A collaboration between the FBI and local corporations is building an impressive public-private partnership, creating more eyes and ears on the street for law enforcement officials who already have their hands full. Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports.
It started as a community outreach at the Cleveland, Ohio FBI office in 1998, and since then, Infragard has grown to 16,000 members nationwide, a network that allows the flow of information between FBI agents, the business community and private individuals. Chris Roach is the president of the Houston Infragard chapter with 400 members and says the FBI welcomes the help.
“They realize that things happen on a daily basis. They don’t have the feet on the street to make all the connections and so they’re really looking for input from corporate America to help them with their investigations and to identify areas that need to be investigated.”
The FBI does thorough background checks on Infragard members and then is able share certain security information with them.
“It’s not that you’re a legalized agent of the FBI, but you’re part of a network of resources that have been vetted by the FBI and it’s a trusted environment so you can share information with other members and help in protecting our critical infrastructures.”
The flow of information goes from the FBI to corporations and individuals, but also goes the other way, with valuable tips from Infragard members to the FBI that have led to investigations and arrests. Daniel Faith is a special agent in the Houston FBI office and coordinates and Infragard program.
“There’s a lot more of the community out there than there are agents. There’s only 12,000 agents, so by putting our hand in the community, we actually have everybody in the whole city of Houston out there keeping their eyes and ears open for anything that’s suspicious and by putting a face, you know I am the single point of contact so you become friendly with me. It’s a lot easier to call me than it is to go in and call our 713-693-5000 number because you can ask me a silly question that you feel silly, but it may not be silly. It may get the next terrorist cell.”
Most of the information passed between Infragard and the FBI is computer or internet related. Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Houston FBI office Dana Gillis says a bigger web presence is a good thing.
“What the FBI has become in the post-9-11 world, it’s not just a law enforcement agency, it’s an intelligence and law a enforcement agency, and in our intelligence gathering function, having all of these folks connected through the cyber world, that’s really opening up a pipeline for intelligence coming into the organization.”
The Infragard-Houston annual conference continues through tomorrow at the University of Houston Hilton. You can find more information on our website, KUHF.org.