The Disconnected Cop

 
 
Posted 2002-09-10
 
 
 

Murders in New York had fallen to fewer than 675 in 2000, from 2,262 in 1990. Then, a group of homicidal bombers plowed commercial airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people. In an instant, stopping terrorism became a life-or-death mission for local law enforcement organizations around the country. But a year later, New York's Finest far too often find they are left alone on the front line of defense.

8:45 p.m., Saturday night. It's one of those hot, August nights when everything on the New York streets seems to melt rather than move. Patrol cars pull in and out of a Brooklyn station house, located off a two-mile stretch of low-rent shops and apartments that has seen 16 shootings in the past three weeks.

Dusk fades on the main drag of one of the city's toughest precincts and the cops on duty expect to be busy. No one leaves the station without strapping on a bulletproof vest.

10:54 p.m.: A call comes over the radio. "Code 31. Burglary in progress." Just an address. The responding officer barks back, with the concern of a man who could be absorbing a bullet in the chest. "Any other information?" Long silence. Then, the dispatcher responds, "No report of weapons."

"Do you have anything else?" the officer asks. Another long silence. "No."

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10:59 p.m.: Two cops in another car listen to the exchange. "Did you hear that?" the officer in the passenger seat asks in disbelief. "Did you hear the way he kept on asking for more information?" The driver just shakes his head. Dispatchers—each responsible for patrols in at least two precincts—often possess information that they're just too busy to share, information that could save a life; clues about what lies ahead, such as the name of the person who called for help, a description of an attacker, and whether guns or knives have been reported at the scene.

Police officers in other cities get all this information, and more, from in-car laptops tied to sophisticated computerized dispatch systems. Police officers in New York, on the other hand, are thankful if their car has a terminal that can just spit out information about who owns a particular vehicle, and whether there are warrants outstanding on that person.

These two Brooklyn officers, who prefer not to give out their names before they retire, are both in their thirties. They are young enough to tackle the physical demands of the job but also old enough to know that, when it comes to police work, brains are better than brawn.

On any given night, the two cops will respond to gunfights, stabbings, thefts and family fights. They worry a lot about the domestic disputes. The neighborhood is loaded with drugs and firearms—two potentially combustible elements in the heat of an argument between a couple.

The officers are two of the 40,000 cops patrolling the streets of a city that one year ago suffered the nation's deadliest terrorist attack. Theirs are the eyes that now must be constantly on the alert for any suspicious activity on concrete sidewalks, asphalt roadways and even in the air, which might signal more destruction to come.

Yet these are isolated and estranged cops, disconnected from the information they know would enable them to deal with everyday thugs and worse, effectively and safely.

"We're cut off," the cop in the passenger seat says. "Definitely."

11:06 p.m.: The cops stop talking as a call comes in. "Code 52. Family dispute." No other information, except an address. The driver makes a turn and steers the car through the district's crowded streets, which are darker now than they were earlier in the evening—but just as hot.

First Line of Defense

The New York City Police Department is the nation's biggest and best law enforcement agency. Its members are unsurpassed at stopping murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries and other violent crimes. Between 1994 and 2002, the NYPD reduced major crime on its streets almost 60%—the only big city police department that has cut crime in each of the past seven years, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports.

But the mission of the NYPD and law-enforcement agencies across the country changed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked jets slammed into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. More than 2,800 civilians and emergency workers died in New York.

Since then, the nation's law enforcement and intelligence agencies have made terrorism as much a priority as crime. In New York, for instance, the police department recently created two new deputy commissioner slots: Frank Libutti, a U.S. Marine Lieutenant General, is in charge of counterterrorism; David Cohen, the onetime director of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, now heads the NYPD's intelligence operation. The units gather information and develop strategies to combat terrorist threats.

"The key to preventing terrorism is gathering quality intelligence and acting on that information before the terrorist has an opportunity to strike," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during an interview in June. "So our priority is to gather the best intelligence we can, enhance our counterterrorism training and work closely with other law enforcement agencies."

Kelly effectively echoed Robert Mueller, who took over as director of the FBI on Sept. 4, 2001. In a post 9/11 world, he testified before Congress, "New technologies are required to support new and different operational practices. We have to do a better job of … collaborating with others and, critically important, managing, analyzing and collecting information."

Communications and computing form the foundation on which the agencies can process and share information to create insight and action. But at a time when it is most needed, the technology infrastructure of the New York Police Department, and the nation's other leading law enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies—the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency—is tattered.

  • The problems in New York are so deep, Kelly brought in a high-powered team of consultants from IBM, Deloitte & Touche, and Merrill Lynch to assess what technology is needed to fight both terrorism and "conventional" crime. The team found the department needed to address its hardware and software infrastructure, its communications network, and its project management skills, which have left NYPD investigators unable to easily mine the department's collection of disparate databases for information and background checks. The difficulty of finding data makes it hard to react at a moment's notice to criminal or terrorist threats.

  • An investigation released in March by the Department of Justice's inspector general found the FBI buried in a blizzard of paper, unable to handle or retrieve documents, even those related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, because its computer systems are so antiquated and complex. "The FBI is simply too big and the cases are too large to continue to rely on paper as the chief information management tool," Inspector General Glenn Fine told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • The House of Representatives' subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security in July issued a report on counterterrorism intelligence-gathering prior to Sept. 11. That report blasts the National Security Agency for failing to upgrade its systems to perform even the simplest task: knowing where individuals suspected of posing threats to security are located. "NSA has been unable to organize itself to define and implement an integrated system that can follow [a] target across the global intelligence network, beyond high-level goals and plans."

  • The House also lambasted the CIA for its inability to collect and disseminate information on suspects in a timely fashion. The report called for a "terrorism watch-listing unit" at the CIA to ensure that the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies have access to a common database of up-to-date information on suspected terrorists.

