FBI's Trilogy progress slow

During the past year, the FBI bought new desktop computers for its 56 field offices, but it will take until 2004 to install the systems, software and networks that enable agents to share information and easily search databases during investigations, a senior FBI official told senators July 16.

The technology upgrades are part of a $400 million project called Trilogy that is designed to bring up-to-date computer capabilities to the FBI. But Trilogy's progress is slow.

"Frankly, that's unacceptable," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "I find it impossible to believe that we cannot, for the safety of our nation, implement Trilogy any faster."

Schumer said, "The problems with the FBI's technology infrastructure have taken on a new urgency" since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Despite new computers, printers and scanners, FBI agents still cannot tap into five investigation databases from their desktops, cannot send and receive e-mail, and not all have access to the Internet, said Sherry Higgins, Trilogy systems adviser.

Trilogy would move the FBI "an enormous step forward," Schumer said. "We need it today, not tomorrow. We needed it yesterday." Schumer described FBI technology as "dinosaur-era" and "fossil technology."

After floundering for nearly a year, the FBI hired Higgins in March to take over Trilogy. She is a former chief information officer and chief technology officer at Lucent Technologies. Before that, she held technology posts at AT&T

In the four months she has worked for the FBI, Higgins said she has "been given a whole lot of reasons why the FBI is where it is" technology-wise, "and I have asked not to be given history as excuses."

After the terrorist attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered officials to speed up Trilogy, but in written testimony presented to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Higgins said the date for completing "phase two" of Trilogy has been moved back from this month to March 2003 "to allow additional time to test and deploy a secure, operational system."

Higgins told Schumer that it will take longer to install "the right solution" than it would take to install "a solution. Deciding what is right takes time." So does recreating documentation for old systems for which supporting documentation has been lost, she said.

A computer system that gives FBI agents better access to investigation files and other information would help them do their jobs better, but it also poses serious danger from a security standpoint, warned Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

Sessions, a former U.S. attorney, said, "There are people who would be dead, would disappear tomorrow" if information from FBI investigation files is made too freely available.

Recalling Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who for years sold intelligence information to the Soviets, Sessions warned against providing too much access to staff members, clerks and even agents.

Schumer suggested that the FBI work with "an advisory group" made up of computer systems experts from private companies to speed up the Trilogy project.

"I totally support that, and the director supports it," Higgins said.

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