Good morning Chairman Inhofe, Senator Jeffords and members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the significant contributions of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) relating to the investigation of violent crimes perpetrated by animal rights and environmental extremists. With our law enforcement partners, we are diligently working together to protect America.
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was formed by British anarchist Ronnie Lee in Great Britain in 1976 as an outgrowth of the Band of Mercy and the Hunt Saboteurs. ALF is primarily concerned with animal rights issues. ALF became active in the United States in 1979 after claiming responsibility for the release of five animals from the New York University Medical Center. The American ALF was the first and most active offshoot outside Britain. Until 1987, most ALF “direct actions” were limited to break-ins and vandalism in efforts to release animals from various university and research facilities around the country. However, after 1987, ALF activities have included arson and other explosives incidents.
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was established in 1992 in Brighton, England, from members of the activist environmental group, “Earth First!” These radical members dedicated themselves to saving the environment by advocating criminal acts over legal protest as a means of advancing their environmental agenda and beliefs. The first ELF action in the United States occurred in October 1996 with an arson attack on a U.S. Forest Service truck in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest and was followed by the 1997 arson attack at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse Corral in Burns, Oregon.
Traditionally, the agendas of the two movements have overlapped, and in 1993 ELF declared solidarity with ALF in an open communiqué. Since then, there has been a convergence of agendas. Spokespersons for each movement dually claim that neither maintains a central organization or membership guide. They do claim many autonomous groups of people known only as “cells,” located around the world that act on behalf of ELF and ALF. A common misperception is that names or labels of a movement imply the existence of groups. ELF and ALF are more accurately portrayed as ideological movements, or causes, not groups. Both ELF and ALF assert that any individuals who wish to carry out an action do so based upon their own personal conscience.
Fundamentally, each movement shares common characteristics. They tend to engage in criminal activities designed to make a direct adverse economic impact against the chosen target. Animal rights extremists conduct raids of mink, chinchilla, and fox farms throughout the United States. Breeding records are often removed and/or destroyed in these acts, causing significant economic losses for the fur industry. Acts of vandalism committed in the name of ELF and ALF include graffiti, super-glued locks, destruction of research records and equipment, damaged pipes and clogged toilets. ELF extremists frequently engage in sabotage of industrial or construction equipment. Acts include removing primary nuts and bolts from machinery, tree spiking, pouring sand or sugar in gas tanks, and cutting hydraulic lines or cables.
The most worrisome trend to law enforcement and private industry alike has been the increase in willingness by these movements to resort to the use of incendiary and explosive devices. The use of incendiary devices has become a popular tactic employed by ELF and ALF. ATF field agents and our law enforcement partners, coupled with the expertise of ATF’s laboratories, have shown that suspected or known ELF and ALF sponsored arsons have been carried out using an assortment of devices described in ELF and ALF literature and on the Internet. The devices range from a primitive and easily constructed design to sophisticated electronically ignited devices. ELF and ALF serial arsonists are conscious of the potential ignition failure of the devices and have deployed multiple devices at the target locations to ensure that at least some damage will occur. Instructions for the creation and use of these timed incendiary devices represent a fraction of the instructional material available to ELF and ALF members, and society as a whole, on the Internet.
ELF and ALF are engaged in substantial intelligence gatherings against animal or environmental businesses and share this information at rallies, protests and on the Internet. They also secure employment with an animal or environmental business for the purpose of gaining inside intelligence for raids or other forms of illegal “direct action.”
ELF and ALF activists wear gloves during their illegal activity to avoid leaving behind fingerprints, and wear non-descript clothing to include hoods and hats to hide their identity. They are knowledgeable of the implications of DNA evidence. Also, in the event bolt cutters are used during an attack, they are instructed to sharpen the bolt cutters afterwards in order to thwart law enforcement tool mark analysis.
