FBI's new CIO details plans for upcoming projects

The information technology capabilities of all FBI agents is "100 percent better than it was three years ago" with last month's completion of an FBI network modernization project, and greater capabilities projected to be operational later this year, said the FBI's new chief information officer.

Zalmai Azmi, who took over the position on Friday, added that negotiations are underway with contractor Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to finalize deployment of the bureau's anticipated Virtual Case File network. Azmi said a performance-based contract with the firm is expected to be signed within four weeks, and delivery of the network is expected by the end of the year.

Azmi said the first stage of the case-file network was delivered last year, but SAIC's estimated time for completion was deemed "unacceptable," and FBI and contractor officials are now re-negotiating the terms and timetable for final delivery.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., on Friday asked the General Accounting Office to investigate whether the FBI has managed the relationship with SAIC competently. Sensenbrenner said he was concerned that the delay in the delivery of the system would further drag behind the FBI's network modernization program, which lawmakers also criticized for being considerably behind schedule.

Azmi joined the Justice Department five years ago as the assistant director for office automation with the U.S. Attorney's office, and moved to the FBI six months ago. Azmi said the FBI in 1999 was struggling with Intel 386 desktop computers, dial-up online connections and lacked a centralized IT planning office.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Azmi said FBI Director Robert Mueller launched an information modernization plan going beyond the scope of Trilogy, which was planned in 1999, but not launched until 2000.

The Trilogy upgrade includes the deployment of 500 network servers, 1,600 scanners and thousands of desktop computers to FBI field offices. But Azmi said that in November 2003, the bureau embarked on a more ambitious plan to consolidate and modernize nearly 200 internal information technology networks to improve productivity within the bureau and provide information-sharing capabilities with the government's other intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

"We are already looking at plans to upgrade the FBI's infrastructure next year," he said, with the desktop computers ordered in 1999 now considered outdated. "We can't let the bad guys have better equipment than we do." The upgrade plan includes extending Trilogy's computer platform to the new Terrorist Screening Center.

Azmi said the bureau also plans to increase the number of Internet-accessible computers available to agents, but with the many classified computers at the FBI, Internet access will likely be in separate banks of computers instead of on the desktop. "We are constantly under hacker attack, and we don't want to give them the opportunity to get in and look around," he said.

Azmi also disputed reports that in FBI field offices today only a single computer is available with Internet access. He added that with increased funds it would be possible to install separate hard drives at an agent's desk with one directly connected to the Internet.

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