Friday, February 08, 2008

Tinfoil hat brigade generates fear about Infragard

An article in The Progressive by Matthew Rothschild worries that the FBI's InfraGard program is deputizing businesses, training them for martial law, and giving them a free pass to "shoot to kill." Rothschild writes:
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.
Nonsense. I've been a member of the Phoenix InfraGard Members Alliance for years. It's a 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the FBI whose members have been subjected to some rudimentary screening (comparable to what a non-cleared employee of the federal government would get). Most InfraGard meetings are open to the general public (contrary to Rothschild's statement that "InfraGard is not readily accessible to the general public"), but the organization facilitates communications between members about sensitive subjects like vulnerabilities in privately owned infrastructure and the changing landscape of threats. The FBI provides some reports of threat information to InfraGard members through a secure website, which is unclassified but potentially sensitive information. InfraGard members get no special "shoot to kill" or law enforcement powers of any kind--and membership in the organization is open to anyone who can pass the screening. As Rothschild notes in the first sentence of his article, there are over 23,000 members--that is a pretty large size for a conspiracy plot.

At one point in the article, Rothschild quotes InfraGard National Members Alliance chairman Phyllis Schneck referring to a "special telecommunications card that will enable your call to go through when others will not." This is referring to a GETS card, for the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service, which provides priority service for call completion in times of emergency or disaster to personnel who are working to support critical infrastructure. There is a similar service for wireless priority (Wireless Priority Service), and yet another for critical businesses and organizations (like hospitals) which need to have their telecommunications service re-established first after a loss of service due to disaster (Telecommunications Service Priority). These programs are government programs that are independent of InfraGard, though InfraGard has helped members who represent pieces of critical infrastructure obtain GETS cards.

The ACLU's concern about InfraGard being used as a tip line to turn businesses into spies is a more plausible but still, in my opinion, unfounded concern. Businesses are not under any pressure to provide information to InfraGard, other than normal reporting of criminal events to law enforcement. The only time I've been specifically asked to give information to InfraGard is when I've been asked to speak at a regular meeting, which I've done a few times in talks that have been open to the public about malware threats and botnets.

Check out the comments in The Progressive for some outright hysteria about fascism and martial law. I saw similar absurdity regarding the Department of Homeland Security's TOPOFF 4 exercise, which was a sensible emergency planning exercise. Some people apparently are unable to distinguish common-sense information sharing and planning in order to defend against genuine threats from the institution of a fascist dictatorship and martial law.

Now, I think there are plausible criticisms to be made of the federal government's use of non-governmental organizations--when they're used to sidestep laws and regulations like the Freedom of Information Act, to give lots of government grant money to organizations run by former government employees, to legally mandate funding of and reporting to private organizations and so forth. The FBI has created quite a few such organizations to do things like collect information about missing and exploited children, online crime, and so forth, typically staffed by former agents. But personally, I've not witnessed anything in InfraGard that has led me to have any concerns that it's being used to enlist private businesses into questionable activities--rather, it's been entirely devoted to sharing information that private businesses can use to shore up their own security and for law enforcement to prosecute criminals.

UPDATE (February 9, 2008): The irony is that Matthew Rothschild previously wrote, regarding 9/11 truthers:
We have enough proof that the Bush administration is a bunch of lying evildoers. We don't need to make it up.
He's right about that, but he's now helped spread nonsense about InfraGard and seriously damaged his own credibility. I find it interesting that people are so willing to conclude that InfraGard is a paramilitary organization, when it's actually an educational and information sharing organization that has no enforcement or even emergency, disaster, or incident response function (though certainly some of its members have emergency, disaster, and incident response functions for the organizations they work for).

UPDATE (February 10, 2008): I suspect tomorrow Christine Moerke of Alliant Energy will be getting calls from reporters asking what specifically she confirmed. I hope they ask for details about the conference in question, whether it was run by InfraGard or DHS, what the subject matter was, and who said what. If there's actually an InfraGard chapter endorsing the idea that InfraGard members form armed citizen patrols authorized to use deadly force in time of martial law, that's a chapter that needs to have its leadership removed. My suspicion, though, is that some statements about protection of infrastructure by their own security forces in times of disaster or emergency have been misconstrued. Alliant Energy operates nuclear plants, nuclear plants do have armed guards, and in Arizona, ARS 13-4903 describes the circumstances under which nuclear plant security officers are authorized to use deadly force. Those people, however, are thoroughly trained and regularly tested regarding the use of force and the use of deadly force in particular, which is not the case for InfraGard members.

