03 February 2010

Spy vs. Spy Inc.

I have to admit, I always enjoy reading about, or watching, Jesse "The Body" Ventura- former Navy SEAL/UDT, Minnesota Governor, Pro Wrestler and Movie Star. I was recently watching his new show "Conspiracy Theory," an amusing hour of paranoia and, well, conspiracy theories which tackles issues like 9/11, the HAARP project and most recently the outsourcing of intelligence work to private contractors. Compared to many of his wilder accusations and theories, this show was pretty well grounded in reality especially regarding a joint private-FBI surveillance program known as InfraGard. I have to admit, as a former Army intelligence analyst I consider myself to be pretty well informed about government programs but this one had eluded me while all the while hiding in plain sight. Much of Jesse's program was built off of an article written about InfraGard by Matthew Rottschild of the Progressive in March 2008 which is a good place to start for background information.

A quick glance at InfraGard's website doesn't reveal anything too frightening and I suppose the entire makes some sense at first glance. The FBI has built a network of over 30,000 private sector individuals in order to provide information regarding threats to critical infrastructure within the U.S. If, for example, an InfraGard member working for a power company became aware of a specific threat which could knock out a power grid, he would have a much easier time passing along the information to the FBI because he was in the InfraGard network and thus had access to communication channels not available to the general public. InfraGard members are vetted through a clearance program (which the FBI stresses does not result in an actual government security clearance) and assigned to local chapters throughout the country.

The worrisome thing about this program is that InfraGard members are provided with information, not available to the general public, in exchange for their assistance. When the relationship changes from one merely scooping up disparate bits of intelligence which require further analysis to a two-way system of sharing and reward the organization has moved closer to an informant based system such as the Stasi in East Germany. The informant is rewarded for his or her cooperation in identifying subversives in their midst which may simply be a co-worker who has different political, cultural or religious views than themselves. Maybe the motive is as simple as jealousy or anger, or a romantic advance that was rebuffed. Think of what could happen to a U.S. citizen who has been identified as a potential threat and had been added to a database. Think no fly list on steroids.

The use of informants to secure totalitarian regimes is as old as history itself. The informant and his or her control officer, enter into a relationship where the informant wants to please his master by providing the information the control officer needs to advance his own needs within the organization in which he works. Information becomes currency in this transaction and favors are granted by the regime in return. Civil liberties are crushed as the informant tries to give the control officer something, anything, to keep the relationship intact.

Another frightening aspect of the InfraGard program is the lack of oversight by Congress. Information which flows through this system is exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, the names of members and their organizations is not publicly available and they meet in secret with their FBI counterparts. Although these people are supposedly cleared by the FBI, where do their true loyalties lie ? This system seems ripe for abuse of civil liberties and it is constantly growing in size and power- a shadow intelligence network without public oversight or control operating within the borders of the United States. Felix Dzherzhinsky would be so proud.

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