FBI to build data warehouse

The FBI has selected "investigative data warehousing" as a key technology to use in the war against terrorism.

The technique uses data mining and analytical software to comb vast amounts of digital information to discover patterns and relationships that indicate criminal activity. The same technology is widely used in the commercial sector to track consumer activity and even predict consumer behavior.

The FBI plans to build a data warehouse that receives information from multiple FBI databases, according to Mark Tanner, the agency's information resources manager. Eventually, the warehouse might receive data from other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Data mining and data warehousing are part of a much larger FBI plan to acquire and employ modern information technology to thwart future terrorist attacks.

"New technologies are required to support new and different operational practices," FBI Director Robert Mueller said May 29, detailing a sweeping overhaul planned for the federal law enforcement bureau.

By the end of the summer, the FBI hopes to hire 900 new agents, including computer scientists and other IT specialists. The bureau overhaul also includes:

* Establishing a cybercrime division.

* Setting up regional computer forensic laboratories.

* Creating a new investigative technology division.

* Establishing a group to monitor electronic communications.

* Speeding up installation of a new information infrastructure that will make modern computers and networks available to FBI agents across the country.

Spurred by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mueller said he plans to reorganize the FBI to create "a more agile, flexible and focused FBI that we need to meet our primary objective of preventing terrorist attacks."

Other top priorities for the FBI will be disrupting foreign intelligence and espionage and protecting against cybercrime, Mueller said. Investigating bank robberies, fraud and other white-collar crimes — FBI specialties in an earlier era — will be given lower priority.

As he disclosed details of the planned reorganization, Mueller repeatedly cited the FBI's need for better technology. "New information technology is critical to conducting business in a different [way], critical to analyzing and sharing information on a real-time basis," he said.

Mueller also said the FBI must do a better job of sharing information with state and local police and intelligence agencies such as the CIA.

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.

Today, "more than half of our records are in paper form" with a computer-based index, Tanner said in an interview May 30. An FBI agent in Washington, D.C., making a name query to the index may find that paper records containing that name exist in Los Angeles, New York and Miami. "Then I've got to ask someone to review the document for me or send it to me so I can review it. It's not very efficient," he said.

In the future, the FBI must "focus on analytical capabilities" far more than it has in the past, Mueller said.

"It would be nice if I could put in a request for information on flight schools" and access all the reports the FBI has written on flight schools from various FBI databases and then analyze them using artificial intelligence software, Mueller said. "But we're not there yet."

What Mueller is describing is "enterprise data warehousing," said Allen Shay, president of Teradata, a data warehousing division of NCR Corp.

The technology is used extensively in the commercial sector to monitor sales in stores and automatically order new stock when inventories run low, monitor individual customer buying habits and try to influence consumer buying.

The FBI could use the same technology to search vast collections of data to spot suspicious trends, Shay said. Analyzing data collected in various FBI databases and by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the CIA and other agencies could turn up suspicious activity that now is overlooked.

Add to that data from credit card companies, airlines, banks, phone companies and other commercial entities, and actions and events that previously seemed innocuous when considered separately begin to trigger alarms when considered in context with other activities.

"They're just getting started," Shay said of the FBI effort. "But the good news is the technology is very mature now. They will get the advantage of a lot of pioneering done in the commercial area."


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