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[Thanks to the Colorado Daily for permission to reprint this Opinion piece from their February 11, 1999 issue]

Burden of proof rests on FBI

Daily Opinion

Should we believe the FBI?

In the aftermath of the Oct. 18 fires at Vail, that has become the question.

The fires, which appear to be arson and which destroyed three resort buildings and several ski lifts, have spawned an aggressive investigation of environmental groups and their members. The investigation began after a group calling itself the Earth Liberation Front took credit for the blazes, which an e-mail claimed had been set "on behalf of the lynx."

Ancient Forest Rescue, a non-violent environmental organization which has long objected to Vail's expansion into the Two Elks wilderness because of its likely impact on the rare lynx, has borne the brunt of the investigation.

At the time of the fires, members of AFR were camped near Vail, training for an upcoming action in protest of the resort giant's logging operations. The Colorado Daily had been in contact with AFR members in the days prior to the fires. We knew their plans but were sitting on the story in an effort not to tip off Vail.

But on Oct. 18, AFR's plans went up in smoke and weeks of training suddenly became cause for public suspicion.

Since then one CU student, a former student, and someone from out of state have been issued subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury that was seated ostensibly to investigate the fires.

In addition, numerous environmentalists, including a CU professor and AFR members in Boulder and across the country, have been questioned by federal agents.

While the FBI claims it is only trying to "elicit information about who set these fire," those who've been questioned suggest the feds have a different, more sinister motive -- to undermine and infiltrate the environmental movement.

The grand jury, they say, is just a way for the government to gather information about the environmental movement without being held accountable. According to federal law, grand jury proceedings remain secret.

Some even wonder whether the FBI itself might be behind the fires, either with or without Vail Resorts Inc.'s knowledge and cooperation.

Despite statements to the contrary made by an FBI spokesman, AFR members have good reason to be suspicious. At least one AFR member claims that she was asked to disclose her political affiliations and give other personal information that had nothing to do with the Vail fires.

And someone who should know -- a 26-year veteran of the FBI who has turned whistle-blower -- has publicly stated that the investigation is nothing less than a counter-intelligence operation.

But the FBI's greatest roadblock to credibility is its own history. The Bureau has repeatedly employed secrecy and extra-legal intelligence-gathering to infiltrate, intimidate and incapacitate progressive activist groups, including the labor movement, the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Given this dirty history, it is the FBI that should be answering the questions. The burden of proof rests on them.


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