Student's path to FBI Informant
An FBI undercover informant spun a compelling account Tuesday for a Sacramento federal court jury of how she went from being a 17-year-old Florida college student four years ago to the government's key witness in the trial of a man accused of plotting domestic terrorism.
To shield her true identity and protect her from retribution, the woman testified only as "Anna," the alias she used in her undercover work. The judge knows her real name, as does the defense attorney, who agreed to the unusual procedure.
Dressed in a white suit and pale blue blouse, the dark-haired 21-year-old told her story in a cool, matter-of-fact manner.
She said that in the fall of 2003, as research for a class project, she dressed in "grunge" clothes and mingled with protesters at an international free trade conference.
After she presented a report to the class, the witness recalled, a fellow student who was a state law enforcement officer asked for a copy of the paper she had written about her experiences.
The paper found its way to the FBI in Miami, and she was recruited to infiltrate the "anarchist movement" that consistently has a presence at anti-establishment demonstrations, she said. The bureau's proposition that she report all violent and criminal activity she witnessed at these events "intrigued" her, she said.
"Anna" was instructed "never to assume a leadership role, never suggest anything, and give information only when asked," she testified. She kept in touch with FBI agents primarily by cellular telephone.
Between January 2004 and January 2006, the FBI paid her $31,000 in compensation and $35,000 to cover her expenses traveling the country from protest to protest and from one "anarchist" meeting to another. She said she wore the "dirtiest, smelliest" clothes she could find, dyed her hair every color of the rainbow, and never wore makeup or jewelry.
Her first assignment was the 2004 Group of Eight, or G8, summit in Georgia. The organization is a forum for the governments of eight major countries, including the United States. Its annual summit is attended by the heads of government of the member countries.
"Anna" next was a demonstrator at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and later the Republican National Convention in New York City.
She met the defendant in the Sacramento trial, Eric McDavid, at an "anarchist" conference in summer 2004 in Des Moines, Iowa. The main item on the conference's agenda was "sharing skills on how to spot undercover law enforcement people."
"At that time, I thought he was inconsequential," the witness said of McDavid.
The 29-year-old McDavid, of Foresthill, is charged with conspiring to damage and destroy property, including government facilities, by means of fire and explosives. His alleged targets included a U.S. Forest Service genetics tree lab in Placerville and the Nimbus Dam and nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova.
"Anna" testified that McDavid envisioned a nationwide bombing campaign against perceived enemies of the environment for which he would credit the Earth Liberation Front. The FBI has identified ELF as a terrorist movement dedicated to violent attacks on what its followers believe are symbols of society's destruction and exploitation of the environment.
"Anna" testified that McDavid invited her into his conspiracy, along with Zachary Jenson, a transient and regular on the demonstration circuit who was then 19, and Lauren Weiner, a student at the Philadelphia College of Arts who was then 18.
Wearing a body recorder, driving a car rigged with video and audio recording equipment, and living with the trio in an isolated cabin in Dutch Flat that the FBI wired for video and audio recording before they moved in, "Anna" recorded hours of conversations about possible bombing targets, recipes for homemade explosive devices and the purchase of material needed to make the bombs.
Jenson and Weiner have pleaded guilty for their roles in the conspiracy and are expected to testify against McDavid in return for leniency when they are sentenced.
On Jan. 12, 2006, "Anna" had a bad day. On a trip in her car from Dutch Flat to Auburn a recording device popped out of the dashboard. McDavid cradled it in his hand and looked at it with some curiosity.
She grabbed the device from him and shoved it back in the dashboard and used a profanity to describe her vehicle's mechanical state.
It was especially unnerving because McDavid had once told her he would kill her with the hunting knife he always carried if she turned out to be an undercover law enforcement operative, she testified.
On the return trip, "Anna" ran a stop sign on the Interstate 80 offramp at Dutch Flat and was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer, who let her go with a warning.
The others were apoplectic at having been stopped by a law enforcement officer so close to where they were living.
Back at the cabin, "Anna" and Weiner quarreled, and the witness testified she felt like she was being treated as an outsider.
"My stress level was such that I didn't feel like I could continue in my role," she recalled.
That evening she walked to where FBI agents were watching the cabin and told them she didn't believe she could go on. They assured her they would arrest her three companions the next day, and they did.
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