ACLU official stated: "You look at these documents and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in FBI files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

184 The FBI file contained documents memorializing the interviews of two of the Catholic Worker members, and these documents do not state that these two Catholic Worker members told the agent they entered the base because they wanted to publicize their belief in a communist distribution of resources.

185 The FBI file did not contain characterizations of Greenpeace's political or social goals or philosophy.

186 In addition to the individual criminal prosecutions of the 17 persons associated with Greenpeace for the July 2001 trespass activities, the federal government sued Greenpeace civilly in federal district court. The case was settled by the parties and in January 2002 the court entered a stipulated judgment and injunction requiring Greenpeace to pay the United States $150,000 in monetary damages and to refrain for 5 years from trespassing onto the VAFB or any other federal military installations involved in the National Missile Defense program. The settlement agreement was also conditioned on the court's acceptance of a plea agreement on the criminal prosecutions of the 17 individuals. See United States v. Greenpeace Inc., No. CV-02-00156 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 16, 2002).

187 Documents also indicate that the two individuals who were initially named subjects of the prelimin in ui in the o enin EC, but who were not arrested for trespassing in May 2001, were                                           . We found no documents in the case files indicating that any of the Greenpeace members were                                           .

188 There do not appear to have been any investigative activities directed at the Catholic Worker as a result of the group being named as a subject. The investigative techniques were focused on the powered parachute plan and directed at other individuals or groups, including Greenpeace.

189 While our review did not focus on the other groups or individuals that were additional subjects of the preliminary inquiry and full investigation, we found no evidence to indicate that the FBI lacked a predicate as to these groups and individuals or targeted them solely on the basis of their exercise of protected First Amendment activities.

190 When the ECs were written, the MIOG, Introduction, 1-4(5) addressed characterizations of groups or individuals and required that characterizations in FBI records reflect whether the characterization was made by a third party. The MIOG, Introduction, 14(5), also provided that the FBI record may also state if the characterization comports with the results of an independent FBI investigation. The FBI substantially complied with this provision since the ECs stated that the characterizations were attributed to the special agent's "overhears and conversations" with the Catholic Worker protesters as well as "interpretation of comments" made by the Catholic Worker protesters.

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