The Center for Investigative Reporting sought to examine documents from fusion centers in both Denver and St. Paul to better understand what roles they played in the security preparations for last year’s Democratic and Republican national conventions. But authorities in Colorado refused a public-records request sent by CIR.
The Colorado Information Analysis Center is run by the state’s Department of Public Safety. In a response letter, Spokesman Lance Clem said that releasing the records would be contrary to the public interest and “not only would compromise [the] security and investigative practices of numerous law enforcement agencies but would also violate confidentiality agreements that have been made with private partner organizations and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.”
The Denver Police Department, for its part, has a history of conducting activities that concern civil libertarians today – spying on individuals engaged in peaceful activities. As a result of a lawsuit filed in 2002 by the American Civil Liberties Union, hundreds of pages of records became public proving that starting in 1953, Denver police spied on as many as 3,200 individuals and 208 organizations.
In April of 2003, the Denver police agreed to a settlement promising only to gather intelligence on individuals actually involved in committing crimes and not those who haven’t violated the law or are merely suspected of nonviolent civil disobedience. The so-called “spy files” were archived, indexed and made available at the Denver Public Library. Some pertaining to individuals are restricted, but the records will be open in their entirety by 2055.
As for the state’s fusion center activities today, there is some information available to the public. The federal Government Accountability Office produced a report in October of 2007 profiling many of the fusion centers that exist across the United States. According to the report, Colorado’s fusion center doesn’t have investigative powers, but it does “collect, analyze, and vet information for authenticity.”
It is staffed full-time by the Colorado State Patrol, the state’s Department of Revenue, the National Guard and the FBI. Corrections and public health officials, the Colorado Springs Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service participate part-time. Among other things, the center can access a nationwide information-sharing system controlled by the Department of Homeland Security, a Department of Justice database of antiterrorism and intelligence information and a secret command and control network run by the Department of Defense. It can also communicate with the U.S. Northern Command, created in 2002 as the military’s arm for combating terrorism attacks on American soil. It’s located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Clem said that during the Democratic National Convention, the center shared with local officials information given to the state by two federal agencies handling security at the event – the FBI and Secret Service. When asked if the fusion center has ever helped prevent a criminal or terrorist act, he said it aided police in linking two shooting incidents that occurred 65 miles away from one another during a weekend spree of violence in December 2007 and left five people dead. Officials there defined the shootings as “as an act of domestic terrorism,” but, according to news reports, it appears to have resulted from the gunman being kicked out of a Christian youth group. In addition, Clem’s example involved the response to an attack, not prevention of one.
He said that Colorado officials observed public statements made by protest coordinators in advance of the DNC. Did they contemplate preemptive tactics like those that occurred in St. Paul?
“We listened and prepared, but we didn’t take any action until an event actually occurred. … From our perspective, the convention week passed without serious incident.” About 150 arrests were made.
G.W. Schulz is a reporter for the Center of Investigative Reporter and covers homeland security. He can be reached at gwschulz [at] cironline [dot] org.