Bad government has been good business during the Bush administration. In 1999, nine companies had federal homeland security contracts. Today the total is over 33,000. “Much of what we’ve seen touted by vendors after 9/11,” says security consultant Doug Laird, “is nothing more than a sales force trying to use 9/11 as the hype to get poorly advised folks to buy their products.”
But mismanagement and graft are just part of the story. Telecom companies’ involvement in illegal government spying, outsourcing of torture to contractors, Haliburton constructed jails for mass detentions in the event of an “immigration emergency”—are just some examples of public/private partnerships in which the private sector has a special role in advancing abuses of government power.
Matthew Rothschild’s recent story in The Progressive reveals that the private sector now plays an integral role in the transformation of America into an “endemic surveillance society” (h/t Marshall Kirkpatrick).
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 …
InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm…
“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.
“At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector,” the InfraGard website states. “InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.”
In other countries, for decades, cooperation between US industries and government has gone much further. In Argentina, for example, the Ford Falcon automobile is emblematic (PDF) of government terror. In the 1970s,
the Ford Falcon was the car of choice used by police, military and paramilitaries alike. Ford’s exclusive contracts with the Argentine security forces throughout the dictatorship eventually made the Falcon the single most recognizable icon of repression, one that clearly still resonates today. “Whenever a Falcon drove by or slowed down, we all knew that there would be kidnappings, disappearances, torture or murder,” reflects renowned Argentine psychologist and playwright Eduardo “Tato” Pavlovsky in a recent article. “It was the symbolic expression of terror. A death-mobile.”
The terror has continued into the present:
At noon on March 4, 2005, a green Ford Falcon pulled up next to a woman in Centenario, a municipality of Neuquén, in southern Argentina. Three men and a woman forced her into the car and then spent the next several hours threatening, torturing and mutilating her. The victim, whose name has been kept secret, was the wife of an employee at the Cerámica Zanon tile factory, one of the flagship worker-controlled enterprises that have sprung up in Argentina since the 2001 crisis. While the Zanon workers have successfully resuscitated the plant, they have also faced growing intimidation, as exemplified by this attack. The victim’s abductors released her with the message: “This is for Zanon. Tell them that the union will run with blood…. You’re all going to have to move into the factory because we’re going to kill all of you.”
Ford in Argentina is just one example among many. Coca Cola, to name another, has a long, insidious history in Columbia of contracting paramilitary forces that have murdered and tortured union activists.
In Latin America it is clear that these partnerships are part of an explicit war on organized labor and the culture that grew from developmentalist economies (PDF) in the 1950s and 60s. And a further crackdown on US labor may also be the promise of InfraGard.
FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005…. “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.”
Outside the US, American corporations are in many ways independent entities not bound by US laws or by the laws of the countries where they operate. Increasingly, there is a class of American citizens who enjoy similar status within the US boarders.
One of the advantages of InfraGard, according to its leading members, is that the FBI gives them a heads-up on a secure portal about any threatening information related to infrastructure disruption or terrorism.
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.”
On November 1, 2001, the FBI had information about a potential threat to the bridges of California. The alert went out to the InfraGard membership. Enron was notified, and so, too, was Barry Davis, who worked for Morgan Stanley. He notified his brother Gray, the governor of California.
“He said his brother talked to him before the FBI,” recalls
Steve Maviglio, who was Davis’s press secretary at the time. “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?’ ”
Maviglio still sounds perturbed about this: “You’d think an elected official would be the first to know, not the last.”
Worse, there are indications that this special class of citizens may be the enforcers of martial law, with permission to shoot to kill.
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.
Rothschild has substantial confirmation of this report from two other sources, as well.
Often using unreliable informants and guilt by association, the mid-20th century US government placed large numbers of its citizens on the Security Index, which qualified them to lose their rights and be rounded up and jailed en masse, upon declaration of martial law. Even if the FBI found that a subject did not qualify for the Security Index, it was nearly impossible to have one’s name removed from the lists of those to be imprisoned without charges—unless one agreed to inform on others.
The canceled Security Index cards on individuals taken off the Index after 1955 were retained in the field offices. This was done because they remained “potential threats and in case of an all-out emergency, their identities should be readily accessible to permit restudy of their cases.” These cards would be destroyed only if the subject agreed to become an FBI source or informant or “otherwise indicates complete defection from subversive groups.”
(Book III of the Final Report of the US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect To Intelligence Activities, 1976)
The odd twist of InfraGard is to recruit informants through the promise of placing them above the law rather than through threatening them with a possible loss of their rights.
At least through the mid-1960s, predominantly working class Klansmen enjoyed relative impunity as they murdered, bombed, burned, raped, shot and beat Blacks and their allies to maintain a social and economic order that kept them—the violent whites—poor as well.
Today, it seems the mantle of violence with impunity is being handed to an owning class elite.
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….
Curt Haugen is CEO of S’Curo Group, a company that does “strategic planning, business continuity planning and disaster recovery, physical and IT security, policy development, internal control, personnel selection, and travel safety,” according to its website. Haugen tells me he is a former FBI agent and that he has been an InfraGard member for many years. He is a huge booster. “It’s the only true organization where there is the public-private partnership,” he says. “It’s all who knows who. You know a face, you trust a face. That’s what makes it work.”
It’s the Good Ol’ Boys Network 2.0—enlisted for the class war. Look, they’re even on Facebook.
[Cross-posted on Hungry Blues.]