FBI expanding info-sharing test

Following a successful proof of concept demonstration of a law enforcement information-sharing project in St. Louis, the FBI is starting to test the initiative in more than seven cities across the country.

Although it is now funded as part of the agency's homeland security efforts, the Joint Terrorism Task Force Information Sharing Initiative began prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and is intended to help federal, state and local law enforcement work together on all kinds of criminal cases, said Bill Eubanks, manager of the initiative. He was speaking Jan. 8 at the Government Convention on Emerging Technologies in Las Vegas.

By the end of the month, officials expect to have pilot projects running in St. Louis and San Diego. In the next couple of months, further pilot projects will go live in Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore, working with the Navy. And in May, the pilot project is expected to be ready in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Spokane, Wash., for a joint weapons of mass destruction exercise in the northwest.

The purpose of the pilot projects is to show that there are real, measurable results in criminal investigations when multiple databases are connected instead of relying on joint briefings and information swapping, Eubanks said. Often a jurisdiction does not even know that it has information that could assist another jurisdiction's investigation.

"We're not connected, and this helps us connect," Eubanks said.

The initiative builds a data warehouse to combine the databases of all the participating agencies. It then applies multiple analysis tools to quickly find and share information, such as search tools, analysis of data links, geospatial analysis and some predictive analysis, Eubanks said.

The October 2002 demonstration in St. Louis — which included law enforcement agencies from Missouri and Illinois as well as the FBI — proved that open information sharing at all levels "saves months and months of time of the analysts trying to piece this information together," Eubanks said.

The advantages do not stem from special technology or systems, he said, because the initiative is using commercial technology. The key is that agencies have trusted one another to share information and work together on the investigations, he said.

Evaluation factors include whether new information is uncovered by the analysis tools that wouldn't have been with manual information sharing and whether there is a demonstrable impact on investigations.

In addition to the state and local law enforcement and FBI databases, officials are talking to other agencies to include their information, including databases at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Eubanks said.


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