February 11, 2008

"Partnership for Protection" -- and for the Destruction of Liberty and, Possibly, of You

The website is right out in the open, as it has been for some years. This is the introductory paragraph:
InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories. Learn more about InfraGard
When you follow the "Learn more about InfraGard" link, you read the following. Please note when this program began: it was not during a Republican administration.
InfraGard is a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) program that began in the Cleveland Field Office in 1996. It was a local effort to gain support from the information technology industry and academia for the FBI’s investigative efforts in the cyber arena. The program expanded to other FBI Field Offices, and in 1998 the FBI assigned national program responsibility for InfraGard to the former National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and to the Cyber Division in 2003. InfraGard and the FBI have developed a relationship of trust and credibility in the exchange of information concerning various terrorism, intelligence, criminal, and security matters.


Each InfraGard Chapter has an FBI Special Agent Coordinator assigned to it, and the FBI Coordinator works closely with Supervisory Special Agent Program Managers in the Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

While under the direction of NIPC, the focus of InfraGard was cyber infrastructure protection. After September 11, 2001 NIPC expanded its efforts to include physical as well as cyber threats to critical infrastructures. InfraGard’s mission expanded accordingly.

In March 2003, NIPC was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which now has responsibility for Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) matters. The FBI retained InfraGard as an FBI sponsored program, and will work with DHS in support of its CIP mission, facilitate InfraGard’s continuing role in CIP activities, and further develop InfraGard’s ability to support the FBI’s investigative mission, especially as it pertains to counterterrorism and cyber crimes.
In "Blinded by the Story," I set forth some of the major developments in the bipartisan determination to establish a complex authoritarian-corporatist system of governance in the United States over the last century. After providing a number of examples of this phenomenon, including the especially pernicious acts of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton, I wrote:
The Republicans and the Democrats both advance the growth of the corporatist state, as they have for the last century -- a state where key and hugely influential financial interests ally themselves with government power (including perhaps most significantly the military-industrial-congressional complex). As it expands and becomes increasingly corrupt, the corporatist state is also an authoritarian state: individual rights give way more and more to state power, in the form of proliferating laws, regulations, edicts, wiretapping and surveillance.

As Higgs notes, none of this serves the interests of the "ordinary" citizen, whose life and security become ever more fragile and disposable. But none of that concerns the ruling elites: their lives are ones of immense comfort and privilege, far removed from the petty concerns of those who pay for it and whose servitude makes it possible. As I said in that earlier essay: the concerns of the ruling elites are not yours or mine, and their motives are a universe apart from ours. Except for rare historic moments of huge and possibly threatening public protest, the elites don't give a damn at all about you or me.
In "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules," I provided further details of the early history of these developments. I offered excerpts from Gabriel Kolko's important book, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, including these passages:
The American political experience during the Progressive Era was conservative, and this conservatism profoundly influenced American society's response to the problems of industrialization. The nature of the economic process in the United States, and the peculiar cast within which industrialism was molded, can only be understood by examining the political structure. Progressive politics is complex when studied in all of its aspects, but its dominant tendency on the federal level was to functionally create, in a piecemeal and haphazard way that was later made more comprehensive, the synthesis of politics and economics I have labeled "political capitalism."


Ultimately businessmen defined the limits of political intervention, and specified its major form and thrust. They were able to do so not merely because they were among the major initiators of federal intervention in the economy, but primarily because no politically significant group during the Progressive Era really challenged their conception of political intervention. The basic fact of the Progressive Era was the large area of consensus and unity among key business leaders and most political factions on the role of the federal government in the economy. There were disagreements, of course, but not on fundamentals. The overwhelming majorities on votes for basic progressive legislation is testimony to the near unanimity in Congress on basic issues.


This identification of political and key business leaders with the same set of social values -- ultimately class values -- was hardly accidental, for had such a consensus not existed the creation of political capitalism would have been most unlikely. Political capitalism was based on the functional utility of major political and business leaders. The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values -- in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.
Over the last century, these dynamics have become the foundation of every aspect of American society and culture. The entanglements of the public and private sectors have grown increasingly byzantine and almost impossible to decipher much of the time, but the major theme is unaltered. Let's keep the primary lesson simple: The most wealthy and powerful private interests align with government -- and this partnership between the most powerful private interests and the state gets what it wants. You -- the "ordinary" citizen -- are of no importance whatsoever in these calculations, except insofar as your labor, and occasionally your life, are required so that the ruling elites are assured of getting what they want. You -- your life, your work, your family, your friendships, your happiness -- are entirely dispensable.

