FBI counting on IT vs. terrorism

The FBI is in the midst of a major reorganization to improve its ability to combat terrorism, and it is counting on information technology and technology specialists to better detect and deter terrorist attacks.

By the end of summer, the bureau aims to hire 900 new agents, including computer scientists and other IT specialists. The FBI also plans increased use of such technologies as data mining to detect terrorist threats and is setting up an Office of Intelligence in Washington, D.C., to focus on better "strategic analysis" of information collected about terrorists.

The reorganization, planned by FBI Director Robert Mueller, would concentrate authority in Washington and stress better collection, analysis and sharing of information, an FBI spokesman said.

"Central to any successful structural change at the FBI is new technology," Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. "We are deploying new hardware and networks on an accelerated schedule." For example, the FBI has pushed up the date for completing its $380 million Trilogy project from October 2003 to December 2002. The project is intended to provide the FBI with a Web-based information architecture and replace aged desktop computers with up-to-date machines able to run current-generation software.

FBI computers are "far behind current technology" and "cannot support the robust analytical capacity we need," Mueller said. But the replacement project is not proving easy. "Having to so dramatically replace the entire infrastructure, rather than make incremental improvements, makes the replacement process more difficult," he said.

The main task for the new Office of Intelligence will be to improve the agency's strategic analysis capability and its ability to gather, analyze and share critical national security information, Mueller said.

The office is to be headed by a former CIA official.

A key lesson from the Sept. 11 attacks is that the FBI needs "substantially greater and more centralized analytic capability resident at headquarters, but available anywhere in the world" to those combating terrorism, Mueller said.

The FBI also needs to be "better intertwined with other agencies" so they can share information, he said.

Reform is overdue, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judiciary Committee chairman. "The bureau's information management and computer systems were so flawed that the FBI had no real way to know what information it had in its possession" when investigating the terrorist attacks.

But parts of Mueller's planned overhaul may not be ideal, Leahy said. For example, the FBI's Office of Intelligence and a separate Justice Department Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force appear designed to conduct separate intelligence analysis, maintain separate databases and create separate watch lists, he said. Similarly, the FBI's Internet-based information-sharing Web site, Law Enforcement Online, or LEO, seems to duplicate the Justice Department's Regional Information Sharing System, or RISS, Leahy said.


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