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Context of 'November 1, 2001: FBI Alerts Business Community About Terrorist Threat, but Not Elected Officials'

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InfraGard logo.InfraGard logo. [Source: Progressive.org]Twenty-three thousand executives and employees of various private firms work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The group, called InfraGard, receives secret warnings of terrorist threats well in advance of public notification, and sometimes before elected officials. In return, InfraGard provides information to the government. InfraGard is a quiet quasi-governmental entity which wields an unknown, but extensive, amount of power and influence. Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance (INMA) and the CEO of an international consulting firm, calls InfraGard “a child of the FBI.” The organization started in Cleveland in 1996, when business members cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber-threats. The FBI then “cloned it,” according to Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the INMA. Schneck is one of the biggest proponents of InfraGard. As of February 2008, 86 chapters of InfraGard exist in each of the 50 states, operating under the supervision of local FBI agents. “We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck. According to the InfraGard website, “At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.” After the 9/11 attacks, InfraGard experiences explosive growth—from 1,700 members in November 2001 to 23,682 members in January 2008. 350 members of the Fortune 500 have members in InfraGard. Prospective members are sponsored by existing members, then vetted by the FBI. The organization accepts members from agriculture, banking and finance, and chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation industries.
Controlled Exposure - InfraGard’s inner workings are not available to the general public; its communications with the FBI and DHS are not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act under the “trade secrets” exemption. And InfraGard carefully controls its exposure and contact with the media. According to the InfraGard website: “The interests of InfraGard must be protected whenever presented to non-InfraGard members. During interviews with members of the press, controlling the image of InfraGard being presented can be difficult. Proper preparation for the interview will minimize the risk of embarrassment.… The InfraGard leadership and the local FBI representative should review the submitted questions, agree on the predilection of the answers, and identify the appropriate interviewee.… Tailor answers to the expected audience.… Questions concerning sensitive information should be avoided.”
Advance Warning from the FBI - InfraGard members receive quick alerts on any potential terrorist threat or a possible disruption of US infrastructure. Its website boasts that its members can “[g]ain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” Hershman says members receive “almost daily updates” on threats “emanating from both domestic sources and overseas.” Schneck adds, “We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members. People are happy to be in the know.” Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, an InfraGard member passed along an FBI warning about a potential threat to California’s bridges to then-Governor Gray Davis, who had not yet heard anything from the FBI (see November 1, 2001). In return, InfraGard members cooperate with FBI and DHS operations. Schneck says: “InfraGard members have contributed to about 100 FBI cases. What InfraGard brings you is reach into the regional and local communities. We are a 22,000-member vetted body of subject-matter experts that reaches across seventeen matrixes. All the different stovepipes can connect with InfraGard.” The relationships between the FBI and InfraGard members are key, she says. “If you had to call 1-800-FBI, you probably wouldn’t bother,” she says. “But if you knew Joe from a local meeting you had with him over a donut, you might call them. Either to give or to get. We want everyone to have a little black book.” InfraGard members have phone numbers for DHS, the FBI, and to report cyber-threats. InfraGard members who call in “will be listened to,” she says; “your call [will] go through when others will not.” The American Civil Liberties Union, who has warned about the potential dangers of Infragard to constitutional liberties (see August 2004), retorts, “The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment. There’s no ‘business class’ in law enforcement. If there’s information the FBI can share with 22,000 corporate bigwigs, why don’t they just share it with the public? That’s who their real ‘special relationship’ is supposed to be with. Secrecy is not a party favor to be given out to friends.… This bears a disturbing resemblance to the FBI’s handing out ‘goodies’ to corporations in return for folding them into its domestic surveillance machinery.”
Preparing for Emergencies, Martial Law - InfraGard members are “very much looped into our readiness capability,” says a DHS spokeswoman. Not only does DHS “provide speakers” and do “joint presentations” with the FBI, but “[w]e also train alongside them, and they have participated in readiness exercises.” InfraGard members are involved with the Bush administration’s “National Continuity Policy,” which mandates that DHS coordinate with “private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, as appropriate, in order to provide for the delivery of essential services during an emergency.” InfraGard members participate in “national emergency preparation drills,” Schneck says, sometimes by the hundreds. InfraGard members are drilling in preparation for martial law, members say. One business owner recently attended a meeting conducted by FBI and DHS officials. He recalls, “The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage. From there, it just progressed. All of a sudden we were knee deep in what was expected of us when martial law is declared. We were expected to share all our resources, but in return we’d be given specific benefits.” In the event of martial law being declared, Infragard members will have the ability to travel in restricted areas and to evacuate citizens. But they will have other abilities and duties as well. InfraGard members, says the business owner, will be authorized to “shoot to kill” if necessary to maintain order and “protect our portion of the infrastructure. [I]f we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted.… We were assured that if we were forced to kill someone to protect our infrastructure, there would be no repercussions. It gave me goose bumps. It chilled me to the bone.” Other InfraGard members deny that they have ever been told such; Schneck says InfraGard members will have no civil patrol or law enforcement responsibilities. The FBI calls such assertions “ridiculous.” But the business owner’s story has been corroborated by other InfraGard members. “There have been discussions like that, that I’ve heard of and participated in,” says Christine Moerke, an InfraGard member from Wisconsin. [InfraGard, 2008; Progressive, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Hershman, US Department of Homeland Security, Christine Moerke, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfraGard National Members Alliance, Gray Davis, Phyllis Schneck, InfraGard

