Ethics and the Environmental Investigation Agency

FWS, Ethics, and the EIA
On Wings May 1997 Vol 3:3

There have been a number of postings to the internet CITES discussion group lately regarding a controversial environmental' group, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), with fans of the agency coming to the defense of its tactics and integrity. Others came to the defense of those making allegations of wrongdoing against the group.

On Wings has on several occasions quoted an article published on November 14, 1994 in the Conservation Tribune, a publication of the International Wildlife Management Consortium, which was published and distributed at the CITES Convention in November 1994. The article, titled "US Forms Shocking Liaison with EIA," detailed a number of what it termed "inappropriate actions taken by the EIA." The article was critical of a joint press conference on enforcement matters, held by the head of the US CITES delegation and two NGOs, one of which was the EIA. The newspaper felt it inappropriate that NGOs should be, or appear to be, given a substantive role in enforcement affairs, to the detriment of the 'Member-States.'   The article asserted that the EIA "had a severe negative impact on the affairs of CITES", and went on to detail several of what it deemed 'inappropriate actions' taken by the EIA.

"In 1989, the EIA deliberately hid critical documents from a Party to the Convention, which, if communicated immediately, could have led to important enforcement actions."

"Could this have been done in the interest of publicity and fund-raising for the EIA?"

"For several months in 1989, the EIA spread serious, though unfounded accusations, including a charge of corruption in the CITES Secretariat and its staff members; ... "

"During this same period, the EIA stole communications documents between the Secretariat and a party to the Convention attending a CITES meeting in Botswana."

Several similar accusations were also made against the agency. No details were given of these incidents, however, and I have no documentation one way or another to prove these allegations true or false. Another incident involving the EIA, however, is well documented, but perhaps has been forgotten by too many of us.

Dr. Valorous Bernard (Val) Clear died of complications following a stroke on August 21, 1992. He had been a columnist for American Cage Bird Magazine  for almost forty years, and was the author of five books on aviculture. At the time of his death, Dr. Clear was at work on an article about this incident for his column, "an almost unbelievable story," he wrote, "and I want to tell it."

Dr. Clear didn't live to tell the story, although he had completed an initial draft account of the incident prior to his death. I have had this draft for some time, as well as much supporting documentation. I received even more following a Freedom of Information Act request to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), including reports of the incident written by USDA personnel.

Unlike Dr. Clear, I don't really want to tell this story, so I will let Dr. Clear and some of those individuals actually involved in the incident do so in their own written words. To the best I have been able to determine, part of the fault for allowing something like this to happen lies in the structure of the chain of command at FWS: regional law enforcement officers are not directly accountable to the national director. Having said that, I must point out that the incident should not have happened, and in my opinion, is inexcusable. So, I will tell the story as I know it, and will include excerpts from Dr. Clear's previous work, along with the new information I have gathered. For the record, the supervisor who would have had to authorized these actions has retired; I have solicited comment from other FWS people familiar with the case. Agent Decker remains an employee of USFWS.

VAL CLEAR (VC): "A cynical ancient philosopher said, 'Constant vigilance is the price of liberty.' Aviculturists need to adopt that as a daily exercise."

FWS Law Enforcement Part 441 Rules of Conduct, 441 FW 2.1:
"Investigative Activities. Service law enforcement officers must at all times zealously guard and defend the rights and liberties guaranteed to all individuals by the Constitution. Therefore, Service law enforcement officers must not engage in any investigative activity which could abridge in any way the rights guaranteed to a citizen of the United States by the Constitution, and under no circumstances shall such employees engage in any conduct which may result in defaming the character, reputation, integrity or dignity of any citizen or organization of the United States."

On May 16, 1992, Zoological Bird Imports, received a shipment of birds from Africa. The birds were brought in via New York where they were met, as usual, by Customs officials and by Fish and Wildlife personnel. Both agencies are required to clear the birds before they may legally enter this country. Accompanying the FWS delegation were a man and woman who were introduced by. agency personnel as staff members from Washington, sent to check on FWS procedures. The birds were cleared and soon put on a private plane bound for their site of quarantine, near Chicago.

After arrival at O'Hare, the birds were taken to the quarantine station of Frank and Grace Curic. Special Agent John C. Decker (Badge #351) arrived at the facility, accompanied by several other individuals, to inspect the incoming shipment of birds as they were unpacked. Two of those present were the couple that had been present at the birds' arrival in New York. Decker indicated to the Curics and USDA personnel that the two were from the FWS office in Washington. Agent Decker also introduced the two to the USDA veterinarian as Fish and Wildlife people. The two signed the standard 72 hour agreement, signing in as Ann Bauer and Pete Richards. They gave their address as the local FWS Rosemont office, and listed as their Social Security number what appeared to be a Washington telephone number: 202-876-1947. It was later determined that this information was false.

The conduct of the two during the unpacking process was sufficiently distressing as to prompt two USDA employees to file reports with their superiors.

USDA Guard: "The workers tried to work quickly but were constantly annoyed by these persons from Fish and Wildlife. We guards from USDA tried to do our job but these people were constantly underfoot. Well, all bedlam, havoc and disorganization took place. We from USDA could not get counts as the persons were unloading cages, taking pictures, making a video. ....During conversation while everyone was in everyone else's way and while a video was being taken while we were working at our jobs, two persons told me they were consultants to Fish and Wildlife and observers. .... .... Taking pictures and a video did not seem right to me, but as a guard I felt restricted as to what to do. A job that should have taken 6 or 7 hours turned into 11, only because of the havoc Fish and Wildlife created. Birds got loose, they didn't care or worry. The birds' safety was no concern of theirs, only their counting and pictures and video. The birds were in good shape considering the commotion which was created by Fish and Wildlife, very few losses."

