Military Families: Terror Targets?

Did the FBI do enough after a disturbing incident?

A frightening incident in May involving a pair of Middle Eastern men and a Fort Collins, Colorado, military wife calls into question how closely federal and local law enforcement officials are communicating with one another and the public 14 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In the aftermath of the 2001 hijackings and suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, federal officials vowed to tear down walls among different law enforcement agencies that sometimes kept vital information bottled up that might help investigators “connect the dots.”

Considering the chain of events earlier this year in Colorado, the dots may still be inhabiting separate orbits.

Fort Collins Police Sgt. Dean Cunningham said two Middle Eastern men approached a woman in a parking lot and asked if her husband was an interrogator with the U.S. military.

Fort Collins Police Sgt. Dean Cunningham said two Middle Eastern men approached a woman in a parking lot and  asked if her husband was an interrogator with the U.S. military.

“They started asking her questions about her husband that made her feel uncomfortable,” he said. “That was about the end of it.”

Police investigated and, after hitting a dead end, passed the information along to the FBI.

The Bureau then disseminated the information last month through an interagency bulletin, but did not alert the public directly. Several police departments and sheriffs offices in Colorado told local news outlets that they had not received any information about the incident.

Cunningham said the woman did the right thing by contacting police even if no obvious crime had been committed.

“I think that was definitely suspicious (enough) for us to come out and look at,” he said. “If something had happened in the future, we could start to see patterns. But we just had the one.”

The incident drew the attention of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., after local media reported it.

“I am alarmed by reports out of Denver that military members’ families have been harassed outside their homes and may be under surveillance,” Gardner said in a statement. “This news comes less than two weeks after FBI Director James Comey, speaking in Denver, warned of the heightened threat from the Islamic State that Colorado specifically faces.”

Cunningham declined to answer questions about whether he thought the FBI acted with sufficient urgency in notifying the public or other police agencies. He deferred questions about that to the FBI.

Special Agent Amy Sanders, a spokeswoman for the FBI field office in Denver, could not be reached for comment Monday, but said in a statement released to Colorado media last week that agents found “no credible threats to military personnel or their family members in Colorado or Wyoming.”

“The FBI continues to coordinate with its military and law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our communities,” Sanders said in the release. “The FBI asks the community to remain vigilant and report signs of suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

The July 2 interagency bulletin was titled, “Middle-Eastern Males Approaching Family Members of US Military Personnel at their Homes in Colorado and Wyoming, as of June 2015.”

The bulletin describes the incident in Fort Collins — without identifying the city — and states that similar incidents have been reported in Wyoming throughout June.

“To date, the men have not been identified and it is not known if all the incidents involve the same Middle-Eastern males,” the bulletin states.

Officials at F.E. Warren Air Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, posted a warning on the base’s Facebook page last week:

“Heads up to all, Federal Law Enforcement Officials recently reported military families in the local area and Colorado were approached at their homes by suspected Middle Eastern males. The suspected individuals attempted to obtain personal information about the military member. Please share this information with family members and educate them on how to react and report suspicious activity.”

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meet the author

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].