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Sunday, August 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Chancellor taking steps to protect UCLA

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — UCLA's acting chancellor said he is taking steps to protect the university and its faculty from extremists in the animal-rights movement, after an attempted firebombing near the home of one UCLA researcher and repeated harassment that pushed another professor to halt his primate research.

Norman Abrams, who became acting chancellor July 1, said animal-rights activists in recent months have mounted what he called an escalating campaign against University of California, Los Angeles, professors, researchers and their families.

"These activities have risen to the level of domestic terrorism, and that's what we should call them," Abrams said Friday, as he announced a series of actions, including plans for stepped-up security at faculty homes.

He also said UCLA would double — to $60,000 — the reward the FBI has offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attempted firebombing of a Bel-Air home June 30.

In that incident, a crude explosive was left beside a house occupied by a 70-year-old woman and her tenant. The FBI has said the device, which failed to ignite, was powerful enough to have killed the occupants.

It also was apparently planted at the wrong house. The intended target was Lynn Fairbanks, a UCLA professor in the departments of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences who studies primate behavior.

"On the night of June 30, we paid a visit to Lynn Fairbanks' home," read a message posted to the Web site of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often acts as a voice for the underground Animal Liberation Front and other extremist animal-rights groups.

The posting said she conducted "painful addiction experiments" on monkeys.

Fairbanks said Friday that the activists' allegations were false. She focuses on primate behavior and the ways vervet monkeys interact with one another, she said.

"I don't do invasive research; I don't kill or torture animals," said Fairbanks, who has worked at UCLA for 30 years.

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Also, Abrams and other UCLA officials have said university researchers strictly follow federal laws that regulate the use of animals and ensure that they are treated humanely. They said that all research projects involving animals are subjected to a rigorous application and review process and that federal and state agencies regularly inspect such projects.

Abrams said the Bel-Air incident, along with the decision this month by neurobiology professor Dario Ringach to stop his primate research after several years of harassment and threats to his family, led to the announcement.

Abrams said he was deeply saddened by Ringach's decision, describing him as a promising professor, doing significant — and, the chancellor emphasized, legal — research.

Ringach, whose work involved studies of the brain and the ways it receives information from the retina, sent an e-mail Aug. 4 to the Animal Liberation Press Office.

Posted on the Web site, the e-mail reads, in part: "You win. Effective immediately, I am no longer doing animal research."

Despite that decision, Abrams stressed that UCLA remained committed to pursuing biomedical research involving animals, saying it has been central to advances in medical knowledge. About 750 researchers on the campus are involved in about 950 animal-research projects, a UCLA spokesman said.

Abrams said the tactics employed by the activists against Ringach and others at UCLA have included explicit threats against the researchers and their families; repeated, late-night phone calls; noisy demonstrations at their homes and labs; leafleting of their neighborhoods, and vandalism.

Their names and addresses have been publicized on various Web sites, with memos inviting activists to take action against them.

Abrams said such actions fall outside areas of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The acting chancellor outlined the steps he plans to take.

The measures include:

• Trying to act more quickly to warn researchers of possible threats.

• Beefing up security, including trying to cut the response time of campus and local law enforcement to incidents or threats at researchers' homes.

• Exploring legal actions that might be taken against the activists, including possible civil lawsuits by the university.

• Tying to help shape the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, legislation under consideration in Congress that advocates say would help law enforcement combat extremists. Abrams said he hoped the legislation would include civil remedies, perhaps modeled on laws employed to file suit against anti-abortion activists who have used violence.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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