More than 20 threats—One day in the life of a JEWISHcolorado Security Advisor

Feb 1, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

Antisemitic incidents in the United States have tripled in the three months since October 7, compared to the same period a year ago, according to newly collected data from the Anti-Defamation League.

In Colorado, antisemitic threats and incidents are handled by the Secure Community Network (SCN), based at JEWISHcolorado.

On Tuesday, January 9, 2024, JEWISHcolorado followed SCN Regional Security Advisor Kevin Farrington for one day to better understand the key role JEWISHcolorado and SCN are playing in protecting the Colorado community during this unprecedented level of threats.

In his own words, here is a day in the life of Kevin Farrington.

Kevin FarringtonI flew home from a meeting at Secure Community Network headquarters in Chicago the morning of January 9, along with SCN Regional Security Director Phil Niedringhaus. (Note: Both Farrington and Niedringhaus are retired from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

When we landed in Denver around noon, both our phones were going off non-stop with people getting in touch with us by emails, phone messages, and multiple phone calls.

While we were in the air heading home, more than 20 Jewish organizations in Colorado—including synagogues with preschools—had received bomb threats. People just walked into the office for what they thought we be another routine day, opened their email, and found the threat. The language in all of the emails was almost the same, word for word.

Many of the organizations that were under threat had been through this same experience several weeks ago with a first round of emailed threats using very similar language, so they were familiar with the verbiage.

The last round proved to be all hoaxes. But that presents a dilemma when another threat comes. While we would like to think it’s another hoax, we cannot assume it is. We have to treat it with utmost seriousness. We cannot grow complacent because complacency kills.

What happens after the threat?

The organizations that were calling us knew what to do because of the training we had done. In fact, I had been at one of the synagogues that was now on the phone with me less than a week earlier to assess the facility’s security.

Before they called me, they had notified local law enforcement. The next thing they knew to do was to evacuate the building. That is not easy when you are running a preschool, and it’s a cold wintry day outside. By the time people were calling me or Phil, they had left an empty building. That’s what we train people to do—take care of yourself and the facility first and then reach out to us.

When we talked, they confirmed what they had done and asked questions like “Is there anything we missed, anything we should be doing?”

I forwarded all the threatening emails that were received to the SCN Duty Desk in Chicago. SCN has the staff to do a logical intelligence review of what they see in the emails. Is there anything in the email that is exploitable—that would lead us to identify the sender?

I also called the SCN Duty Desk to confirm that we had more than 20 threats and to ask if this is part of a trend they are seeing around the country. Even before we had any bomb threats in Colorado, the SCN Duty Desk had been tracking threats in other parts of the country and alerting us so we could consider our response if it happened here.

Next, I called the Colorado FBI office, connecting with leadership on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Supervisor of Hate Crimes. On any given day, Colorado’s FBI field office is dealing with 10 different things of similar magnitude, so I wanted to personally make them aware of what was happening.

By now, I was out of the airport and making calls from my car. I called Renée [Rockford, President & CEO of JEWISHcolorado). We discussed how to communicate this latest round of threats within the community.

Finally, I made sure the Anti-Defamation League was aware of what we knew. I sent a list of what organizations had been threatened and asked if they were aware of any other ongoing threats. All this happened before 2 p.m.

Who is behind these threats?

The sender of these emails is firmly on FBI and SCN radar. The FBI cyber security people are excellent. At the SCN Duty Desk, there are people sitting at computers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not just collecting data but doing intelligence analysis.

Whoever is behind the round of threats we dealt with on January 9 could be in this country or could be anywhere internationally. With the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a connection between a computer and a remote server, anyone can use techniques to conceal their online identity, location, and IP address and disrupt basic investigative tools. This could be a 10-year-old kid with a VPN engineering these threats.

But we have to ask, what is the endgame? If you are doing this, what is your goal? Is it to lull people to sleep so they don’t take these threats seriously? Since we don’t know the endgame, we have to believe all these threats are credible.

A bomb threat is a day when we are dealing with a real incident. But on a daily basis, we are doing trainings to help improve security in Jewish facilities across the state. With state and federal funds provided by the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, we can go through a facility, assess vulnerabilities, and make recommendations for action items. There are 114 Jewish facilities in Colorado, and we are concerned about security at every single one of them. Every day, we are in contact with some of them, and I wish I could be in contact with all of them. Every day, we are working to make them more secure.

We are thankful these bomb threats have been hoaxes. The community should know that we feel like we are going to win. By that, I mean we are going to overcome these threats and continue to thrive as a community. The Jewish community has always found a way to overcome challenges, and I am proud to support that resilience.