Sunday, June 12, 2011

Part Two. Actual Practice: Assessing the Legality of Domestic Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and Ecological Direct Action in the Policy Analysis of Operation Backfire.

Basic Definitions
1. Domestic Terrorism: “The FBI defines terrorism (domestic) as the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, its civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”[1]

2. COINTELPRO: “COINTELPRO is an acronym for a series of FBI COunterINTELligence PROgrams (counter intelligence program) designed to neutralize political dissidents. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO's of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against radical political organizations.”[2]

3. Ecological Direct Action: “Eco-Action - Ecological Direct Action is one thing that sets many anarchists apart from other revolutionaries, the belief that the revolution is not a grand apocalyptic moment that we must wait for. The revolution exists in every moment of our lives. When I get up in the morning and spend my day deliberately doing things that please me, when I strive to live instead of merely existing, that is the revolution happening.”[3]

4. Operation Backfire: “Operation Backfire is an ongoing multi-agency criminal investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), into "violent acts in the name of animal rights and environmental causes" in the United States.”[4]

Operation Backfire
The federal prosecution program referred to by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as Operation Backfire has been credited with 11 arrests of members of the radical environmental and animal activists groups Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) for a variety of crimes ranging from arson to conspiracy to destroy government property. Law enforcement 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 law enforcement and political activists. The Back Fire indictments, essentially, are the collection of several different charges over the span of a decade consolidated into one overarching charge against the United States primary domestic terrorism group. ELF/ALF contends that nowhere in the indictments is the term domestic terrorism used. The FBI classifies 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. 
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)[5]”. The FBI issued the 65- count indictment on January 20, 2006, alleging that 12  people were involved in ELF and ALF activities spanning from 1996-2001[6].  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[7].   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. According to an FBI statement, the operational focus is on investigating acts of domestic terrorism, allegedly carried out on behalf of ELF and ALF[8]. "Terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said during a press conference at the Department of Justice. "There’s a clear difference between constitutionally protected advocacies—which is the right of all Americans—and violent criminal activity.[9]" Terrorism, both international and domestic, is the FBI’s top investigative priority. In this case, the FBI’s Portland field office in 2004 consolidated seven independent field office investigations and dubbed it "Operation Backfire." A year-long investigation, aided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, yielded evidence of an ongoing conspiracy by members of ELF and ALF. On Jan. 19, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eugene, Oregon, obtained an indictment of criminal conspiracy for the following individuals: Joseph Dibee, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Sarah Kendall Harvey, Daniel Gerard McGowan, Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Jonathan Mark, Christopher Paul, Rebecca Rubin, Suzanne Savoie, Darren Todd Thurston, and Kevin M. Tubbs. "The indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives," said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez[10]. The defendants are accused of attacks on federal land and animal management sites, private meat packing plants, lumber facilities, and a car dealership with damages reaching $80 million. In 2004, the FBI estimated ELF, ALF and related extremist groups had committed more than 1,100 criminal acts since 1976 with damage estimates over $100 million[11]. Director Mueller called the indictments "a substantial blow" to domestic terror groups and said they should have a "dramatic impact on persons who contemplate these crimes[12]."
"Persons who conduct this kind of activity are going to spend a long time in jail, regardless of their motive," he said. As part of COINTELPRO and other intelligence agendas, the FBI has been engaged in domestic surveillance activities and allegedly falsely targeting political activists[13].  According to the Earth Liberation Front website ( there is no “ELF structure, it is non-hierarchical and there is no centralized organization or leadership” nor is there any “membership in the Earth Liberation Front. The 65-count indictment alleges the defendants committed acts of domestic terrorism between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Colorado.  Specifically, the indictment includes charges related to arson, conspiracy, use of destructive devices, and destruction of an energy facility. 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 combined costs of damages from the attacks estimating $80 million. ”[14].  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[15]. The indictments of the activists for alleged acts of domestic terrorism have drawn condemnation from main stream activists and alternative media organizations. The defendants are implicated in 17 attacks, including the $12 million arson of the Vail Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado, in 1998 and the sabotage of a high-tension power line near Bend, Oregon, in 1999. The indictment follows a series of arrests on Dec. 7, 2005 and again earlier this month. Three suspects named in the indictment are believed to be outside the U.S.[16].