    Leaders of these agencies acknowledge weaknesses in computing and communications. Indeed, a New York cop in an emergency can't even consult on the run with an FBI counterpart on the street, because the agencies use incompatible radio frequencies and equipment.

    All agree that their systems need immediate upgrades to be better able to collect and share data that could lead to the apprehension of suspects before—rather than after—attacks on people and property are committed.

    Yet, after years of neglect and technology mismanagement, each agency faces the challenge of not only making their systems work, but of making them work well enough to exchange information on terrorist movements, quickly, securely and accurately, with other law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering services.

    A Justice Department working group, consisting of high-tech industry representatives from IBM, KPMG Consulting, Microsoft, Motorola, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Oracle, Science Applications International Corp., Unisys and others, has been studying the issue of how to integrate information systems between agencies. The group laid out the monumental impediments facing agencies that should be working hand-in-hand, including interagency competition; resistance to change; lack of resources; the absence of an agreed-on technical standard that would allow electronic data to be exchanged; a lack of project management expertise; untrained technology staffs; and a dependence on out-of-date computing systems that can't be easily retrofitted for high-speed collection, analysis and dissemination of information.

    In New York, for instance, police officers fill out at least five paper and electronic forms, containing more than 200 pieces of information, before they complete an arrest. At least 30% of the data has to be entered more than once on the forms, by each officer, for each arrest.

    At the FBI, its post-Sept. 11 attempts to find out more about foreigners in the United States on student visas produced a backlash on university campuses when it asked universities to hand over information on foreign students.

    According to Elizabeth Rindskopf-Parker, who was the general counsel for the University of Wisconsin, the requests should not even have been necessary.

    "The fact is, the FBI shouldn't have had to ask those questions," she says. "They should have been able to go to the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and ask where the students in on visas were, where they lived, and so on. But the information being collected wasn't being sent to any central place to be analyzed. The INS didn't have the machinery to collect and use the information."

    Then there's the cost of tying together the 146 federal agencies that have law enforcement responsibilities with their fellow state and local agencies. The price: at least $15 billion over five years, according to various government estimates. It will be money well spent, says Ben Gianni, vice president for Homeland Security at Computer Sciences, a computer services firm. Without an efficient law-enforcement information-sharing support structure, he says, there's no way for these agencies to collect, analyze and disseminate information about suspected terrorist activities happening around the country and abroad.

    John Pignataro, chief of the Baltimore City Police Department's information and technology division, warns that the work needed to share data between all of the nation's law enforcement and intelligence gathering services is going to be monumental.

    "It's bigger than the Manhattan Project," he says, referring to the U.S. government's Herculean effort from 1941 to 1945 to develop the atomic bomb and end World War II. "You have a lot of different agencies that all have information—information they have by themselves. You're going to have to cull that out. It's going to be a monumental feat."

    : 'Technologically Bereft' Operation Fragile">

    New York Police: 'Technologically Bereft' Operation Fragile

    The job might be biggest at One Police Plaza in New York—the department's headquarters in lower Manhattan, which, until last September, sat in the shadows of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Deficiencies can be found in every area of the way the department communicates and manages the combined knowledge of its 40,000 crime fighters.

    "As far as IT systems, we're woefully inadequate," admits Garry McCarthy, New York's deputy commissioner of operations, and the NYPD's top strategist.

    After visits to precinct houses, "ride-alongs" with patrol officers, and interviews with almost 50 current and former police officers, from every rank and from every corner of the city, a Baseline review finds fragile information and communications capabilities throughout the department.

  • Calls into precinct house are recorded with pen and paper, negating any effort to capture information about crimes and share suspicious activity with other officers within the department, much less other agencies. Indeed, as happened on a recent call to a Manhattan station house, no information at all got recorded when the sergeant answering the phone simply couldn't find a pen.

  • Officers at 74 of the city's 76 precincts still use IBM electric typewriters to bang out reports and case files, which are then entered by data entry clerks as much as 36 hours later. The process virtually eliminates any chance of noticing and analyzing patterns involving multiple perpetrators or locations before the time to act has passed.

  • Most precincts, home to 150-200 officers, have just 25-30 personal computers for processing arrests, booking criminals and making simple queries of databases. Replacements are difficult, if not impossible, to come by. One Queens precinct administrator, after having his request for a replacement PC denied last year by the department's Management Information Systems Division, picked an old PC out of a neighbor's garbage, brought it to the station house, fixed it up and used it to process reports.

    Bernard Kerik, who was commissioner of the department at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, says he was so fed up with just trying to get new PCs to the precincts that he had his Chief of Patrol, William Morange, one of the department's highest ranking officers, personally drop off computers to precincts he visited. "He was the highest-paid deliveryman in the city of New York," Kerik says.

  • The department provides little, if any, Internet access, hampering detectives looking to conduct basic data searches on the Web. One Manhattan detective is so frustrated he regularly brings to work a laptop he owns and uses a dial-up connection to search Officer.Com, a law-enforcement resource site that includes information on current laws and basic investigative tools, such as an online directory that shows who lives at what address in the city.

  • The department still uses radios to dispatch officers to crime scenes. That means a cop on the street can't see the faces or background of the top terrorists that they are charged with finding. Those images and that text are only found on clipboards hanging back at the precinct house. By contrast, many other cities, such as Baltimore, have built sophisticated wireless networks that send patrol cars electronic dispatches filled with background information on locations and suspects, such as how many previous times the police have responded to an address and whether a resident had an order of protection or an outstanding arrest warrant.

