FBI getting its geek chic on for mounting intelligence gathering role

Expanded Internet access for agents, more collaborative e-mail and messaging systems and significantly improved database sharing are just a few of the high-tech paths the Federal Bureau of Investigation is following to bolster its crime fighting and intelligence gathering techniques of the  future.

"We have also expanded our desktop Internet access to over 19,000 agents, analysts, task force, and support personnel. When completed, we anticipate approximately 39,000 Internet-connected desktops will have been deployed at all FBI locations. In addition, we have distributed over 20,000 BlackBerry devices that have e-mail, Internet browsing, and custom features to FBI personnel," FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress today in testimony on the FBI's future.

The technology discussion was only part of the wide-ranging statement which laid out the bureau's sometimes controversial plans to become a more advanced intelligence gathering agency.  

Mueller outlined a number of systems that would help in the intelligence gathering and information sharing realms.  Among them:

  • Law Enforcement Online: LEO s the secure network we use to share unclassified information with registered law enforcement partners. The idea is to offer a single platform for FBI employees to communicate with internal and external partners. LEO already supports over 115,000 law enforcement agencies.
  • Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx): The first phase of N-DEx was turned on in April, and has the lofty goal of tying together more than 200,00- investigators who work in 18,000 local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies across disparate systems and jurisdiction boundaries. With the system, law enforcement officers will now be able to search databases for information on everything from tattoos to cars, allowing them to link cases that previously seemed isolated. They will be able to see crime trends and hotspots, access threat level assessments of individuals or locations, and use mapping technology. N-DEx is exactly the type of technology we need to connect dots and connect law enforcement agencies from coast to coast, Mueller said.
  • Next Generation Identification (NGI) system: NGI will expand the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) beyond fingerprints to advanced biometrics. It will also produce faster returns of information, enabling law enforcement and counterterrorism officials to make tactical decisions in the field. Criminals ranging from identity thieves to document forgers to terrorists are taking advantage of modern technology to shield their identities and activities. This trend will only accelerate. And so our new system will include not just fingerprints, but additional biometric data from criminals and terrorists. It will give us-and all our law enforcement and intelligence partners-bigger, better, and faster capabilities as we move forward, Mueller said.
  • DELTA: a human source management database that will provide a uniform means to administer all facets of human source operation more efficiently and accurately.
  • Operational Response and Investigative Online Network: the next generation Crisis Information Management System and provides case-management and related information-processing capabilities to support federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and emergency personnel at special events or other critical incidents.
  • e-GUARDIAN: a suspicious incident reporting information-sharing system for federal, state, and local law enforcement.

In addition to these systems, the FBI recently opened two new US Regional Computer Forensics Laboratories where examiners are conducting a growing number forensic examinations of digital media, in support of an investigation and/or prosecution of a federal, state, or local crime. With the addition of the new facilities in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, the FBI will have 16 RCFLs nationwide.

RCFLs are a network of digital forensics labs sponsored by the FBI and staffed by local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel. These labs are available-free of charge-to 4,750 law enforcement agencies across 17 states.

Mueller said the FBI is piloting a number of systems that will aid in the collection of biometrics data and also support the rapid search of biometrics databases in the field.

"The true power of advanced biometrics in the national and homeland security arenas is only realized when authorized users, ranging from patrol officers working the streets of America to Department of State officers screening visa applicants abroad, have the ability to quickly gather data on those persons they encounter in real-time search appropriate databases." Mueller said.

 That kind of capability requires close collaboration with other federal, state, and local agencies, which also collect and store biometric data; the development and deployment of portable and interoperable technology; and strict adherence to all applicable laws and regulations to ensure our actions protect privacy and preserve civil liberties, Mueller said.

 Such collaboration has taken a giant leap forward with the completion of a memorandum of understanding between the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security for the sharing of their respective biometric data, and will become operational this October, Mueller said.

Unlike the FBI of 1908, today's FBI is much more than a law enforcement organization. The American public requires that we be a national security organization, driven by intelligence and dedicated to protecting our country from all threats to our freedom, Mueller concluded.

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