ELF and ALF activists rely upon the publicity generated by their attacks to bring attention to their causes, and thereby win converts for their movements. However, ELF and ALF’s “direct action” is unique as they typically use fire as their weapon. Once the fire is set, complete control is lost by the ELF/ALF member and the outcome is determined by fire progression itself. There have been several instances where “close calls” have occurred for first responders as a result of ELF and ALF-related violent actions. At the Boise Cascade Office in Monmouth, Oregon, the scene of an ELF arson incident, the Chief of the local volunteer fire department pulled back his firefighters just before the roof collapsed. An ALF member initiated an incendiary device at the Fur Breeders Agricultural Cooperative, in Sandy, Utah, without knowing that the caretaker of the facility was asleep in the next room, but luckily, the device failed to function.
Since 1987, ATF has initiated over 100 investigations related to ELF and ALF incidents. Some of the investigations involved explosives incidents, as well as, acts of arson. While the number of ELF and ALF incidents has fluctuated from year to year, the magnitude of the incidents appears to be on the rise with a number of high-damage arsons occurring since 1999. Between 1999 and 2005, ATF opened 58 investigations related to ELF and ALF acts of violence.
Using existing statutes, Title 18, United States Code (USC), Section 844, Federal Arson, ATF has had noteworthy successes with regard to ELF and ALF investigations. Most notably in 1992, ATF Certified Fire Investigators (CFIs) and the ATF laboratory, working jointly with law enforcement partners, investigated and successfully prosecuted Rodney Coronado, who received a 57-month sentence for actions tied to various ALF crimes throughout the Pacific Northwest and Michigan. In 2000, an arson incident at Joe Romania Chevrolet in Eugene, Oregon, resulted in the destruction of several sports utility vehicles. An ATF CFI and the Eugene Police Department, supported by the ATF laboratory, contributed to the successful prosecution of Jeff Leurs and Craig Marshal for violating State arson laws. Leurs received a 23-year sentence in State prison and Marshal received 6 years in State prison. In 2004, ATF CFIs and an ATF accelerant detection K-9 were involved in the investigation and prosecution of William Jensen Cottrell for his ELF-related crimes in West Covina, California. Cottrell, a PhD candidate at California Institute of Technology, received a 100-month sentence and was ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution as a result of his conviction for arson, Title 18, USC, Section 844 (i), and conspiracy. In 2004, the ATF National Response Team, working with law enforcement partners, was called in to investigate a fire at the Stock Lumber Supply Yard in West Jordan, Utah. An ATF CFI, through an origin and cause investigation, determined that an arson had occurred. The case culminated in the conviction of Justus Allen Ireland, who pled guilty to violating Federal arson laws, Title 18, USC, Section 844 (i). Ireland was sentenced to 87 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,643,692.80 in restitution as a result of his acts of violence in the name of ELF. At the time of Ireland’s arrest, he was on life probation for sexual assault of a minor.
Mr. Chairman, the Anti-Arson Act of 1982 gave ATF broad-based jurisdiction in Federal arson offenses. ATF’s arson enforcement efforts include preventing arson, providing effective post-incident response, and reducing the community impact of crimes involving fire. As a former Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Division which covers the Pacific Northwest region, and now one of the Deputy Assistant Directors of ATF Field Operations, I have seen and continue to see, first-hand, our efforts to reduce violent crime and protect the public. Through our dedicated work, the men and women of ATF are improving the lives of Americans. Our efforts produce real results with safer neighborhoods where all of us, including children and senior citizens, can live without fear. In our continued effort to protect America, ATF has a number of programs designed to make an impact on violent crime.
The long-term strategic goal of ATF’s arson program is to provide effective investigative and technical expertise, rapid response assistance, and state-of-the-art training to reduce the impact of violent crimes that involve fire. ATF investigative efforts are generally focused on arsons of Federal interest, more broadly defined as arsons affecting interstate commerce.
The agents participating in ATF’s Certified Fire Investigator Program are at the forefront of fire investigation. These agents are federally trained and certified as origin and cause investigators. These CFIs are able to qualify as expert witnesses in fire origin and cause determinations. The CFI program has received national and international acclaim.
