Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin spent the past year away from his job and home doing counterintelligence work for the U.S. military in the war against terrorism.
But it wasn't the glamorous, spylike gig some might envision. There was no lurking around corners, clandestine meetings with comely foreign agents or even a little subdued gunplay. He didn't even fire a peashooter.
"It was uneventful -- which is good," said Carlin, who spent a good amount of time collecting information about things like possible bomb threats, anthrax threats and other top secret data and disseminating it to various military and government agencies and field agents as part of the effort to prevent any disasters like the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon.
Carlin sat down for an interview last week about his time away from his day job, which he returned to at the end of October. After a year dealing with issues of international intrigue, he is back in his familiar role leading the city's Police Department, dealing with the financial problems that threatened to cut more officers from the force and preparing for this month's opening of the Seneca casino downtown.
All of which couldn't be more different from what he was doing for the better part of a year for the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Carlin said he was one person in a vast network of people who worked to protect citizens from terrorism, both international and domestic.
That he spent many 12-hour days collecting information, having it analyzed and sending it on to where it was needed was well worth the effort when it turns out no major disasters occurred over the 11 months he worked for the unit, he said.
Carlin said he spent most of his time in three places -- Salt Lake City, the Washington, D.C., area and in Georgia. He said his first stop was Georgia, where he performed his regular military function as a criminal investigator with the Air Force in November and December.
Things changed in January.
"I was sent to the Winter Olympics in a counterintelligence role as a special agent at the Olympic Intel Center for the Department of Defense," Carlin said. He said he worked with seven other agents "looking at possible threats to the Olympics."
In the building where he was operating, Carlin said, there also were agents and analysts from all of the military services, the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Customs and a cornucopia of other government and law enforcement agencies all working on various aspects of Olympic security.
"If there was a suspected domestic terrorist, we'd do a records check to see if he had been in the military service or had any military connections," he said. "If any threats to the Games came in from the field, we would be involved in the inquiries. We would be responsible for verifying and passing that information on to other agencies. . . . The Secret Service was responsible for overall security at the various Olympic game sites" while other agencies took on different responsibilities.
And while he could not state that the massive effort to protect the games stopped anything disastrous from happening, Carlin said, "The deterrent factor was overwhelming," making it excessively difficult for anyone to disrupt the Olympics.
He said it was amazing how the multitude of agencies worked together and shared information.
"It was a model on how things should work for future events," he said.
As for problems, Carlin said he and his colleagues had "one high level of concern," but it was resolved. There were other "incidents," he said, but nothing serious.
Carlin said he could not be too specific because what he dealt with is classified information he is not free to discuss.
He said security was so tight at the Olympics that Secret Service agents could be seen "sitting up on mountainsides with rifles, wearing parkas and ski clothes."
And though he was busy most of the time, Carlin said he got to see a curling match at the Olympics along with the Slovakia versus France hockey game. He said he was rooting for Slovakia because Buffalo Sabres forward Miroslav Satan played on that squad.
He said a lot of dignitaries passed through the Air National Guard Base where he was stationed. They included President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld along with a number of foreign officials.
After the Olympics, Carlin said he was moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a conduit for information from all over the world, including events concerning the American mission in Afghanistan, and provided it to his boss, Air Force Brig. Gen. Leonard E. Patterson, and relayed it to other agents in the field.
"We were concerned with anything that was sensitive to the Department of Defense, especially Air Force assets," he said.
He said his unit would check out threats and other information, determine if any patterns could be detected and then get that information into the field so agents could look for similar threats in their areas of operation.
"I can't get into detail," Carlin said.
Carlin said he was made aware of Buffalo's "Lackawanna 8" alleged terrorist sleeper cell as it was developing over the summer. "I handled some of the information via a special telephone you can talk about classified information over and it can't be intercepted," he said.
He said the most important thing he saw accomplished was that agencies are now working together and sharing intelligence information for the common good -- to prevent another incident of mass murder and destruction. The nation's intelligence agencies came under fire after Sept. 11 because of what some saw as a failure to do that.
"The deterrent is the big thing," Carlin said. "Without it, something can happen,"
Having previously served the Air Force exclusively as a criminal investigator in recent years, Carlin said his military stint was educational because he had not been involved with counterintelligence work before.
"I enjoyed it. I met a lot of great people. I learned a lot, but, obviously, it's not as good as being home, " he said.
Carlin was not the only Niagara County law enforcement official in the military; four of his city police officers are also away on military duty, and two Niagara County sheriff's deputies also were stationed in the Washington area.
He stressed that his short-lived time in the service is nothing compared to the men who have have been out of the country from Reserve units and expect to be gone for a more than a year. He said was able to make several visits home over the past year.
Carlin was called away to duty last Nov. 4 as part of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and was released from duty in late October.
But that didn't mean he stopped being police chief. While on leave, he learned about city proposals to cut the department by 13 positions in the 2003 budget. He said he worked with Deputy Police Superintendent John P. DeMarco to deal with problems and now he's back trying to make sure the city doesn't lose any more police officers.