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US military and other government agencies conduct a military exercise called “Eligible Receiver 97” to ascertain the nation’s vulnerability to electronic attacks by other states or terrorists. A Red Team of “hackers” from the NSA penetrates military computers and civilian infrastructure in the telecommunications and electricity industries. While the details are classified, officials say that the exercise shows that the US could suffer a catastrophic attack in the form of an “electronic Pearl Harbor.” The electricity could be shut down and the 911 emergency phone service could be disrupted. These fears will find confirmation after 9/11 when evidence of possible cyber attacks by al-Qaeda will be uncovered (see Summer 2001 and 2002). [CNN, 11/7/1997; Washington Times, 4/16/1998; Washington Post, 5/24/1998; CNN, 4/6/1999; Air Force Magazine, 12/2005] However, George Smith, a computer security expert, discounts the threat. An electronic Pearl Harbor, he says, is “not likely.” Computer viruses and other forms of computer attack are not effective weapons and the vulnerability of the civilian infrastructure is exaggerated. [Issues in Science and Technology, 1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Vice President Cheney meets with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay as part of Cheney’s secretive energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Though Cheney may not know it, Enron is on the verge of collapse, with liabilities far outweighing assets and heavily doctored earnings statements. Enron’s only income generation comes from the unregulated energy markets in California and other Western states (see January 23, 2001). Enron traders are gouging the California markets at an unprecedented pace; as authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, Enron is “taking power plants off-line to create shortages, booking transmission lines for current that never move[s], and shuttling electricity back and forth across state lines to circumvent price controls,” among a plethora of other illegal market manipulations.
Ignoring California's Energy Crisis - Unable to make a profit between buying Enron’s energy at staggering prices and then selling it at regulated rates, one of California’s two largest utility companies has filed for bankruptcy and the other has accepted a government bailout. California is in a calamitous energy crisis. Governor Gray Davis is pleading for rate caps that would help both utility companies and consumers. But price caps are the last thing Lay wants. Once in Cheney’s office, Lay gives Cheney a three-page memo outlining Enron’s recommendations for the administration’s national energy policy Cheney’s group is developing. Prominently featured in the memo is the following recommendation: “The administration should reject any attempt to deregulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps.” Almost every recommendation in the Lay memo will find its way into the energy task force’s final report. Cheney may not know that Enron is in such dire financial straits, but he does know that energy prices in California have gone from $30 to $300 per megawatthour, with periodic jumps to as high as $1,500. He also knows that Enron’s profits in California, along with other power producers, have gone up 400% to 600%.
Price Caps in Spite of Lay, Cheney - Lay does not get his way; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will override Cheney’s arguments and impose price caps on energy traders working in California. The state’s energy prices are brought under control, Enron’s trading schemes—luridly given such sobriquets as “Death Star,” “Fat Boy,” and “Get Shorty”—are brought to an end, and Enron collapses six months later (see December 2, 2001). Cheney will have a measure of revenge by forcing one of Lay’s adversaries on FERC, Curtis Hebert, out of his position (see August 14, 2001).
Avoiding Scrutiny and Oversight - This meeting and others are cleverly designed to avoid legal government oversight. According to the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), the energy task force should be subject to public accountability because private parties—in this case, oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists—are helping shape government policy. Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, devises a simple scheme to avoid oversight. When a group of corporate lobbyists come together to create policy, a government official is present. Suddenly, FACA does not apply, and the task force need not provide any information whatsoever to the public. Dubose and Bernstein will later write: “It was bold as [artist] Rene Magritte’s near-photographic representation of a pipe over the inscription ceci n’est pas une pipe—‘this is not a pipe.’ Fifteen oil industry lobbyists meet in the Executive Office Building and one midlevel bureaucrat from the Department of Energy steps into the room—and voila, ceci n’est pas une foule de lobbyists. Because one government employee sat in with every group of lobbyists, a committee of outside advisers was not a committee of outside advisers.” Between Addington’s bureaucratic end-around and Cheney’s chairmanship of the working group giving the entire business the cloak of executive privilege, little information gets out of the group. “The whole thing was designed so that the presence of a government employee at a meeting could keep the Congress out,” a Congressional staff lawyer later says. It also keeps the press at bay. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 3-4, 10]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Lay, Jake Bernstein, Enron Corporation, David S. Addington, Curtis Hebert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Gray Davis, Lou Dubose, Federal Advisory Committees Act

