Chapter 4

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 witness.

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 undercover agent?
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 evidence.

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 cover 'blown'.

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 night.

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 happens.

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.

Surveillance Systems
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 investigations.


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