Collaboration Techniques

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2004-04-04 Email Print this article Print

Non-obvious relationship awareness" (NORA) software probes databases in any language, searching for obscure matches between relevant information. Anonymized data (ANNA) software uses the same technology to investigate data that has been encrypted.

Collaboration Techniques

Casino operators use surveillance cameras, facial-recognition software, transaction-tracking systems and other software to create profiles of suspected cheaters and then distribute that information electronically between themselves, around the clock.

John Horton, director of security at the Stardust Resort and Casino, says using computer systems to share information, including physical descriptions, criminal history and the names of known associates of suspected crooks, scam artists and even terrorists has been standard operating procedure in Las Vegas for more than 10 years.

"We take it seriously because this is a one-economy town," Horton says. "We have to train our staff to understand what to look for, who to look at and where to look. We take great pride in sharing our problems and successes with each other without any reservations."

Most casinos use private investigators in conjunction with their own facial-recognition software systems to keep out would-be cheats as well as fugitives on the lam. Using a wireless network, a casino such as the MGM Grand can transmit a digital image taken inside the casino of a suspected cheat or crook to an investigator working from a laptop down the street or 6,000 miles away in the Caribbean. This can happen several times a day.

These same images are sent, either electronically through a wireless network or simply faxed, to all the Las Vegas casinos as well as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the local FBI branch. The information also travels in the other direction: A daily report detailing new names and descriptions of suspected terrorists or targets from the NCHS and the FBI are faxed or e-mailed each day to the security chiefs at all the major Las Vegas casinos.

"We have to have a free flow of information," Horton says. "One place might be getting hit by a specific group of criminals and although we haven't seen them yet, we need to know who to look for and what actions they're taking to prevent them from doing it to us."

The exchange of information doesn't end with the casinos.

At least one FBI field agent is assigned to each casino in Las Vegas. This was originally intended to help investigate organized-crime activity and money laundering but has been expanded to terrorism investigations. The field agent is responsible for meeting with that casino's security chief at least once a week.

While casinos use a wireless network to exchange data, the FBI is still more than a year behind schedule in revamping its information systems. It was only in March 2003 that all 622 FBI offices were all finally connected to a secure, wired Ethernet connection. (See "Under the Gun," Case 088, September 2003.)

Each week, FBI field agents in Las Vegas create a report that serves as something of a "Vegas primer," complete with arrests, unusual behavior reports and detailed reports of what technology and surveillance techniques casinos are using. This information is then passed on to supervisors at the national level.

"Very few if any cities have the level of communication and input with the FBI that Vegas enjoys," Horton says. "That's because of the inherent [threat] of crime in the casinos and the sophisticated technology [we] use."

How This Applies to Domestic Security: In February, DHS Secretary Ridge unveiled a new, unified national emergency communications system and database that will provide a secure, real-time connection between law-enforcement agencies in all 50 states. By July, a nationwide video conferencing system will allow a police chief in Nashville, for example, to immediately and simultaneously share photographs and data collected during investigations of suspicious tractor-trailer sales with his colleagues in Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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