With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Tilting At Windmills: The FBI Chased Imagined Eco-Activist Enemies, Documents Reveal

FEDERAL AND STATE law enforcement officers gathered in the Midwest in February 2019 to practice their responses to a fictional threat: wind farm sabotage. They divided into four teams and pretended to be the bad guys, environmental saboteurs targeting the large grids of turbines that turn the wind into electric power. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Omaha, Nebraska, field office and the Iowa Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center had organized the “red hat” exercise, meant to provide insight into the minds of environmental activist adversaries that didn’t exist.

Each team developed an attack plan. One proposed ramming wind turbine infrastructure with a vehicle. Another sought to plant explosives on electrical transformers. And — although U.S. environmental saboteurs tend to not use guns — two of the teams suggested using firearms to attack electrical substations from a distance. The fact that cops themselves planned the attacks may have created a “bias toward the use of firearms,” the FBI later acknowledged in a pair of reports on the exercise obtained by The Intercept. However, the federal agents also concluded that “Environmental Extremists Likely Would Use Firearms To Circumvent Perceived Electrical Infrastructure Site Security Measures.”

The exercise was not conducted due to any imminent threat — a carefully noted fact included in the December 2019 and March 2020 reports. “Neither FBI Omaha nor the Iowa DOI/FC has intelligence suggesting environmental extremists intend to attack wind farms in Iowa,” both reports repeatedly state.

Why, then, spend public dollars on FBI role-playing? Because the energy industry wanted it. The exercise came “at the request of an USBUS private energy sector partner, following 14 environmental extremist attacks against transportation infrastructure in Iowa that services the energy sector, particularly oil pipelines,” said one of the documents about the exercise. Privately owned and operated companies and industry groups — none of which were named in the reports — were intimately involved in the exercise: An Iowa utility company and a wind energy lobbyist group provided information to help judge the fake attack plans and assess the fake “threat environment,” and an industry representative joined two of the teams, posing as an insider accomplice.

Though there was no indication an attack on wind power sites would occur, the report went on to say, if one hypothetically did, it could proliferate into many, with each set of attackers becoming more skilled in evading security and capture. “As attack methods become more sophisticated,” the report warned, “the chance for large-scale failure of the electrical grid becomes more likely.” Law enforcement ought to be on the lookout for activists undergoing gun training, activists in rural locations with large infrastructure, and activists casing wind power sites, the report advised. Neither the FBI, the Iowa Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center, nor the federal Department of Homeland Security, which helps coordinate regional fusion centers, responded to the Intercept’s questions about the documents.

The red hat exercise was the product of a national network of public-private law enforcement and security partnerships forged in the wake of 9/11. The Iowa fusion center is one of 79 intelligence hubs like it, designed to enhance coordination between federal and local police as well as select private sector players. Given their close collaboration with corporate partners, the centers serve as a vector for transmitting industry interests to law enforcement.

Read entire article at The Intercept