9-11 group faults IT obsolescence

Before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI lacked the proper technology to gather and share case information, the commission investigating the attacks said today.

"The FBI's primary information management system, designed using 1980s technology already obsolete when installed in 1995, limited the bureau's ability to share its information internally and externally," the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the U.S., best known as the 9-11 Commission, said in a staff statement.

However, former FBI Director Louis Freeh continually asked for funding for information technology upgrades, with little congressional support, Freeh said in written testimony to the panel. FBI officials and Congress could not agree on the implementation and funding plans.

"There was universal agreement that the FBI needed the IT upgrade," Freeh wrote. "However, there was disagreement on the type of contract vehicle being proposed, how much the FBI could or should do using in-house capabilities versus contractors, deployment to field office, stating of the capabilities within each phase and cost."

In the fiscal 1999 and 2000 budget requests, FBI officials asked for IT upgrade funds and submitted plans, but Congress prohibited the spending or rejected the plans, Freeh said. Congressional restrictions on the IT spending held up FBI's attempts to upgrade the basic technology needs, Freeh said.

"Desktop computers grew older and more obsolete; network switches, servers and other equipment became more fragile and more prone to breakdown," he said.

In 2000, Freeh hired IBM Corp. executive Robert Dies as the assistant director for the FBI's information resources division to help with the development of the Trilogy modernization program, which when completed this summer will update the bureau's outdated technology.

"Dies told us that given the enormity of the task at hand, his goal was merely to 'get the car out of the ditch,'" the committee staff said.

Dies came up with a new plan based on Congress' suggested $200 million price tag, half the amount FBI officials had previously asked for, Freeh said. Congress supported the plan for Trilogy, and contracts were awarded in May and June 2001.

The infrastructure component of the three-part, $458 million Trilogy project will be finished at the end of this month. The Virtual Case File application for compiling and searching case information will be done about two months later, FBI officials said last month. The timeline and capabilities for the program were accelerated after Sept. 11, leading to several cost and schedule overruns, officials said.

The bureau also faced funding obstacles in the Justice Department's fiscal 2003 budget request, which "did not include an enhancement for the FBI's information technology program intended to support the collection, analysis and rapid dissemination of information pertinent to FBI investigations," the committee statement said.

The inadequate technology hindered information sharing among FBI agents, the committee said, and they were unable to develop comprehensive information on a particular group of potential terrorists.

"Given the poor state of the FBI's information systems, field agents usually did not know what investigations in their own office, let alone in other field offices, were working on," the committee said.

Problems with the bureau's technology infrastructure date back to the early 1990s, when FBI officials estimated that a much needed five-year upgrade plan would cost $432 million, Freeh said in his written testimony. IT upgrades were also identified in the 1998 strategic plan, and FBI officials noted the needs for improvements in the late 1990s through 2001, he said.

"We didn't wake up one day in the mid-1990s and realize that our IT systems were unable to perform even basic functions, such as email and electronic files available in other government agencies and the private sector," Freeh wrote.

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