  • The NYPD does equip cars with mobile data terminals that can give patrol officers license, warrant and stolen property information, but the terminals are installed in just half of the fleet. One officer in Manhattan recently searched 10 cars before finding a squad car with a working unit. If a car does not have a terminal, officers trying to check a license plate need to request the information from dispatchers, who often are dealing with 911 emergencies. Recently, two Brooklyn cops tailing a suspicious car requested a license check but lost the vehicle in traffic after waiting several minutes for a response.

    William Bratton, New York City police commissioner from 1994 to 1996, calls the NYPD "one of the most technologically bereft departments" in the country.

    But New York cops say their biggest headache is the scattered collection of 65 databases in the department.

    The minimally organized array of electronic files keeps online everything from reports on criminal investigations, to records of arrests, to tracking numbers on impounded autos.

    Yet only two of the systems, the complaint and arrest databases, have been tied together in a system that can be queried and searched at one time by investigators. That system, called Omniform, is just now being deployed.

    "A thorough check [of a suspect or activity] could take hours," says New York Detective Robert "Bobby" Medoro of the 13th Precinct in Manhattan. "You have to constantly log off and log on to systems. And you can't be logged on to two databases at the same time. It's tedious."

    Not surprisingly, the inability to efficiently gather the complete background on a suspect or an investigation makes it difficult to bring a criminal to justice, New York officers say.

    "When a jurisdiction does not have an automated manner to link seemingly unrelated pieces of information or evidence together, then there is a greater chance that clues are overlooked and cases go unsolved," says Howard Baker, who oversaw the department's computer and communications system from mid-1998 to mid-2001.

    "When all of these systems are interlinked, then we can use [crime analysis software] to seek out the relationships of disassociated pieces of information in different and sometimes disparate systems, so that the analysts can draw logical conclusions and present these reports to the law enforcement experts for further follow up and exam."

    Work">

    Police Work and Paper Work

    The 13th Precinct is typical of most station houses around the city. Located just south of midtown Manhattan, it has a staleness borne of weak ventilation and the sweat of a tough, 24-hour-a-day operation. Civilian and sworn members work at faux-wood desks, which stand on an industrial-grade, yellow-speckled linoleum floor. The office is littered with faded brown IBM Selectric typewriters.

    When officers respond to a call, they're required to write the details of the incident on a paper complaint form—commonly known as a "61." If they make an arrest, the officers bring the suspect and the complaint form into the station house, where the form is first approved by a desk sergeant and then dropped off with a precinct administrator to input into the department's Online Complaint System (OLCS), since the 13th does not yet have Omniform installed on its PCs.

    Because of limited resources and normal paper backlogs, the data transfer could take up to a day-and-a-half. If prisoners are released and arrested again within that span, there's every chance they'll be released again.

    Once the prisoner is fingerprinted and put in a cell, the officer fills out a booking form by hand, gets that approved by the sergeant, and then enters the data off the sheet into an Online Booking System (OLBS).

    Next, the arresting officers must notify the district attorney's office that they have a suspect ready to be entered into the criminal justice system. They do this by first typing in the complaint and booking information into the Local Arrest Processing System on a terminal in the booking area and then faxing the paper complaint and booking forms over to the district attorney. The officers then have to wait for word from that office that attorneys are ready to have the prisoner transported to central booking, which completes the arrest process.

    Officers find the processing of information can tie up the bulk of their tours. And that's when everything is working right.

    But even the simplest technology is not reliable. In a busy precinct, where several arrests are likely to be made during a shift, a broken fax machine can take three or four officers out of action, reducing the street force in a precinct detachment of 10 or 12 officers by a third on any given shift.

    The Information War

    New York, in fact, is proof-positive of the effectiveness of the timely collection and sharing of information.

    New York was crime-ridden prior to 1994, when newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani brought in Bratton to be his police commissioner.

    Bratton and his direct reports reorganized the department and developed the CompStat system—under which each of the city's 76 precinct commanders became responsible for collecting weekly crime statistics, pinpointing trouble spots, and coming up with plans to clean up those areas. New York now has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in the country, with 3,722 crimes per 100,000 residents—well below the national average of 4,206 crimes per 100,000 residents.

    But CompStat is only one weapon in the war on crime. And most experts believe that the NYPD would be an even more-effective crime fighting force if it had the right technology.

    "What we have in place is an infrastructure that is aging, significantly," says Deputy Chief John Gilmartin, the current head of the Office of Technology and Systems Development (OTSD). From the IBM mainframes, to the networking infrastructure, to the terminals in its patrol cars, the equipment, he says, "has run its life cycle."

    Gilmartin is a no-nonsense cop who carries a gun tucked in the waistband of his pants. The former precinct and borough commander, who had overseen OTSD during Kelly's previous stint as commissioner, 1992 to 1994, was asked personally earlier this year to again take the command. His directive: get the department's information and communications infrastructure up to date as fast as possible.

    It might be the toughest assignment in Gilmartin's career. The OTSD has historically been handcuffed by a lack of funds and bad project-management skills.

    Last year, according to New York City documents, the NYPD spent $9.2 million on computer and communications equipment. Technology consultancy Gartner Inc. says government agencies typically spend 1.3% of their budgets on computer and communications equipment, compared to 3.6% for private companies. A department with a $3.8 billion budget, such as the NYPD, could be expected to allocate $50 million for information technology gear. If it were a company, it likely would allot $136 million.

    After Sept. 11, New York City did appropriate $92 million this year for computer and communications equipment and is planning to budget $134 million for next year. Much will go toward radio and communications improvements.

    But the department still has to overcome its legacy of project mismanagement.

    In the early 1990s, the department began working on a computer dispatch system. The city planned to put terminals in its patrol cars to electronically dispatch them to handle complaints and emergencies. The system also would have provided the officers with background information on subjects and addresses before they reached the scene, alerting them, for instance, to possible stashes of guns or drugs.