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

A police officer with the Mountain View Police Department in California uncovers a pattern of suspicious electronic probing of the computer systems of public utilities and government offices in the San Francisco Bay area. He notifies the FBI’s computer intrusion squad. The investigation reveals that the intruders are operating from the Middle East and South Asia. They are targeting the computer systems used to control the physical infrastructure of water systems and power plants throughout the US, suggesting a plan for a cyber attack. For many experts who have long warned against cyber terrorism or warfare, the “Mountain View case” as it is called, should be seen as a wake-up call for the government as well as the private sector (see 1996-2008). In a later interview, Richard Clarke, the national presidential adviser on cyberspace security from 2001 to 2003, will say: “The bottom line on the Mountain View case is the ease with which people can do virtual reconnaissance from overseas on our physical infrastructure and our cyber infrastructure.… We were lucky… that there were good people watching.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2002] Despite fears that al-Qaeda may be behind the intrusions (see 2002), the identity of the hackers will not be established. In 2003, Ron Dick, who was the head of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) at the time, will say that the “case is still pending.… We never were… able to tie it back to any terrorist organizations.” [PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Ron Dick, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI alerts InfraGard members (see 1996-2008) of a potential terrorist threat to bridges in California. Officials of Enron are also notified. However, the FBI does not immediately notify California governor Gray Davis, who learns of the threat from his brother, Barry Davis, an employee of the financial firm Morgan Stanley. Davis’s press secretary, Steve Maviglio, later recalls: “[Governor Davis] said his brother talked to him before the FBI. And the governor got a lot of grief for releasing the information. In his defense, he said, ‘I was on the phone with my brother, who is an investment banker. And if he knows, why shouldn’t the public know?‘… You’d think an elected official would be the first to know, not the last.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Enron Corporation, Barry Davis, Steve Maviglio, InfraGard, Gray Davis, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An analysis of the contents of a laptop computer belonging to al-Qaeda obtained by US forces in Afghanistan in January 2002 shows that the organization may be plotting attacks on the US infrastructure by seizing control of the computer systems used to run power plants, dams, or subways. The laptop was used to visit a site that offers a “Sabotage Handbook” for would-be hackers. Other visited sites are devoted to SCADA software (Systems Control And Data Acquisition), which have largely replaced manual controls to operate plants and machinery. The Washington Post reports that Al-Qaeda detainees interrogated at Guantanamo have revealed plans to use such tools although details are not available. The information obtained is strikingly reminiscent of a recent case of electronic intrusion (see Summer 2001). [Washington Post, 6/27/2002; PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003; Washington Post, 3/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general announce that the national terror level is being raised from yellow to orange (see February 7-13, 2003), InfraGard members are specifically mentioned. InfraGuard is a program in which private companies work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which provides these companies with information not available to the public (see 1996-2008). In their listing of “additional steps” that federal agencies are taking to “increase their protective measures,” one of those steps is to “provide alert information to InfraGard program.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: InfraGard

