Secret Services (about tre arrow)
Tre Arrow, the FBI, and the Canadian secret police.
Sept. 01, 2004
By ANDREW MacLEOD
When Tre Arrow, born as Michael Scarpitti, was in Wilkinson Road Jail in Victoria, local environmentalist Danny Rubin tried to visit him. Rubin says he has never met Arrow, but he's supported environmentalists in trouble with the law before, including Clayoquot defender Betty Krawczyk. He thought Arrow-accused of a violent crime that makes few in the environmental movement want to come to his defense-might be able to use some support, or at least a visit. But when he called the jail, he says, "The guard at the front desk, on the telephone said, and he was gruff about it, 'You realize asking about Tre Arrow will bring scrutiny onto yourself?' "
Rubin was taken aback. "[Arrow] may have made some stupid mistakes," Rubin says, but quickly adds Arrow has never hurt anyone physically and is not a threat to society. Still, he can understand why some might want to see him behind bars. "He is a threat to unbridled, unmitigated consumption. He does call into question whether we should turn the whole planet into Wal-Mart, and that may be disturbing to some."
The story of how the 30-year-old man, arrested in Victoria while allegedly shop-lifting a pair of bolt cutters from a Canadian Tire store, turned out to be listed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list is now well-known. Arrow, accused in the burning of several trucks in Oregon in 2001, was arrested in March. Since then, nearly 100 stories have appeared about him in Canadian newspapers, many of them dwelling on his difficulty getting a vegan, raw food diet in prison.
In the States, his story is even more renowned. In 2000, Arrow came to that nation's attention after climbing an Oregon Forestry Service building in Portland-and staying on a nine-inch ledge for 11 days-to protest logging plans. Later that year he ran for Congress on Ralph Nader's Green Party ticket. He lost the election, but won over 15,000 votes.
In 2001, he was involved in another tree-sit in Oregon. Some accounts of what happened have him falling asleep and losing his grip, others say he was harassed until he fell. Either way, the fall resulted in a broken pelvis and various other injuries for Arrow, and wider attention to Oregon's logging policies.
Before the FBI started calling him a terrorist, a Rolling Stone magazine article said in 2002, he was hailed as an "environmental rock star."
He was in the face of the Oregon government like nobody else, says Rubin. "These guys were being driven crazy. Anything they can do to get rid of this guy. He has to be put out of commission. It has the hallmarks of a miscarriage of justice, doesn't it?"
Since August, 2002, the FBI has wanted Arrow in connection with two fires which it considers terrorism, a powerful word in the post-9/11 world. In Canada, our own anti-terrorist force, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), has helped the FBI look into his activities and contacts here.
Not that INSET can take credit for his arrest. A security contractor caught Arrow, and officers in Victoria's municipal police department did the legwork of questioning him, taking his fingerprints, matching them to Scarpitti's on the FBI's most wanted list and establishing his identity. INSET got involved relatively late in the game. Still, that involvement raises questions about what INSET is doing, how it works with its counterparts in the United States, and what is considered "terrorism."
In the minds of the U.S. authorities who wanted Arrow, there is little doubt.
"The crimes he was charged with were investigated as domestic terrorism," says Beth Anne Steele, a spokesperson for the FBI in Portland, Oregon. Responsibility for one of the fires was claimed by the Earth Liberation Front, a domestic terrorism group as far as the FBI is concerned, she says, but "even if ELF hadn't claimed it, the kind of crime that it was, it probably would have been investigated as terrorism anyway."
The first fire happened on April 15, 2001, in Portland. Three trucks were consumed in flames in the middle of the night. A week later, the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility. A posting on the group's website still says simply, "The ELF set fire to cement trucks at Ross Island Sand & Gravel using time-delayed fuses causing $210,000 [U.S. in damage]."
Less than two months later there was another night-time fire, set like the one in Portland using milk jugs filled with gasoline. It destroyed a truck and damaged two others belonging to Schoppert Logging Company. The trucks were sitting in front of the company's building near Estacada, Oregon. Damage is estimated at $50,000 U.S.. The company was under contract to start logging that day, near Eagle Creek, an area of Mount Hood National Forest that had been the subject of protests for months.
The FBI's Steele says the American definition of "terrorism" includes the idea that people have to be harmed, or the possibility that people could have been harmed. "No one was hurt in either crime, but arson is considered a violent crime in the United States." The lives of the firefighters who came to each scene were put at risk, she says, and there were people living in trailers near the Schoppert Logging fire who could have been in danger. Arson isn't always terrorism, she says, but when it's done for political reasons, it is. "The intent behind it is the issue."
According to ELF's website, by the way, the group sticks to economic sabotage and property destruction. Guidelines for ELF actions include, "To inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment." At the same time, the group attempts, "To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."
Arrow was unavailable for an interview. He is still being kept in a Vancouver-area hospital, and the only people he's allowed to call are his lawyers and his family, says Rudi Kischer, the Vancouver lawyer helping fight Arrow's extradition to the States. Arrow is gaining weight, but at less than 100 pounds he is still well under his usual weight of 145 pounds. "He still falls down when he walks," says Kischer.
Kischer is frustrated by the accusations against Arrow. "The worst thing you're alleging is he committed two arsons with property damage of $260,000 [U.S.]," says Kischer. That's serious, he says, but it isn't terrorism. "That's fucking ridiculous." He pauses for a beat, then says, "Sorry, the profanity isn't neccesary. It's absolutely ridiculous. They haven't had the guts to arrest him as a terrorist, yet they go around slandering him as a terrorist."