    However, the project ran so over budget and so behind schedule that Police Commissioner Howard Safir killed it in 1998. The project, according to various sources, cost the city between $11 million and $20 million. As a result, the department continues to dispatch cops over a radio network that was developed in 1968 and at times is so busy that cops cannot run routine checks through dispatchers.

    "It's unfortunate that sometimes, in emergencies, we have too many people trying to key the radio at the same time," admits Gilmartin.

    System Shakedown

    The same year Safir pulled the plug on the computer-aided dispatch project, he killed a property management system the department was building to track evidence such as cash, drugs and other property collected during criminal investigations. The project was begun prior to the arrival of Safir and his OTSD chief Baker, but by the time they assumed their posts the system had become a full-blown runaway.

    "I brought a consultant in to look at it—because it was dragging and dragging and dragging. He basically said, 'This thing is never going to work.' So, rather than throw good money after it, we just pulled the plug," Safir says.

    Baker says the property management unit neither defined what they wanted to track nor how they wanted the system to track it, properly. If done correctly, the $7 million system could have matched incoming property to existing evidence—such as fingerprints—and helped investigators close cases, Baker says.

    In the second half of 2000, two new systems came online, one to track domestic violence and another to keep tabs on vehicles in the NYPD's auto pound, but they were plagued by bugs and slow performance, by some accounts.

    Information Builders Inc. (IBI), the New York software house that developed the systems, says the systems ran slowly because IBI and the NYPD overloaded one of the department's already busy IBM mainframes. IBI then used one big IBM machine as a data server and began to distribute the applications onto smaller, dedicated Unix operating system-based computers. The department says the systems run well now.

    Baker says, "It's folly to think that you don't have a shakedown period with any new system." But there were no bugs plaguing the system, he maintains. "There were some adjustments that needed to be made, some fine tuning, but nothing out of the ordinary."

    The Omniform system, which combines the department's complaint and arrest applications, was late, at least, if not bug-ridden as well. Work on the system began in the 1997-1998 timeframe and it is just being deployed now.

    IBI also worked on this project, which has taken four years to turn on. IBI account manager Mark O'Mara says funding—always a constraint—persistently hampered the effort to connect complaints with arrests. Omniform was originally funded by a grant from the Department of Justice—backing which dried up after IBI and the NYPD developed a pilot system. It then took the department and IBI two-and-a-half years to get the city to approve funding for the rest of the project. As fate would have it, the first Omniform application was installed at a precinct on Staten Island on Sept. 10, 2001.

    O'Mara says specs were changed but not always incorporated into the work orders of the programmers, and some requirements were missed as a result.

    With specifications changing over the years, some work orders were bollixed up, IBI and the NYPD say. But, for the first time, the department now can track a case from complaint to arrest, all on screen. "It's the heart of the police department," says Deputy Inspector Carlos Gomez, who oversees the NYPD's MIS Division.

    Failure to Communicate

    The team of Deloitte & Touche, IBM and Merrill Lynch consultants recently completed its pro bono assessment of the NYPD computer and communications system. While their report has not been made public, according to Gilmartin and other members of the department, the team recommended:

  • Establishing a technology steering committee consisting of the department's top managers, including Kelly, Libutti, McCarthy and Gilmartin, as well as Chief of the Department Joseph Esposito; Chief of Patrol Nicolas Estavillo; Chief of Detectives William Allee; and Chief of the Organized Crime Control Bureau William Morange, the former chief of patrol under Kerik.

  • Opening a program management office to coordinate all projects within the Office of Technology and Systems Development, the department's computer and communications operation.

  • Upgrading the department's current network to a new wide area network, which could allow the rapid transmission of large case files and mug shots.

  • Equipping all patrol cars with laptop computers for data input and access, which would give cops the ability to send in data from the street, such as incident reports, for immediate analysis and dissemination. Gilmartin is planning to equip the cars with Panasonic Toughbook computers as part of a $34 million computer dispatch program that the department is starting to implement.

    Gilmartin also says the department is building a data warehouse, which he would not detail. Data warehouses serve as a single, unified repository of organizational data. Either in batches on a regular schedule or in real time as transactions are committed, data is extracted from multiple databases and loaded into the warehouse, where it can be poked and prodded without database administrators having to worry about the integrity of the original information.

    That mound then becomes a perfect tool for a big organization looking for patterns in seeming unrelated data.

    "We're looking to file the information in that database in such a way [that] it's readily accessible for crime analysis and planning, in the field as well as in headquarters," says Gilmartin, who contends the data warehouse could be up within a year.

    As Gilmartin aims to increase the data sharing within his department, he's also looking for ways to speed the information flow between the NYPD and state and federal agencies. Right now, the main NYPD data connection with the state is through the New York State Police Information Network, a New York state repository of motor vehicle information that's linked up to the FBI's National Crime Information Center. The NCIC is a computerized index of information on wanted and missing persons, gang members, and members of terrorist organizations, as well as stolen cars, boats, guns and securities.

    There are some other information channels, such as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) that the FBI has set up with the NYPD and numerous other police departments. But the communication between these organizations happens over the phone or in person, limiting the scope and speed of the information sharing. While the New York Police and the bureau have been working under the JTTF banner for 20 years, the NYPD long has had a problem communicating with the FBI. This, even though the bureau routinely will trail fugitives and other criminals into one of the city's five boroughs.

    The problem surfaced publicly in late September. The news operation of the National Broadcasting Co., which is based in midtown Manhattan, received letters thought to be laced with anthrax. After the first one, NBC called the FBI. About a week later, a second letter arrived at NBC's Rockefeller Center offices. This time, NBC security personnel called the NYPD.

    An NYPD team arrived on the scene and, according to Kerik, learned about the first letter "sort of by accident." One of the network's staffers casually mentioned that they had received an earlier anthrax letter. Kerik was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe the FBI wouldn't share this information with the commissioner of the New York Police Department.

