Internet Anthropologist Think Tank: FBI Touts New Online Intelligence Systems

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    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    FBI Touts New Online Intelligence Systems

    FBI Touts New Online Intelligence Systems


    The FBI thinks it finally has some good news to announce about its legendarily troubled computer case file systems.

    Today officials ballyhooed the introduction of ORION, an online intelligence sharing system that will give federal and local investigators instant access to "every scrap of information ...." on a big breaking case, such as the DC Beltway Sniper shootings in 2002, which was plagued by law enforcement miscommunication.

    Supervisory Special Agent Mike McCoy, who worked on the Beltway Sniper case, helped design ORION -- the Operational Response and Investigative Online Network -- the FBI said. 

    "When a phone tip is entered into the system, ORION can actively process that raw data and "push" leads and intelligence to investigators," an FBI statement said. 

    "For example, if a phone tip is received in the L.A. office about a person in Boston who could be a suspect in a nationwide terrorism case, that information is entered into ORION, reviewed in L.A., and instantly routed electronically to Boston agents for action."

    "ORION also performs automatic searching of new information entered into the system to locate potentially matching persons, locations, vehicles, events, and organizations," the FBI further said. "These potential matches are shown to ORION users and help investigators "connect the dots" in a case where many FBI offices or law enforcement agencies are involved.

    ORION is a classified system "for Bureau use," the FBI said, "but we've also designed an unclassified version for our law enforcement partners available through our secure Law Enforcement Online (LEO) network, so we can exchange information on FBI cases virtually instantaneously." 

    It added, "State and local agencies can access ORION capabilities for their own critical cases."

    Last Friday, Sept. 19, the FBI also announced the rollout of eGuardian, which "will enable near real-time sharing and tracking of terror information and suspicious activities with our local, state, tribal, and federal partners."

    "It's actually a spin-off of a similar but classified tool called Guardian that we've been using inside the Bureau--and sharing with vetted partners--for the past four years," the FBI said.

    The FBI provided a "hypothetical" on how eGuardian would work.

    An NYPD detective is e-mailed a photograph of two suspicious men who appear to be casing the Brooklyn Bridge. Her department uploads the picture and inputs details about the pair into a computerized, Internet-based system called eGuardian, looking for similar incidents. Lo and behold, there's a match. Two men fitting the description had been spotted 48 hours earlier photographing the Washington Monument and are being sought for questioning. The NYPD report is sent via eGuardian to the state's fusion center, which reviews it and then passes it along to our New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which will in turn share it with D.C. investigators.

    In August the FBI announced a major development in VICAP (the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program), which links "seemingly unrelated violent crime investigations."

    VICAP has been around in paper form since the mid-1980s, but the FBI said it was now going online, providing easy access for local law enforcement agents.

    "ViCAP will soon be available -- from any Internet terminal --- to participating law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level," the FBI said.

    If  both programs work as advertised, they could bring long overdue improvements to the FBI's outmoded case management systems, which have been subject to withering criticism from Justice Department auditors and congressional overseers for years.

    In 2006 the Justice Department's inspector general gave the FBI's much-maligned computer overhaul effort a pat on the back, saying it "has taken important steps to help prevent the types of problems" that plagued earlier efforts.

    The FBI's program to improve its investigative case file system, called Sentinel, announced in March 2005, is the successor to the Virtual Case File (VCF) project that the FBI abandoned after three years and $170 million.

    The Sentinel program is on schedule for full roll-out by mid-2010, the FBI said today.

    Also on Wednesday, Zal Azmi, the FBI's chief information officer since 2004, announced he was leaving on Oct. 17. 

    "We have the programs in place to move forward," Azmi said. "So I think I'm at a point that I can easily transition from my current position to something else and the organization can continue on the path it's on."


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