Quarantine Enforcement Officer, USDA: "When the truck arrived at the quarantine station, we started to unload. Present were Grace and Frank Curic, their employees, which totaled 6, 2 bird guards, myself and 6 more people, 3 of which I recognized as Fish and Wildlife employees, only after asking who they were and saying that they couldn't come in with all the camera equipment they were carrying. John Decker of Fish & Wildlife said the other people were also from Fish and Wildlife. I told John that this was a quarantine station but in cooperation with a fellow government agency, they could enter the quarantine, but they could only bring in one camera wrapped in a plastic bag and this would one-stroked out of the quarantine..."

Contrary to usual policy, Fish and Wildlife insisted on unpacking the hookbills first, making the more delicate softbills wait. As a result, the hardbills and softbills suffered from a lack of water, and several died as a result of the delay. But you do not argue with a FWS inspector.

Val Clear: "Mr. Curic grew increasingly suspicious of the visitors; they did not appear to be genuine FWL (sic) employees. We asked for identification, which they evaded. He asked Inspector Decker, who also evaded answering. When Curic demanded identification (all FWL people have badges or other credentials), they explained that they had left their FWL credentials in the hotel. Curic knew that they had not had time to stop in a hotel, so, convinced that there was something seriously awry, he called the police. When the police questioned the visitors, they admitted that they were not FWL staff at all."

Quarantine Enforcement Officer: "During the evening, 2 of the 6 Fish & Wildlife employees changed their stories, and said that they were not from Fish & Wildlife but were consultants and had no ID to show. Mr. Curic asked to see some ID; when they refused Mr. Curic called the police and then, about 0400 Sunday the 17th, did they write down their correct names. When leaving and signing out of the quarantine, Mr. Pete (Richards) Knights corrected his name and address on the USDA log sheet, putting down a Washington DC address over the Rosemont address written down earlier.

On Monday May 18th, I was at the quarantine station, when I received a call from JFK stating the two people in question were not from Fish and Wildlife, but were in fact representatives from an environmental group. They also impersonated Fish & Wildlife at JFK to gain access to the bonded areas at JFK."

US FWS Law Enforcement Part 441 Rules of Conduct, 441 FW I.3B:
"In my personal and official activities I will never knowingly violate any local, State or Federal laws or regulations, recognizing that I hold a unique position of traditional high public trust which carries and inherent personal commitment to uphold the laws and integrity of my profession. For these reasons, I understand that this code places special demands on me to preserve the confidence of the public, my peers, my supervisors, and society in general."

Sam Marler, USFWS Regional Director FWS/LE 92-2873 sent a letter to Val Clear: "The two non-Service employees that you refer to were at the site at our request to provide assistance to Service personnel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had four employees at the quarantine station. Our personnel followed the same procedures that those employees and the quarantine station employees followed upon leaving the site. No one, to my knowledge, went through any type of disinfecting procedures while Service personnel were at the site."

US FWS Law Enforcement Part 441 Rules of Conduct, 441 FW 1.3E:
"I will conduct all investigations and law enforcement functions assigned to me impartially and thoroughly, and report the results thereof fully, objectively, and with meticulous accuracy."

Quarantine Enforcement Officer: "At one point someone from Fish & Wildlife went out to get their bird books and brought them into the quarantine without authorization, along with some papers and clipboards. This facility is a walk-through shower quarantine with day 0 allowances due to the fact that the birds have already been in contact with the owner, workers at the airport and en route to the quarantine facility. Those of us who were in the quarantine bird area of the facility were already in our work clothes and we would be showering out upon leaving it."

USDA Guard: "One asked to bring in a video and it was OK'd but soon another camera and I believe 2 came in. They were told about it and of course an excuse was made. The persons were told the cameras would have to be disinfected when they left and sure enough they rushed out and tried leaving before this was done. We did stop them and disinfected the camera."

USDA Guard: "As a USDA Animal Health Aid Guard, I feel these people were very disruptive, creating a night of bedlam, and I personally hope it never happens again."

Quarantine Enforcement Officer: "I feel that Fish & Wildlife can no longer be trusted to follow our regulation and instructions so I would like a ruling on allowing them access to a quarantine station in the future. I'm sorry that I trusted Fish & Wildlife, but we normally cooperate and work together with other government agencies."

Val Clear: "That these fanatic conservationists would do what they did is not at all surprising. They have done this kind of unethical thing before. But that they were able to suborn FWL officials in New York and Chicago is surprising, and alarming. Because not only were the FWL Inspectors seduced into breaking FWL rules, but they were acting-directly contrary to the very reason for which the quarantine stations were created."

Val Clear: "The preceding story is the one that is circulating among responsible aviculturists, most of whom are irate at the implication that the extremists among the conservationists, prohibitionists who believe that everything with feathers belongs in a tree in a jungle, have become a fifth column within the Fish & Wildlife Service and have undue influence upon what Fish and Wildlife is doing and its goals."

Mr. and Mrs. Curic have never to this day been given an adequate explanation as to the purpose for which these individuals were present, or their authority for being allowed into a USDA quarantine facility. On Wings looks forward to working with the Service to ensure that an incident like this never again occurs.