    "We didn't know about it," he says. "Had [the FBI] sent us something, or told us, or called us, or something, the second one would have never happened. We'd have picked up on it."

    "One of the worst kept secrets in law enforcement is the chronic lack of communications between federal and local authorities," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a December opening statement before a Courts Subcommittee on information sharing. "This problem was never clearer and never more threatening than when anthrax was discovered at the NBC Studios in New York. The FBI knew about it for days. But they failed to tell the NYPD. And it's quite possible that because of that lack of communication, steps that could have been taken to protect the public, weren't."

    Other officials around the country have their own FBI data-sharing challenges.

    : A World Apart">

    Federal Bureau of Investigation: A World Apart

    Gerard Leone spends many hours running from meeting to meeting, persuading the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police and numerous other agencies to work together to fight terrorism. The First Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, Leone is the coordinator of the Massachusetts' Anti-Terrorism Task Force (ATTF), part of a network of regional organizations mandated in a series of directives from Attorney General John Ashcroft following an executive order from President Bush.

    Leone is the ATTF's chief information officer. He is a conduit for both classified and unclassified information—monitoring ongoing investigations, sifting new information from sources ranging from criminal investigators to the military, and weighing who needs to see what. When the FBI in August sent a bulletin that al-Qaeda was training terrorists to create exploding light bulbs, Leone notified investigators to watch for suspicious activity relating to light bulb purchases.

    "In our district, the ATTF is like the board of directors," Leone says. "I coordinate the implementation of ideas, which is programmatic, and coordinate the case-making, which is operational [and includes the investigative aspect of terrorism]."

    The operations arm of the ATTF is the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which began in New York City in 1980 and which FBI Director Robert Mueller is now expanding to serve all regions of the country. In Boston, the JTTF is a select group of key federal and regional agencies—such as the Boston police—who require FBI security clearances to handle classified information. But since Sept. 11, public health inspectors, firefighters, the National Guard and other government employees who have roles in fighting terrorism are included in the ATTF, if not in the JTTF itself.

    Those JTTF aspirants who qualify for a security clearance—a process that North Miami Police Chief Bill Berger says can take eight months—are assigned a seat in front of an FBI terminal and can access cases filed in the FBI's investigative databases, which ex-FBI agent Robert Chiaradio calls "the backbone" of the FBI. Currently, an FBI case file is viewed via an IBM 3270 green-screen terminal, a process the FBI is working to modernize under a project called Trilogy.

    Even the space allotted for JTTFs is isolated to protect the security of the FBI field offices, Chiaradio says. The FBI is in the difficult position of having to speed up security clearances for members of outside agencies while bolstering internal security systems that were torn to shreds by convicted spy (and former FBI agent) Robert Hanssen, among others.

    The Webster Commission reported in March that New York City field agents feel vindicated in their refusal to enter documents into the FBI's Automated Case Support (ACS), which Hanssen raided. As a result, New York lost only two agents to Hanssen's treachery out of more than 50 lost when other field offices entered paper documents into ACS that had been shipped from New York as leads.

    On the other hand, two detectives from the Massachusetts State Police, who helped the Boston terrorism task force catch would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, had no FBI security clearances at first.

    They simply left the room when the JTTF discussed classified information. "You don't even share information among yourselves," Chiaradio says. "Information [such as who is working on what case] is compartmentalized in the bureau, and you're not even supposed to be going into other areas. Information is strictly on a need-to-know basis."

    Before Chiaradio left the bureau in June to work at KPMG Consulting, he was the executive assistant director for administration, one of several new positions that Mueller created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Chiaradio is one of several agents to depart over the last few months. In mid-August, Mueller's counterterrorism chief, Dale L. Watson, left to assume a post with Booz Allen Hamilton, another big-name private consulting firm.

    Mueller, a former U.S. attorney, began a sweeping reorganization of the bureau in December, just a few months after becoming FBI director. Chiaradio's assignment was to oversee the FBI's handling of records and knowledge management in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. In that case, the FBI misplaced more than a thousand documents that were supposed to be turned over to attorneys trying Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh's execution was delayed for a month while the FBI sorted out the mess.

    When he first met Mueller last October, Chiaradio says, the director was extremely frustrated with how "paper-driven" the bureau was.

    "It is no secret that our information infrastructure is behind current technology," Mueller told a House Appropriations subcommittee in March. "Without question, we all believe that this is the number one problem confronting the FBI today."

    The FBI is now scrambling to get PCs on agents' desks and shore up FBI networks by July 2003 and modernize its software by June 2004, to allow agents to handle case files easily and electronically.

    Until May 30, when Attorney General John Ashcroft revised the FBI's more than 20-year-old investigative guidelines, agents were not allowed to surf the Web or use commercial data services. FBI press officer Jim Margolin, stationed in the FBI's New York City field office, says that until this summer he was unable to receive e-mail electronically—messages would be printed and hand-delivered to him one to two days after they arrived.

    Chiaradio thinks the FBI is unfairly criticized for not sharing information, although he acknowledges he may be seen as biased since he spent 18 years at the bureau. "Whenever I was on the ground level with people, talking to police chiefs and sheriffs, I did not hear that [criticism]," he says. "The rumor is bigger than the fact. And if you listen to Mueller testify on the state of the FBI IT system, you can appreciate that the FBI may not be sharing information because they don't have it to share."

    The electronic walls around the FBI reflect the rigid division between intelligence and criminal investigations and between federal and state agencies that existed before Sept. 11, notes Leone, who says he has been "very patient" in working with the FBI.

    The mind-set has been to hold information close to the vest. "These people are taught and trained how to deal with information and intelligence, and now they're told they have to alter that approach and mind-set," Leone says.

