FBI needs tech for new mission

The FBI's new primary mission is to prevent terrorist attacks, and to do that, the agency needs new technology, new employees and new operational practices, FBI Director Robert Mueller said May 29.

"It would be nice," for example, if the FBI had computer systems that could track and retrieve relevant information from agency databases and then use artificial intelligence to analyze it. "But we're not there yet," Mueller said in a press conference announcing a wide-ranging overhaul of the FBI.

Spurred by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI is reorganizing its bureaucracy and refocusing its attention. Terrorism, foreign intelligence and espionage, and protecting the nation against cybercrime are moving to the top of the FBI's agenda, Mueller said. Investigating crimes such as bank robberies and fraud — FBI specialties in an earlier era — will be given lower priority.

Centralization is a major theme in the reorganization. FBI headquarters is to become the focal point for intelligence, analysis and dissemination of intelligence, Mueller said.

In an hour-long address describing his plans, Mueller repeatedly returned to the issue of technology.

Today, the FBI "is years behind" in its technological infrastructure, and that must be changed, he said.

"New information technology is critical to conducting business in a different way and critical to analyzing and sharing information on a real-time basis," he said.

The technology improvements Mueller envisions go beyond "just getting computers on board. Everybody from top to bottom" must become proficient at using computers and understanding how technology can transform the FBI's ability to investigate, analyze and communicate, he said.

"That's actually an encouraging thing," said Steven Aftergood, an analyst for the Federation of American Scientists. "Dramatic improvements are realistically achievable" if the FBI would merely invest in modern computers and better training.

The FBI's current computers are slow, its databases are difficult to access and its systems are incompatible, Aftergood said. "By almost any measure, there is huge room for improvement [and it] does not depend on any dramatic breakthroughs in technology," he said.

Mueller said he plans to hire 900 additional technical specialists, including engineers, linguists, computer scientists to focus on cybercrime, and general scientists.

Far greater importance will be placed on information sharing with other federal agencies and with state and local law enforcement agencies, Mueller said. He marveled at Utah law enforcement agencies' ability to share information over the Internet and a police intranet.

"New information technology is critical" for the FBI to begin to share information "on a real-time basis," he said.

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