The Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), one of 77 fusion centers recognized by the Department of Homeland Security, resides in a nondescript brick building off a nondescript access road in Lakewood, Colorado. Its modest accommodations and locale belie its reputation as a national model of information sharing. It has earned that reputation by repeatedly getting information that helps its stakeholders—from local police to federal agents—combat terrorism and solve other associated crimes.
Among the factors contributing to CIAC’s success are its analysts, who spend their days working in anonymity in row after row of cubicles. Their efforts have paid off; they have played key intelligence roles in putting dangerous people behind bars before they could hurt innocent civilians in the United States and potentially overseas. Their accomplishments range from helping to stop an airport shuttle bus driver planning to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the New York subway system in 2009 to helping authorities nab a sexual predator fleeing the United States last year. Security Management visited the CIAC to see firsthand how it has achieved its impressive track record.
The CIAC wasn’t always a model fusion center. Established in 2002 as part of a state legislative mandate to set up an intelligence apparatus to address post-9-11 threats, it wasn’t originally given sufficient resources or attention. It didn’t start to develop into its present form until 2005 when then Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) Joe Morales put the Colorado State Patrol in charge of CIAC’s day-to-day operation and decided to put some effort into properly resourcing the fusion center with funds and staff.
Within the state patrol, the architects of the CIAC’s transformation were Colonel James Wolfinbarger, the chief of the state patrol, and two of his officers to whom he gives the lion’s share of the credit: then State Patrol Sergeant Brenda Leffler and then State Trooper Steve Garcia. “The chief and the governor really took a risk on us and said, ‘Fusion centers are the wave of the future, and this is the direction Colorado wants to go,’” says Leffler, now a major and branch manager for the Patrol’s Strategic Analysis and Business Research Unit.
One of the first steps Garcia and Leffler took was to see how other fusion centers functioned. They did this by visiting other sites and inviting other sites in to see their operation and suggest improvements. They visited the state fusion centers in Illinois and New York, and they had personnel from the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC) in to see the CIAC.
At this time, fusion centers were in their infancy, explains Garcia, and there was no model for how they should be set up. Even DHS wasn’t sure what relationships and support it would give to these new state-based intelligence centers.
During their research, Garcia and Leffler found various degrees of success in each fusion center. They were particularly impressed by ACTIC. “We felt that the structure and the foundation that the Arizona fusion center was built upon was a model that could be achieved in Colorado,” says Garcia, now a major with the state patrol’s criminal investigations branch.
What they discovered and doubled-down on was the insight that trusted partnerships, good public relations, and transparency are the bricks and mortar of a solid fusion center. In other words, it was more about process than expensive equipment, a large staff, and a large budget.