ATF’s laboratories are an invaluable resource in perfecting ATF cases and in serving as a resource for State and local law enforcement. ATF’s laboratory system is composed of the National Laboratory Center (NLC) in Ammendale, Maryland, and the regional laboratories in Atlanta, Georgia, and Walnut Creek, California. One of ATF’s fire investigation resources is the Fire Research Laboratory (FRL). Also located in Ammendale, Maryland, it is a one-of-a-kind fire test center with the capability of replicating initial fire scenarios approaching a quarter acre in size, to scale, and under controlled conditions allowing for detailed analysis. This facility is the only such facility in the United States that is dedicated to providing case support in fire investigations using forensic fire science.
In addition, ATF Special Agents investigate bombings, unlawful distribution of explosives, thefts of explosives and other explosives violations. ATF has explosives and arson groups nationwide, each consisting of Special Agents, CFIs, and CESs, as well as State and local police and fire personnel. Special Agent CESs are among the most experienced, best-trained explosives experts in the Federal Government.
ATF has other experts in the field of explosives, including Explosive Enforcement Officers (EEOs) and Industry Operations Investigators. EEOs provide technical assistance and support in explosives matters, and Industry Operations Investigators conduct inspections of Federal explosives licensees and permittees.
ATF maintains the Arson and Explosives National Repository (AENR), the country’s most comprehensive set of data describing fire and explosion incidents. ATF is also using the latest information management technology to make case information available to law enforcement nationwide through the Bomb and Arson Tracking System (BATS). This program facilitates and promotes the collection and dissemination of fire, arson, and explosives incidents and information among participating agencies.
ATF continues to share its expertise by training Federal, State, local, military, and international bomb technicians and investigators in Explosives Disposal and Investigation Techniques at the National Center for Explosives Training and Research (NCETR). ATF offers numerous advanced courses related to explosives disposal and post-blast investigation techniques at the NCETR.
Several of ATF’s programs, such as the National Response Team (NRT) and the Accelerant Detection and Explosives Detection Canine Programs, strengthen our efforts in explosives and arson investigations. They contribute to our missions of reducing violent crime and protecting the public. In the wake of a major fire or explosives incident, law enforcement investigators can rely on the expertise and advanced technology of ATF’s NRT. Capable of responding within 24 hours to major explosives or fire incidents anywhere in the country, NRT members work at reconstructing the scene, identifying the seat of the blast or origin and cause of the fire, conducting interviews, sifting through debris to obtain evidence related to the explosion and/or fire, assisting with the ensuing investigation, and providing expert court testimony.
ATF’s Explosives and Accelerant Detection Canine Program also plays a critical role in ensuring public safety. ATF’s unique training methodology enables its 34 explosives detection canines to locate explosives and gunpowder residue in many forms, for example, Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), post-blast debris, firearms, ammunition, bulk explosives, and shell casings. The canines can detect explosives from the five explosives categories. Sixty ATF trained and certified accelerant detection canines help to identify potential points of origin at a fire scene.
ATF fosters innovation and cooperation through liaison efforts and through research and development efforts. ATF employees hold key positions in many prestigious professional organizations. Since 1990, an ATF agent has chaired the Arson and Explosives Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Similarly, ATF has maintained outstanding relationships with the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, the International Association of Arson Investigators and the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board.
At ATF, we believe that working together is not just a good strategy, it is a matter of national security. Our agency has a long history of collaborating effectively with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and they consistently turn to ATF because of our expertise and our commitment to partnerships.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Jeffords, and Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the men and women of ATF, I thank you for your support of our crucial work. Year after year, we continue to stop those whose violent and criminal behavior threatens the peace of our communities. For many years, we have investigated major explosives incidents and major arsons, and have shared our knowledge with other law enforcement personnel through extensive training programs and effective partnerships. Yet I believe that our greatest achievements are still to come. We have made much progress but we know there is much more to do. We are determined to succeed in our missions of reducing violent crime, preventing terrorism, and protecting the public.
I look forward to responding to any questions you may have.