The Democratic National Convention will serve as a catalyst for the creation of a temporary “super fusion” center that two local police officials hope will permanently expand domestic intelligence powers in Colorado.
The concept, outlined by Michael Battista, deputy chief of operations for the Denver Police Department, in little-noticed congressional testimony last summer, will culminate in security preparations for next week’s convention managed by the largest convergence of law enforcement, military and emergency personnel in the state’s history. The massive apparatus used by federal agencies like the United States Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be deployed to gather intelligence about potential threats and “suspicious activities” during the convention.
The Colorado Independent reported last month that the state’s intelligence fusion center, known as the Colorado Intelligence Analysis Center (CAIC) will be operating 24 hours a day during the convention and will be fully staffed with up to eight intelligence analysts at any given time.
The work being done by law enforcement has raised concerns among civil liberties advocates about the surveillance of law-abiding citizens. “This is something that’s really growing,” says Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The further expansion certainly marks a dramatic, if temporary, expansion of the fusion center concept. The Multi-Agency Communication Center (MACC), the main nerve center for all convention security and safety operations, will be a much more massive undertaking than CIAC.
Located in Lakewood, the MACC will include 55 local, state and federal agencies, coordinating the work of all law enforcement and safety agencies involved with the convention, according to Malcolm Wiley, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, the agency that will be managing the commutations center.
“It’s just one of the many things that is always in place,” Wiley says, noting that MACCs have been used at other high-profile security events, including Super Bowls and previous political conventions, as a standard practice.
The MACC will start operations on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 9 a.m, and will stop after Aug. 28 when the convention ends, according to Wiley.
Representatives with the 55 agencies at the MACC will be sharing information and situational awareness in real time. Among the government agencies participating are the Colorado National Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Air Marshals, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Secret Service’s Intelligence Operation Center usually conducts background checks or investigates possible threats relating to a security event, and will be sharing information with the MACC while the convention is taking place.
Law enforcement officials working at MACC, meanwhile, will also be sharing security information with national centers that trade communications and coordinating actions to prevent potential terrorist attacks and other domestic incidents, according to Timothy Koerner, an assistant director with the Secret Service who testified at the same congressional Homeland Security hearing in 2007.
The national centers include the the Secret Service Joint Operations Center, the FBI Strategic Information Operations Center and DHS National Operations Center, all three of which are located in Washington, D.C., along with Northern Command, a military unit located in Colorado Springs 70 miles south of Denver.
“The federal, local and state officials are all working together jointly on the convention, and it’s a coordinated effort to make sure everything goes smoothly,” said Denver police spokesperson Sonny Jackson, who referred specific inquires about intelligence operations and the MACC to the Secret Service.
The CIAC will share communications with the MACC if and when warranted, said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
“It’s an indirect reporting role,” Clem said. “CIAC is a place where citizens can report suspicious activity during the convention and at other times. If CIAC determines that information should be acted on, CIAC will send it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation or to a local law enforcement agency.”
What happens after the convention?
In his congressional testimony last summer, Battista urged that the use of the Secret Service’s Intelligence Operations Center and the MACC to consolidate intelligence between agencies during the Democratic convention “should be built upon” with the financial support of the federal government through the funding offull-time employees. The result, according to Battista, would “leave an intelligence sharing legacy” in Colorado.
During the same hearing, Police Chief Daniel Oates with the Aurora Police Department, which is supplying 300 police officers for convention security, testified that the “world-class criminal intelligence apparatus” used during the convention be sustained permanently in Colorado andthat it include “a linked network of all records management systems and other valuable data systems of all police agencies in the state.”
Oates explained the system as a data mining initiative that organizes information from databases to find links between specific details:
Beyond merely linking data, our vision calls for a modern system with state-of-the-art analytical tools—one that can, for example, probe and make sense of all kinds of disparate data, that can perform visual link analysis, that can respond to ad hoc queries by talented analysts and detectives, that can find the link, for example, between a license plate, a phone number, asuspect’s description, a nickname, a tattoo, and/or a particular method of committing crime.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has recently partnered with nine local police agencies to purchase state-of-the-art proprietary software to mine data, Oates said. The police chief also testified that law enforcement in the cities of Aurora and Grand Junction, along with Arapahoe, Adams, and Mesa counties, would be purchasing the same software by February 2009 to “join the Colorado intelligence-sharing consortium.”
A second part for increasing intelligence sharing in the state, according to Oates’ testimony, is to expand the role of the CIAC, which is headquartered in Centennial south of Denver. CIAC analysts from local, state and federal agencies have access to more than a dozen government databases while receiving reports of “suspicious activity” — activity that some civil rights advocates claim could be nothing more than participating in peaceful protests or photographing federal facilities that could be targeted for terrorist attack.
In his testimony, Oates states that “several police chiefs and sheriffs here have just recently begun to press to expand” CIAC into a full-time intelligence center that is staffed by 30 or more law enforcement officials.
Right now the CIAC is fully staffed with up to eight intelligence analysts.
Civil Liberties at risk?
Mike German of the ACLU says the idea of a “super fusion” center is new and ambiguous.
“I’ve never heard of the concept,” German said, noting that the original purpose of “fusion” centers was to act as a conduit for information as part of a cross-jurisdictional communication network.
“What is the purpose of a fusion center if not to do this? Why are we creating something separate?” he asked. “Is the next step we’re going to have a super-duper fusion center?”
German has released two reports on “fusion” centers, finding multiple problems with the practice of data consolidation and mining through information to find terrorism suspects.
For instance, in July it was reported that undercover Maryland state troopers had been spying on peaceful protesters and that they were trading information on activists, including names, that was accessible to the state’s fusion center and other federal agencies, prompting the Maryland officials to reevaluate intelligence-gathering policies.
The The U.S. Justice Department is also proposing new domestic spying measures that would make it easier for law enforcement officials in Colorado to collect and share intelligence with the federal government.
In response to questions relating to the planned increase in domestic intelligence operations during and after the convention, Colorado Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who sits on the intelligence subcommittee and recently toured CIAC, released a statement that said: “I believe that information sharing between law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders is critical to prevent terrorist attacks and other crimes.”
Perlmutter also stated that he wanted to see “fusion” centers meet their mission while respecting civil liberties.
For more on “fusion” centers, read The Colorado Independent’s continuing coverage: