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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)