FBI's budget chock-full of tech-related efforts

The FBI would get $6.4 billion for its increasingly high-tech crime-fighting mission in fiscal 2008 under the House-passed appropriations bill and $125 million less from the Senate measure, which awaits a floor vote when lawmakers return in September. The House calculation is $148 million more than the Bush administration's request and $508 million more than fiscal 2007 funding. Both bills, H.R. 3093 and S. 1745, would assign $2.3 billion to counter terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, and related security activities, and the legislation would make substantial program changes. The House committee report for the bill calls for 245 positions and $40 million to boost field resources dedicated to security investigations. Another 50 positions and $11 million would support surveillance operations. The House and Senate reports propose 159 employees and $47 million for intelligence program requirements, including $11 million for the National Security Branch Analysis Center. Millions of dollars in increases also would be in store for anti-terrorism communications analysis, human intelligence management and other programs. The FBI program that works on Internet, computer and network-based investigations would get 31 positions and $5 million; agents who collect and examine digital evidence would get $22 million; and regional computer forensics labs would receive $6 million to establish a new center. Other House provisions include:
  • $80 million for the FBI's new case-management system, known as Sentinel
  • $2.3 million and 14 positions for the Crimes Against Children and Innocent Images National Initiative
  • $37 million and 41 positions to provide technical expertise and equipment to execute lawfully authorized electronic surveillance of data network facilities
  • $10 million for operations and maintenance for the FBI's IT infrastructure
  • $14 million to correct DNA data center backlogs
  • $10 million to enhance audio and data collection for counterintelligence and counterterrorism
  • $25 million for advanced fingerprint search algorithms
The Senate committee report calls for combining many of those programs into a $626 million kitty for criminal justice information services, which would be designed to "greatly improve the quality and timeliness of information provided to our federal, state and local law enforcement and authorized non-criminal justice agencies to reduce terrorist and criminal activities."

Cyber Security Industry Alliance President Tim Bennett lauded the proposed funding boon, saying "there's no way we can have a major law enforcement agency like the FBI be crippled by inadequate information systems."

"Fixing the problem is going to take a lot of money," he added.

The agency's shift to become a prevention and intelligence-driven organization "is taxing the FBI's physical surveillance and electronic surveillance intelligence-gathering capacities," FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate Appropriations panel in April.

Herbert Lin, staff director of a 2004 National Research Council FBI tech study, said the agency seems to be paying attention to how "all kinds of technology" can enhance its ability to perform its mission. The agency's leadership seems "completely committed" to that effort, he said.

The House report also articulated members' lingering concerns with the FBI's improper use of "national security letters," which let agents obtain telephone, e-mail and financial records without prior judicial approval. The document calls for a ban on the use of funds to authorize the letters in ways not approved by FBI policy.

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