UPDATE (February 11, 2008): Somehow, above, I neglected to make the most obvious point--that the FBI doesn't have the authority to grant immunity to prosecution for killing. If anyone from the FBI made that statement to InfraGard members, they were saying something that they have no authority to deliver on.

UPDATE (February 12, 2008): I've struck out part of the above about the ACLU's concern about spying being unfounded, as I think that's too strong of a denial. There is a potential slippery slope here. The 9/11 Commission Report pointed to various communication problems that led to the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. These problems included failure to share information (mainly from the CIA to the FBI and INS), failure to communicate information within the FBI (like Phoenix Special Agent Ken Williams' memo about suspicious Middle Easterners in flight schools), and failure to have enough resources to translate NSA intercepts (some specific chatter about the attacks was translated after the attacks had already occurred). As a result, the CIA has been working closely with the FBI on counterterrorism and counterintelligence at least since 2001. (Also see Dana Priest, "CIA Is Expanding Domestic Operations," The Washington Post, October 23, 2002, p. A02, which is no longer available on the Post's site but can be found elsewhere on the web, on sites whose other content is so nutty I refuse to link, as well as this January 2006 statement from FBI Director Robert Mueller on the InfraGard website, which includes the statement that "Today, the FBI and CIA are not only sharing information on a regular basis, we are exchanging employees and working together on cases every day.")

The slippery slope is this--the CIA is an organization which recruits and develops in its officers a sense of flexible ethics which has frequently resulted in incredible abuses, and which arguably has done more harm than good to U.S. interests. (My opinion on the CIA may be found in my posts on this blog labeled "CIA"; I highly recommend Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.) Some of that ethical flexibility may well rub off on FBI agents who work closely with CIA case officers. (The FBI itself has also had a history of serious abuses, an objective account of which may be found in Ronald Kessler's book The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI.) And then, that same ethical flexibility may rub off on InfraGard members as a result of their relationships with the FBI (and potentially relationships with the CIA, as well). The intelligence community seems to have a hunger for more and more information from more and more sources, but it is already awash in a sea of information that it has trouble processing today. (It doesn't help that the Army fires direly needed Arabic translators because they are gay.) The need is to accurately assess the information that it has, and ensure that bits and pieces aren't cherry-picked to produce desired conclusions, as well as ensure that information isn't sought or assembled to serve personal and political ends of particular interests rather than combatting genuine threats to the country and its citizens.

My recommendation is that all InfraGard members read Kessler's The Bureau, Weiner's Legacy of Ashes, and view the film that won the 2007 Academy Award for best foreign film, "The Lives of Others," to help innoculate them against such a slippery slope.

UPDATE: Amy Goodman interviewed Matt Rothschild for "Democracy Now!" on Wisconsin Public Television, in which it is pretty clear to me that Rothschild is exaggerating something he doesn't understand--what he cites as evidence doesn't support what he claims. Here's a key excerpt, see the link for the full transcript:
MR: [...] And one other member of InfraGard [Christine Moerke of Alliant Energy] confirmed to me that she had actually been at meetings and participated in meetings where the discussion of lethal force came up, as far as what businesspeople are entitled to do in times of an emergency to protect their little aspect of the infrastructure.
AG: But just to clarify, Matt Rothschild, who exactly is empowered to shoot to kill if martial law were declared? The business leaders themselves?
MR: The business leaders themselves were told, at least in this one meeting, that if there is martial law declared or if there’s a time of an emergency, that members of InfraGard would have permission to protect—you know, whether it’s the local utility or, you know, their computers or the financial sector, whatever aspect. Whatever aspect of the infrastructure they’re involved with, they’d have permission to shoot to kill, to use lethal force to protect their aspect of the infrastructure, and they wouldn’t be able to be prosecuted, they were told.
You know, this is a secretive organization. They’re not supposed to talk to the press. You need to get vetted by the FBI before you can join it. They get almost daily information that the public doesn’t get. And then they have these extraordinary, really astonishing powers being vested in them by FBI and Homeland Security, shoot-to-kill powers. I mean, this is scary stuff.
MR: The business leaders themselves were told, at least in this one meeting, that if there is martial law declared or if there’s a time of an emergency, that members of InfraGard would have permission to protect—you know, whether it’s the local utility or, you know, their computers or the financial sector, whatever aspect. Whatever aspect of the infrastructure they’re involved with, they’d have permission to shoot to kill, to use lethal force to protect their aspect of the infrastructure, and they wouldn’t be able to be prosecuted, they were told.
It looks to me like the following transformation has occurred:

