Friday, January 15, 2010
Is the government's nationwide surveillance program turning businessmen and office workers into spies? Is the government encouraging these people to spy on their neighbors and betray their friends all for information and special privileges from the FBI. Do members have, as some claim, a "license to kill"? How far has the government gone, in the name of national security, to keep an eye on its citizens? We'll examine the claims and get to the bottom of this conspiracy next.
Infra Gard is a public-private partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigations classified as a private non-profit organization. According to the organization, it is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and connecting the dots of information given by its wide range of members. They state that they are 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. As of January 2010, they have 34,084 members including the FBI.
Infra Gard was founded at Cleveland, Ohio in 1996. Since their founding, they have spread to become a nation-wide program with Infra Gard coordinators in every FBI field office. When it was founded, it was intended to be a local effort to gain support from the information technology industry and interests of universities, colleges, and academies for the FBI's investigative efforts in cyber security. Since then, it has expanded to cover a much wider range of activities surrounding the nation's critical infrastructure. These are assets that are essential for the functioning of the country and include the generation of electricity, agriculture, telecommunication, public health, security services, and transportation.
Infra Gard Alliances and the FBI have acquired a trust-based public-private sector partnership, since 2003, to ensure reliability and integrity of information shared on various terrorism, intelligence, criminal, and security matters. Infra Gard supports FBI priorities on counter terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, and cyber crime.
In Progressive Magazine's March 2008 issue, Matthew Rothschild reported that Infra Gard had 23,000 members in various businesses involved in critical infrastructure in the U.S. Two members have stated that they have been told in private that Infra Gard members would have the right to "shoot to kill" in the event of martial law being declared in the United States and not be prosecuted for this. Martial law is the law temporarily imposed upon an area by state or national military forces when civil authority has broken down or during wartime military operations.
The Progressive Magazine also reported that the American Civil Liberties Union was concerned that there "is evidence that Infra Gard 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". Operation TIPS or the Terrorism Information and Prevention System is a program designed for citizens to report suspicious activity.
On February 15, 2008, the FBI issued a press release denying the claims of the article. They said "in short, the article's claims are patently false." They also stated that "Infra Gard members have no extraordinary powers and have no greater right to 'shoot to kill' than other civilians".
I think that even if some members of Infra Gard said they had the right to kill in the event that martial law was declared, it was probably a poor choice of words that was interpreted differently than they intended it to be. The FBI has done a lot of positive things including protecting communities and businesses from the most dangerous threats from international and domestic terrorists to spies on U.S. soil. They protect us from corrupt governmental officials to violent gangs to child predators to serial killers. Because of all of this, I think their response to Progressive Magazine's comments are credible. Some might claim that the program is an invasion of privacy and I'm not going to say it isn't, but I think that all the information that can be obtained and connected from its wide range of members can really help prevent hostile acts against the United States. In the free society that we live in, it's hard to stop all the attempted violence that takes place but if we want to feel secure, having programs such as these are sacrifices we must make. As with any group or agency, when too much power is given, it is only natural for corruption to take place. We as a nation have to decide how much surveillance is necessary to protect our critical infrastructure and where to draw the line between protection and privacy. As new threats emerge and new security measures are implemented, this will be debated more and more. As of now, I don't see anything wrong with Infra Gard - the partnership for protection.