The FBI: A Special Case

By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Can federal, state, county and local authorities effectively collect and share information? An initiative launched in the wake of 9/11 aims to break old habits and better protect the homeland.

The FBI: A Special Case

Within the center, only the LAPD and the sheriff's department have a working agreement, Cruz says, though the highway patrol may be included soon. Cruz is about to roll out a connection to the state Terrorism Threat Assessment Center in the governor's office, which links to agencies throughout California, and he continues to work on more agreements. But some agencies, like the FBI, have more restrictions than others.

Right now, FBI agents work in a separate room off the center, although they are available to the center's staff. But they handle investigations and classified information, and the rest of the center does not. So, while FBI agents can log in to Memex, analysts in the center can't access FBINet, the agency's classified network.

Getting the FBI on the same floor as the rest of the center is a step forward, Cruz says. He also helped plan the center from the beginning, and says he works every day on "teaching the culture to change." For example, 30 analysts at the center are encouraged to use shared drives and shared folders on their PC desktops so others can see what they're working on. This makes some people uncomfortable.

But, Cruz points out, "If you're working on a Middle Eastern man in a blue Chevy and you don't know the guy next to you is doing the same thing, you've wasted a lot of time."

There are other adjustments. Analysts are still learning to use some gadgets. During an open house for their families, children were showing their parents how to work the smart boards, which they use in school. A 7-year-old demonstrated the board's electronic marker by playing a game of tic-tac-toe.

Deputy sheriffs come in to sweep the floor and pick up trash. "We sit at the tables on a daily basis and work out the bugs," Cruz says. "I feel very good about it."

Cruz is now waiting for more people to be hired so he has more time to build agreements on information sharing, especially with international law enforcement. Ultimately the center will be open 24/7. Salas wants Interpol in Europe to join, along with agencies from New South Wales in Australia, and the rest of the Pacific Rim.

At A Glance: JRIC

Headquarters: 12440 E. Imperial Highway, Norwalk, CA 90650
Business: Establish networks and policies for sharing information across agencies in the seven-county Los Angeles area to improve public safety and thwart terrorist attacks.
Technology Chief: Mario Cruz, project manager
Financials: $2 million contribution each from the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the FBI, plus contributions from the state of California and the Department of Homeland Security.

NEXT PAGE: Information Sharing Then and Now

This article was originally published on 2006-10-02
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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