@ Barry Clausen -- Unreliable Informant / Media Expert
clore at columbia-center.org
Thu Mar 4 21:34:50 EST 1999
WALL STREET JOURNAL
March 2, 1999
Clausen's 'Eco-Probes' Draw Suspicion, But He Still Turns Up on TV, in
By BOB ORTEGA Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
EUREKA, Calif. -- From an old logging-company office deep in redwood
country here, Barry R. Clausen runs the investigations that he says have
made him America's leading authority on "eco-terrorists."
"We've documented 2,000" cases of violent environmentalism over the past
decade, Mr. Clausen says. "But I'd estimate it's closer to 4,000."
By his own account, Mr. Clausen has infiltrated radical environmental
groups, staked out logging protests and helped bust a drug ring. He has
testified before Congress about a rising tide of eco-terror, has been
quoted scores of times in the national and international press and has
appeared, he reckons, on 150 talk radio shows. Last fall, when a group
calling itself the Earth Liberation Front took credit for torching some
ski-resort buildings in Vail, Colo., on behalf of the lynx, CBS News had
Mr. Clausen on television three times in a day.
"I get calls every day from people wanting information, including the
feds," Mr. Clausen says. "I feel good about what I've done."
Not everyone does, though, and that has made Mr. Clausen a controversial
figure in the endless battles between environmentalists and industry,
particularly in the West. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and many
other law enforcers don't see any sign of the surging eco-terror Mr.
Clausen describes. Pressed, he acknowledges that his list of documented
terror incidents includes graffiti and pie-throwings. Even some
say he sometimes stretches the truth.
"I've chewed him out about that," says Bill Pickel, head of the
Contract Loggers Association, which helped fund Mr. Clausen's
of the activist group Earth First! -- and eventually pulled the plug on
because, Mr. Pickel says, "he wasn't getting anywhere."
How Mr. Clausen became the man the media turn to on eco-terrorism is a
almost as rich as any of his adventures as a gumshoe. It says something
about how the media operate, too.
Mr. Clausen tells of a troubled childhood in Seattle, where as a
16-year-old he was arrested for car theft. Later, he worked for 14 years
a railroad engineer in Montana. In 1985, he moved to Dallas to sell
computers. There, he says, he stumbled across a cocaine ring. "I was
fascinated by undercover work," he says, so he began working as an
informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. His tips helped
"convict several guys -- they caught one with 12 kilos of cocaine in his
car," he says.
But in a 1992 deposition in a civil lawsuit in Montana state court, Mr.
Clausen said he never worked for the DEA. Asked about that, Mr. Clausen
clarifies, "I worked with them, not for them." DEA officials declined to
say whether Mr. Clausen ever assisted the agency.
The Montana civil lawsuit stemmed from a scrape in 1987. Mr. Clausen had
been charged in a criminal case with stealing a rancher's assault rifle
turning it into a fully automatic weapon. Mr. Clausen denies any
wrongdoing, and says he was acting as an informant. Charges later were
dropped. Mr. Clausen won an out-of-court settlement in the civil lawsuit
subsequently filed against his accusers.
He hooked onto the environmental movement while maintaining trails for
U.S. Forest Service. After hearing complaints of vandalism that loggers
blamed on Earth First!, Mr. Clausen offered to go undercover for timber
Mr. Clausen didn't get anyone arrested, but did produce "Walking on the
Edge," a 306-page book about his year infiltrating the group. The
mostly details demonstrations and one "tree sitting." His marital
difficulties were also prominently featured. Mr. Pickel of the
Contract Loggers Association says it published about 5,000 copies, but
wasn't a blockbuster. "We got 2,000 left," he says. "You want one?"
Mr. Clausen won national attention in 1995 when he told reporters he
connect Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, to Earth First! He claimed
a Montana law officer leaked to him documents showing that Mr. Kaczynski
attended a 1994 environmental gathering with Earth First! members, and
two Unabomber victims were on a corporate "hit list" in an extremist
publication. Scores of news outlets picked up the allegations, putting
Clausen in the national media Rolodex.
As it turns out, the "hit list" named sponsors of a conference of
mining and ranching interests and called for boycotts, graffiti and
vandalism, but not violence. The environmental gathering, meanwhile, was
actually a forestry conference attended by the U.S. Forest Service,
Weyerhaeuser Co. and Louisiana-Pacific Corp., among others. Conference
organizers say Mr. Kaczynski wasn't there, and federal investigators
verified his presence. Earth First! denies any connection to the
Mr. Clausen says that, to protect his source, he won't disclose his
"There's no question in my mind that the Unabomber was there," he says.
Mr. Clausen cultivates his press contacts through frequent barrages of
faxed tips. But his thousands of eco-terror incidents include mostly
vandalism and nonviolent protests and similar actions. As for pies flung
faces of corporate executives and politicians, "that's assault," Mr.
Clausen says. The list attributes to eco-terrorists many incidents that
law-enforcement officials say they don't know who committed, such as the
arson at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management building in Nevada in 1993. A
of federal officials figure that was just as likely the work of
antigovernment right-wing types.
Serious episodes do happen, such as the Vail arson, which caused an
estimated $12 million in damage and thrust Mr. Clausen into the media
spotlight again. In addition to CBS, the New York Times, National Public
Radio, the Associated Press and many other news outlets featured him. In
general, they now say they didn't know much about Mr. Clausen's
or his terror list. Most say they found him through news databases or
Internet searches that turned up previous Clausen quotations. "He seemed
very credible," says Paulette Brown, a "CBS This Morning" producer who
booked Mr. Clausen on that show. Joe Garner, a reporter at the Rocky
Mountain News, says that he wasn't familiar with Mr. Clausen's history,
that the man was hard to miss when the subject was eco-terrorism.
"Everybody gets his phone number," says Mr. Garner.
Agents at the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms
acknowledge knowing Mr. Clausen, but won't comment on the usefulness of
work. Neither agency sees eco-terror as a spreading scourge. John
Williamson, chief of domestic terrorism analysis for the FBI, says that
have not seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of these incidents." An
ATF spokesman says there have been "maybe four or five" eco-related
bombings or arsons in the last few years, nothing "widespread." A
for the National Association of Attorneys General's task force on
says the issue of eco-terrorism "hasn't come up."
Mr. Clausen presses on, sometimes thanklessly. Timber-industry allies
provide his office and computers, but, "basically, I'm broke," he says.
He can still raise a ruckus, though. Just last week, he spotted an item
Earth First!'s magazine criticizing California wineries for lopping down
old oak trees. Mr. Clausen saw it as a threat by the group to conduct
sabotage, and indeed, the article's last words mused about the
that some night someone might sneak in and tear up vineyards planted
old oaks stood. Mr. Clausen fired off warnings to wineries and the
California Farm Bureau that violence might be imminent. Somewhere along
line, his warning got misinterpreted as a direct threat from Earth
itself, and the local paper in Santa Rosa, Calif., ran a story last week
about possible pending attacks by Earth First! against wineries. The AP
picked up the story.
The muddle was straightened out two days later, and the farm bureau and
others now say the threat was overblown. Earth First!'s Darryl Cherney
denounces the whole affair as a scare tactic and calls Mr. Clausen a
"It was a mix-up," concedes Mr. Clausen. But he still sees the need for
vigilance. "I think people are waking up to the truth."
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