While the FBI is investigating Arrow as a terrorist, it has yet to officially charge him with terrorism. The charges he faces, according to the FBI, include "use of fire to commit a felony, destruction of vehicles used in interstate commerce by means of fire, interference with commerce by violence, [and] use of an incendiary destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence." But not terrorism.
At Arrow's August 26 bail hearing, at his request, a publication ban was placed on the details of the evidence against him presented by the American prosecutors.
Jake Sherman, another environmentalist, has already pled guilty to charges in the April arson. After that fire, he told his girlfriend that he and three others were responsible, and she told her father, who happened to work for the state's forest service. He in turn passed the information on to the authorities, who arrested Sherman and two of the others. The fourth, Arrow, fled, coming at some point to Canada. It is unknown when or how he crossed the border. He spent some time in Halifax and more recently in Victoria.
In Sherman's testimony during his trial, he said Arrow was the group's ring-leader. In exchange for his testimony, his sentence was reduced from a possible 80 years to fewer than four. Arrow's supporters, including Rubin and animal rights activist David Barbarash, maintain that Sherman's "prison informant" testimony isn't worth much, and it's the only thing linking Arrow to the crimes.
That the Canadian anti-terrorist forces would be pulled in to work on such a case and look into Arrow's activities and contacts here is disturbing, says Murray Mollard, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
"We're dealing essentially with a garden variety criminal who has some political motivation behind what he's done," says Mollard. "It doesn't strike me you need INSET to deal with any threats from this kind of individual."
While the civil liberties group doesn't defend the crimes, Mollard says, property damage where nobody is harmed is not even close to being in the league of what most people would consider terrorism.
"From day one when we were debating Bill C-36 our concern was the government in Canada was losing sight of what we mean by terrorism," says Mollard. After September 11, he says, when the new security legislation was rushed through, people had a pretty clear idea that the bill was about "big ticket violence" where civilians were being targeted. "That was what Bill C-36 was all about . . . what was lost was a debate about what we would be opening here."
To enforce that legislation, the federal government created INSET by combining resources from the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency. It was given a five-year budget of $64 million. Since then it has been extremely difficult for the BCCLA, the press or anyone else outside the INSET to piece together a picture of what the organization's officers have been doing.
Before Arrow's case, there was information on the public record about INSET being involved in only three cases. In the first case, in July, 2002, INSET officers seized computers, computer disks, videos, photos, files, papers and other documents from the Courtenay home of David Barbarash. At the time Barbarash was acting as spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, a group similar to the ELF, where members commit "economic sabotage" but are careful not to harm people or other animals. The investigation was related to an ALF action in Maine where members broke into hunting clubs, spray-painted messages on walls, broke windows and stole stuffed animal heads which they "returned to their natural environment to rest in peace." The total damage was estimated at $8,700 (U.S.).
In a 2002 interview, Barbarash said that in this case, as with other animal rights actions, he received information about what the members had done from sources he didn't know and had no way to contact. He communicated their message to the media. "I'm not committing any crimes," he says. "I'm simply voicing my support for these kinds of activities . . . I don't see why our resources should be spent in this way, as if this is some kind of terrorist activity. I think it's outrageous."
Barbarash has been following Arrow's case, by the way, and has attended at least some of his court hearings.
In September, 2002, a second INSET raid hit the news. This time the officers raided the Port Alberni home of John Rampanen, a member of the aboriginal activist group West Coast Warriors, acting on an anonymous tip about unauthorized guns being hidden there. The officers didn't find any weapons, Rampanen said at the time, but they did leave him and his family feeling shaken. "How can indigenous people be considered terrorists on our own homeland?" he asked.
The third case we know INSET was involved in happened in June, 2003, when officers searched buildings and homes in New Westminster, Coquitlam, Squamish and Surrey. They uncovered $50,000 worth of explosives, as well as a number of firearms. They took several people into custody, including Coquitlam resident Joseph Thul. "We got into a fairly interesting group of people," says Lloyde Plante, the officer in charge of the INSET in B.C.. "We did have some concerns initially they might present a threat to national security." It's unusual for people to amass so much explosives, he says, but in the end it was impossible to prove they were terrorists or planned to use the explosives for terrorism.
The BCCLA's Mollard says the INSET work we know about raises some serious questions about what the force does. "Lets take a look at what's on the public record. None of these come across to me as the kinds of national threats from terrorism," he says. "On the public record where they have been involved, it's very questionable whether they need the INSET to do the work . . . We don't need the INSET to investigate cases like these. These are garden variety, regular policing."
For his part, Plante says the cases on the public record form a small part of what the INSET has been up to, and the agency has had a lot of what he'd consider successes. Can he tell us more? "Well, frankly not," says Plante. "Because of the level of security we're working at it's virtually impossible for me to discuss them."
INSET has "disrupted a variety of criminal enterprises," he says, and its work has at times resulted in people being taken out of the country. The goal is to prevent nasty things from happening, he adds. "Sometimes no news is good news. Maybe we are being effective, maybe we are disrupting those activities. I know we've had a lot of successes, perhaps more than we're even aware of."
Before the INSET was formed, Plante was the head of the RCMP's detachment at the University of British Columbia.
Mollard says the BCCLA is tracking the issue, and he hopes there will be an opportunity to raise concerns with the federal government. "There's supposed to be a review of the National security legislation this fall." So far, he adds, the BCCLA hasn't had any answer from the government about when that review will take place, and he worries that they may not be given enough time to make an in-depth submission.
"What we're worried about is the government has no intention to take this at all seriously." Mollard says. "The case of arrested activist Tre Arrow shows why we need to pay attention to Canada's anti-terrorism squad."
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