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The FBI orders an internal review of its files to determine whether documents related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case were improperly withheld from investigators or defense lawyers. Bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already convicted on federal charges related to the case and serving a life sentence (see June 4, 1998), faces 161 counts of first-degree murder in an upcoming trial in McAlester, Oklahoma (see May 13, 2003). Recent press reports have raised new questions as to whether Nichols’s co-conspirator, bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), had more accomplices than just Nichols. An Associated Press report says that documents not introduced at McVeigh’s trial (see June 2, 1997) indicated that FBI agents had destroyed evidence and failed to share other information that indicated McVeigh was part of a larger group of white supremacists who may have helped him carry out the bombing (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). McVeigh had murky ties with a group called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and perhaps took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Moreover, ARA members possessed explosive blasting caps similar to those McVeigh used in the bomb; additionally, a driver’s license in the name of an alias used by Roger Moore, a man robbed by Nichols as part of an attempt to finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994), was later found in the possession of ARA member Richard Guthrie. Law enforcement officials continue to insist that no evidence exists of any larger conspiracy involving anyone other than Nichols and McVeigh, and the FBI’s internal review is motivated by nothing more than “an abundance of caution.” A government official says: “If there’s information out there, that needs to be looked at. This will be a document review to ascertain whether there are documents that were relative to the investigation and that should have been reviewed during the investigation or the prosecution.” If additional records are identified, the Justice Department will determine whether records were improperly withheld from defense lawyers in the case, the official says. The FBI had to conduct a similar document review just days before McVeigh’s 2001 execution after the Justice Department disclosed that the bureau had not turned over thousands of pages of interview reports and other material to McVeigh’s lawyers (see May 10-11, 2001). [New York Times, 2/27/2004; New York Times, 3/16/2004] Also, former television reporter Jayna Davis says she has unearthed ties between McVeigh, Nichols, and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the US; Davis has said the FBI refused to act on her information, and has accused the agency of a cover-up (see March 20, 2001). Retired FBI agent David Cid, who worked on the original case, calls Davis’s allegations absurd. “What possible motive would we have to conceal a Middle Eastern link?” he asks. “That was our immediate first assumption anyway” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). The presiding judge in the case, District Court Judge Steven Taylor, will conduct a hearing after the FBI’s announcement, but Nichols’s trial will not be delayed. [New York Times, 2/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Guthrie, Aryan Republican Army, David Cid, Jayna Davis, Terry Lynn Nichols, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven W. Taylor, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The American Civil Liberties Union warns that InfraGard, the private organization that cooperates with the FBI in law enforcement and other areas (see 1996-2008), is a potential threat to constitutional freedoms. “There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program [TIPS is a program proposed by the Bush administration to encourage Americans to spy on one another], turning private-sector corporations—some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers—into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI,” the ACLU says in its report, “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, InfraGard, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Operation TIPS

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

FBI Director Robert Mueller tells an audience at an InfraGard convention, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.” InfraGard is an organization made up of private business executives and employees who work with the FBI in counterterrorism, surveillance, and other areas (see 1996-2008). Mueller urges InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he urges members to inform the FBI about “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.” After the convention, Muller says of InfraGard, “It’s a great program.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, InfraGard

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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