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Context of '1996-2008: FBI Uses InfraGard to Train Private Citizens to Cooperate with Government, Potentially Enforce Martial Law'

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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; Rothschild 2/7/2008)

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). (Thomas 11/7/1997; Gertz 4/16/1998; Graham 5/24/1998; Christensen 4/6/1999; Hebert 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. (Smith 1998)

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.” (Gellman 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.” (Dick 3/18/2003)

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.” (Rothschild 2/7/2008)

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). (Gellman 6/27/2002; Dick 3/18/2003; Blum 3/11/2005)

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.” (Rothschild 2/7/2008)

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.” (Rothschild 2/7/2008)

In Lebanon, Ohio, Warren County officials close the county administration building to the public where the vote is being tallied. The lockdown—the only one to occur in the state—is a result of a decision that was made during a closed-door meeting the previous week (See October 28, 2004). Warren County Emergency Services Director Frank Young had recommended the increased security because of information received from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (Solvig 11/5/2004) An FBI agent reportedly said that Warren County ranked a “10” on a terrorism scale of 1 to 10. The threat was said to be of domestic origins. (Solvig and Horn 11/10/2004) But these claims are later challenged when officials from the FBI and DHS say that they were not aware of any such threats. Media organizations protest the lockdown, arguing that the officials are violating the law and the public’s rights. “The media should have been permitted into the area where there was counting,” Enquirer attorney Jack Greiner complains. “This is a process that should be done in complete transparency and it wasn’t.” In other Ohio counties, such as Butler County, people are permitted to observe ballot checkers through a window. In past elections, the Warren County commissioners’ room was open to the public so they could observe the process. (Solvig 11/3/2004; Solvig 11/5/2004) The news director at WCPO-TV, Bob Morford, says he’s suspicious of the decision to close the building to the public. I’ve “never seen anything like it,” he says. “Frankly, we consider that a red herring…. That’s something that’s put up when you don’t know what else to put up to keep us out.” (Solvig 11/5/2004) Additionally, election officials fail to set up an area with telephones for the media as they were supposed to. When reporters attempt to enter the building, they are refused, although they are later permitted into the building’s lobby located two floors below the elections office. The Associated Press, which has reporters at every Ohio board of elections site, says that Warren County is the only county to implement such tight restrictions. County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel claims that having reporters and photographers around could interfere with the vote count. (Solvig 11/5/2004) It is later explained that these restrictions were also due to homeland security concerns. (Solvig and Horn 11/10/2004)

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdraws his name from consideration to become the nation’s next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). Kerik says he found information showing that a woman he had hired as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant; DHS oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Kerik says that the discovery prompted him to withdraw his name from consideration. In a letter to President Bush, Kerik writes that although it is “the honor of a lifetime” to be nominated to head the department, “I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security, or the American people.… I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny. It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment required tax payments and related filings had not been made.” He says that he cannot allow personal matters to “distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors.”
Questionable Stock Transactions May Be behind Kerik's Withdrawal - Some Democrats believe that the real reason for Kerik’s withdrawal may be questions about his involvement with Taser International, a stun gun company that does business with DHS; Kerik recently made $6.2 million by exercising stock options in that firm (see December 9-10, 2004). Kerik’s close friend and business colleague, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, says of Kerik’s choice: “I’m disappointed that this had to happen, but I think it’s the right decision, the only decision given the kind of issue that’s involved here. I don’t think this would be as major an issue if it were a different department of government.… When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward.” Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, says Kerik is the one who decided to withdraw his name. “It was Bernie Kerik who uncovered this [the information about the nanny] on his own. He brought it to the White House,” says Tacopina. “He wanted to put the country first. He didn’t want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has.” As he withdraws his name from consideration, Kerik has still not completed his ethics filings, which will disclose his sources of income and financial liabilities, and the FBI has not yet completed its background investigation of him. (Associated Press 12/13/2004; Lipton and Rashbaum 12/13/2004) A Democratic Senate staff member says he is unsure whether the nanny issue is the only reason why Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories” that would be potentially damaging to Kerik, the staffer says. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.… The process worked here.” (Bumiller and Lipton 12/12/2004) The press has begun looking into other aspects of Kerik’s financial life, including the possibility that Kerik, while serving as police commissioner, helped a close friend, Frank DiTommaso, with suspected ties to the Gambino crime family get a construction license from the city in return for over $7,000 in cash and gifts. DiTommaso denies having any ties to organized crime, but city regulators later denied the license, citing their suspicions of just such ties. The White House denies knowing about any such connections between Kerik and DiTommaso. (Rashbaum and Flynn 12/13/2004) Other ethical, financial, and perhaps criminal questions surround Kerik’s withdrawal, though they will not surface until months or years later. (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246)
Kerik Unqualified for Position? - The New York Press’s editorial staff writes that Kerik was never qualified for the job, and that his candidacy is built upon what the editorial staff calls “the myth of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.… The Rudy-9/11 myth is crucial to Kerik’s nomination, because without this myth there is no Rudy the National Player, and without Rudy the National Player there is no nomination of brusque outsider Bernie Kerik to a major cabinet post in Washington.” Kerik himself, the Press notes, is a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners LLC, where his reputation and manner help sell security-related products: “Because Kerik was acting chief of police when the planes slammed into the towers, and because Kerik embodies the Rudy myth by association, he is a golden moustache on the terror-business circuit, where he tells corporations and government agencies that another attack is on the way—especially if Democrats are in power—and that Nextel (or whoever) is the company to help them prepare for it.” Nothing in Kerik’s career, the Press observes, has prepared him to lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy, nor does he have any grounding in the world of international intelligence, “a critical field of knowledge for the incoming secretary.” The Press writes: “Homeland Security is meant to act as the ‘fusion center’ for all US intelligence operations. Whatever Kerik knows about this stuff, he likely gleaned from [action novelist] Tom Clancy.” (New York Press 12/14/2004)
Media Did Its Job in Exposing Kerik's Flaws - In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will write: “After Bush nominated Kerik for secretary of Homeland Security… revelations about his behavior began flying. This was one episode in which the media illustrated the vital role the press can play in uncovering genuine malfeasance by public officials. Frankly, the media did a better job of vetting Bernard Kerik than the Bush administration did. Kerik was left with no choice but to resign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246)

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.” (Rothschild 2/7/2008)


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