In arguing that the grand jury system is ripe for abuse, Paul and others point to this element of secrecy. They also object to the fact that those testifying are not allowed to have an attorney present and that witnesses can be jailed for up to 18 months without charges being filed.
But Hyslop defends the process as "totally legal, totally constitutional." Proceedings are secret, he says, to protect the reputations of individuals who might be called but who are not suspects. Those questioned may not have an attorney present because they are not being charged with a crime, he adds. The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence but to determine whether charges should be filed.
As to why Jonathan Paul could be jailed for five months without being accused of a crime, Hyslop replies that the jailing was not punitive but was intended "to compel him to testify." Paul was released April 9 when it was determined he would never testify, the U.S. attorney says.
Paul says the prosecutor began the interrogation by asking him a few personal questions: "When did you move to California (from the East Coast)? Who was your girlfriend at the time?" Then, without further preliminaries, the prosecutor slapped photographs on a table and asked the witness to identify anyone he knew.
"I said, 'I don't talk about other activists,' " Paul recalls. "It's not my place to do that. I'm not an informant."
Even after he was granted immunity from prosecution, he still refused to cooperate. A civil contempt hearing commenced. At that point Alexandra and Caroline Paul were admitted, and the U.S. government got its first display of the Paul sisters' devotion.
When guards handcuffed Paul and the prosecutor said, "I turn you over to the United States marshal for incarceration," Caroline Paul rushed down the aisle, shouting: "How can you take my brother?"
Then, as Caroline tells it, four marshals grabbed her and tried to restrain her, but she shrugged them off easily--a payoff of her firefighter's training. She, too, was handcuffed and led away but was soon released.
Caroline Paul said later: "The irony is, I assaulted federal marshals--which is a crime--and was released. My brother didn't do anything and went to jail."
While animal rights activists cry "conspiracy," government officials say there is no concerted effort to fracture the animal rights movement.
"The grand jury is not used to investigate an organization per se," says Hyslop. "There has been no abuse of the grand jury process here. This is an ongoing investigation with regard to a break-in at animal science labs at Washington State University."
Exasperated with the attention Jonathan Paul has received, FBI special agent Jeffrey John adds, "Maybe you're making a martyr of someone who really shouldn't be.
"Is it inconvenient (to be subpoenaed)?" John asks. "Yeah. Is it harassment? I don't believe so."
Yet Alex Pacheco, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, maintains the grand juries are part of a "mapped-out" plan to "scare away middle America" from the movement.
"Do these crimes merit the amount of resources the government is spending on them?" asks Pacheco. "Aggressive tactics are fine when you're going after violent criminals. But these are break-ins, and they're getting a disproportionate amount of prosecution for political reasons."
Pacheco and others say the alleged crackdown was spurred by influential industries--such as fur and medicine--that are alarmed at the successes of the movement.
"They're concerned that we're making progress," says PETA spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. "We've had a lot of victories. The fur industry is falling apart. Top cosmetics companies--like Avon and Revlon--no longer test on animals. Just this year, General Motors announced an end to using animals in crash tests."
Bertsch, Pacheco and the organization's other founder, Ingrid Newkirk, have all been subpoenaed, as have their volunteer and employee records. Bertsch contends federal agents loiter in cars outside their Washington office and sort through their trash.
Whether the investigations are meant to intimidate activists or not, some of those subpoenaed admit they are frightened.
Rik Scarce, author of "Eco-Warriors," a book about the radical environmental movement, says he lost 10 pounds in the two weeks before he was due to appear before the grand jury in Spokane. Scarce was called to testify just hours after Jonathan Paul was taken away in handcuffs.
For months, Scarce says, he had known he would go to jail rather than reveal his confidential sources. Nevertheless, when Paul was jailed, he says: "I phoned my wife at home, and I broke down and cried." The author refused to testify and was charged with contempt but was released on his own recognizance. He is awaiting the results of an appeal.
It's too early to gauge the broader ramifications of the current investigations, but history suggests they could be chilling. The Northern California animal rights community was paralyzed by a 1990 grand jury investigation of a raid at UC Davis, says Cres Vellucci, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based group Last Chance for Animals. At the time, activist Henry Hutto was jailed for 45 days for refusing to testify.
"It scares the heck out of activists," Vellucci says of grand jury inquisitions. "It really disrupts movements. People don't like to have the feds knocking at their relatives' doors."
Of course, the process can also have the opposite effect.
Jonathan Paul says he received thousands of letters in jail: "People write me, saying, 'I was really burned out, but this whole thing has inspired me.'
"Grass-roots groups are starting up again," he maintains. "This has brought people back into the movement."