Especially since the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, cooperative arrangements between governments and the private sector intended to protect against future attacks have increased both numerically and in scale. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the area known as “critical infrastructure protection.” “Critical infrastructure” refers to networks, including power grids, banking and financial services, main road and railways, water supplies, and other vital services the destruction of which would cause massive economic damage to the United States while seriously degrading the ability of the country, or large regions of the country, to function. The federal government views the protection of critical infrastructure as one of its most important post-9/11 responsibilities.
While the government recognizes the importance of protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure, though, most of that infrastructure is privately owned and operated. Much of this infrastructure is tied together through computer networks, which are already the target of frequent attacks by computer hackers, by private citizens, terrorist organizations, and foreign governments. Because most of the United States’ critical infrastructure is in private hands, and because its protection is a national security priority, the use of public-private partnerships have been recognized as essential. Toward that end, each federal department, for example, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture, and so on, maintains cooperative arrangements with the private sector that operates within each department’s area of responsibility. For example, the Department of Agriculture works with the agriculture industry to protect that industry from attempts at sabotage, for example, through the use by a terrorist organization of biological weapons intended to contaminate wheat fields. The Department of the Treasury works with the banking and financial services sector to protect the latter’s computer networks from cyber attacks intended to cause the banking system to crash. The main government agency involved in such efforts, of course, is the Department of Homeland Security, which works with electric companies, communications industries, chemical plants, and other industries to prepare for attacks.
One of the earliest efforts at public-private partnership intended to protect public safety or national security was the FBI’s establishment of joint public-private task forces intended to help the private sector protect its computer networks from outside attack. The Department of Homeland Security has since replaced the FBI as the federal agency most responsible for such efforts, and the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace report provided the early strategy and guidance for such cooperative relationships between government and the private sector.