NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the late 1990s after hearing claims that the group was planning an anthrax attack, FBI documents obtained by the group show.
According to the documents, FBI investigators were told that PETA planned to release anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Washington, D.C.
PETA obtained the documents earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request and provided them to The Virginian-Pilot after the newspaper requested them, the newspaper reported Sunday.
PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said that the Norfolk-based group didn't learn about the anthrax allegations until this year.
"I was bowled over by it," she told the newspaper. "It was such a disappointment. I don't know if someone just hated us, but it's Alice in Wonderland. It's total fantasy."
An FBI spokesman said that the bureau doesn't discuss its investigations but that it has an obligation to look into such claims.
According to FBI documents, agents in Maryland began investigating a tip in 1997 that PETA was targeting the Fort Detrick-based research institute that conducts testing on animals, the newspaper reported.
A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve told FBI investigators he learned from someone with ties to PETA that the group had "a long-range plan to create a major incident," according to a document dated November 1997.
"Part of PETA's long-range plan is to infiltrate by gaining employment with various research facilities," the document says. "PETA intends to create an incident... that would benefit their cause. PETA intends to cause a release of anthrax."
The document suggested that PETA moved its headquarters from Rockville, Md., to Norfolk in 1996 to avoid exposure to anthrax.
Another FBI report dated January 1998 says a source told investigators that a female PETA operative had managed to get a job at the research institute to "orchestrate the anthrax release." A check revealed that no one by that name was working at Fort Detrick.
The newspaper said that it's not clear how far the anthrax inquiry went but that the FBI continued to investigate PETA for years.
Newkirk said that her international travel was tracked and PETA demonstrations were monitored. The group's headquarters were photographed and were under surveillance, and it was asked for the building's security codes.
She said that the FBI once inquired about the thickness of the building's windows and whether they would withstand bullets.