Sunday, June 12, 2011

Backfire Executive Summary and Outline

I. Policy Description:

A.     Operation Backfire is an ongoing multi-agency criminal investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into “arson and conspiracy charges in association with Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF)”[1].

B.     The FBI issued a 65- count indictment on January 20, 2006, alleging that 12  people were involved in ELF and ALF activities spanning from 1996-2001[2].

C.     As a result of subsequent Grand Jury investigations in Eugene Oregon, the suspects have been charged in 17 arson and sabotage attacks on federal and private facilities in five states[3].

II. Policy environment:

A.     The nation-wide sweep of arrests has been declared by the FBI as a major hit to environmentalists and animal rights activities who engage in destruction of property as a means, in the activists view, to defend the wilderness and the lives of animals.

B.     According to an FBI statement, the operational focus is on investigating acts of domestic terrorism, allegedly carried out on behalf of ELF and ALF[4]. Domestic terrorism is political violence directed against innocent civilians, mainly to inspire fear in people and erode their confidence in the ability of their government to protect them.[5]

C.     The FBI indicated that some of the charges relate to a 1998 arson attack, claimed by the ELF, on the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado, which carried a combined costs of damages from the attacks estimating $80 million.

III. Effectiveness and efficiency of the current policy
A.     The indictments of the activists for alleged acts of domestic terrorism has   drawn condemnation from activists and alternative media organizations.
B.     The National Lawyers Guild condemned the operation and the resulting indictments, arguing that “life sentences for property damage offenses where the actor has no intent to harm an individual are simply unconstitutional[6]

C.     This program seems similar to COINTELPRO, (Counter Intelligence Program) of the FBI aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States during the sixties and seventies.

D.     As part of COINTELPRO and other intelligence agendas, the FBI has been engaged in domestic surveillance activities and allegedly falsely targeting political activists[7].

E.      The war on terrorism has placed greater restrictions on the liberties of Americans. As in the past, Americans have tolerated restrictions on their liberties when confronted with perceived serious threats[8].

IV. Policy alternatives:

A.     Possible alterations of the present policy, especially in regard to the indictments do not specifically use the term “domestic terrorism”. Life sentences could be shortened to ten year sentences, any illegal surveillance or coercion of testimony would offer an alternative to how Backfire is conducted.

B.     A closer inspection of the Patriot Act and relevant implications of what is considered “domestic terrorism” would be a viable alternative to the inconsistencies of Operation Backfire.

C.     The expanded definition of domestic terrorism in the Patriot Act punishes a person who commits a dangerous criminal act intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. The National Lawyers Guild is greatly concerned about the use of the word terrorism because it obfuscates issues about the evidence and the ability to fairly evaluate the merits of the case[9] .
V. Summary comparison of policy options:

A.     According to Cindy Combs, domestic terrorism has been the subject of countless speeches by political leaders through out the world and the impetus for numerous initiatives[10] and laws, as such specific definitions are paramount to the rule of law when it engages human lives and real property. That is the true measure of Operation Backfire as an instrument of law enforcement. 

Executive Summary:

The federal prosecution program referred to by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as Operation Backfire has been credited with 11 arrests of members of the radical environmental and animal activists groups Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front for a variety of crimes ranging from arson, to conspiracy to destroy government property. Many supporters of Operation Backfire condone its procedures and policies but many in the activist movements see it as an unlawful violation of the rights of the environmental activists. Specifically, the Backfire indictments show the dichotomy of the issue of domestic terrorism and the evident conflict from supporters of both sides; law enforcement and political activist. ELF/ALF contend that nowhere in the indictments is the term domestic terrorism used. The FBI classify ELF/ALF as the United States number one domestic terrorist threat. If the term domestic terrorism is well defined, a comparison should be made to the charges in the 65-count indictment as to the validity of the application of domestic terrorism. 

[1] United States Attorney District of Oregon Department of Justice.
[2] Secret Grand Jury investigations have led to indictments of 12 Indy Media, http//
[3] Ibd.
[5] Understanding Public Policy Thomas R. Dye. Pearson Prentice Hall
[6] Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild,
[7] Secret Grand Jury investigations have led to indictments of 12 Indy Media, http//
[8] Understanding Public Policy Thomas R. Dye. Pearson Prentice Hall
[9] Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild,
[10] Cindy C. Combs, Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century, 2nd Edition 1999 Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458

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