Try to understand this. This intricate and ornate series of interrelationships between and among various private and public powers has grown and metastasized over more than one hundred years. It will not be dislodged overnight. It will not be altered except by a deliberate and painful process of de-linking, which would require several decades at the very least. But history tells us that, once a corporatist system has reached an advanced stage such as that which now prevails in the United States, it will only be changed by a major disruption and, more probably, by a series of disruptions: financial weakening and possibly collapse, and/or a major war or series of wars, and/or natural catastrophe, and/or...use your imagination to fill in other possible factors. But, like children who still believe in Santa Claus, and like those who desperately hope for salvation in foreign affairs, many liberals and progressives now look for a miracle to save them on the domestic front. Call the miracle Obama if you wish; the name you give it doesn't matter a damn. And try to understand this: miracles do not happen. It was not a miracle that brought us here. It is only an understanding of the full nature of the problem we face and a determination to alter our course that will save us, if anything can. History, it must be noted, is not encouraging on this point.

None of this is a reason for terminal despair, although I keep reading comments about my essays to the effect that they are "too depressing," that they make people "suicidal" or "bitter," and the like. People who react in these ways may have some understanding, but not nearly enough. And they may have everything -- except vision and courage. I will discuss these particular issues in a future essay. For the moment, I will say this: I will not tell you, as people often tell me, that you need a "thicker skin," since I consider the views underlying such prescriptions to be uniformly destructive. But what you do need is more understanding, and much, much more courage.

Even though I have devoted considerable time to the development of authoritarian corporatism in the United States, I ruefully admit that the details of InfraGard's work had escaped my attention. Fortunately for me, and perhaps for you as well, Matthew Rothschild fills us in with this very valuable article in The Progressive. Here are some key excerpts:
Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to "shoot to kill" in the event of martial law.


InfraGard itself is still an FBI operation, with FBI agents in each state overseeing the local InfraGard chapters. (There are now eighty-six of them.) The alliance is a nonprofit organization of private sector InfraGard members.

"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, who by day is the vice president of research integration at Secure Computing.


In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website, www.infragard.net, which adds that "350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard."

To join, each person must be sponsored by "an existing InfraGard member, chapter, or partner organization." The FBI then vets the applicant. On the application form, prospective members are asked which aspect of the critical infrastructure their organization deals with. These include: agriculture, banking and finance, the chemical industry, defense, energy, food, information and telecommunications, law enforcement, public health, and transportation.

FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. At that time, the group had less than half as many members as it does today. "To date, there are more than 11,000 members of InfraGard," he said. "From our perspective that amounts to 11,000 contacts . . . and 11,000 partners in our mission to protect America." He added a little later, "Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense."

He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they "note suspicious activity or an unusual event." And he said they could sic the FBI on "disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers."
Let's pause here for a moment. I don't think I need to spell out in too much detail the endless possibilities for abuse and personal retribution unlocked by this sort of program. Mad at a coworker, about anything or nothing? Pissed off about a raise you didn't get? Angry at that woman who won't go out with you? No problem: report some "suspicious activity or an unusual event." You're an employer worried that a worker might expose some payoffs or kickbacks? Use the FBI to shut him down, and maybe put him in jail. Who exactly is being "protected" here, and from what? Very good: the ruling elites, from anything and anyone that might threaten them or their power. You're catching on.

And the problems -- problems, that is, if you have any concern whatsoever for individual liberty -- are just beginning:
"There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program, 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 warned in its August 2004 report The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.

InfraGard is not readily accessible to the general public. Its communications with the FBI and Homeland Security are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act under the "trade secrets" exemption, its website says.
Why, it's an entire army of "private" spies, who just happen to be providing information to the government. And it's all secret!

One aspect of Rothschild's piece is truly stomach-churning. Note how cheaply some of these "private" citizens can be bought, and how thrilled they are to feel "important":
The InfraGard website advertises this. In its list of benefits of joining InfraGard, it states: "Gain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more."

The InfraGard website advertises this. In its list of benefits of joining InfraGard, it states: "Gain access to an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more."

InfraGard members receive "almost daily updates" on threats "emanating from both domestic sources and overseas," Hershman says.

"We get very easy access to secure information that only goes to InfraGard members," Schneck says. "People are happy to be in the know."
Membership in this "privileged class" of citizens -- which class just happens to coincide with those people who are already the most powerful in the country -- has so many nifty benefits:
"On the back of each membership card," [one InfraGard bigwig] says, "we have all the numbers you’d need: for Homeland Security, for the FBI, for the cyber center. And by calling up as an InfraGard member, you will be listened to." She also says that members would have an easier time obtaining a "special telecommunications card that will enable your call to go through when others will not."

