The Earth Liberation Front - a skulking assortment of ruffians with which Seattle is painfully familiar - was described by the FBI this week as the largest and most active U.S.-based terrorist group.
That's saying a lot, considering the long and malignant history of white supremacist organizations and the most virulent of the anti- abortion groups.
Actually, there's little dispute between these dark-of-the-night lawbreakers and those who pursue them - in vain so far - as to the extent of their destructive track record.
Since 1996, the FBI's James F. Jarboe told the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, the ELF and its forerunner and affiliate, the Animal Liberation Front, have caused $43 million in damage in more than 600 attacks.
That damage includes the pre-dawn torching last May of the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture and, just this month, an arson at the Microbial and Plant Genomics Research Center being built on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.
Prominent on the ELF's Web site is the acknowledgement of its handiwork in Seattle and elsewhere, which the group mislabels as "direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the destruction of the natural environment." What it is is criminal and what it will be someday is fatal to humans.
What the Web site is correct in saying, though, is that "only a small handful of people have been arrested and charged with any crimes related to the ELF."
Eventually that situation will be remedied if federal and local law enforcement agencies are not too distracted by the peril from abroad and if they devise out-of-the-box strategies to bring these shadow-bound culprits to justice. Admittedly, the strength of the ELF comes from its diffuse, non-hierarchical collection of cells.
Congress' responsibility is also obvious. It must give those charged with ferreting out the wrongdoers better tools, such as broadening federal racketeering statutes to cover these crimes and augmenting the staff devoted to the cause.
By doing this, Congress will telegraph its intolerance not only of terrorism born on foreign soil but also of homegrown terrorist acts that hamper lawful scientific and educational pursuits.