    Indeed, Leone says, the entire network of relationships that constitutes the ATTF is based on trust. The Massachusetts ATTF is deciding on a password-protected, Web-based mechanism for posting classified information for members. Included in Leone's group of advisers on how to set up a computer system and determine access rights is a member of the FBI's technology department, who will ensure that the system communicates with the FBI's through a dedicated FBI server.

    The JTTF and the Massachusetts State Police now fax each other tips on a common report form developed by the ATTF and enter the information into their respective databases.

    Those databases can't communicate today, but soon the information will dump into a common database accessible by browser, says Maj. Robert Smith of the Massachusetts State Police. Leone today sends out nonclassified information via secure e-mail; classified information is sent by secure fax. If he can't meet members of the JTTF face-to-face, he talks to them on a secure telephone that scrambles his conversations.

    The FBI is taking other rapid, if somewhat uncoordinated, steps to improve its ability to communicate critical information with the outside world. Smith says the FBI is sending more alerts lately to ensure that local agencies know what's going on in their districts, even if the information is sometimes vague. "I don't need to know their sources," Smith says.

    FBI Director Mueller has vowed to make the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System—used for sending messages similar to an all-points bulletin—less slow and cumbersome. In April, law enforcement agents, for instance, heard on broadcast news that Attorney General Ashcroft said al-Qaeda was considering physical attacks against banks in the Northeast.

    The FBI has begun to open LEO, its Law Enforcement Online Network, to other law-enforcement agencies. But Leone notes that LEO, which includes e-mail capabilities and nonclassified newsgroups, is not widely used in Massachusetts.

    Sheriff John Cary Bittick of Monroe County, Ga., says he has been working with the Department of Justice on a plan to merge LEO and the DOJ's Regional Information Sharing System (RISS). "The attorney general has got to make up his mind which system to use to put out terrorism info. They need to do something quickly," Bittick says.

    The FBI also is shoring up its National Crime Information Center—a repository of 17 criminal records databases housed on IBM System 390 mainframes in Clarksburg, W.Va.—with a terrorist watchlist.

    Many NYPD cops say they have neither heard about the terrorist watchlist nor possess the equipment to get information out of the NCIC, if they wanted to.

    For instance, the FBI's vision of a cop holding a suspect's thumb to a fingerprint scanner inside his patrol car and matching it with a mug shot generated by NCIC databases requires equipment and high-bandwidth connections that have not been available to police forces or anyone else.

    "The FBI is best equipped to deliver information to local governments—they do this now with criminal histories, and it could be expanded greatly with the right kind of money," says Paul Wormeli, chairman of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Industry Working Group, a partnership between industry and the Justice Department. "A cop in Albuquerque could search more databases than they do now and get a window into the world of police databases. But the FBI is hamstrung keeping their production systems in place while they're looking for answers."

    Police forces, meanwhile, are already stretched thin. The National League of Cities (NLC), which wrote a letter of complaint to Mueller in June, claims that as the FBI pours resources into fighting terrorism, it is asking local law enforcement agencies to take on too much responsibility for more mundane crimes such as bank robbery. As a result of that letter, NLC board members received a visit in July from FBI Assistant Director Louis Quijas, a former police chief whom Mueller hired to coordinate the FBI with state and local law enforcement. But Quijas told the NLC that first responders are also first defenders.

    "There are proposals in the 2003 [federal] budget to cut the COPS (community policing) program, [and] also cuts in local law enforcement grants that we rely on so heavily for public safety," says Karen Anderson, president of the NLC, and also the mayor of Minnetonka, Minn. "They're robbing Peter to pay Paul."

    Adds Maj. Smith, "We're finding that the life span of a lot of our expensive equipment is being shortened. Our dive team is doing hull and pier inspections on ships coming into the Boston Harbor—that's increased 300%. We provide escorts with patrol boats and helicopters for tankers coming into Boston to unload—we need surveillance gear to help us with that. I'm not complaining, but I'm hoping that when [head of Homeland Security] Gov. Ridge releases money, we can start replenishing equipment and give our people some time off."'

    State officials agree that law enforcement agencies are dangerously ill-equipped to fight crime. In February, the Connecticut state capitol in Hartford was locked down for several hours after two women reported a man with a gun on top of a parking ramp as Gov. John Rowland was delivering his State of the State speech. Rowland was calling for an expansion in state anti-terrorism laws.

    "We had the capitol police and the state police and the Hartford police, and they had serious communication issues in terms of interoperability among radio systems. One police force around the corner could not talk to another—they have different frequencies and different spectrums," says Rock Regan, Connecticut's CIO. Fortunately, Regan says, the suspect turned out to be a cameraman carrying a long microphone. No one was hurt.

    Connecticut is upgrading its systems with help from federal grants. Regan says better wireless infrastructure is a top priority. So he has been meeting with Department of Homeland Security CIO Steve Cooper and other federal officials to define exactly how information will flow from local to state to federal agencies and back, how code can be reused, and how existing communication networks can be preserved.

    Regan describes the entire federal government as a black hole, where much information flows into federal databases from state and local governments but little comes back. Connecticut officials aren't even sure which data resides in which federal agency, an urgent question since Sept. 11.

    "It crosses the whole realm, from criminal justice information to social services to health benefits to background checks to environmental information," Regan says. "We need to improve the flow of information to our repositories and make our repositories available to the feds. The ultimate goal is to integrate databases and exchange information in real time—although I'm not sure we'll ever truly get there."

    In the end, the ongoing debate about cooperation between federal intelligence agencies and law enforcement organizations boils down to this: How much and what kind of data will be shared?

    : Oceans of Information">

    National Security Agency: Oceans of Information

    The National Security Agency (NSA) is the biggest and most sophisticated spy organization in the world. From its "listening stations" on five continents, the agency harvests phone calls, e-mails, faxes and radio signals every second of every day, pouring the information into memory banks capable of storing 5 trillion pages of data.

