March 15, 2012
The FBI conducted a three-year investigation, dubbed “Seizing Thunder,” into a animal-rights and environmental “terrorists” in the Pacific Northwest that devolved into widespread—and seemingly pointless—surveillance of activists for no apparent reason aside from the fact that they were anarchists, or protested the war in Iraq, or were “militant feminists.” Here’s the file.
I first came across the name “Seizing Thunder” several years ago while rifling through the FBI’s investigative files on the Animal Liberation Front. The ALF records obliquely referenced the evocatively named investigation, which I requested via the Freedom of Information Act just for kicks. Last month—after three years—the FBI returned nearly 500 pages (it held back 784).
It turns out that Seizing Thunder, which was based out of the bureau’s Portland field office, was one of several investigations into animal rights and environmental activists nationwide that the FBI eventually merged into Operation Backfire, a wide-ranging probe of ALF and the Earth Liberation Front. Backfire concluded in 2006 with the indictments of 11 activists for arson and other “acts of domestic terrorism,” including a notorious 1998 destruction of a $12 million ski lodge in Vail, Colo. The Portland portion seemed to focus primarily on gathering general intelligence on activists who used tree-sitting and other monkey-wrench tactics to fight old-growth logging in the Pacific Northwest.