This special status concerns the ACLU.

"The FBI should not be creating a privileged class of Americans who get special treatment," says Jay Stanley, public education director of the ACLU’s technology and liberty program. "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."
"Why don't they just share it with the public?" How quaint of the ACLU. They must think it's a government of and for "the people" or something. Buddy: it's for the ruling elites. Try to catch up with the rest of us.

Rothschild has many more details -- but here's the killer, in more ways than one. As you read the following, I want you to remember how easy it is now for the president to declare martial law -- and that it is so easy because a number of key Democrats enthusiastically helped write and pass the Defense Authorization Act of 2006 (see the discussion of point two). Behold what the Democrats and the Republicans have brought us:
One business owner in the United States tells me that InfraGard members are being advised on how to prepare for a martial law situation—and what their role might be. He showed me his InfraGard card, with his name and e-mail address on the front, along with the InfraGard logo and its slogan, "Partnership for Protection." On the back of the card were the emergency numbers that Schneck mentioned.

This business owner says he attended a small InfraGard meeting where agents of the FBI and Homeland Security discussed in astonishing detail what InfraGard members may be called upon to do.

"The meeting started off innocuously enough, with the speakers talking about corporate espionage," he says. "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." These included, he says, the ability to travel in restricted areas and to get people out.

But that’s not all.

"Then they said when — not if — martial law is declared, it was our responsibility to protect our portion of the infrastructure, and if we had to use deadly force to protect it, we couldn’t be prosecuted," he says.


Christine Moerke is a business continuity consultant for Alliant Energy in Madison, Wisconsin. She says she’s an InfraGard member, and she confirms that she has attended InfraGard meetings that went into the details about what kind of civil patrol function — including engaging in lethal force — that InfraGard members may be called upon to perform.

"There have been discussions like that, that I’ve heard of and participated in," she says.
Bang, you're dead! I was protecting my portion of the infrastructure! And you can't do a damned thing about it. Well, you're dead anyway. You don't care.

To this we have come.

In closing, I want to underscore the long historical development that has brought us to this pathetic state. In addition to the general contours of corporatism stretching back more than a hundred years, this particular kind of law enforcement "partnership" is similarly nothing new. I dip once again into "Blinded by the Story," and an excerpt (from a still earlier article from almost four years ago; the passage is from Thomas Fleming's, The Ilusion of Victory: America in World War I) which described some of the actions of the Wilson administration during World War I:
[L]ike most Americans, including the president, [Attorney General Thomas W.] Gregory was convinced that the country swarmed with German secret agents and homegrown admirers of Kaiser Wilhelm. How to track them down was the problem. ...

The answer to Gregory's predicament emerged in Chicago, where a middle-aged businessman named Alfred M. Briggs offered to recruit twenty or thirty affluent men of his vintage who would hunt spies and other hidden enemies of the war effort gratis. They would even provide their own automobiles. ...The [Bureau of Investigation] head listened attentively while Briggs proposed a nationwide organization, the American Protective League (APL), which would operate under cover as "Secret Service Divisions" in cities and towns throughout the United States.

Bielaski swiftly persuaded Attorney General Gregory to approve this bad idea. By June the APL had 250,000 activists in its ranks and was rooting out dissent in six hundred cities and towns. It was ridiculously easy to join. A dollar bought a man membership and entitled him to call himself part of the "Secret Service."

Local APL leaders were usually prominent men in their communities--bankers, lawyers, clergymen. Unfortunately, their presumably good education did not include a course on the Bill of Rights. Their methods frequently involved opening suspects' mail, burglarizing their homes and offices, tapping their telephones and planting listening devices in their parlors and bedrooms. ...After the APL turned out in massive force to make sure there were no disruptions on draft registration day, Gregory told the president he thought they were a wonderful group of 100 percent Americans, and Wilson dropped the subject [of whether the APL should be stopped].
Note again the confluence of what Kolko describes as "ultimately class values": APL leaders were "affluent men" and "usually prominent men in their communities..." Thus do the powerful come together, to consolidate and expand their already vast influence.

From the American Protective League to InfraGard, it has been a long, tortuous road, one which ceaselessly destroyed liberty and individual rights. The ultimate destination has never changed: the installation of an unassailable, enormously privileged ruling elite -- which, no matter the cost in liberty or blood, will get what it wants.

You need not despair, and you need not be paralyzed by depression. To change our direction, we must understand fully and completely how we arrived here, and we must appreciate just how dire our predicament is. And to change it, we need a great deal of courage.

I will have more to say on that last point very soon.