DENVER (AP) — A former head of the FBI field office that helped disrupt a plot to bomb New York City subways disputed a report that said a Colorado terror center did little in the investigation of Najibullah Zazi.
James H. Davis, who led the FBI office in Denver at the time of the plot, said Wednesday that he relied heavily on a Colorado intelligence “fusion center” in the Zazi investigation in 2009.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee review downplayed the role of the Colorado Information Analysis Center. It said, in part, that “much of the contribution attributed to CIAC (on Zazi) came from state troopers, and could have — hopefully, would have — occurred absent a fusion center.”
The review, reported by The Associated Press on Tuesday, criticized the multibillion-dollar network of “fusion centers” as ineffective in fighting terrorism and risky to civil liberties. The subcommittee reviewed more than 600 unclassified intelligence reports over a one-year period and concluded that most had nothing to do with terrorism.
“The fact is, we, the United States, have successfully disrupted one al-Qaida plot in the United States, and the state fusion center played a significant role in that disruption,” Davis said in a telephone interview. “I saw it. It’s an uncontestable fact for me.”
Zazi, an Aurora, Colo., airport shuttle driver, pleaded guilty to the subway plot in what authorities called the most serious terror threat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Zazi has testified that he traveled to Pakistan in 2008 to avenge the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, received terror training at al-Qaida outposts, and was encouraged to return home for a suicide bombing mission.
Zazi testified he learned to extract explosives ingredients from nail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide and other products he purchased at beauty supply stores in Colorado, where he perfected a homemade detonator in a hotel room and set out for New York City by car around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The plot was abandoned after Zazi noticed that everywhere he drove in New York, a car followed.
Davis is now executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state fusion center. He said the center played a crucial role after authorities were tipped by an email intercept to Zazi’s plan to build explosives. Center analysts found information about Zazi’s friends and relatives, said Davis, adding it was a state trooper who stopped Zazi on a highway and learned he was headed to New York.
“What we knew was that we had one bad guy who was in contact with an operational al-Qaida unit in (Afghanistan). We did not know the extent of his network, we did not know where the other people in his network were, the time frame, target,” Davis said. “We didn’t know what he was going to do.”
“Without the CIAC, there would be no system for gathering that information from those points of contact,” Davis added. “There’s no way the FBI would have the manpower to do that.”
In a written response to subcommittee staff, Colorado State Patrol Maj. Steve Garcia said the Colorado center cooperated fully with the report’s authors — but that it appeared the final document “is being used to create a division between the Senate and DHS (Department of Homeland Security)” and doesn’t reflect the analytical duties of CSP troopers.
“This action is not fair to the men and women of the Colorado State Patrol who assist and partner with all law enforcement agencies to assist in the fight against terrorism both in Colorado and across the United States,” Garcia said.
– By P. Solomon Banda, AP Writer
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