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Silicon Valley Super Bowl Gets Secret Cyber-Ops Headquarters

The goal of the multi-agency operation, led by the FBI, is simple: thwart the 'bad guys.'
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At an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area, a team of public and private security experts is assembling a pop-up intelligence operations center for Super Bowl 50.

The goal of the multi-agency operation, led by the FBI, is simple: thwart the "bad guys."

"The Super Bowl is one of the few civilian events that gets to be considered a national security event, so it pulls in the full capability of the U.S. government," said Rich Mason, president and chief security officer of Critical Infrastructure, a boutique security consulting firm. "They bring a lot of resources into play."

Others involved include the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Borders Protection and state and local agencies.

The man coordinating those efforts on the ground is Mike Sena, director of Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC).

"I am not sure I will be able to sleep during this whole thing," he said. "My biggest fear is we are going to have something break or not work. There's always that Murphy's law — what can go wrong will go wrong."

With more than a million NFL fans flooding the Bay Area for the Feb. 7 NFL championship game — against the backdrop of recent global terror attacks — it's easy to understand Sena's sentiment.

Virginia-based Haystax Technology — a threat intelligence start-up that counts the state of California, the Department of Defense and DHS among its customers — is helping NCRIC map and make sense of all the data flowing into the intelligence operations center.

The company specializes in cybersecurity around live events and has helped keep safe a slew of high profile gatherings, including the Republican National Convention, the Oscars, the Indy 500 and six prior Super Bowls.

This year, things are a little different.

"This one in particular has a little bit more of a threat intelligence lens on it," said Bryan Ware, Haystax Technology's chief technology officer. "What I am seeing a lot of this year that I can't recall seeing quite as much of is really the planning and the thought and the analysis around potential threat scenarios."

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Haystax licenses its California Common Operating Picture for Threat Awareness (Cal COP) software to a coalition of California agencies, and the Super Bowl partnership builds on that existing relationship, said Ware. The platform aggregates information — which could be in the form of officer field report or traffic incident data — then disseminates it to public safety officials.

"There is increasingly so much more data and so many kinds of sensors that could be brought to bear, that it's really overwhelming," Ware said. "But at the same time, you want to have the best information and it's really our software that sits at the core and providing that situational awareness to the incident commanders and various security and law enforcement personnel."

A giant dashboard Haystax calls "Watchboard" displays all that data on a map at the intelligence operations center. A backup operations center will also run around the clock at Haystax's McLean, Virginia, headquarters. The company's software also feeds data into the Cal COP app.

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"Having the ability to use applications — where you can literally take a quick note or a snapshot and say this is the situation here right now — clears up those radio channels and allows people to feel more freely about reporting things that they may otherwise not have reported until things escalate," said Sena.

NCRIC is also running a public awareness campaign around the Bay Area, encouraging people to report suspicious activity, by calling in or visiting the website which has been optimized for mobile.

"If it is evaluated to have a potential nexus to terrorism or criminal activity, it gives them the ability to push that data into the Haystax system so more than one person can see it," he said.