Creating a Security Culture: What It Is, Why We Need It & How to Implement It
from No Compromise Issue 6

As our direct action movement for animal liberation grows and our movement becomes more effective, government harassment will only increase. To minimize the destructiveness of this government harassment, it is imperative that we create a "security culture" within our movement.

So what is a security culture? It's a culture where the people know their rights and, more importantly, assert them. Those who belong to a security culture also know what behavior compromises security and they are quick to educate and reprimand those people who, out of ignorance, forgetfulness, or personal weakness, partake in insecure behavior. This security consciousness becomes a "culture" when the group as a whole makes security violations socially and morally unacceptable within the group.

This article aims to start the implementation of a security culture within the animal liberation movement. To this end, it will spell out exactly what behavior is inappropriate because it intensifies government harassment, jeopardizes the freedom of other activists, and destroys the trust within the movement. The article will also explain how to effectively deal with those people who violate security.

What Not to Say

To begin with, there are certain things that are inappropriate to discuss. Some of these things are as follows:

  • Your involvement with the A.L.F. (For simplicity's sake, we will only refer to the A.L.F. even though this applies to all groups that advocate illegal direct action where they plan on NOT getting caught.)
  • Someone else's involvement with the A.L.F.
  • Your or someone you know's desire to get involved with the A.L.F.
  • Your or someone you know's plans for an A.L.F. action.
  • Asking others if they are a member of the A.L.F.

Can you see a pattern? What all of these are stating is this: it is wrong to speak about a specific individual's involvement (past, present or future) with the A.L.F.

There are only two times that it is acceptable to speak about this information. The first situation would be if you were planning an A.L.F. action with other members of your cell (however, you would never discuss these things over the Internet, phone line, through the mail, or in an activist's home or car, as these places and forms of communication are frequently monitored). And, in this situation, the only people who would hear this discussion would include those who are actively partaking in the action. Anyone who is not involved does not need to know and, therefore, should not know.

The second exception to the rule is with regards to A.L.F. activists who are convicted of doing illegal direct action. Once they are found guilty, they can freely speak of the action for which they were convicted. However, they must never give information that would help the authorities determine who the other cell members are or discuss other raids they were involved in that they were not convicted for.

Those are the only two times it is appropriate to speak about your own or someone else's involvement or intent to commit illegal direct action. But please note that no one is claiming it is wrong to speak about direct action. It is perfectly legal, secure, and desirable that people speak out in support of the A.L.F. and direct action. The danger lies in linking A.L.F. actions to the names of individual activists or groups.

A.L.F. Security Measures

Veteran A.L.F. activists only allow a select few to know about their involvement with the A.L.F. And those few consist of the cell members who they do the actions with AND NO ONE ELSE!

The reason for these security precautions is quite obvious: if people don't know anything, they can't talk about it. It also means that only the people who know the secret can also face jail time if the secret gets out. But when activists who do not share the same serious consequences knows who did an A.L.F. action, they are far more likely to talk after being harassed and intimidated by the authorities, because they are not the ones who will go to jail. And even those people who are trustworthy can often be tricked by the authorities into revealing damaging and incriminating information. So it is safest for A.L.F. members to keep their involvement in the A.L.F. amongst themselves. The fewer people who know, the less evidence there is to bust them.

Security-Violating Traits

Knowing what we now know about A.L.F. security, it is obvious to spot those activists who compromise our movement's security.

Those people who tend to be the greatest security risks (by speaking about the forbidden topic) are those activists who have low self-esteem and strongly desire the approval of their peers. Certainly it is natural to seek friendship and recognition for our efforts, but it is imperative that we keep these selfish desires in-check so we do not jeopardize the safety of other activists or ourselves. People who place their desire for friendship over the importance of the cause can do serious damage to our security.

For example these people might adopt the following security-compromising traits in an attempt to impress others:

Liars-- To impress other activists, they claim to have done A.L.F. actions. Such lies not only compromise the person's security--as cops will not take what is said as a lie--but also hinders movement solidarity and trust.