From a legal standpoint the settings seem very different. 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[17]. Operation Backfire seems similar to COINTELPRO, (Counter Intelligence Program) of the FBI which was aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States during the sixties and seventies.  The founding document of COINTELPRO directed FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize[18]” the activities of these movements and their leaders. COINTELPRO began in 1956 and was designed to "increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections[19]" inside the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA).
The War on Terrorism
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[20]. Possible alterations of the present policy, especially in regard to the indictments of Operation Backfire, would not specifically use the term domestic terrorism. 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. 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[21]. 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[22] .     
According to Cindy Combs, political scientist and expert on terrorism, domestic terrorism has been the subject of countless speeches by political leaders through out the world and the impetus for numerous initiatives[23] 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. 
By March 15th, 2006 the feds issued a superseding indictment that replaced all existing indictments. The new conspiracy prosecution charged another two individuals; bringing the total to 13 indictes facing 65 counts of arson, destruction of property and conspiracy. March 30th brought two more arrests, rounding the total to 15. On May 18th, nursing student and long time grassroots environmental activist Jeff Hogg answered his subpoena and appeared before a Grand Jury in Eugene, Oregon. According to political scientist and journalist Mike Donnlley, “Grand Juries usually are used to gather evidence before indictments are issued[24].” He continues, “Since the Indictments are already handed down and Hogg was already informed that he was not a target of the investigation, this appearance amounted to little more than a government fishing expedition/forced preview of just how Hogg would testify if called once the conspiracy trials begin[25].” Hogg’s refusal to cooperate with the Grand Jury and was promptly found in Contempt. It is alleged by Donnelly, that Hogg’s contempt hearing was held by pro-Big Timber Judge Michael Hogan as the government “disingenuously hides the entire case behind the mantra of terrorism.[26]” Hogg's supporters, the media and attorneys were not allowed in to the contempt hearing. Hogg was granted immunity, and in a refusal to cooperate, the Grand Jury adjourned for the night and Hogg was locked up. It is stipulated by supporters of ELF/ ALF that, in theory, Hogg could be incarcerated until the Grand Jury's term runs out, which is problematic because of terrorism concerns, the government does not release the time frame of how long the Grand Jury has been impaneled. Pattrice Jones, in Stomping with the elephants, from Igniting a Revolution: voices in defense of the Earth, she clarifies a distinction between violent and non-violent activity as “thus in law as well as in popular imagination, there is a distinction between violence and justifiable use of force”[27] there is also a distinction between violent and non-violent crime. Thomas Dye, in Understanding Public Policy, argues that crime sometimes is “irrational- that the criminal does not weigh benefits against potential costs before committing the act.”[28] The actions of those arrested, claiming their actions were justified, could be acting irrationally; despite the assertion that they are protecting the environment and also that their actions were justified as self defense. Dye continues that “many acts of violence are committed by persons acting in blind rage- so it is argued; no rational policies can be devised to deter these irrational acts.”[29] So that is the difference between self-defense and irrational violent activity. Following this train of thought, domestic terrorism, well defined, is not a basis for rational self-defense. The definition provided by the FBI, despite the criminal prosecution procedures of the FBI and ATF associated with Operation backfire, is well defined and therefore Operation Backfire is law abiding with in reason as a catalyst of national defense against irrational self-defense.

[5] United States Attorney District of Oregon Department of Justice.
[6] Secret Grand Jury investigations have led to indictments of 12 Indy Media, http//
[7] Ibd.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Secret Grand Jury investigations have led to indictments of 12 Indy Media, http//
[15] Understanding Public Policy Thomas R. Dye. Pearson Prentice Hall
[17] Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild,
[18] David Cunningham, The Pattering of Repression: FBI Counterintelligence and the New Left Social Forces Vol. 82, No. 1 (Sep., 2003, pp. 209-240
[19] Ibid.
[20] Understanding Public Policy Thomas R. Dye. Pearson Prentice Hall
[21] The United States Patriot Act,
[22] Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild,
[23] Cindy C. Combs, Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century, 2nd Edition 1999 Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
[24] Operational Backfire Criminalizing Dissent
[25] Idb
[26] Idb.
[27] Stomping with the Elephants Igniting a Revolution: Voices in defense of the Earth, AK Press.
[28] Understanding Public Policy Thomas R. Dye. Pearson Prentice Hall
[29] Ibid.

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