Tasked With Stopping Terror, Colorado’s Intel Agency Monitors Students Protesting Gun Violence

The Colorado Information Analysis Center alerted authorities to an activist group organizing walkouts in response to school shootings.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 24: Students and teachers fill the Colorado State Capitol in an attempt to meet with legislators and the governor during a protest to end gun violence in schools at the Colorado State Capitol on March 24, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. The protest comes on the heels of two shootings at East High School over the last month where one student was shot and killed outside the school in February and two administrators were shot and injured inside the school a month later. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
Students and teachers fill the Colorado state Capitol during a protest to end gun violence in schools on March 24, 2023, in Denver. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Students protesting gun violence in Colorado are on the radar of the state’s intelligence command center, which issued a bulletin yesterday notifying authorities of “a planned nationwide school walkout … in protest of gun violence,” according to a copy of the document obtained by The Intercept. Thousands of Colorado students were expected to protest inaction by state lawmakers by walking out of their classes Wednesday.

“The Students Demand Action (SDA) has coordinated a nationwide school walkout amongst students throughout the country with similar trends to those seen in Colorado,” stated the situational awareness bulletin dated April 4, which was issued by the Colorado Information Analysis Center. CIAC’s mission is “preventing acts of terrorism, taking an all-crimes/all-threats approach,” according to the agency’s website. It’s not clear how the student walkouts relate to this mission. Experts have long criticized fusion centers like CIAC for operating with broad authorities and little oversight.

“Sadly, messaging targeting protests happens all too often from fusion centers thanks to expansive mandates and lax rules and accountability,” said Spencer Reynolds, counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, who previously served as senior intelligence counsel in the office of general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. “These agencies started as counterterrorism hubs and in early years often singled out American Muslims,” Reynolds added. “They’ve since doubled down, expanding to scrutinize racial justice, environmental, and pro-choice demonstrators.”

“The Colorado Information Analysis Center is not monitoring,” a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management told The Intercept. “The staff within the state’s watch center provide situation awareness to our school districts for planning purposes. … As our website states, the watch center is a unit that has analysts who provide 24/7 support to include coordinating information collection, analysis, and dissemination for Colorado Department Public Safety.”

Fusion centers like CIAC are state entities that were established in the wake of 9/11 to streamline domestic intelligence-gathering. They provide warnings and analysis to local law enforcement and work in concert with federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. They have drawn criticism from civil liberties advocates for engaging in sweeping data collection and dissolving the legal boundaries between state and federal power.

“Fusion centers are often run by police and have a practice of tracking protesters who they construe as security threats,” Reynolds said.

CIAC’s expansive focus is evident in several other bulletins obtained by The Intercept, which are not public but were shared with state and federal partners, including law enforcement. One bulletin, dated November 29, 2022, warned of “potential threats posed by extremism in gaming,” citing games like Roblox as examples. Another warned of the “social and safety implications of new social media app, Gas,” a social platform designed for high schoolers.

“The planned school walkouts are believed to be in response to several recent school shootings,” the CIAC bulletin states, going on to identify over two dozen Colorado schools where walkouts were expected to take place. Last month, two school administrators were shot and wounded by a 17-year-old in Denver’s East High School. On March 27, six people, including three students, were killed when a former student opened fire at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. The CIAC bulletin attributes the walkouts to both of these shootings.

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