War on Terrorism

Thursday, July 12, 2012

FBI Top Stories: Inside the Denver JTTF, part 2


Partners Help Cast a Wide Safety Net

The more than 100 FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) around the country rely on a network of local, state, and federal partners to help protect the nation. In Denver, one of our key partners is the Colorado Information Analysis Center.

Known by its acronym, CIAC—pronounced “kayak”—was established by the state legislature in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to bring organizations together to gather, analyze, and share information. Working in tandem with the JTTF, the CIAC’s multi-agency fusion approach casts a wide security net throughout the Colorado region.

“We have representatives from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, local law enforcement, local emergency managers, and local firefighters who all come together to share information,” said Steve Garcia, a major in the Colorado State Patrol who oversees the center’s operations. “That information is fused—hence the term fusion center—to create an intelligence-sharing environment.”

The FBI is the fusion center’s investigative arm “and the single most important partner we have,” Garcia added, explaining how the two organizations work hand in hand. “Last year we received over 400 tips and leads that came in to our website or 1-800 number regarding suspicious activity. The FBI, being the primary agency for counterterrorism, goes out and investigates those leads.”

“Our relationship with the fusion center is as significant as any relationship we have,” said Steve Olson, an assistant special agent in charge in our Denver office who supervises the JTTF. He explained that the fusion center not only provides tips and leads, it helps fill intelligence gaps.

In the Zazi case (see Part 1), investigators needed to find out where Zazi had acquired bomb-making chemicals. The fusion center’s 650 terrorism liaison officers (TLOs)—comprised of local sheriff, police, and fire department personnel—fanned out in their jurisdictions to canvass beauty and farm supply stores where those chemicals might have been purchased.

“We sent out a request for information through our TLO network,” Garcia said, “and they were able to talk to local merchants to see if Zazi had been there to buy the precursors to TATP, which is what he was eventually found guilty of.”

“The TLOs are a significant force multiplier for us,” Olson noted. “They can reach parts of the state that we can’t readily access.” In addition to gathering intelligence, the TLOs can also be tasked with disseminating information. By alerting local merchants that terrorists might be seeking certain kinds of chemicals, for example, law enforcement can set tripwires so merchants will report suspicious activity.

“If somebody comes in your store that you don’t recognize and requests a large amount of a precursor chemical, we want you to reach out to your local authorities,” Olson said. “That tip makes it to the fusion center through a TLO, and then it comes to the JTTF for further investigation. That allows us to stay one step ahead of potential problems.”

The FBI maintains a full-time intelligence analyst at the fusion center, which facilitates the immediate sharing of information. “Our motto at the CIAC is that information sharing is a contact sport,” Garcia said. “You’ve got to get up and talk to someone and share that information rather than just sending an e-mail. It’s important to have that day-to-day, face-to-face contact.”

Next: The JTTF’s weapons of mass destruction coordinator.

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