Preliminary Dossier on Michael Kenney


The challenge for the authorities is how to handle activists who subscribe to extreme beliefs, but who express them through peaceful, lawful activism.

Michael Kenney, speaking to the Independent


Michael Kenney is an Associate Professor at Pitt in the Graduate School of Policy and International Affairs since July 2011. Before that he was an associate and assistant professor at Penn State. According to his CV, he has received grants from The Institute of Justice (the research, development and evaluation agency of the United States Department of Justice), and the Office of Naval Research, among other agencies. Journals in which his work has been published include Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and Terrorism and Political Violence, among others. Kenney teaches courses at Pitt entitled “Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism” and “The War on Drugs”.

Kenney is also a member of the editorial board of Terrorism and Political Violence, and served on a research review panel for the Department of Homeland Security.

An interesting line in his CV reads “Federal Bureau of Investigation: Off-Ramp Committee Member, Pittsburgh Office, 2016 –“. “Off-ramp” was the name for a project floated by the FBI in 2015 aimed at recruiting civilian informants to identify potential terrorists and arrest them or get them into counseling before they progressed to overt violent acts. Formalized in early 2016 as “Shared Responsibility Committees”, the program, according to one critic, would have “essentially deputized educators, health care workers, and religious leaders as arms of law enforcement, jeopardizing the trust necessary for these non-policing professionals to carry out their jobs“. The SRC program was supposedly cancelled in late 2016 after pushback from Islamic and civil liberties groups, but suspicion remains that the cancellation was in name only, and that SRCs are being continued clandestinely. Kenney’s CV adds credence to this theory.

Kenney’s research has focused on understanding how terrorist and criminal organizations and networks organize, learn, and adapt to changing conditions. His investigative technique of choice is ethnography, that is embedding himself in a community for an extended period of time to gather information about their customs, practices, and organization. Needless to say, this presents a problem for a counterterrorism researcher – most terrorist organizations aren’t dumb enough to let an American academic with ties to the FBI into their meetings. Kenney has worked around this difficulty by investigating odd corner cases, communities with potential links to Islamic terrorism that can be persuaded to admit him because they aren’t themselves doing anything illegal.

His most recent project involved conducting ethnographic research on a group in England called al-Muhajiroun, a militant Salafist organization whose politics and religious beliefs are similar to those of ISIS, but who advance their cause by mostly legal means, such as peaceful (if highly provocative) demonstrations, as well as tabling and preaching in the street. (The above quote is in reference to them). He combined his ethnographic data with computerized network analysis using raw data culled from mainstream media reports that mentioned al-Muhajiroun or any of its leaders.

Perusing Kenney’s Twitter feed and blog posts makes it obvious that he considers his mission to be “countering violent extremism”. In fact he organized a conference of that exact name at Pitt in April 2015, right around the time that “off ramps” were becoming a thing in FBI counterterrorism circles. Despite the conference’s generic title it focused almost exclusively on Islamic terrorists.

The CVE moniker is not Kenney’s creation, but is rather the name of an approach to counterterrorism pioneered by Obama’s Justice Department in 2014, and since continued and expanded by the Trump administration. The Brennan Center for Justice breaks down CVE as follows:

1 – Initiatives focused on identifying American Muslims — especially young people — who have adopted “radical” or “extremist” ideas, or who supposedly exhibit signs of alienation and are therefore assumed to be at risk for becoming terrorists. These are frequently called intervention programs, and are supported by research grants aimed at identifying the predictive signatures of people who become terrorists.

2 – Programs to fund or facilitate the provision of health, education, and social services to American Muslim communities, based on the theory that adverse economic and social conditions facilitate terrorism.

3 – The promotion of messages that the government believes will counter the propaganda of groups like ISIS, as well as monitoring and sometimes suppressing messages that the government believes foster extremism, including encouraging Internet companies to remove extremist or terrorist content from their websites and promote counter-messages.

Kenney’s past research obviously jibes neatly with element one above. While our politics have nothing in common with al-Muhajiroun’s, like them we are largely peaceful activists who hold what Kenney and his ilk consider to be extreme beliefs. If an academic with his background and oppositional attitude toward civil rights is investigating anarchist communities, it is because he believes we are violent extremists who should be countered, and his job to be helping the authorities figure out how to handle us. Anarchists and antifascists are already demonized in the media and discriminated against by law enforcement. If Kenney’s research into our circles is published it will likely lend more ammunition to those who seek to paint anarchists as dangerous terrorists, and potentially lead to increased harassment from law enforcement. For example, knowledge of our social practices would be useful to informants seeking to infiltrate anarchist groups, such as the undercover cops seen shadowing marches for Antwon Rose II last summer.

Further information

Kenney’s faculty page at Pitt

Kenney’s CV

A selection of Kenney’s publications:

The Islamic State in Britain Radicalization – Introduction: Meeting the Emigrants

The Islamic State in Britain Radicalization – Conclusion: Ending the Emigrants

The Architecture of Drug Trafficking Network Forms of Organisation in the Colombian Cocaine Trade

Structure and Performance

Organizational Adaptation


Dumb Yet Deadly: Local Knowledge and Poor Tradecraft Among Islamist Militants in Britain and Spain

Beyond the Internet: Metis, Techne and the Limitations of Online Artifacts for Islamist Terrorists

Appendix: The Method of Ethnographic Network Analysis

Appendix: Interviews

A Community of True Believers Learning as Process among The Emigrants

The Methodological Challenges of Extracting Dark Networks

Torchlight Editorial on Michael Kenney

Let’s start by acknowledging one thing – Michael Kenney is the world’s worst infiltrator. He’s been hanging around the fringes of the Pittsburgh anarchist scene, being awkward, asking intrusive questions, and contributing nearly nothing for well over a year. He has never concealed his name, his affiliation with Pitt, or the fact that he’s doing research, although he doesn’t necessarily volunteer that information. Any anarchist in Pittsburgh could have outed him at any time just by looking at his faculty page on the Pitt web site, but until this week no one bothered.

