Torchlight Editorial on Michael Kenney

From Torchlight

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

There are 7 Comments

I have no idea who is involved in torchlight (which alone is worrisome) but this is definitely a slam on certain @ groups in Pgh who let someone like this attend their events for almost a full year before doing a background check on them. He isn't involved in anything @ related besides the public facing groups such as ABC and drinking coffee at The Big Idea (where we don't really have the ability to background check everyone who comes in, we can just turn away cops but undercovers definitely come in which are more worrisome than this schmuck).

This information wasn't supposed to become public. Outting informants online when everyone/every group he's been "infilitrating" (he told us his fucking name and where he worked, and it took @'s a year to google it) already knows what he is is a waste of time and doesn't really do anything besides (imo) 1) make sure the next informants are better equipped and 2) publicly shame ourselves for taking so damn long to just google this shit.

Hashtag turn signal chats into blog posts for clicks

This shit happens, things get overlooked.
I don't think 'they' will be better equipped next time; there is tons of information out there for infiltrators, to draw on then the prized information that is apparently being 'let slip' here.
Hopefully making this public will encourage other anarchist groups to give their own backyard a closer look.

despite what the torchlight author(s) intended. the SOLUTION to fucked up people attending anarchist places and events has to be flexible and negotiated (as there will always be these people and being too rigid in any direction makes us predictable and also prevents us from meeting the un-fucked people out there).
the information that this is one way that fucked up people come to us is valuable, regardless of how people decide to respond.
the idea that we could ever make our spaces "safe"/anarchist-only is ridiculous on the face of it. people's FRIENDS are not even all anarchists ffs.

Yeah true, it's a little bit cringe in this case but didn't really cost anything and guaranteed that every public @ scene everywhere has similarly embarrassing stories. As if you're going to creepily run background checks on everyone who hangs around in public spaces … no.

Low key sketchy behaviour is gradually noted over time, then people start to talk, then word gets around.

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