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When activists attack: companies square off against animal rights groups.


In December 2006, the New York Stock Exchange announced that it would begin listing medical research company Life Sciences Research on its electronic trading platform, Arca. This was great news for the New Jersey research facility, as investors and traders would now be able buy and sell shares more easily. The bad news, however, came in the following day's headlines.

Life Sciences Research, Inc., is the parent of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a scientific research company that periodically uses animal testing to develop cures for diseases such as cancer and AIDS. Animal rights activists have long protested HLS' operations--while also targeting connected individuals and associated companies--with some even invoking illegal methods including intimidation, physical violence, vandalism and identity theft. In response to the NYSE listing, however, two activist groups, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and Win Animal Rights (WAR) shifted the brunt of their protest activities to the stock exchange itself and vowed to continue campaigning until the listing was reconsidered.

This was not the first time the NYSE had come under fire on this matter. When it had considered listing Life Sciences Research in 2005, animal rights activists launched numerous protests and harassed NYSE employees, trading groups and other financial services providers. Under such activist pressure, the stock exchange removed the listing minutes before the opening bell on September 7, 2005.

Observers criticized the decision, and in April 2006 a full-page ad was published in the New York Times declaring that the NYSE was yielding to what were essentially terrorist threats.

Since then, SHAC has launched "Operation Fight Back," a renewed campaign against the NYSE. Since January 2007, activists have begun organizing protest activities against the NYSE and its European counterpart Euronext, as well as the exchange's shareholders, specialists and members. WAR, a radical animal rights group based in New York, also launched its own "Operation Helter Skelter" campaign against the NYSE in January 2007. The current campaigns have led to organized protests against the financial industry in both the United States and in various countries in Europe, primarily the United Kingdom. Activists have also carried out demonstrations against companies in other industries, specifically those that hold shares of Life Sciences Research.

Violent Tactics

While the current campaigns by SHAC and WAR against the NYSE have consisted primarily of protests (both at offices and the homes of company executives), in the past some animal rights protesters have conducted illegal and harassment-type activities. And in limited instances, such methods have already been used in the campaign against HLS.

In May 2007, for example, members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) allegedly vandalized the property of a financial advisor of a targeted company by spray-painting messages on his home and vehicle. And as part of the 2005 campaign against the NYSE, SHAC members posted the contact information of hundreds of NYSE employees on its website, and ALF claimed responsibility for acts of vandalism at two New York yacht clubs used by employees of a firm that intended to trade shares of Life Sciences Research. SHAC activists have also posted personal information of employees (including social security numbers and bank information) as well as instructions for bypassing security at targeted firms' offices on SHAC's website. Additionally, activists have used smoke and pipe bombs to further harass and intimidate companies connected to HLS.

In October 2007, activists from ALF claimed responsibility for vandalism and other property damage at the house of a UCLA scientist who conducts nicotine research on animals. Specifically, the activists smashed a window at the house and then inserted a garden hose in an effort to flood the premises. Importantly, the letter claiming responsibility also indicated that the decision to use water to flood the house was a second choice--after the activists ruled out arson in that particular instance. A statement later released by the UCLA scientist confirmed the attack and indicated that the activists caused between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of damage to the home.

The use of water to flood a target's house is a new tactic for some members of the animal rights movement, and there is the potential for the method to now spread among other militant activists, due to the success of the attack and the interconnectivity of animal rights groups. While this particular incident involved a UCLA scientist, there is a possibility that activists could use this tactic as part of other campaigns, including those against the NYSE, in which activists have specifically targeted individual employees. That said, the activists claiming responsibility for the flood incident indicated that arson remains a preferred method for direct actions by some of the most extreme members, specifically when activists are looking to cause significant property damage.


While it is unlikely that a majority of activists in the animal rights movement will resort to illegal or harassment activity that poses a danger to humans or results in significant property damage, lone individuals or small activist cells undertaking such action remains a cause for concern. Lone actors, who carry out direct actions in support of the cause, either with or without the tacit approval of recognized animal rights organizations, remain a real and lasting threat.

