Putting Intel to Work Against Eco-Terrorists

From the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The culprits of this $12 million arson at a Vail, Colorado ski resort were caught and convicted.

FBI Photo

In early 2006, eco-terrorist Eric McDavid and two associates met in a secluded cabin in Dutch Flat, California to discuss making improvised explosive devices and to choose targets to bomb. Soon after, they began casing the targeted facilities and buying supplies to make bombs. But before they started mixing the ingredients, we swooped in and arrested them.

How did we know what McDavid was up to? How were we able to prevent attacks that could have caused thousands or millions of dollars in property damage and possibly harmed people?

In a word, intelligence.

Our intelligence—which included the use of an FBI source who was actually with McDavid and his associates inside that California cabin—allowed us to piece together the entire plot ahead of time.

Since 9/11, we have greatly strengthened our ability to identify, collect, analyze, and share intelligence across all of our national security and criminal priorities. And that has carried over into our investigations of violence and terror committed in the name of the environment—as well as of animal rights.

Together, eco-terrorists and animal rights extremists are one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. today…for several good reasons:

  • The sheer volume of their crimes (over 2,000 since 1979);
  • The huge economic impact (losses of more than $110 million since 1979);
  • The wide range of victims (from international corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to genetic research firms); and
  • Their increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics (one recent communiqué sent to a California product testing company said: “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?”).

ELF and ALF are probably the names you’re most familiar with. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are loosely-organized movements whose adherents engage in crimes like arson, fire bombings, vandalism, intimidation, assaults, stalking, etc. No membership dues are necessary—the only way to become a “member” is to engage in “direct action”…criminal activity designed to cause economic loss or destroy the victim company’s operations.

So what are we doing to counter the threat? For one, we’ve mapped our environmental and animal rights extremism cases in order to give our investigators around the country and our executive management a big-picture look at what’s happening and where. We’re also analyzing information from financial records, phone records, and mail…and working to increase our human source reporting. And we’re sharing intelligence with our partners through our Joint Terrorism Task Forces and other investigative endeavors. Sharing info with our partners, particularly at the local level, is crucial because many times they’re the first ones at the crime scene.

We’re also taking advantage of the 2006 revision to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which toughened penalties, created additional protections for people (the original law only covered property damage), and included secondary targets (often times companies that do business with primary targets are themselves targeted).

Our efforts have paid off—since 2005, our investigations have resulted in indictments against 30 individuals.

Of course, fully cognizant of the right to free speech, we investigate all animal rights and environmental extremism cases in strict accordance with the law and our guidelines.

So whatever happened to Eric McDavid? In May, he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison.