July 14th, 2007 06:48 EST
Picture a crowded room, full of people and laptops, wires running here and there, several flat screen TV monitors hanging from the walls, blaring loudly. People are staring intently into their computers…or huddled together talking…or wrapped up in conversations on their cell phones.
It's an intelligence war room of sorts, the kind stood up routinely these days for major special events—such as the nation's Fourth of July celebrations, rock concerts, political conventions, and sporting events like this week's baseball All-Star game.
In this case, the action is taking place on Super Bowl Sunday, February 4, 2007, in Miami. On the field, the Bears and the Colts are locked in battle. In a joint operations center nearby Dolphin Stadium, a bevy of analysts from the FBI and elsewhere are engaged in a different kind of struggle. Their mission is to wade through, make sense of, and instantly pass on to investigators any and all bits of intelligence that might stop terrorists bent on launching an attack on the Super Bowl.
The center is the hub for intelligence at the game, and information is flowing quickly and freely between and among the players in the room, who represent some 45 different local, state, or federal agencies. Leading the operation is FBI supervisory intelligence analyst Christopher L. Eddy of Miami. He has assembled a team of Bureau analysts from the area, along with various specialists from other agencies. In all, there are more than a dozen intelligence experts on hand.
"Our work started long before kickoff," says Eddy. "Months earlier, we started having a series of meetings, hundreds perhaps, to work out logistics. About four weeks before game day, we set up this center, got it wired, made sure all the different agencies could access their databases. Then, we immediately started pulling together intelligence from every possible source and sorting through it all."
The bits of information—say, a terrorist in an Afghan prison cell talking about "game day in Miami"—are carefully scrutinized, with names and data often run through dozen of databases. If a lead pans out, it's passed on to a team of FBI agents and other investigators to run down. "We're really the first line of defense," says Eddy. "We pull together all the intelligence, do our analysis, run our checks. As soon as we know it's not Super-Bowl related, we log it for future reference and move on."
The team ended up processing dozens of suspicious tips. Just a few examples:
A Canadian woman got an errant text message on her cell phone from a Miami disc jockey, asking if she wanted him to "blow up something for the Super Bowl." Turns out, he was talking about having a party.
Local police chasing a wanted suspect found some suspicious items in his car, including a gun sight and mask. His name was run through several criminal databases before he was cleared as a terror threat.
Days before the game, someone reported seeing a suspicious package at a local professional sports arena. It was actually road salt.
An explosive device exploded in a car's tailpipe several miles from Miami. Further investigation revealed it was an attempt to kill a local defense attorney.
In the end… You know the story: on the field, the Colts went on to win the game. Behind the scenes, unknown to most, our team of analysts did their part to help ensure a safe, secure event for all.
"This kind of real-time intelligence operation is exciting," says Eddy. "It's a ton of work, but at the end of day when nothing happens, when you know you helped keep players and fans safe at one of the biggest sporting events in the world, it's worth every minute."