[ISN] FBI Analysis: We Don't Compute

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu May 30 2002 - 01:37:41 PDT

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    By Farhad Manjoo 
    2:00 a.m. May 30, 2002 PDT 
    The FBI -- whose recent bungles, from McVeigh to Moussaoui, have cast
    it in the unenviable role of national klutz -- is "reorganizing"  
    itself, and much of the refashioning will focus on improving the
    bureau's antiquated computer systems.
    FBI director Robert Mueller on Wednesday described an organization
    that is "years behind where it should be in terms of having the
    technological infrastructure." Changing that, he said, involves "not
    just getting the computers on board, the hard drives; it means
    everybody from top to bottom becoming facile with the computer,
    understanding the computer and understanding how technology can assist
    us to do our job better."
    Mueller also said that the FBI would become more "connected" to the
    rest of government, especially the CIA, and will put more resources
    into "data mining, financial record analysis and communications
    This news of increased federal communications monitoring comes on the
    heels of yet another embarrassment for the FBI -- the release on
    Tuesday of an internal memo from March 2000 that shows that the
    bureau's much-maligned Carnivore surveillance system had been
    inadvertently used to spy on targets without proper authorization.
    Once an FBI tech person discovered this fault, he "was apparently so
    upset that he destroyed all the e-mail take, including the take on"  
    the intended target of the surveillance, the memo states. Although
    that target is not named, the memo refers to the "UBL unit," the
    government's acronym for Osama bin Laden.
    The memo was obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a
    privacy watchdog group, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
    David Sobel, an attorney at EPIC, said that news like this shows that
    the FBI has "not yet come to grips with the technology of packet mode
    data transmission -- that's the challenge for the FBI, these
    Mueller's major reorganization would need to take that fact into
    account, Sobel suggested, and if the FBI finds that "the price of
    obtaining useful information is the wholesale interception of hundreds
    of innocent e-mail messages, then I think they might have to forego
    the collection of that one important piece."
    He said that his group believed so even after Sept. 11, even while the
    FBI is being criticized for not having "connected the dots" before the
    terrorist attacks: "We're not talking about some minor statutory
    technicality here -- we're talking about the 4th Amendment," Sobel
    In his speech, Mueller said that the bureau is sorely lacking in
    computerized analytical systems -- systems to comb through the
    documents that the bureau has and connect some of those dots it's been
    accused of ignoring.
    Mueller said: "It would have been very nice if at some point in time I
    could say that you put into our computer system a request for anything
    relating to flight schools, for instance, and have every report in the
    last 10 years that had been done that mentions flight schools or
    flight training and the like kicked out.
    "We do not have that capability now. We have to have that capability.  
    And, beyond that, we ought to have the artificial intelligence that
    ... doesn't require us to query it, but automatically looks at those
    patterns. And that's the type of technology we need to enhance our
    analytical capability."
    Upon hearing that scenario, William Knowles, an information security
    consultant who is familiar with governmental IT, joked that such
    systems are "entirely doable ... but at the FBI?"
    Knowles -- who runs C4I.org, a government and military security news
    site -- said that the FBI's pay scale didn't attract highly qualified
    IT professionals.
    "The only reason, pre-9/11, that people would join the FBI is God,
    country and apple pie," Knowles said.
    Mueller was not specific about how he would attract more tech talent
    and whether the government would pay more for better technical talent.
    But even if the agency does attract better techies, some experts
    wonder whether the changes are coming too late -- eight months after
    the attacks, a year after misplacing documents related to the Timothy
    McVeigh case, and after it was discovered that Robert Haansen, an FBI
    agent, had been wading through the FBI's computers as a spy for the
    "It's going to take time," Knowles said, "and of course time is
    something we might not have now."
    Rob Rosenberger, a computer virus expert who has worked with the
    government and has been very critical of the FBI, said that this
    reorganization seems to be a tad inauthentic, a reorganization for the
    sake of reorganizing.
    "The FBI is the ultimate male driver driving on the highway who's
    lost, not asking for directions, not listening to anyone," Rosenberger
    "This is systemic of the FBI. They do not organize themselves. These
    are people who cannot send a message to every agent in the field and
    say 'Produce all evidence on the Timothy McVeigh case.' And if they
    can't get your physical act together, what's to say they can get their
    electronic act together?"
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