Activities for Animal Rights
1. Undercover Investigator
Animal abusers are not always
willingly open about their treatment of animals. However, as an
undercover investigator you can infiltrate their operations and
document what they do to bring it into the open for public criticism
(see Time Magazine article by Kate Pickert in Links, below).
Evidence gained from undercover work supplies animal advocate
organizations with broadsides they fire at animal abusers. It is on
the strength of good documentation that pro-animal campaigns are
born and won.
The case of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection has
been mentioned (Animal Lawyer, this chapter). The British Government
had granted licenses to Cambridge University to experiment on
marmoset monkeys and BUAV took the Government to court. BUAV's
evidence was based on a ten month undercover investigation of the
monkeys' suffering at the university's animal house. In the ensuing
litigation the judge ruled that, considering the monkey's suffering,
the Home Secretary had acted unlawfully in authorizing the licenses
for the university's experiments.
A well known case of undercover work involved the Institute for
Biological Research at Silver Spring, Maryland, in the early 1980's.
Alex Pacheco (co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals) took a voluntary vacation job at the institute and
witnessed abuses on macaque monkeys that violated US animal cruelty
laws. He called in the police and the experiments were stopped,
resulting in the first impoundment of animals from a US laboratory.
The issue went to the US Supreme Court and the news media dubbed it
the case of the 'Silver Spring Monkeys'. The laboratory director was
the first experimenter in US legal history convicted of animal
cruelty and the case contributed to changes in the law for animals.
Although Pacheco's role was fortuitous, stumbling upon a corrupt
practice rather than undertaking a deliberate pre-planned undercover
investigation, the elements are the same: recognizing what is going
on and acquiring evidence for litigation.
One of the most horrendous exposures by investigators is what
happens at Chinese fur farms where foxes, mink, rabbits and other
animals are often skinned alive (1). Skinned animals are thrown onto
piles, some animals apparently still alive. In this case video
documentation was carried out openly with the permission of the fur
farmers, but it demonstrates that investigators must observe
appalling atrocities and still carry on their work, outwardly
unmoved and apparently willing to go along with whatever they
Ups & Downs
Being a spy sounds glamorous; indeed it often is - in fiction
novels. The reality is usually just a jot of excitement with long
hours of labor. And your jot of excitement comes at a price:
You will be forced to witness cruelties, unable to do anything about
them, and will have to cope with it emotionally.
You will work with the people you investigate, but as a secret
investigator you are fundamentally alone. You cannot confide in
anyone about your undercover work (except perhaps to a 'case
officer', see the next point).
You will work evenings in addition to your daytime job. If you do
your undercover work through an animal advocacy organization you may
have a 'case officer' who debriefs you at the end of the day to
analyse and collate information. And you will have to write reports
and make plans for the following day. Even if you are freelancing
you will still have to do all this by yourself.
You may have to travel anywhere in the country or abroad to carry
out your investigations. Not all investigations are around the
corner. You may be away from home for weeks or months. This could
disrupt your home and social life.
However, in the long-term you know that what you are doing will help
animals and the animal rights cause and that you will not be
undercover for ever. These thoughts may be your only sustenance.
There is, however, a more tangible upside to undercover work: you
may be paid twice over! You should be paid by the people you
infiltrate (assuming you are infiltrating a company employing you to
work for them) and by the animal advocate agency engaging you as an
undercover investigator (unless you do it for free).
What It Takes
What are the several qualities and skills you should have to be an
You must be committed and need stamina, determination and
persistence to succeed because you must stick with your plan of
operation from beginning to end.
You must be able to pay attention to detail, make your own
decisions, and sometimes act fast under pressure to get the
You should be informed about animal rights and welfare issues and
knowledgeable about relevant animal protection law so that you know
what to look for.
You should be able to keep a secret and not tell strangers, friends
or family (except perhaps your partner) that you are an undercover
agent. You must be able to live in two worlds. You do not what your
You must be able to work long hours and handle two jobs at once:
your day job where the animals are abused and your debriefing at
You must be emotional stable and able to work with other people. You
will see animals suffer yet you will have to masquerade as an
unaffected rock, getting along with everyone and with whatever
You should be proficient at documenting what you are investigating,
whether handling gadgets (see Surveillance Systems, below) or making
accurate notes of your observations on paper for people to read.
You cannot let yourself get paranoid: go about thinking that you are
being watched and that you will be found out. If you are the sort
who stays cool and rational the tighter the situation gets, then
maybe you have the makings of an undercover agent!
Setting Up As an Undercover Agent
How do you set up as an undercover investigator? There are two ways.
Now and then a few organisations advertise employment for undercover
agents. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are one; they
train you but you have to have the right background for them. The
other way is to do it yourself. Infiltrate your target, say by
getting a job with them or finding a sympathetic employee as your
inside agent who will act for you, and away you go. When you are
well placed to get the documentary evidence or once you have it,
present yourself to animal advocacy organizations and really sell
yourself to them. Build up a reputation as a reliable, willing and
able agent and you may get contracts.
Two useful digital surveillance systems are miniature pinhole and
button cameras. They are called systems because they are
self-contained but are made up of a mixture of different units,
basically a camera, a microphone, a recorder, a transmitter and
batteries. Wear them secretly on your body, hide them in a carried
bag or conceal them in a room. Properly installed they are difficult
for the opposition to find because you can disguise them in various
ways ? and anyway your opponents will not be suspecting you.
A Pinhole Camera
This is a simple to use camera that is so small, smaller than a
cigarette packet, you can wear it or plant it where hiding places
are limited, such as in a motor vehicle. Or you can carry it in a
briefcase, backpack or lady's handbag and operate it by remote
control when you place the bag unattended at a suitable position.
The system offers good picture and sound quality, and records
continuously for over six hours onto a one gigabyte card the size of
a postage stamp. Among the camera's features is a motion sensing
facility that stops the camera recording when there is no action,
saving battery power. The system has time and date generation and
will also operate from mains electricity. Just connect the system to
a monitor or TV to play back your recordings.
A Button Camera
This camera stays out of sight, literally concealed behind a button.
A button on your shirt or jacket will do. You sew the button on and
there are different colors and sizes of button if you are fussy. You
connect the camera, with its separate body-worn microphone and
battery, to a miniature digital video recorder. You can record in
color and store hours of quality audio/video on a minuscule one
gigabyte card. For playback just plug it into a monitor or TV. Like
the pinhole camera, this system has time and date generation and
will also operate from mains electricity. An advantage of this
system is that you do not feel you look suspicious by carrying a bag
that conceals a larger camera.
For every measure there is a counter measure, so counter
surveillance operatives might detect your surveillance equipment. A
counter surveillance operative sweeping a handheld metal detector
over your body will spot any metal you are wearing or concealing in
a bag. Furthermore, some camera components emit a weak electronic
signal that counter surveillance detectors may pick up. Detectors
are small enough to fit into the palm of the hand and anyone can use
them without technical knowledge; just switch it on, fiddle a knob
or two, and if it blinks it has found a nearby 'bug' ? a
surveillance system. To go undetected you may want to use the latest
model surveillance system and test it against existing bug
detectors. However, if no one suspects that you are carrying
surveillance equipment then you may have nothing to worry about; the
opposition's defenses, if any, will be down!
Undercover Animal-Rights Investigator,
by Kate Pickert. Times Magazine. March 2009.
Tracks Investigations. Undercover