FBI Investigated PETA for Anthrax Plot Based on Rumors

1997-fbi-peta-anthrax-investigation-232x300by Will Potter / Green Is the New Red

The FBI believed that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) might be planning the release of anthrax in Maryland, and in the late 1990s opened an investigation into the animal rights group based on rumors.

“Part of PETA’s long-range plan is to infiltrate by gaining employment with various research facilities,” one of the document says. “PETA intends to create an incident… that would benefit their cause. PETA intends to cause a release of anthrax.”

The FBI said a source reported that PETA had moved its offices from Maryland to Norfolk, VA, in order to distance itself from the anthrax. The documents also say a source told the bureau that a PETA operative got a job at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, in order to “orchestrate the anthrax release.” The FBI checked out the lead about the facility, which tests on animals, and found no one by that name.

So how did such outlandish claims gain any traction? According to the documents, a U.S. Army official learned from a reserve army officer, who in turn heard it from an “associate,” and that associate had an “unknown contact within the PETA organization.”

The six degrees of separation reasoning proved completely unfounded.

“It seems the FBI is bent on making those of us who have nothing to do with terrorism fit into its paranoid jigsaw puzzle,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk told the Virginia Pilot.

Nothing like this plot has ever happened, of course. In the history of the U.S. animal rights movement, no human being has ever been injured, according to the FBI.

Meanwhile, groups who actually have plotted to release anthrax are consistently not investigated as terrorists.

The FBI’s own office of Inspector General has criticized the bureau’s history of spying on PETA. In a report titled “A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups,” the inspector general found there was “little or no basis” for the terror investigations, and they were “unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy.”

Another inspector general report, in 2003, skewered the FBI’s focus on animal rights and environmental activists. It said: “We believe that the FBI’s priority mission to prevent high-consequence terrorist acts would be enhanced if the Counterterrorism Division did not have to spend time and resources on lower-threat activities by social protestors.”

In other words, these repeated attempts to link protesters with fabricated plots is directly putting public safety at risk.

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