1. At a DHS conference on emergency response, somebody asks if owners of critical pieces of infrastructure should be expected to use deadly force if necessary to protect it (e.g., a nuclear power plant).
2. Somebody at DHS answers yes. They may even add that in some cases the law provides specific justification for use of deadly force (as in the Arizona statute I cite above).
3. Matt turns that into a general right to "shoot-to-kill" in times of martial law by any InfraGard member.
4. The blogosphere turns that into roving citizen patrols unleashed on the nation as the Bush hit squad after declaration of martial law.

I don't see his key source--Christine Moerke--confirming anything beyond #1 and #2.

Note other exaggerations and contradictions--Rothschild claims that InfraGard is highly secretive and selective, yet has quickly grown to over 23,000 members and has multiple public websites. He fails to note that most InfraGard meetings are open to the general public, or that it has been discussed in many articles in the national press over the last decade. Rothschild speaks of "business leaders," which the blogosphere has turned into "CEOs," yet I suspect the most common "business leader" represented in InfraGard is an IT or physical security manager.

UPDATE (February 15, 2008): The FBI has issued an official response to Rothschild's Progressive article (PDF), which says, in part:
In short, the article's claims are patently false. For the record, the FBI has not deputized InfraGard, its members, businesses, or anything else in the program. The title, however catchy, is a complete fabrication. Moreover, InfraGard members have no extraordinary powers and have no greater right to "shoot to kill" than other civilians. The FBI encourages InfraGard members -- and all Americans -- to report crime and suspected terrorist activity to the appropriate authorities.
The FBI response also states that Rothschild has "refused even to identify when or where the claimed 'small meeting' occurred in which issues of martial law were discussed," and promises to follow up with further clarifying details if they get that information.

UPDATE (February 25, 2008): Here's another blogger with a rational response to The Progressive article.

UPDATE (March 2, 2008): Matthew Rothschild has responded to the FBI's response on Alex Jones' Info Wars blog, and he stands behind every word of his original article. He doesn't display any knowledge of or response to any of the criticisms I've offered.


Alan Clegg said...


Thanks for your in-depth analysis of this tempest in a teapot.

I've written up a short response as well, and linked to your article.

Alan Clegg
Eastern Carolina InfraGard

John said...


Given the ridiculous levels of useless security searches being conducted by our various security agencies at air terminals and borders (shoe searches, no more than 3 oz. of liquids on board, racial profiling, and invasive data searches on personal electronics), I really don't have much trouble giving credit to Mr. Rothchild's report. Honestly, if I thought I could trust the professionalism of people working on national security, it would be a different story for me. Unfortunately, I've held a government contractor job for 10 years, and observed firsthand the enormous waste the government is capable of, the number of inflated egos who feel their petty concerns must be prioritized over critical concerns, and the indifference to accomplishing the mission in fact versus accomplishing it on paper.

In the face of what I've seen in my personal experiences, as well as the numberless news stories of mistaken identities and gross ineptitudes of our security agencies across the land, I have trouble giving your 'balderdash' response much credit at all.

John Romero

Lippard said...


I can't entirely blame you, given the abuses of the Bush administration, but let me point this out--the abuses of the Bush administration are easily documented. Where's the evidence for what is being claimed here? Even in Rothschild's own story, a second source who was present at the same conference denied the claim by the single source who asserted the "shoot to kill" capability. And the story isn't even consistent with the sorts of abuses of privatized paramilitary operations that we've seen. Blackwater's killings fell into a gap of law because they were defense contractors operating in an occupied country where the sovereign government is questionably sovereign because of the occupation. Here in the United States, there's no question about national sovereignty and in fact we have the opposite problem of an executive branch that is extending its powers beyond the Constitution.

I agree with you that TSA rules are absurd and mostly constitute "security theater"--I've written about that myself at this blog. But note that the TSA's function is one that was nationalized, not privatized. Again, that's not consistent with Rothschild's account.