Gossips-- Some weak characters think they can win friends because they are privy to special information. These gossips will tell others about who did what action or, if they don't know who did it, guess at who they think did what actions or just spread rumors about who did it when they really have no clue. This sort of talk is very damaging. People need to remember that rumors are all that are needed to instigate a grand jury. Usually gossips are also liars which only worsens the situation.

Braggers-- It is possible that some people who partake in illegal direct action might brag about it to their friends in an attempt to receive respect and admiration. If someone did such a thing, it would not only jeopardize the bragger's security, but also that of the other people involved with the action (as they may be suspected by association), as well as the people who he told (they can become accessories after the fact). An activist who brags also sets a horrible example to other activists.

Indirect-Braggers-- Indirect-braggers are people who make a big production on how they want to remain anonymous, avoid protests, and stay "underground." They might not come out and say that they do illegal direct action, but they make sure everyone within ear-shot knows they are up to something. They are no better than braggers, but they try to be more sophisticated about it by pretending to maintain "security." However, if they were serious about security, they would just make up a good excuse as to why they are not as active, or why they can't make it to the protest (that kind of lying is acceptable). But it is doubtful that these people ever really do anything.

Educate to Liberate

So what do we do with people who exhibit these traits? Do we excommunicate them from our movement? Actually, no--at least, not for a first offense.

The truth is there are numerous security-ignorant people in the movement and others who have possibly been raised in a "scene" that thrives on bragging and gossiping. It doesn't mean these people are bad, but it does mean they need to be educated. And that's where those of you who are reading this article can help.

We must NEVER let a breach in security occur without acting to correct it. If an acquaintance of yours is bragging about doing an action or spreading security-compromising gossip, it is your responsibility to explain to her or him why that sort of talk violates security and is inappropriate within the animal liberation movement.

However, it is important that this person is educated in such a way that they are willing to listen and use the information--in other words, it should be done without damaging their pride. This means that while educating them you must first and foremost have respect and concern for the well-being of the individual. Do not maintain a "vegan-than-thou" attitude. Remember, the goal of educating them is to change their behavior, not boost your ego by showing them how much more security-conscience you are.

A "more-vegan-than-you" attitude will inevitably raise their defenses and prevent them from absorbing or using any of the advice you offer. Instead, you should be humble and sincerely interested in helping that person become a better person and a more effective activist. If possible, the educational session should also be done in private, so the person does not have to contend with the humiliation of a public reprimand. The educational reprimand should also be done as soon as possible after the mistake to increase its effectiveness.

If each of us takes on the responsibility of educating those who slip up, we can dramatically improve movement security. Once people recognize lying, gossiping, bragging, and indirect-bragging as the damaging character-flaw that it is, it will quickly end. And when we develop a culture where all breaches of security result in an immediate reprimand, all sincere animal activists will quickly get with the program.

Dealing with Chronic Security Problems

So what do we do with activists who repeatedly violate security precautions even after multiple educational sessions? It's unfortunate, but the best thing to do with these people is cut them loose and kick them out of the organization. With A.L.F. activists being given decade-long sentences and government harassment on the increase, the stakes are too high to allow chronic repeat-security-offenders to work among direct action activists.

However, the above security culture is an effective way of dealing with informers and agents who try to "infiltrate the A.L.F." Imagine an informer who, every time she asked another activist if they were in the A.L.F., received a reprimand and an education on security. That informer would get frustrated really easily. Furthermore, once the activists discovered she continued to violate security precautions after being repeatedly educated, they would have grounds for her dismissal. And that would be one less informer for us to deal with!

Adopt a Security Culture Now

We, the militant animal liberationists, are restless. We are adopting more and more effective tactics. The highly effective A.L.F. actions are on the increase. Now, more than ever, we pose a serious threat to the status quo which so happily grinds up the mutilated bodies of our animal brethren. Our increased activity and effectiveness means that the FBI, ATF, and local police will continue to escalate their COINTELPRO activities against us. If we want our direct action movement to continue, it is imperative we start tightening our security and taking ourselves more seriously. Now is the time for the animal liberation movement to adopt a security culture. Please do what you can in your local area to see that this is implemented.

For more information on what your rights are as an activist read: War at Home: Covert Action against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It and If an Agent Knocks: Federal Agents and Your Rights.
Both books are available from the Animal Liberation League.