Combating Activist Operations

In November 2006, Washington enacted the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), further strengthening protection for animal researchers and associated companies against extremist tactics, many of which had not been envisioned in the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. The AETA expanded offenses covered under federal law to include threats, harassment and other intimidation methods that do not "physically disrupt" animal enterprises, but instead elicit fear among employees. This can include anything from making false bomb threats to posting home telephone numbers of company workers. The legislation covers persons or companies affiliated with animal enterprises in addition to individual employees, and includes graded penalties--up to life imprisonment--that are based on the level of financial damage or bodily injury sustained from an extremist act.

While AETA addresses many important issues not included in earlier legislation, some are concerned that the act will not eliminate illegal or harassing activities. In fact, previous attempts to curtail such activities have actually provoked activists in some cases.

Following the sentencing of two members of SHAC for their efforts to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences, an anonymous group of animal rights extremists carried out a retaliatory attack for the "unfair conviction" of the activists in September 2006.

A spokeswoman for ALF later stated that the incident served as an indication that the underground animal rights movement intended to increase its efforts. Despite the attempt by the government to "send a message" to activists by prosecuting several extremists, animal activists would use the case as motivation to carry out additional undercover attacks in order to further their agenda, according to ALF.

Following the passage of the AETA, other extremist animal rights protest groups indicated that the new act would only provoke further underground activity Activists who previously only employed legal tactics were concerned that they would face prosecution by the government due to the new measures regardless, and therefore were considering more militant actions as little incentive remained to stay "above ground" and face detection by officials.

In a press release from the North American Animal Liberation following the attack at the UCLA scientist's home, representative Jerry Vlasak stated that due to harassment of activists by campus police at the school during regular protests, underground--and more militant--members of the movement had come forward to escalate operations.

As direct actions carried out by some animal rights extremists have continued in recent years, it is unlikely that militant members of the movement will be deterred by the measures included in the AETA. Animal rights extremists will continue their efforts targeting various animal enterprises and affiliated companies, as there are a large number of activists who are willing to risk potential repercussions in the name of the larger animal rights movement.

Corporations Fight Back

In many instances, companies are unable to take action against activists. Despite the militant actions of the few, the protests carried out by most groups, while disruptive, are perfectly legal, which prevents police or security officials from intervening. Even in home protests, police are limited based on the activists' constitutional right to demonstrate, and other prevailing laws and guidelines. In fact, during one home protest in New York, a neighbor of the targeted individual who threw objects at the activists became the subject of a police report filed by the protesters.

While some companies have increased security measures at their offices and conducted new security assessments of their physical sites, others have taken different measures to increase protection. In the United Kingdom, a rapidly growing number of corporate directors have applied for governmental permission to withhold personal information, such as home addresses, from the country's register of directors, maintained by Companies House. In general, the register allows subscribers on the Companies House website to access information on company directors, but a rising number of executives have attempted to keep certain details private by instead using the address of their accountant or solicitor.

Companies have also used the judicial system to protect their employees and customers. In 2006, animal rights activists sent anonymous letters to shareholders of a targeted company, threatening that if they did not sell their shares, their personal details would be published on an activist website. The company was able to obtain a court injunction banning any unnamed party from contacting shareholders. As the letters were anonymous, however, officials indicated that it would be difficult to ensure that they did not follow through on the threat.

In many of the instances involving animal rights groups obtaining personal information about shareholders or employees of various companies, it remains unclear what methods they used to obtain such data. There is the possibility that some of the information was collected using animal rights sympathizers--or even members--within the affected company or organization, leading some to fear an insider threat.

Additionally, open source data centers present another relatively easy method for activists to obtain personal data. Countermeasures by affected corporations should also safeguard employees who remain vulnerable due to the relative ease of obtaining this private information.

Continued Activities

Protests and other actions by members of SHAC and WAR have continued since the launch of their campaigns against the NYSE and affiliated companies. Despite efforts to curtail their activities, it is unlikely that the most extreme members of these groups will be deterred by the AETA or otherwise. Furthermore, some animal activists will only be further emboldened by their previous success against the NYSE in 2005, prompting a prolonged campaign to once again force the exchange to remove the Life Sciences Research listing. But for other companies facing similar pressure from activist groups, additional security measures and renewed legal action may prove to be an effective option to mitigate the risk to their employees and facilities.

Ashley Bohacik is an intelligence analyst for Total Intelligence Solutions' Global Fusion Center in Arlington, Virginia.
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Title Annotation:New York Stock Exchange
Author:Bohacik, Ashley
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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