The FBI conducted a top-secret investigation into the People for Ethical Treatment for Animals, or PETA, according to the Stratfor intelligence agency.
In emails sent through Stratfor in 2009 and compromised last year by hacktivists aligned with the loose-knit Anonymous movement, Fred Burton, the vice president for intelligence at Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, acknowledges that the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation has waged a clandestine probe into the animal rights group.
The PrivacySOS.org website published a blog last week shining light on one of those Stratfor emails hacked by Anonymous that has since been published by the WikiLeaks whistleblower site. In it, Burton cites a classified investigation carried out by the FBI in reference to an email from Coca Cola asking for intelligence about PETA that could be put to use.
“Coca-Cola just sent me a long list of questions regarding PETA/Animal Activism and the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver,” Stratfor’s Anya Alfano writes in an email from June 2009. “I'm not entirely clear on how much we can task the public policy group at this point--is there any guidance you can give me
on that front? Coke has asked for a short teleconference with one of our analysts to discuss this issue…”
According to Alfano’s email, representatives for Coca Cola were curious about any methodology and planning behind PETA-led activism and even inquires as to if anarchical “non-PETA hangers-on” from others groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, could pose a problem.
Responding to Alfano’s email, Burton writes, “The FBI has a classified investigation on PETA operatives. I'll see what I can uncover.”
PETA has in the past led actions against Coca Cola for their affiliation with animal testing, and the FBI acknowledged an investigation into the group as early as 2005 when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released internal bureau documentation about PETA protesters obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Until the Stratfor emails were made public by Wikileaks, though, no news of a top-secret investigation has been unearthed.
"The FBI should use its resources to investigate credible threats to national security instead of spending time tracking innocent Americans who criticize government policy, or monitoring groups that have not broken the law," ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson told the Washington Post when that FOIA request was first fulfilled.
"But we didn't know that they actually launched counterterrorism investigations into these groups."
It’s “Not exactly terrorism,” PrivacySOS acknowledges. “Nonetheless, if the Stratfor private intelligence firm is to be believed, the FBI had a ‘classified investigation’ open in 2009 on ‘PETA operatives.’”
When the FBI was approached by the New York Times to comment on their investigation into PETA after the ACLU went public with its FOIA findings, bureau spokesman John Miller said, “Just being referenced in an FBI file is not tantamount to being the subject of an investigation,"
In paperwork discovered by independent journalist Will Potter in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture considered PETA a potential cause of “terrorist threat[s]” and warned the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service possible attacks from the group.