Can you point to a law or presidential signing statement that mentions InfraGard by name or description and gives police powers to ordinary citizens who are members of such a group? Can you point to a plausible argument for why an information sharing organization most of whose members are not trained in police work would be given such powers? I expect that in coming days we will find out more about the conference that Rothschild referred to and what it was really about. My guess is that it was a conference on emergency or disaster response put on by DHS, and that Rothschild's source for the "shoot to kill" comment significantly misunderstood what he heard.

I'm thinking about doing a followup post about who actually does have a right to shoot to kill in the United States--in Arizona, the answer is that *any* citizen has the right to shoot to kill to defend their own life or property, in that the criminal code explicitly recognizes defense of life and residential property as a justification to threaten or use deadly force for protection. I also would include something about how police are often not criminally prosecuted for killings (and it's happening more and more often as a result of paramilitarization of police forces, which Radley Balko has written at length about), though many municipalities have citizens' review commissions for police shootings, which I fully endorse. The paramilitarization of police and the incarceration of millions of Americans for nonviolent drug offenses are *real* problems that deserve attention, outrage, and response.

cavjam said...

First, I'm impressed enough by your writing and apparent sincerity to have bookmarked your site. However...

I think you're categorization of this article as dictum of the "tinfoil hat brigade" is a bit hyperbolic. Granted the "permission to 'shoot to kill' in the event of martial law" bit doesn't wash (that right exists, even absent martial law, in all states with which I am familiar, providing it's in defense of life, limb or property, and would be prosecuted by the state not the feds anyway) but that bit is merely reported (and poorly analyzed) and the rest of the article seems fairly even-handed.

Also, I'm not so sure fear is what's generated, except perhaps for whistleblowers; I think it's wariness, a condition duly warranted any time private blocs form a seeming alliance with gummint, especially the enforcement and info-gathering branch. After all, the wedding of corporate interests and State power was Il Duce's dream, hardly an ambience to be desired in a republic. It also seems to create a perquisite class redolent of the "some are more equal than others" meme common in caste systems.

I won't even delve much into the context in which this program has expanded - that of a Cheneyworld in which Party is privilege, and secrecy and unchecked executive power is paramount.

dilbertgeg said...

Of the webpage I mention below, I'm going to update it soon, to clarify and address some issues raised in another forum.

What is NOT being talked about sufficiently regarding Sept 11, is

a) the gang of neo-con propagandists on Fox (and Philly paper) who debated if a new, repeat Sept 11 attack would be *good* and *necessary* for America, and another Fox host who OPENLY stated WE NEED A NEW 9-11.

b) the number of relatively obscure (to the gen pub) Neo-Con opinion-makers, experts, strategists, etc. (not *only* PNAC), incl some Pentagon advisors who had special access to classified documents (Def Pol Bd), who stated PRIOR to Sept 11 that we (they) NEEDED a major bloodbath on American soil, to launch their global wars (called by various terms, new Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor event, major security threat)

c) the fact that while such talk now constitutes a terrorist threat propagated by Fox/Murdoch, and there's been little debate and outrage on it, except on the web


the obvious fact that while such talk BEFORE 9-11 also constituted a possible terrorist threat, or possible foreknowledge or other information, to say the least, there has been almost complete silence about this from ALL sides of the Media, even including most "Troofers".

These guys who signed off on such statements actually represent the entire Neo-Conservative infrastructure (PNAC, AEI, Heritage, Family Security, and dozens more) which have a lot of overlap and interlink amongst them, and of course has a presence the Cabinet and WH, but similar statements were also published by the cofounder of the Tri-Lateral Commission (the Left??), good ol' Zbignew.

So there was a lot of ... what's that word ... synchronicity ... prior to Sept 11 about the NEED for this bloodbath to happen, with huge fortunes riding on it, as well as the Fate of American Freedom and Prosperity and Hegemony as well as Global Peace, at least thats how they explained it.

Why have these guys never been sent to Guantanimo or some secret overseas rendition to make them talk and tell us what they know? One of them actually FOUNDED Al-Qaeda a.k.a. the Islamic Radical Muj (before the Sovs invaded), and brags about it, and some of the others lobbied for Al-Qaeda in the B9-11 Era.

Oh, maybe I just answered my own question. ;-)

Well? Well? Do these published statements constitute "tinfoil"? No. Do questions about their relevance constitute tinfoil? Do questions about the near-TOTAL absence of these points in the MSM constitute tinfoil? Aren't they at least interesting and juicy questions?

