For Immediate Release:
February 26, 2016
David Perle 202-483-7382
In light of recent coverage of the SeaWorld planting spies at PETA, we are sharing that this wasn’t the first time a major spy network tried to infiltrate PETA. In fact, Ringling Bros. did something even bigger.
Ringling Bros. CEO Kenneth Feld hired a former Central Intelligence Agency chief of global espionage—Clair George, who was convicted in the Iran-Contra case and pardoned by President George H.W. Bush—to try to interfere with its critics, including PETA, for decades. As a 2001 Salon report recounts:
The final paragraph of George’s affidavit was a stunner, too. It suggested Feld had set up a special unit, much like the Watergate ‘plumbers,’ to destroy anyone who threatened the image of the circus as wholesome fun for the whole family …. His main target was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and similar groups that had annoyed Feld with charges that the Ringling Bros.’ elephants were badly cared for.
Under George, former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Eringer was employed to gain the confidence of Janice Pottker, an author who was writing a tell-all about the Feld family and the circus. Eringer befriended Pottker and persuaded her to abandon the Feld story, offering a significant amount of money for her to do another book first, one that would take two years. Eringer also made a lucrative offer to PETA President Ingrid Newkirk: He offered to pay her a large advance for a book that he would publish. Newkirk, however, thought he was shady and declined.
“The dirtiest tricks in the book haven’t stopped PETA from exposing how Ringling Bros. beats elephants and SeaWorld sentences orcas to a lifetime of misery in its tiny tanks,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “Ringling’s spymaster and SeaWorld’s pseudo-protester reveal how low animal exploiters will stoop to cover up the cruelty behind their profits.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—has posted the full details of the Ringling scandal on its blog.