FBI boosting virtual case database
- By Sara Michael
- Apr 14, 2003
With the network for the Trilogy modernization system completed, FBI officials have shifted their focus to a case file warehouse to improve intelligence and information sharing and enhance records management.
The Virtual Case File system, slated to be complete in December, is an Internet-based system on the Trilogy network that will allow agents to search, analyze and compile case information. It is the first real change in workflow processes the bureau has seen in 50 years, officials said.
"It has been since the '50s that we've done any process re-engineering," a senior FBI official said during a briefing. The bureau insisted that officials not be quoted by name.
In March, the Trilogy network was deployed to 591 sites, linking 22,000 new desktop workstations, 2,612 switches and routers, 622 Ethernet local-area networks, and 291 servers. The project also includes an enterprise operations center where the network is managed. It will soon include increased security so FBI officials can monitor usage and ensure that people with proper clearances are accessing files.
The original Trilogy concept, conceived in the early 1990s, was less complex than the current version. FBI officials have added satellite and encryption capabilities and included 70 additional sites. Those additions, officials said, accounted for most of the $138 million overrun beyond the original $458 million.
"We started off much farther back than I'd imagined," said Wilson Lowery, the FBI's executive director for administration. He joined the bureau about nine months ago, incredulous that it "could be in this bad of shape with technology."
The Virtual Case File system accounted for about $40 million of the modernization project's additional cost. Once completed, it will replace the paper-based case files with an electronic file, giving agents improved access to case information and advanced search capabilities. The virtual knowledge database will enable agents and reports officers, depending on security clearances, to share case information through one electronic representation of the case file.
"We're very good collectors of information," a senior FBI official said. "The problem has been we haven't had an [information technology] structure to support us."
Early last year, officials scrapped their previous approach to a case management system because the process used to enter cases was arduous and not fully completed online. FBI agents examined the Web-enabled system, called Automated Case Support, and recommended they kill the project. "That project would have failed," the official said and described it as "putting lipstick on a pig."
Last spring, officials spent five months writing requirements and definitions for the case filing system and are currently coding case files for the expected December launch. The case filing system will replace the Automated Case Support system and four other investigative systems. The new system is also expected to replace many of the 45 to 179 applications now developed and in use by agents.
"This hits the major five and allows a lot of them to be subsumed naturally by the Virtual Case File system because of workflow," a senior FBI official said.
In developing the bureau's new information warehouse, FBI officials sought to move all the relevant information — about 31 million documents — to the new database. Agents also had to input 23 million documents, a pile which continues to grow as information comes in from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Agents built a massive scanning system at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., to handle the documents; it will scan about 1 million documents daiy. The database now has a capacity of 9 terabytes, but officials expect it to grow to 100 terabytes by the end of the year. FBI investigative documents constitute about 95 percent of the data stored, and open-source documents, such as news articles, take up the remaining space.
The warehouse's components are called the Terrorism Intelligence Database and the Information Sharing Data Mart. Information will flow to the warehouse from telephone and call records; Joint Terrorism Task Force data; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the State Department's visa database; and from other agencies.
In developing the data warehouse, FBI officials now "have much more complex software and security issues," said John Pescatore, an analyst with Gartner Inc. Many of the bureau's legacy systems were not meant to communicate with other systems and they have various levels of security clearance. He said there would also likely be a backlash from privacy groups concerned about so much data sharing among organizations.
"I think they are going to have both the internal issues of having the system connected" and external privacy concerns, Pescatore said. "The privacy people go bananas because it smells like Big Brother."
The implementation of the Trilogy network simply brings the bureau to a level at which private companies have been for years, Pescatore said. The Virtual Case File system, however, will have a greater impact on the agents' case management and analysis.
"The Trilogy network was pretty simple, really. The FBI was just way behind. Now they're up to 1999," he said. "For law enforcement, [the case filing system] is going to be groundbreaking."
Science Applications International Corp., the vendor for the Virtual Case File system, chose not to comment and referred inquiries to the FBI. n
FBI's toolbox FBI agents accessing data in the Virtual Case File system will have a host of commercial analytical and search tools at their fingertips. * Oracle Corp. 9i's terrorism document database allows for basic searches that result in links to scanned images of intelligence and open-source documents and photographs alongside a text version for keyword searches. * Chiliad Publishing Inc. Business Intelligence Suite's search applications allow agents to enter a question, and the tools produce results. * ClearForest Corp.'s ClearResearch provides a single-screen diagram of relationships between people or places, and agents can receive a brief narrative outlining the nature of the relationship by clicking on the link between people. This tool has a powerful recognition system with logic the bureau can customize to its needs, and the lines between names are darker depending on the strength of the relationship. * i2 Ltd. Analyst's Notebook maps a time line between people and key events, merging source charts into one outlined flow.