Part of this carelessness can be charged to Kenney’s dorkishly harmless-seeming demeanor, and part to the fact that he never approached groups that do any vetting of participants. (He hung out at the Big Idea bookstore, but never joined the collective). Regardless, letting a counterterrorism researcher with ties to the FBI and Homeland Security hang around for as long as Kenney did is a serious failure of security culture.

Now that Kenney has finally been exposed however, it’s time to ask what the hell he was doing here in the first place. According to his 23 page resume, Kenney has researched networks of Salafi propagandists in England, “cyberterrorism”, Osama bin Laden, and the Colombian cocaine trade. How did Pittsburgh’s small and fragmented anarchist community manage to crack that lineup? Granted he lives here, which would have made infiltrating anarchist gatherings in, say, Seattle, impractical, but the question of why he bothered remains. Would Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (a favorite outlet of Kenney’s) really publish a paper on potluck brunch fundraisers and prisoner correspondence? It seems unlikely.

One potential clue comes from his faculty bio. Towards the bottom of the Publications section we find the following line:

Idaho National Laboratory/Battelle Memorial Inc., “Cyber Threat Actors Research,” co-PI (with Phil Williams) on $24,939 contract, October 1, 2016-September 30, 2017.

Notice the part about the 25 grand contract? Maybe Kenney’s moonlighting again. Maybe somebody dangled a payday and a chance to gather enough material for a book in front of him and he jumped on it. If that’s the case we need to find out who his client is, because Kenney probably isn’t their only agent.

In the coming days Torchlight will be analyzing Kenney’s resume, publications, collaborators, and past clients in an attempt to shed more light on his current activities. As always, please send any relevant information to

Pitt Antiterrorism Researcher Infiltrating Pittsburgh Anarchist Projects

Torchlight has received the following communique form a local anarchist that we trust.

A person named Michael Kenney has been hanging out at the Big Idea Bookstore and attending events who  works for the FBI and has done work with DHS and the Office of Naval Intelligence to research extremism in social movements. For the past year he has been attending  prisoner letter writings and when he came to a  protest I was at he gave me his name and I looked him up. The following is a link to his GSPIA (Graduate School of  Public and International Affairs at Pitt) page which has his resume and picture.

If you see this person at a demonstrations or events, definitely make folks aware and call him out. We think he is doing intelligence gathering work for the federal government on movements in Pittsburgh although we aren’t sure what role GSPIA plays in all of this.

We are including Kenney’s picture at the bottom of this post in case it disappears from Pitt’s web site.

In addition, Torchlight’s DC sources report seeing Kenney at recent demonstrations in that city. He has also been attempting to interview anarchists in Pittsburgh, possibly in preparation for a book. His previous publications include  (according to his faculty page linked above) “From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation, and the co-editor of Organizational Learning in the Global Context” as well as “numerous academic journal articles on terrorism, Islamist militancy, and transnational organized crime in Survival, Orbis, Terrorism and Political Violence, Global Crime, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution, among other publications.”

Kenney’s previous work has obviously been in service to the military and police apparatus of the state, and there is no reason to think his current project is any different. Under no circumstances should anyone give Kenney information, or cooperate with him in any way.

Anyone with additional information they can share is urged to get in touch, More as we get it…

Michael Kenney

Fundraisers in February

February 2019 is featuring four fundraisers (and counting!) for local projects/organizations. Starting on Groundhog Day, Pittsburgh ABC is holding a spaghetti dinner and trivia night at the Big Idea to benefit anarchist prisoners Conor Stevens and Eric King.

Next up on the 10th the Big idea will host another benefit, this one a brunch for SCORCH.

On Valentines Day the Buckit Community Bail Fund will celebrate their first bailout at Repair the World. This event will be preceded by a rally at Allegheny County Jail, more on this as we get it.

And on the 16th it’s SCORCH again, with a punk rock karaoke benefit at Babyland. Both SCORCH fundraisers are to raise money for their upcoming action medic training, tentatively scheduled for the second weekend in March.

Local Fascist Activity Since the Tree of Life Massacre

Flyers from the white supremacist group Patriot Front have been spotted in South Hills, according to the Pittsburgh Current. Apparently local residents have been tearing them down as fast as they appear, but antifascists are still urged to keep an eye out. Patriot Front is the new name of Vanguard America, one of whose members, James Fields, murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville last year by ramming his car into a crowd of antifascist counterprotesters. The group is most active in Texas, and has not been known to operate in western PA until now.

More alarmingly, Jewish alt-lite troll Ben Shapiro is scheduled to speak at Pitt next Wednesday the 14th, hosted by Young Americans for Freedom. Shapiro is a racist, trans-phobic, pro-gun, anti-immigrant Zionist author, who also speaks regularly at universities. To date he has not attracted the same attention as other alt-lite personalities such as Charlie Kirk or Milo Yiannopoulos, but he probably deserves it. Watch this space for further developments…