Secret Fla. fusion center an early warning system for terrorism

Formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the center brings together analysts and agencies to screen public and law-enforcement information on terrorist leads.

By Jim Leusner
The Orlando Sentinel

Somewhere in a nondescript Orlando building, a group of intelligence analysts are helping to detect terrorist activities in nine area counties.

The Central Florida Intelligence Exchange, a so-called information "fusion center" for state and local agencies, has formally opened with the assistance of an $850,000 Department of Homeland Security grant.

"This is our high-tech, early warning system," said Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary. "We're trying to prevent things from happening."

The center was formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and brings together seven intelligence analysts from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the Orlando Police Department and other agencies. They'll help screen public and law-enforcement information to look for terrorist leads and crime trends.

A video released Monday by the Sheriff's Office shows a bank of television monitors, a large projection screen and computer workstations where analysts sift through police databases and local agency reports and track worldwide events. The video shows an open house held last week for representatives from 27 local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies who visited and viewed demonstrations at the center. Its location is being kept secret.

The facility will link to a statewide fusion center in Tallahassee and with others on the drawing board throughout the state. Aside from terrorism monitoring, gang activities, gun-trafficking and violent crimes -- especially in Orlando and Orange County -- also will be studied.

"They're going to create terror on the streets, so we're getting involved," said Orange County sheriff's Capt. Mark Pilkington, the center's director. "We're causing [law enforcement] connectivity throughout the region."

The center was set up in Orlando because it was centrally located and one of the nation's top tourist destinations. In addition, the Sheriff's Office had a budget that could absorb expenses before being reimbursed by the federal government, he said.

Eventually, officials hope analysts from the Florida National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and agencies in Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard, Volusia, St. Lucie, Indian River and Martin counties will assign personnel there.

Joyce Dawley, head of FDLE in Central Florida and co-chair of the nine-county Central Florida Regional Domestic Security Task Force, said the unit will encourage agencies to share information on everything from criminal organizations and gun-store thefts to persons buying dangerous chemicals.

"We put the dots together and another agency will make the case," Pilkington said.

Copyright 2007 Sentinel Communications Co.

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