FBI to bolster employee Internet access

The FBI plans to buy BlackBerry smart phones and desktop computers for employees who, until now, have been limited to using the agency's classified network at their desks.

The FBI will begin issuing BlackBerry smart phones to an additional 7,000 employees kicking off a series of initiatives that during the next two years will bolster the number of agents and analysts with Internet access at their desks.

Nearly all employees have a computer that links to the FBI’s classified network at their workstations, but only about a third have access to the public Internet, because of security concerns. FBI policy prohibits using the same operating system to access the Internet and the agency's classified network.

Today, agents and analysts without Web-access at their desks can access the public Internet via kiosks set up at the 56 field offices and headquarters. Employees also have agency-issued Internet accounts that allow them to log on to the nonclassified network remotely.

The lack of direct access has not been a problem, because most of agents and analysts rely on the FBI’s classified network for their investigation and not the Web, said FBI spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan.

But recently the agency has faced increasing criticism from lawmakers and in media reports for not having universal Internet access and other information technology challenges.

“I think it’s been well discussed that there are technology problems at the agency,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at an October 23 hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The agency has wanted to give its agents and analysts desktop access to the Internet for sometime, but funding issues have frozen efforts to buy more computers that can be linked to the nonclassified network, Milhoan said. It appears, however, that the agency has finally found the money.


By the end of December, the FBI plans to have 18,000 employees with a Blackberry smart phone that is connected to the agency’s unclassified network. In addition to giving the smart phones to 7,000 additional employees, the agency is also issuing new devices to the 11,000 employees who already had a BlackBerry.

“It’s just one step forward,” said Milhoan of the IT upgrade. “It’s always a challenge for an organization as large as the FBI to stay on the cutting edge…the bad guys are on the cutting edge.”

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