    According to a July 2001 Washington Post report, the agency yanks enough data from the ether every three hours to fill the Library of Congress. More linguists and mathematicians work at the NSA than anywhere else in the world, and it also owns the world's largest collection of supercomputers. One Cray machine used by the agency handles 64 billion instructions a second. Just running the agency's collection of supercomputers alone requires as much electricity as the city of Annapolis, Md. To cool the computers, it keeps 8,000 tons of chilled water; one particularly powerful supercomputer is submerged in a nonconducting liquid to keep it from overheating.

    Despite the agency's technological savvy, however, the congressional subcommittee report makes it clear that the NSA has a lot of work to do to get its internal computer systems to operate together. For years, different divisions within the agency worked in separate worlds for security reasons. They developed their own software, bought their own hardware, and built their own networks.

    When Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden took over the agency in 1999, it had 68 different e-mail systems. If he wanted to send out an e-mail to all NSA employees, he'd have to send the message 68 times.

    Under Hayden, the agency is inching toward creating systems that talk to each other. Last year, it began awarding its first contracts under Project Groundbreaker, a $5 billion, 10-year project that is farming out, for example, the running of the NSA's office-technology infrastructure, which includes thousands of computers and a thicket of software and communications systems.

    The ultimate goal: that NSA workers would be able to send top-secret files to colleagues within the company without having to navigate different systems and multiple layers of bureaucracy. The Project Groundbreaker contracts will not touch upon the NSA's core of surveillance networks.

    Unlike the CIA, where spies are out in the field performing hands-on snooping—referred to as HUMINT, or "human intelligence"—the NSA relies almost entirely upon technology to gather its oceans of information.

    The NSA does share information with the CIA, but there's nothing formal about it. While the NSA and CIA wouldn't comment on their data and information-sharing capabilities, Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists—a private policy research organization—says the panoply of different systems the two agencies use barely works within each agency, never mind between the two agencies.

    "Some people say the NSA and the CIA are further apart than the CIA and the FBI," says Rindskopf-Parker, the former University of Wisconsin general counsel, who also has served as counsel for both the CIA and for the National Security Agency.

    Still, there's nothing technologically that is stopping the intelligence and law enforcement agencies from communicating with one another, says Matthew DeZee, who ran the CIA's computing and communications infrastructure on a global basis between 1999 and 2001.

    "The technology is there to do whatever is needed to get done—or at least it's available," DeZee, now CIO for the state of South Carolina, says. "There will be minor problems like interoperability, the typical stuff you run into whether it's a government agency or a corporation. The technology is there for people to communicate."

    The technological challenge in sharing data is the range of different classified levels and the security each level demands, at different agencies.

    "Multilevel security is a killer issue," he says. "It tends to produce networks (where) everyone using them has the same clearance."

    : Soft and Vulnerable">

    Central Intelligence Agency: Soft and Vulnerable

    Inside the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters, the Counterterrorism Center, which opened in 1986, fills acres of space, according to descriptions of its interior. Time magazine reporters earlier this year were given exclusive access to the center and reported that the space is so vast and confusing that intersections of aisles are festooned with street signs like Saddam St. and Usama Bin Lane to help guide visitors through the maze.

    Since Sept. 11, the center has doubled its staff to more than 1,100 analysts and agents. According to the Time article, 2,500 cables detailing anti-terrorism intelligence activity around the world are sent to the center every day. It also publishes 500 terrorism intelligence reports a month, many of which are sent to 80 other government agencies. Three times a day, center officials have a videoconference with the White House's National Security Council.

    Every day at 5 p.m., about 40 senior officers and CIA Director George Tenet meet and go over the day's terrorism intelligence. The center also publishes the "Threat Matrix," a daily terrorism report sent to President Bush and about 200 other officials.

    But communications inside the agency is a different story.

    Ross Stapleton-Gray, an agent with the CIA from 1988 to 1994 and now a technology security officer with the University of California, was deeply involved with the CIA's critical infrastructure during his six-year tenure at the agency. When he left, he says, communicating with anybody outside of his immediate sphere of colleagues was difficult.

    "If I'm in the building, I can get an e-mail to the other end of the building, but if I want to get an e-mail to a researcher at a university, it's hard electronically," he says. "You were always at a technological disadvantage because you'd never built the systems to trust outsiders. It's the M&M model—you've got this hard outside shell, but once you're inside it's soft and vulnerable."

    He says it's going to take lots of management commitments and lots of technology to make the sharing go smoothly.

    But things at "The Company" are scheduled to improve.

    The CIA's Intelligence Technology Innovation Center plans to spend more than $27 million on data mining tools and other technologies aimed at making sense of the seas of data the CIA harvests every day, from wireless phone calls to Web site information to radio broadcasts to e-mail traffic.

    Among other things, the intelligence center plans to develop "data-mining on the fly" technologies that use sophisticated speech recognition and language translation software that quickly converts languages such as Arabic or Chinese into English text.

    Through the center, the National Science Foundation expects to get about $8 million a year for the next three years to develop better ways to use technology to perform intelligence analysis. The CIA also is paying about $3 million for software from the Attensity Corp. that transforms rough data into tables that show cause-and-effect relationships and illustrate links between individuals, groups and trends.

    Another important piece of the anti-terrorism puzzle is the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which is now the busiest division of the agency. CIA officials are working to keep the center independent of the Department of Homeland Security. And the CIA says they are trying to tear down the long-standing walls that have existed between the agency and the FBI.

    While it would be unfair to describe the relationship between agencies like the CIA and FBI as adversarial, it would be a stretch to describe it as cordial. Law enforcement and intelligence-gathering agencies occupy separate universes in the federal bureaucracy. Historically, there has been a disconnect and they have gone their separate ways and not traded information.

