Justice budget focused on using info to combat terrorism
"Success is dependent on networked information technology systems and the capacity to manage and share information effectively," FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote in testimony submitted last week to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.
Subcommittee members expressed skepticism over the FBI's ability to handle its information technology budget responsibly. But the FBI's fiscal 2006 budget request and the larger Justice request, highlighted many ongoing information technology-reliant initiatives aimed at preventing terrorism.
The department's 2006 request calls for $535.2 million of its proposed $19.1 billion budget to new investments designed to prevent terrorist activities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales noted in last week's hearing. Part of this is driven by the passage of last year's intelligence reform bill, he said.
A key initiative is the department's request for an additional $75 million and another 61 positions for the expansion of its Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). The request would bring total funding for the center to $104 million. Mueller said the department received 21,650 calls in February alone. The additional money, he said, was needed to complete the center's other missions, such as implementing more stringent screening at the nation's borders and to develop the nation's airline passenger screening systems.
But Justice also has asked for resources for other little-noted key projects aimed at enhancing its ability to scan the populace for terrorists. For example, Justice has asked for an additional $13.2 million to fatten the number of positions in its criminal division so that it can boost its terrorism investigations through the increased use of foreign intelligence surveillance warrants.
Justice also is asking for $63.9 million to fund an additional five positions for its Justice Information Sharing Technology Program. That initiative is an effort to streamline and make its information technology systems interoperable on a department-wide basis, primarily to make its terrorism tracking efforts more efficient, according to Gonzales' written testimony. The department also has asked for a $4.5 million boost for its Regional Information Sharing System.
In addition to these requests, Mueller has asked for $7 million more to be allocated to the FBI's office of its chief information officer and $16.8 million more to improve its automated fingerprint capture program.
Mueller's testimony last week contained other interesting news about the department's surveillance activities.
For example, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department in February signed an agreement to share information gathered from Homeland Security's US-VISIT and Student and Exchange Visitor Information Systems. As a result, the FBI can now access biographical and biometric information about foreigners and foreign students through its investigative data warehouse and its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force databases.