Idaho's Enemies: The National Guard Counts Environmentalists among Them
St. Clair, Jeffrey, Cockburn, Alexander, The Progressive
On Valentine's Day this year, Pam Allister went out to lunch and returned an hour later to her office in Boise to find conspicuously placed on her desk an envelope, and inside it a one-page document. The single-page memo, stamped For Official use Only, described "hostile threats" to the state of Idaho, posed by a multitude of nefarious elements, including "terrorists," "foreign agents," and "militias."
Allister is executive director of the Snake River Alliance, an Idaho anti-nuke group. The memo cited her group as an "opposing force," and she found herself in strange company. "Opposing forces are made up of many diverse groups with strong ethnic, religious, political, and economic points of contention," the document read. "Chief among the state groups are Aryan Nations, Snake River Alliance, gun-control advocates, militia groups, and gangs. However, the threat is not limited to Idaho. The state can be a recipient as well as the source of terrorists and dissident activity."
Allister immediately faxed the page to the Alliance's program director, Beatrice Brailsford, in Pocatello. It didn't take Brailsford long to trace the document back to its source: the Idaho National Guard. Within days, the Idaho National Guard confirmed that the memo was authentic and represented just a single page from a fourteen-page report called "Intelligence Assessment No. 1," prepared by the military outfit in 1996. The assessment was apparently culled from "hundreds of pages" of raw documents and field notes.
Confronted with this "intelligence assessment," the Idaho National Guard's public-information officer, Lieutenant Jim Ball, takes the position that: a) the document is being blown way out of proportion, and b) it was wrongfully obtained and had been intended for "internal use only."
"Unless they were doing something wrong or illegal, what would they have to worry about?" Ball asks.
Ball says it might have been "unfortunate" that the intelligence staffer who drafted the report singled out the Snake River Alliance by name. "Perhaps we should have used the generic term 'environmental activists'" -- a phrase that carries with it the same timbre in Idaho's conservative political culture as "practicing cannibal."
Making a decisive excursion into political science, Ball defines an "opposing force" as any group whose views "conflict with the government's." The Snake River Alliance fits into this category, says Ball, because of its opposition to nuclear-bomb making and nuclear-waste storage at the Department of Energy's facility outside Twin Falls. "They are an organization Which, based on previous experience, has an opposing viewpoint and, based on past actions, has the potential to disrupt the Guard's operations or training exercises. This isn't a matter of questioning anyone's patriotism."
This brusque rationale has won the support of Idaho's Republican Congressman Mike Crapo. In a letter about the scandal, Crapo says that "one of the scenarios developed based on past events at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory was the possibility of certain environmental groups invoking civil disobedience as a means of preventing shipments of nuclear waste to Idaho. In the event that such a situation occurred, the Idaho National Guard reasoned that it might be prevented from reaching certain training areas or facilities."
There are some problems with this argument. The Alliance emphasizes the legal practices of research, public education, and advocacy. It has never broken Idaho laws and it does not advocate civil disobedience.
The main focus of the Snake River Alliance's work for the past twenty years has been the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratories (INEL), a half-million-acre nuclear reservation west of Twin Falls. The Department of Energy controls the labs, which are famous for having concocted, among other technologies of mass destruction, a nuclear-powered airplane engine, now on public display at one of the museums on the grounds. …