    "Building all of the most modern technology systems in the world will not change the current lack of interaction between these agencies, absent a commitment by management at all levels to change ingrained habits of hoarding and protecting and shielding information," says David Colton, vice president for strategic initiatives at the Information Technology Association of America. "While technology is important, it is in fact a small component to this larger change that is required in human processes."

    The FBI, for instance, is a product of the Depression. It was set up to investigate and prosecute domestic crime after it was committed. The CIA grew out of intelligence failures that led to the Pearl Harbor bombing. The agency's mission: to harvest information within large enemy states. Prosecuting criminal cases has never been important to the CIA.

    These different purposes and missions have nurtured the establishment of entirely different legal regimes for law enforcement and intelligence gathering, says Rindskopf-Parker, now dean of the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif. When she first went to work at the NSA, she says, she was "stunned about what I didn't understand and didn't know."

    Most agents and staff at a security or law enforcement agency, she says, tend to understand how their own complicated world works, but not how their comrades on the other side of the fence do their jobs.

    At the FBI, for instance, reams of information that could be of interest to an intelligence-minded analyst—ranging from snippets of conversations picked up on wiretapped phones to records of groups of suspected thugs meeting for a backyard barbecue—are not used, because the information is not helpful in a criminal prosecution. Due to this prosecutorial imperative, the FBI has largely failed to develop the kind of analytical tools and skills that are essential in finding and stopping terrorists, Rindskopf-Parker says.

    Where CIA analysts are skilled at piecing together disparate pieces of information into patterns or pictures, FBI agents instead are skilled at gathering evidence to present at trial in a courtroom.

    Paul Wallner, a Washington consultant and former head of the Department of Defense's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance infrastructure division, says agencies must constantly buy new technologies that can manipulate data, voice, audio and video information if they want to have a shot at making ever-larger mountains of information useful. In the future, the most useful tools will revolve around software and analytical tools that will help federal agencies spot patterns of activity among terrorists and red-flagging activity that could be worrisome, even if it doesn't involve known criminals.

    : Can It Guard The Front Door?">

    Homeland Security: Can It Guard The Front Door?
    As federal bureaucrats piece together a new Office of Homeland Security, sharing information will likely assume a high priority. Officials have repeatedly cited the need for better coordination between agencies' data, from Immigration and Naturalization Service records of student visas to U.S. Customs Service reports of searched trucks to Department of Transportation data concerning bridges and tunnels.

    The hope is that through the proper bureaucratic and information architecture, all of these scattered data points could be used to cobble together around-the-clock snapshots of what is going on across the country—and the world.

    That would require taking data sharing to another level. For just as local law enforcers feel shut off by the FBI, the FBI has been shut off from the CIA and the NSA. A constellation of technological and cultural problems inhibit law enforcement and intelligence agency information sharing.

    With the creation of a Homeland Security Department, that won't get any easier. At least seven large federal agencies and a smattering of smaller ones that deal with border security will fall under the authority of the department. But, for now, the FBI and CIA don't fall under the new agency—which is sure to raise a nest of bureaucratic issues surrounding how those agencies share data with Homeland Security.

    Federal agencies already harvest enormous quantities of data every day. People entering the country apply for visas and personal information is logged into computers. Drug dealers are arrested at the border and data about them and their arrest is captured.

    The problem is, the surfeit of data sits in silos, available only to one particular agency. Information collected about an individual rarely gets mingled across agencies. As a result, the millions of data points never join together to paint the pictures of, for example, terrorist activity the government seeks.

    Here's what could be interconnected: An FBI agent is concerned about a group of foreign nationals taking flying lessons, and he drafts a memo spelling out his worries. Several of the same foreign nationals are in the country illegally because their visas have expired. One of them is on a list of potential terrorists. Another one has studied chemistry off and on at Iowa State University. Still another one has been observed by intelligence agents spending time with a group of violent terrorists in Egypt. Ideally, from the administration's point of view, all of these data points would have at least the possibility of converging in a unified data system that can alert analysts about possible threats.

    The Homeland Security Department is aimed at bringing the data under one roof and letting the machines and the analysts go at it. Armed with a constant and organized flow of intergovernmental data, officials believe teams of analysts might have a better shot at stopping terrorism before it happens.

    However, these organizations run a multitude of disparate computing platforms, from IBM mainframe to Unix server to Windows PC—with a little Linux scattered around the various agencies.

    While getting these agencies and their varying systems to talk to one another is not an insurmountable problem—global corporations have been knitting together their systems for years—dollars and making organizational sense of the vast infrastructure the Homeland Security Department will inherit will be huge challenges. The agency will probably have a 2003 information technology budget in excess of $2.1 billion, according to Input, a research firm that specializes in the government's use of computer and communications systems.

    By putting all of the target agencies under one roof—with one budget—the hope is it would be easier to coordinate the different homeland agencies, including how they buy technology and how they work together.

    "If you look at the INS, Customs or the Coast Guard, for example, there is a lot of information that we have already that we don't do anything with," Rindskopf-Parker says, including much of the data about the people and products that come into the country. "Getting that information together and drawing them into Homeland Defense might create some analytic approaches that might be helpful, which would not be consigned to a law-enforcement approach or purpose."

    Many of Homeland Security's computer platform issues will not be worked out for months.

    For that reason, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has put a freeze on most big-ticket technology spending in the various bureaucratic bodies that are slated to be folded into the new department. Before these agencies start spending money on technology, OMB officials say they want to make sure that either the current architecture can be retrofitted with middleware that lets agencies' systems talk to each other, or that a new architecture will work.

    Connecting the Cops

    There are essentially three approaches to overcoming the hurdle of accessing information locked in incompatible, aging databases. The first is to build a data warehouse, using data extraction and transformation tools to move data from its s