Lippard said...

Dilbertgeg: I don't think there's any question that the neo-cons used 9/11 to put into effect plans regarding the Middle East that they'd already had in their minds (and in some cases in detail on paper) long beforehand. James Mann's _Rise of the Vulcans_ is a good source on the subject, as is James Bamford's _A Pretext for War_.

Cavjam: I don't think I'm being hyperbolic--take a look at Google Blogs search for "InfraGard" to see what people have perceived Rothschild's article to be saying. It looks to me like the majority of blogs commenting on it are describing InfraGard as a Blackwater-style private paramilitary operation with licenses to kill, or "Bush's hit men," as one blog called it. *That*'s over-the-top, not my response.

Lippard said...

Dilbertgeg: The answer to why those people aren't in Guantanamo for terrorist threats is that those statements do not constitute terrorist threats, but protected political speech. The question for me is why people who have said such things get elected and re-elected, and permitted to stay in positions of power and authority.

I think freedom of speech is still very strongly protected in the U.S. (though it has suffered some indignities from time to time, and broadcast TV and radio are still nonsensically being treated differently with heavier restrictions and controls that should be abolished), but the rest of the bill of rights has been eroded far more, by the war on drugs and the war on terror.

Hume's Ghost said...

Why have these guys never been sent to Guantanimo or some secret overseas rendition to make them talk and tell us what they know?

Well, at least you understand the purpose of legal limbo detention camps: to tell us what we already "know". Which, of course, has always been the purpose of "enhanced interrogation."

Alessandro said...

I am an Italian journalist writing an article on this Infragard issue and I would like to call you for a short talk.
If you're available, please write to me at


Lippard said...

stechi, ELIA: I'm not willing to become a media spokesperson for or about InfraGard, but you're welcome to engage me in questions here at my blog or via email. I am speaking only for myself, not for InfraGard.

Lippard said...

I've deleted the post above from ELIA to keep her email address from spammers. Here's the text minus the email address:

Mr. Lippard,

I am invovled in an internet broadcast on My partner is interested in having you as a callin guest to talk about Infragard.

If you are interested please contact me via my email at [email address deleted]

February 11, 2008 10:50 AM

Lionel said...

People have an overactive imagination. I'm also a member of InfraGard. Sorry to spoil everyone's freak-out but it's certainly no conspiracy. The idea that martial law and use of force is discussed is silly and saying it is irresponsible. It's just not true. The boring truth is, it's a way for companies and the FBI to share information so we're not pants-down and unaware. It's as simple as that. Move along, nothing to see here.

DandelionSalad said...

Jim, re: your comment on my post about Infragard. Please contact the author with your concerns as I have no idea. Virginia contacted me and asked me to post it and I copied it directly from her blog, links intact. (I took out the links just now.) Also went to her post and the links are not there any longer, so she took them out as well.

Calling it fraudulent without backing it up isn’t cool, though.

Lippard said...

It is clearly fraudulent--it attributes actions to InfraGard that have nothing to do with InfraGard. I already pointed out in a comment on your blog that it refers to "InfraGard officers" as though they are law enforcement officers and to "InfraGard contractors." It also is written as though "InfraGard officers" and "InfraGard contractors" are regularly visiting schools and conducting interviews.

It appears to me that it's a document from another source that has had "InfraGard" inserted into it or substituted for another word. It looks to me to be literally fabricated disinformation.

Unknown said...

I think the journalist may be mistaken in what is considered lethal force. The article goes into detail about how these different businesses and entities report information that is considered subversive to their profits/cause and the FBI takes action based on their reports. Giving authorization to "shoot to kill" most likely means that the Infragard member can pass information regarding a potential "terrorist" or subversive event and the FBI will use that as concrete evidence to pursue the accused. In effect Infragard is a network of informants with the FBI working as the executioner. If nothing else I think we can all agree that there is a large risk of abuse of the Infragard system to suppress important public information. You can bet your knickers that the Monsanto Co. has their card.

Remember that he only said "shoot to kill" in times of Marshall law. This may also be considered as the mode of control in a fascist coup where business and infrastructure becomes the eyes and ears of the dictatorship.

Lippard said...

Jose: No, InfraGard is not for "these different businesses and entities [to] report information that is considered subversive to their profits/cause and the FBI takes action based on their reports"--it's for them to report suspicious activity that is considered likely to be *criminal*.

There's a difference.